The Strange World of “Travelling”: Part One

education, learning, life, travel, world

My partner and I have been “travelling” for nearly seven months now, and I’m not going to lie, it’s often a lot like hard work. We haven’t been travelling for every day of the seven months, for us that would be impossible. For most of the time we have been living in countries around the world, including the USA and Colombia, and are moving around the world slowly, from country to country.

Tapping away for a pound or two about travelling the world is pretty fun, but more than anything it’s a necessity for us. We are planning to travel for three years, and by that I mean we are only intending to go back to our home to the UK once in three years (for a wedding). We have no savings, we are approaching 30 and we definitely aren’t middle class, so we have to work .

You may be wondering if this can really be described as travelling at all? Travelling would imply that one is constantly on the move, and most of the “travelling” you hear about involves around £10,000 of savings, a house in the home counties, a convenient gap year and the ripe age of 18. But I guess that’s wrong, and that certainly isn’t the case for us. The stereotypes around travelling have to be overcome. Because if we can do it, then anyone can.

If you like to travel and want to see the world, does it really matter how you do it? If our form of slow, practical travelling doesn’t fit into the bracket of young, exciting “travellers” then maybe it’s better that way. In this travelling microcosm of society we fall into the working class traveller bracket, the guys who have to scrape together the pennies to get to the next destination. And maybe that’s a good thing?

Travelling isn’t cheap. It’s actually VERY expensive. Obviously it’s not as expensive as it used to be before the Internet grabbed a hold of booking processes, but still in someways, now we are tied to the Internet, trusting that it has the best deals for us and that it won’t let us down.

Still, today it doesn’t matter how cheaply you try to do it, travelling costs a lot of money, from flights to food – tourism is one of the key industries around the world and it’s thriving. Most travellers you meet along the way will tell you that they are poor, and I know that many are very destitute indeed. However, most of the travellers you meet on the backpacking trails are often taking a gap year and dipping into a large pot of savings on their trip or they have mummy and daddy’s money (enter resentment?). Actually I don’t have any resentment, I actually have something else.

Pride. In order to keep going for three years we have had to combine our long trip with work. And we chose to work as writers, me as a travel writer and my partner as a football writer. With my experience as an editor we are starting our writing careers on the road. And while we still aren’t really affording the travel we are undertaking and are continually getting into debt, most days we feel something pretty strong: a sense of achievement, of survival.

It may not be the purist form of survival (obviously, imagine the film “Into the Wild” and then forget about it, because that really isn’t us) and it certainly isn’t the most dangerous adventure, but I guess to us it’s real life travelling. We have to work to move, like the ordinary working class people that we are. We are working to see the world.

I guess most people would ask: why are you travelling then if it’s such hard work? Well, I guess the answer would be that regardless of our financial position and regardless of our class we feel we are entitled to see the world. We want an education in life, and so we want to travel to travel. Isn’t it everyone’s right in this modern world we live in, to actually see the world?

For this purpose, our mantra is clear. Our debts, time spent working and struggles on the move is a small price to pay for the education we will receive. And also we refuse to miss out on any experiences in life. It’s a very stubborn refusal.

I’ve often wondered if the category of “working class traveller” is something that only working class people could possibly notice. Not only because many middle and upper class travellers have a different mindset about “travelling”, not all of them, of course, a sort of contentedness that I’ve seen all over from India to the US, but also because when they are travelling they actually become working class – penniless barterers that need the best deals they can find.

For us, we too have our daily deal brokering to contend with. So far we have sprouted our first grey hairs and have worried weekly about whether buying chicken is a waste of our precious pounds for the “travelling” parts of our trip. However, this way of life will continue for the next three years, not the three months of the average backpacking experience. Inevitably, this longevity and no support net gives you a different way of thinking.

This higher class of people travel disguised as working class travellers, and so for many people it’s impossible to tell who’s who. To most people we are all middle class travellers. Travelling the world on a whim and with plenty of money. As a white person, I am inevitably in that bracket. When I travel, and as far as every other traveller is concerned, I have as much money and as much opportunity as they do. And maybe when I am out in the world, scrimping and saving, I do become them, as they become me. And we merge into one entity. Maybe on the road you become classless?

I guess that’s idealistic. Realistically, travelling still isn’t a socialist sport. Travelling has always been for the rich. The rest of us get into debt and struggle through, working and living for however long we can, to keep the dream alive of learning on the road.

What’s more, the beaten path is well and truly damaged by this “breed” of traveller. As highlighted by the blog Stuff White People Like in their post on travelling, most white people have the same “memorable” experience when they travel. Each believing they have had an incredibly unique experience in a third or first world country that no other person has ever experienced before. It’s staid and it’s now a cliché.

When we looked into options for making our trips cheaper, we found staying with family, couchsurfing and working somehow were our only viable options – which is fine – but were a little surprised to find volunteer positions that we had to pay for.

With a little thought, however, it makes complete sense. The number of middle class travellers out there is vast, and charging them for a unique experience that actually helps people in need is an equality of sorts. This desire to find something new to be a part of is a part of the human condition, and to pay for it is a great idea. I would rather pay to learn in another country than for a flatscreen TV that will helplessly numb by brain every evening.

But I guess what I want to know is where are the rest of the world’s learners? Where are the rest of the people travelling just to travel? Mostly, I guess, they don’t exist. This is because it’s almost impossible to travel, particularly from a second or third world country, unless you have access to a credit card, the ability to work in an industry that is portable, like writing, which often requires higher education, or the ability to live on nothing.

We tried teaching English in Colombia and found that the wages were never going to be enough to pay for a plane ticket to leave. We tried working as musicians in the bars, which worked for a while until the novelty of British singer/songwriters wore off. Then there are other options like workaway, but how can you move from one place to the next, afford the airfare, the bus rides and the hostels, if you can’t earn money?

As we continue our journey, not even a quarter of the way through, I am hoping to be proved wrong. We leave for the US in less than two weeks and I plan to profile travellers I meet as best I can, hashtagging #classlesstravel when something interesting comes up. Part one is complete. In another six months I will see how part two changes this strange world of travelling.

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