All my life I’ve been told I was lucky. Lucky to travel, lucky to spend 6 months in South America, more than that in Asia. Lucky to travel twice a year now. I used to say I wasn’t lucky, I just prioritised travel. But that’s not quite true. I am lucky but not for the reasons most people think of (income, no children, supportive partner).
In the spirit of the popular travel blogs here’s some popular reasons why many priviledged citizens of rich countries can’t travel:
- I’m too young – I need to get some career experience first;
- I’m too old – its irresponsible;
- I can’t leave my parents/friends/partners/dog/cat;
- I can’t afford it;
- I need to go to/finish college/school/uni;
- My employer needs me;
- I have children;
- I have a partner;
- I have no one to go with;
- My boy/girl friend doesn’t want to travel;
- My family doesn’t want me to;
- I don’t know how to.
Reason 1: You Can’t Get Travel Health Insurance
Until one day. I had just booked a 2-month trip through Thailand and on to Europe. We hold a platinum credit card for the simple reason that it gives me not just free air miles, but one I’ve booked the flights with it – it also gives us free travel insurance. But 6 months earlier my partner had had an angina attack. I thought I should mention it to the insurance company. After a series of questions they thought they probably couldn’t cover him for any heart related issues – but they’d consider it if I got a specialist’s report sent through to them. Over the next few weeks we arranged a further appointment with the specialist (at our cost of course), and we got the cover for a trivial addiitonal charge.
Now I’ve travelled uninsured before, and I would again. But with someone who has a known heart issue, even a low grade one, not so much. The survival rate from heart attacks is all about good quality medical assistance within hours. I have a stuffed knee which has never been covered for travel insurance, it doesn’t stop me travelling. I’d travel with cancer too, if I was well enough, you are unlikely to collapse and end up in hospital with no chance of returning home for treatment first. Hearts are different.
That’s not the story. I came off that first phone call, almost in tears, gasping for air, shaking, yup sounded like a heart attack – it wasn’t probably more like a panic attack – I don’t know I’ve never had one. I didn’t sleep for weeks, I felt like I was in prision. I had the horrible realisation that if this company turned him down – he’d probably never get travel insurance again.
I faceless entity at the end of the phone had threatened to take the freedom I’d always taken for granted, the freedom to get on a plane with a one way ticket to the world.
Now don’t get me wrong – if either of us were seriously ill, we’d probably not be wanting to travel anyways. But having a single angina attack is not seriously ill – well not according to the doctors anyways. Just the insurance companies.
Reason 2: You Have the Wrong Passport(s)
I am the very happy owner of three passports (Australian, New Zealand, British). I don’t always have each them current and in my drawer, but I know I can always get one if I need it. Like the time I travelled in South America, and my NZ passport would have cost me hundreds of dollars in visa fees, my British one saved me a fortune with visa free entry everywhere including Argentina, who had been at war with Britain a few years earlier.
But the critical difference is with my passports I can travel almost anywhere in the world. According to Wikipedia the visa requirements for the following citizens allow visa free or visa on arrival to:
- New Zealand – 166 countries;
- UK – 171 countries;
- Australia – 166 countries.
Plus a whole lot more countries just require me to get a straightforward visa in advance (Myanmar/Burma, Cuba, Vietnam, China), which requires nothing more than some planning on my part, and trivial fee.
Other big winners on the passport lottery include citizens of:
- US – 169;
- Canada – 164;
- Singapore – 164;
- Malaysia – 135;
- Israel – 142;
- Russia – 116.
The losers – well the ones that stood out to me included citizens of:
- Philippines – 62;
- India – 71;
- Indonesia – 60;
- Egypt – 45.
And that’s not even considering the countries who still control how and if their citizens can leave at all (China, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Cuba, Nepal and Czech Republic (for foreigners with work permits).
And remember while a Pom or American will have few issues getting a visa to visit Australia, the same won’t be the same for a citizen of Egypt, India, or anywhere else the Australians consider might be at risk of not going home. Ditto every other developed country in the world.
And then of course there is the other issue – if you are trying to save money while living in some countries – its hard because a) your income level is so much less and b) the currency is weak. I don’t think that’s a total show-stopper now. I know people who make a living online who are natives of developing and less developed countries. And they are paid in US$. Its a new opportunity and you generally need access to a good computer and to have good English skills – but there are opportunities online, which didn’t exist a decade ago.
For an eye-opening account of these issues from an Egyptian travel blogger – check out No, Not Everyone Can Travel.
And quit whinging about not being able to travel – unless those two reasons apply to you, its all about priorities.