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A Developing Country Citizen’s Perspective: What’s Wrong with “Leave Everything Behind and Travel the World”

Leave Everything Behind and Travel the World

 I shared the table with a Dutch traveler for our complimentary breakfast of coffee, two toasts, and few slices of melon—something that the Burmese or us Filipinos do not normally have for breakfast. But I enjoyed it, nonetheless, especially after an hour or so of pedaling on sandy paths, checking temples at the crack of dawn.

When travelers meet, conversations often revolved around Where are you from?, Where have you been?, How long have you been traveling?, How long is your trip?. And I feel that one’s traveler-ness is gauged according to one’s answer. The longer your trip is, the better, the more experienced traveler you become. It must be so.

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This Dutch traveler and his girlfriend (she was still sleeping, he said), had been on the road for three months and were planning to travel around Southeast Asia for six months; and there I was, squeezing five countries in five weeks. When the white girls in a dormitory in Yangon, Myanmar learned about it, I saw the collective shock in their faces. One, who called her doctor mother in Australia after throwing up several times, squealed, “You’re crazy!”

After learning I was from the Philippines, the Dutch traveler commented that he has not met many travelers from the Philippines. He was, is perfectly right. It is rather rare to meet fellow Filipinos or citizens from fellow developing countries traveling around.

When some said, it was dirt cheap to travel around Asia, it is a Western tongue dictating—the voice, the stand of the privileged. A backpacker’s average expenses—based on my own experience—range from US$15 to US$25 (Php600.00-Php1000.00) a day. A typical working Filipino earns Php8000-Php10000 a month. When I wrote an article “What Stops Us Filipinos from Traveling (Is Traveling a Privilege?),” the comments could be reduced into three:

  1. No money.
  2. No money.
  3. No money.

I told the Dutch that when I researched about my SEA trips online, most information were provided ironically by white travelers whose sentences were peppered with “horrible bed” and “hell ride.” I found these distrusting. A Western woman occupying the next table stifled a smile upon hearing me. I knew, I was unnecessarily scalding; but I wanted a discussion on this. I did not get any. The Dutch did not say a word.

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Traveling around SEA, I could say it now, is still very white, very neocolonial, and I am caught between faulting and not faulting the white travelers. In Inle Lake (Myanmar), I got fed up with the boat tour to so-called workshops and showrooms. It was not the idea of seeing something familiar that revolted me; it was the nagging truth that some shop owners faked their workshops and expected travelers to buy their goods, authentic or not, priced heftily in dollars. Nyi-nyi, the boatman, felt my uneasiness and discomfort in getting in. He admitted those places are for farang, the foreigners. And I am not. At least not completely.

Traveling—in this part of the world—is viewed, should be done out of extreme necessity: you have to fly back to your hometown because a close relative died, move in to the next island province because your job required you to. For most Filipinos or Southeast Asians, traveling is not a lifestyle, it is life.

At Gili Trawangan (Lombok, Indonesia),  Tobias, my boyfriend who happened to be Austrian, felt uncomfortable and embarrassed  of himself—sad even—with the local’s answer to his question about the four-nights/five-days sailing trip from Lombok to Flores.

“Was it good?” Tobias asked.

Leave Everything Behind and Travel the World

“I dun nu. Not been there,” answered the Rasta man, one of the guys manning the place we stayed in. Because it is true, most locals do not really have interest in traveling their own land; and if they have, their finances or the lack thereof stopped them from pursuing such interest. In the Philippines, whenever the driver or any locals learned that I was traveling in their province, they would say, “Haya-haya” (Lucky).  I would just smile and say, “Not really.”  Traveling—in this part of the world—is viewed, should be done out of extreme necessity: you have to fly back to your hometown because a close relative died, move in to the next island province because your job required you to. For most Filipinos or Southeast Asians, traveling is not a lifestyle, it is life.

Back in Lombok, we wanted to do the sailing trip; but it would cost each of us 2 500 000.00 Indonesian Rupiah ($180.00, €165.00, Php8 500.00). A weekly salary or less for most westerners. A monthly salary for most working Filipinos. Most Filipinos, I must note, live below poverty line and earn less than Php50 ($1) a day.

But when the half-drunk or stoned agent in one of the many tour agencies in Senggegi (Lombok, Indonesia) said, “No worry, mister, it’s not dollars,” Tobias got annoyed. I made it worse when I said, “But I’m like you, I’m Asian.” Tobias later on argued that he works hard for his money, and he knows I do too, and he simply wants the real value of and for his hard-earned euros, regardless of where he is. He got a point. But the agent was not entirely wrong either. Perhaps he has been on this trade for quite sometimes and often heard from travelers that the sailing trip is cheap and he knows IDR2.5M—which has so many zeros that I myself sometimes got confused—has only one zero in dollars/euros.

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But my point is completely different from theirs. One, the agent thought Tobias would be paying for my share. Second, he thought all travelers earn in dollars/euros whose market value is priced a lot higher than the developing countries’ counterparts. Tobias and I had a heated conversation on this, and he pointed out, “You earn in dollars too.”  I must admit that I do earn in dollars (online content writing) and pesos (teaching); but I am speaking in behalf of my neighbors and relatives who could hardly make both ends meet, who sees traveling as a form of privilege and extravagance.

At the end of the day, we ditched the idea of joining a sailing trip (participants are unsurprisingly all westerners), despite the fact that we were able to haggle it down to IDR 2 100 000. 00 ($150.00, €140.00, Php 7 200.00), which is still cringing.

Everytime I encountered someone posting something like: sell everything, leave everything behind, and travel the world, I wonder to whom he or she addresses this. It must be his/her fellow westerners, who may not be as privileged in their own lands but become one once they set foot on the so-called dirt-cheap Asia. It must be their fellow middle-class friends who just like them have moneyed parents. When everything fails, the parents are there to help.

From the perspective of a developing country citizen who happens to ache for places, I cannot help but ask myself—is it really possible to leave everything behind? How about the restraints, the limitations of a third-world passport? How am I going to fund the trip?

And as a friend asked, what if, you do not have anything to sell, to leave?


READ: Filipino, Poor But Want to Travel Abroad? There Is Only One Thing That You Have to Do


***

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Travel. Travel solo.

I often advise this to close friends. Regardless of one’s personal circumstances, everyone must travel. Or so I thought. It does not have to be grand or expensive; it can be somewhere you have literally never been to like the next town or the next island. But I’m changing my tune these days. I’m not as assertive as before. Whenever I meet my close girlfriends (one just finished her Masters in Biology, the other was crazily serious about her law studies, the third was so preoccupied about her guy and two jobs), they would ask about my recent trips, but I do not insist that they too should travel.

I have come to accept that “leaving everything behind and traveling the world” is not the sole way to live a well-lived life. It is just one of the many variations.

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It was one of those days in a cheap café (Internet is unlimited, Americano is Php70.00, rice meal starts at P65.00), I was busy meeting online writing deadlines (I called it my travel fund job) when Ellen (Biology teacher) decided to join me. She talked ardently about the eccentric characteristics of frogs, their way of copulation, and the female frog’s strength and vulnerability. The way she talked about her research was as passionate as I talked about poetry, stories, and traveling; and she is aiming to have her PhD in Tokyo University; and her first ever solo trip and trip abroad was in Japan, guess what, yes, to present her research on snails. She is only twenty-five years old.

I have come to accept that “leaving everything and traveling the world” is not the sole way to live a well-lived life. It is just one of the many variations.

People of passion, people of fire are the best ones to have a conversation with. In my circle, most of them are not travelers per se. They are readers, athletes, mothers, poets, farmers, fishermen, gardeners, researchers, musicians, filmmakers.

Leave Everything Behind and Travel the World

So travel quotes like “I rather have a passport full of stamps than a house full of stuff” or “Travel is the ONLY thing you can buy that makes you richer” made me snort. There is a certain arrogance that some travelers emit; and it is as appalling as it is misinformed, if not, altogether, uninformed and misinforming.

A passport full of stamps is not a guarantee of well-traveled-ness. You can be just partying and getting drunk from one country to the next.  A farmer or any person can be very well-traveled without leaving one’s comfort.  On the same manner, there are things you can actually buy that can make you not only richer but also more humane, kinder, more generous, more informed. Say, buying and reading books, for example. Often, acquaintances misquote Saint Augustine, ( I do not even know who he really is, I wonder if they do) “The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page;” and the PMS-ing me quipped, “A good book is the world, and those who do not read traveled only a yard,” or “the world is not only Southeast Asia and other developing countries where your money weighs more value; the world is not only twenty countries (which you have traveled to), there are more than 200 of them, depending on sources. It does not mean you have partied in Boracay for a week that you can now brag that you have been to the Philippines already.”

If not because of the monster named restlessness (the ache to go somewhere, to follow one’s own fernweh), I am rather satisfied with my mundane life (a phrase travelers hate)  here in Cebu: living with cats, reading the books that gradually eat all spaces in my nook, having a beloved and good-paying job (Surprise! Not all travelers have the classic “I quit my job” syndrome), tending a little garden at the back, writing poetry and stories that matter, finishing my MA (something that really needs grounding and staying in one place), and once in a while, escaping to the nearest beach.

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Traveling is highly romanticized; and partly, it is our fault.

But that is the thing, when it gets you, it gets you; and sometimes it is not the nicest feeling: being hauled in an uncomfortable and muggy 14-hour bus ride, being scammed, sleeping in a bug-laden bed, evading touts, distrusting humankind sometimes (when traveling is supposed to restore your faith in it), getting sick in an unfamiliar place where it is hard to find someone who can understand words like flu or diarrhea, or walking while trying to hold it in yet failed in doing so because the toilet was ten-minutes away from where you were.

Traveling is highly romanticized; and partly, it is our fault.

I do not ambition to travel the whole wide world. Wherever my feet, heart, mind, (and funds) lead me, I take it, often with reluctance and overthinking. I have stopped convincing my friends to travel. I have stopped convincing women  to travel solo. I have accepted the truth that there are different maps and routes to a well-lived life. They have found theirs. I have found mine.

A traveler from a developing country's story: what's wrong with "leave everything behind and travel the world."

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Jona | Backpacking with a Book

Hi, I’m Jona! I write stories and poetry and take a lot of photos, which I’m too lazy to upload. If you want to receive some photos that I don’t share here on the blog, please leave your email here. I’m crazy about cats too. Feel free to browse through BWAB, and I would love it if you say hi! For collaborations, projects, and other things, please email me at backpackingwithabook@gmail.com For more stories about BWAB, check here. Connect with us through

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27 Comments

  1. Ria says:

    First of all thank you for interesting article. I read it and felt similarities with things that happen with my Indonesian friends. I’m European, but honestly who cares about nationalities? We all humans, we all have brains, we have what we have and we enjoy what we enjoy, we have out cultures, understanding how to live this life. Yes, I can say, I was lucky one to be selected participate in Indonesian scholarship program and had a chance to live in Indonesia for a year. I’m still lucky one because after short visit at home I’m coming back to Indonesia. But it’s not because I have plenty of money and don’t know what to do with those money. Because exactly of simple Asian life, I want to come back. Because of the way people see things and are happy with what they have. Sometimes it’s not enough, sometimes it’s not exactly what they want but still they live with happiness (each in his own way). I shared my opinion about it here http://lifeinbigtent.com/asian-people-are-not-poor-they-live-easy/ I stayed in simplest place as possible (even local people didn’t believe that foreigner can live in such place), I tried to understand local people as much as they allowed me and I’m happy to be a small part of their life’s. Yes, I still feel uncomfortable when I come to any place with Indonesian friend and people thinks that he is a guide or ask me triple bigger price that local would be pay (my pockets not full of cash, I didn’t get any salary for more than 1 year, lived only from scholarship :)) But it’s culture differences that I accept.

    Honestly I don’t think that something wrong with “Leave Everything Behind and Travel the World” like somebody can do it, want it and etc. I didn’t reach that level yet, maybe one day? Maybe never 🙂 But now, I have what I have and want, it’s enough for me and I don’t want to leave anything behind, I want to have something behind, to know that there is somewhere the place, things that it’s important for me:)

    As well, I like quote “Travel is the only thing you can buy that makes you richer” – because it’s make me richer like a person. Who I was before Indonesia is quite different person who I’m now and it’s only because trip and life in Indonesia. It gave me many things to think about, learn and change in good way (at least for me:))

    • Southeast Asians “champion” the living of a “simple” and all-smiling life. Have you been to the Philippines, Ria? We laugh and joke a lot. It is a character that I am proud of. But some are really poor and live a non-easy life.
      ***
      “I still feel uncomfortable when I come to any place with Indonesian friend and people thinks that he is a guide or ask me triple bigger price that local would be pay.”

      Sadly, travelers are often scammed n this part of the world and white travelers are often viewed as rich. My boyfriend (Austrian) and I had a hard time dealing with scammers, locals think he has a lot of money and think he is solely paying for our trip.

      ***
      Yes, from your perspective there is nothing wrong with that . But from my perspective, a Filipino, a developing-country citizen, there is a lot of issues that would stop me from “traveling the world,” and partly because of cultural differences but largely because of economical differences.

      ***
      Indeed, traveling can make a traveler richer. But my point is, traveling is NOT THE ONLY way to have a richer, more fulfilling life. It is just one of the ways.

      ***
      Thank you for dropping by, Ria, and thank you for sharing your thoughts. Happy and conscious travels! 🙂

  2. Hi Jona,
    Whaooo, excellent post, and… discomforting for me!
    Yes, you are right, most of people who blog are Westerners, taking it for granted that: 1. You can travel the world, because getting a visa is something that goes without saying (most of the people in the world cannot get a visa to Europe, for instance); 2. You can afford it, based on a Westerners standard of living. I would love to say that I am not like that when I write about traveling, but I would lie to myself. What you write is something many of us know of, but do not really want to see.
    Now I absolutely understand that people (especially younger people), considering the materialism in the Western World (Europe, Northern America), prefer to spend their money yon traveling rather than on possessing “stuff” and call other people with the same background to do the same. I do it myself.
    Yes, someone who writes should try to be universal, but hey, that’s a huge challenge!
    Anyway, that’s REALLY “Food For Thoughts”, and it is very rare currently in Travel Blogs. Thanks for that!
    Cheers, Gilles

    • Hi there, Gilles,

      Well, that’s why I wrote this, to counter and question the possibility of really “leaving everything behind and traveling the world,” which I have noticed is the ticket for some travel bloggers to “stardom.”

      Do not get me wrong though, I’m not against western travelers, I simply find the dialogue on “world traveling” imbalance and unrealistic for the citizens in developing countries.

      Thank you for dropping a thought here! 😀

  3. mike says:

    Great post. I would agree that coming across foreigners saying they hardly met filipino travelers.

  4. Talon says:

    You are right. Usually those comments are aimed at Westerners. I don’t think most Westerners understand just how hard it is for some to travel, both from a visa perspective as well as a financial one.

    I would like to say, though, that not all of us who sold everything, quit our job, and left for a lifestyle of travel have parents and/or family to fall back on. Thanks to the fact I was born in a country with a powerful passport and have been able to get online work easily, I was able to quit my job, sell my stuff and travel full time with my son. He was 9 when we left the US. He’ll turn 15 this summer. I have NO ONE to fall back on. No home to go back to, no family who will support me financially or with a roof over our head. And when I left our home (which I didn’t own) in 2011, I had $900 USD in savings. So while I agree with most of what you said, and it’s an important dose of perspective many of us need, esp bloggers, just know that not all of us are flying with a safety net beneath us.

    And not all of us are so arrogant as many Westerners you’ll meet when traveling. 😉

    Great post. Thanks for writing it and helping people see a different side of things.

    • Oh.

      Just to let you know, I admire parents who travel with their kids. That’s very brave and commendable.

      About the arrogance. They’re not necessarily westerners, they can be Filipino travelers who gauge the important-ness (hmm human-ness ;-)) of a person through the number of stamps on his/her passport. 🙂

  5. Ayan says:

    Traveling is like cross stiching. It’s nice to look at but its not for everyone. And its cool like that. Lol.

    Sometimes its annoying to hear westerners complain about bed bugs, shitty transport system, terrible customer service… but, hey, no one forced them to travel to Asia. And that’s Asia, well, most of it. But, yeah, to be fair with them its just like cross stitching they are entitled to it too.

    And to those travelers who like to brag about their passport stamps, show that to cross stitchers. Right, who cares.

    • I complain about bed bugs and shitty transport system too. Hahaha! I’m not against westerners, okay! Hahaha! I just want to have nontravelers and non-world travelers to have a voice on this matter. As someone commented on Facebook, some, just some travelers (not necessarily westerners,it can be our fellow Filipinos), have become arrogant and start judging people who do not travel.

  6. Kaye says:

    Thank you for offering this perspective! Very well written and thought provoking, this article adds a much needed insight into the world of travel and how we talk about it.

  7. YES – THANK YOU so much for posting this! What an amazing post – Indonesian here, I’ve always wanted to address this matter for a LONG time, but never had the guts to do so. You’re amazing! Thank you for your braveness – this really inspires me to not be terrified to voice this matter!

    • Asians, especially us Southeast Asians, must have a voice on this imbalanced dialogue on traveling. And it is great to meet another Asian traveler here! Hi there, Daniel! Just got back from a four-week trip to your huuuuuuuuge country!

      • I still have my full time job and make travel a priority — lived in the Philippines for the longest time but decided to leave because I’d want to get paid more per hour that I spend actually working, and well, I can’t stand the traffic anymore.
        Back when I lived in the PH, I used to read… a lot, on my bus rides to and from the office. It’s a way to spend time without being bored to death, so I got to discover more worlds without traveling through reading.
        Secondly, I saved a lot of my salary, and whatever extra I have saved up (after putting a certain percentage in retirement/emergency funds), I use to travel.
        I said no to a lot of things — going out, mindless shopping (except for books), and drinking out.. because for me, travel became a priority.
        If everyone just made their priorities first (regardless of what that is), then they can have money… a few sacrifices have to be taken, but yes, anything can happen.

        And no, I choose not to leave everything behind just to travel because you can have a mix of what you have as your “home” life and what you have in your traveling life.

        It’s also great to go to a place you’ll call “home” and relax and do nothing after traveling for a few. That feeling of comfort and giddiness is there.

  8. […] Source: What’s Wrong with “Leave Everything Behind and Travel the World” – Backpacking with a Bo… […]

  9. Anne-Di says:

    Wow, thank you for writing this. You were able to capture what my mind was thinking all along about this “leave everything behind and travel the world” mentality. I used to be jealous of Western travel bloggers who urge their readers to pack their bags and go somewhere far but I realized that they are not talking to me, a middle-class Filipina whose take home pay (after all the deductions) is less than Php 15,000.00 or USD 314.00 a month. While I don’t fault them for having this kind of perspective since it’s their right to write about their own experiences, I think it is also important that they realize that the internet’s reach is universal and that they will have readers whose economic background and nationality will prevent them to hop on a plane and backpack around the world. I think that having an inclusive lense and by being aware of their privileges, Western travelers who promote this kind of mentality will think otherwise.

    I also agree with what you said that non-white travelers should also address the imbalance and write about their experiences online. By doing this, they will contribute in creating multiple perspectives wherein other travelers will not feel alienated or “othered”. This is also the reason why every time I will go somewhere, I will usually search for a blog written by a Filipino for tips since I know I can relate more to their planning, ITs, budget, etc. I still read blogs by Western travelers but when it comes to the nitty-gritty details of planning a trip, I usually look up to Filipino travel bloggers for inspiration.

    • It is great to hear from you, Anne-Di! Yes, yes, and yes. Let’s create a dialogue. The western travelers do not have us in mind when they write. They cannot speak for us. So we must speak for ourselves. So keep writing. Keep blogging!

      P.S. Othering is mostly used by lit people. Are you, by any means, a litcrit/creative writing grad?

  10. […] people who have different hobbies than we do. How about we recognize that travel is something you have to be privileged to do. How about we admit that travel probably isn’t as life-changing, educational, romantic, and […]

  11. adline says:

    Hey…i am also one of those SEA travellers from Malaysia..yeah..there are not many sea travellers staying in backpacker..in fact..last time..i am the only one SEA there..i really love travelling so much..u really learn lots of things..but leaving everything behind is not something i want to do ..at least for this moment..i think this is due to hard life background when i was a kid & i really work hard to get where i am now..have stable job & get money from it to travel..anyway..always keep travelling..nothing u regret from it..at the same time enjoy the routine life..that how it works for me..hug!!!

  12. Alex says:

    Yes, this is a fantastic post and this needed to be said!

    Westerner here (with Filipino roots), and I, too, am frustrated with everything you mention, mostly because so many people are ignorant to the fact it exists. There’s no harm in sharing your experiences, but there is harm in not thinking before making broad statements like “there’s no excuse to not travel” and “all it takes is passion!” Passion, money, and a lot of visa forms, you mean.

    I spent a lot of time in Iran, Pakistan, and Afghanistan—3 countries with passports that will get you virtually nowhere, except perhaps Thailand or the UAE if you’re lucky (and wealthy). Having friends and readers from those countries is very sobering. It makes me appreciate the privilege my passport and currency of my savings, and forces me to stop and think before making broad travel-related statements.

    I no longer think traveling the world is for everyone, but I do think it’s a good idea to encourage people to explore their homeland to the best of their abilities. Coming from the US, I see a lot of people that refuse to even leave their state, and it leads to a very close minded, head-in-the-ground attitude towards the “outside world”, which is not good. Though international travel is expensive, domestic travel is something I think a much larger number of people could afford… if they prioritize saving for it. But perhaps that’s just my western, rose colored glasses speaking.

    Regardless, thanks for taking the time to write this! It’s very refreshing to read content from people other than white westerners, and I hope there’s more interaction between the regional blogospheres in the future. Travel leads to so much cross cultural interaction on the ground… Why isn’t it happening more in the travel blogging community?

  13. Thank you so much for this thought provoking, disturbing, raw and clever post. I really enjoyed every line and it made me think a lot.
    I don’t like the way SEA has been turned into a big play-yard and party location for young Westerners.
    I don’t like the ethnocentrism and lack of respect in sentences such as “Asia is dirt-cheap” or, as you pointed it, leave everything behind.
    But what I hate the most are sentences such as “I don’t go to Costa Rica anymore, it’s too developed now, it’s not as authentic”, or “too bad they are building a road in the mountains so that the Nepalese people can get to school and hospitals, now they will love their traditional lifestyle”. Some Westerners want the poor to remain poor for our own enjoyment. And this is really shocking.
    Thank you!

  14. Alaine says:

    Thanks for writing this! The injustices of the world for having a passport from a developing country is very real. Every time I fill out a visa application form, I have to prove my worth. I have been lucky enough to be able to grow up in different countries and also live, work, and study in Western countries. I have a complicated life story but it’s filled with lots of stories. In Southeast Asia, whether it’s Singapore or Indonesia I get a lot of people thinking that I fake my American accent and Western mannerisms and mock me, then when they find out that it’s not an act they get jealous and are hostile with remarks like “some of us have to work hard in life”. They don’t know me nor care to know me without making more judgmental remarks.

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