world travel: for more than just spoiled rich kids

Sarah Palin is going to go find herself in India.  Let’s all breathe a sigh of relief that this fine diplomat is one of the few Americans with a passport (one-quarter to maybe one-third of us have one, and of those that do, most have not traveled outside of N. America/the Caribbean).  Today, I was reminded of that painful Katie Couric interview that took place September 9, 2008, in which Palin was asked to espouse her foreign policy views.

She opens the interview by saying:

“I’m not one of those who maybe come from a background of, you know, kids who perhaps graduated college and their parents get them a passport and a backpack and say, ‘Go off and travel the world.’ Noooo. I worked all my life. In fact, I  usually had two jobs all my life, until I had kids. … I was not part of, I guess, that culture.”

Now, I realize that not every American can afford to travel.  There is an alarming number of Americans living in poverty, and even those comfortably “middle class” struggle to pay mortgages, car payments, and college tuition.  But let’s back up here and look at the college graduate population she is talking about here.

To insinuate that only spoiled rich kids are world travelers is ludicrous to me.  Most of the world traveling that I have done has been solo.  Occasionally with a friend.  On those occasions, my parents were never the ones fronting the bill.  Since renewing my passport in 2007 (which had only previously been used on one occasion in the Caribbean),  I have traveled on almost every opportunity that I have made for myself.  Much of the money earned at the job I held down in college and acquired through Christmases and birthdays went toward budget travel.  When I graduated from college, I got a job in a foreign country that paid my travel and living expenses and earned me a good enough salary to travel to nearby countries during my few vacation periods.  While working abroad, I was frugal enough to amass enough savings (and frequent flier miles!) to see a little bit more of the world before returning home.  Does that make me horribly elitist?

Now, I will say that I am fortunate enough not to be repaying college loans, thanks in large part to my parents and the amazing benefits at their jobs that paid for a significant portion of my education.  Post-graduation world travel, however, is not just limited to those folks not bearing the financial burden of their four-year education.  There are a number of global opportunities for college graduates that offer loan deferments while paying travel expenses and living stipends- how about Peace Corps and Fulbright for starters?  Sure, these sorts of programs require some effort, a certain degree of passion and intelligence, and the foresight to apply nearly a year in advance, but having known both Peace Corps members and Fulbright award recipients, I’d say they also offer the clichéd “opportunity of a lifetime”- especially for a recent college grad who has never left the country.  Or how about a route I’m certainly familiar with: teaching ESL in a foreign country.  A very large percentage of the teachers I met in Korea were there to save money, often to help pay back student loans or to save up for grad school and other worthy endeavors.  In a country like Korea, the name on your diploma might have an impact on the particular school or student body you work with, but as long as you are a native English speaker and have a diploma from a four-year university, you are good as gold.

So, yes Miss Palin, I did go off and travel the world after college.  And, heck, I even worked, too!  You can have both, but it really depends on how willing you are to put yourself out there and create opportunities.  Dare I say it, but maybe if more Americans were willing to get out of their comfort zones and see beyond their cushy lives in Wasila, AK, our country just might have fewer residential bigots and enemies abroad.

Part of my goal here is to showcase opportunities for affordable travel.  This does not have to mean uprooting yourself for months or years at a time, like I have done, and certainly does not mean you will still end up selling your eggs on craigslist to pay for said “budget” world travel.  Part of my goal is just to keep writing, keep busy, maybe make somebody (or just myself) laugh with the type of ridiculous true life stories that involve reptiles and ER visits (<–what?).  Part reflection on past travel (awkward stories that would only happen to me included), part space for future explorations, part musings on whatever I damn well please, this is citizen mundi travel.

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