A few years ago, a college friend posted an article on Facebook meant to explain to millennials why all their excuses for not traveling were invalid. It detailed a series of tips on saving money, planning, and fitting travel into your supposedly impossible schedule. It had that tone that is so common in articles geared toward millennials, that aspirational, breezy Pinterest vibe, that playful yet still holier-than-thou finger-wag: having an Instagram-worthy life is totally achievable!
And I read it. And let me first say that the woman who posted the article is a brilliant, accomplished woman of color, a seasoned traveler, and extremely independent. She isn’t some trust fund baby who travels on money she never had to work for, so I really thought about biting my tongue when I read the article and badly wanted to call bullshit. I was not a traveler. My “excuses” were surmountable.
But I called bullshit. The article was hot garbage.
The article included tips such as, “Use your PTO to travel,” and “Fly during non-peak days and seasons.” Friends, who among you would need to be told you can use PTO to mitigate the lost-time cost of traveling? And how many of you can only respond, “WHAT FUCKING PTO?”
What of my fellow millennials who are self-employed, or wait tables, or work retail, or pour endless four-dollar lattes a few nights a week? What of the millennials like me who worked full-time jobs with regular hours and health insurance and still didn’t receive PTO until their one-year anniversary, and what of the millennials like me who finally got that PTO and immediately realized that using it was highly discouraged and would put enormous strain on other employees and make their work lives miserable?
“Well,” one might say, “your employer sucks and it shouldn’t be that way.” Perhaps correct! And how does this observation solve a problem for the baristas and wage slaves you’re shaming for not traveling? This article told me to use PTO to travel, but what it actually meant was, “Have a job that offers PTO and sincerely supports its usage at times when flights and lodging are cheap.”
And this was supposed to be for millennials, who are famously cash-strapped, under-employed, and exploited by their employers. Forget PTO and non-peak days: how many millennials are barely scraping by in the first place, living paycheck-to-paycheck? How many- even if they managed to get the money together for a trip- could not afford to absorb an unexpected cost that comes up in their travels?
This peer-to-peer, “Of course you can do it, you’re just making excuses,” attitude is bullshit. Millennials, let’s not get all sanctimonious with each other— let the baby boomers handle that. Let’s let our well-intentioned tips and solid advice be just that, and not an exercise in telling our rightly stressed and limited peers that they’re “making excuses.”
Let’s be honest: there are baseline levels of financial security, job security, and community support that can make or break your ability to reasonably travel. There are a thousand other factors- what if you have a child? A pet you’d have to pay to board? An ailing or dying loved one in your care? What if you live in an area three hours from the nearest airport, and even that one’s small with limited outgoing flights?- that can saddle people with additional burdens to work out before they go jet-setting to Cambodia? Traveling can be way fucking harder than any of those articles make it out to be.
As a writer, I do understand framing a topic. I get having a compelling headline and a ballsy challenge to the reader to generate clicks and keep people reading. There are a lot of brilliant millennial travel writers out there who dole out killer advice. I also think that a lot of these folks have worked much harder than we may realize from the outside- even if they themselves don’t necessarily recognize all the ways they do this- to make travel a priority in their lives, and I don’t begrudge them for building a brand on that. They do work hard after all.
But really? PTO? I’m sorry, traveling far, wide, and regularly is not a simple matter of “not making excuses.” If you tell me you can’t afford to travel because you don’t make enough money, or can’t afford to leave town for non-financial reasons, or because your health insurance won’t cover you abroad and all the travel plans that cover pre-existing conditions are astronomically expensive, I believe you. If you ask me to talk through some of these issues, to have coffee with you while you research flights, to watch your dog for free while you go on a trip? I’m there.
I’m writing from the perspective that despite one’s best intentions, travel can get expensive, unwieldy, and downright nerve-wracking. I’m doing it anyway, and it will be worth it, but this won’t be all Instagram filters and breezy ignorance of why someone might say, “Hell no,” or, “Not now,” to traveling.