Here’s the thing about travel and privilege
My three-year-old has already been to eight countries. She’s also been all over Scotland, including the Outer Hebrides, Perthshire, Fife, the Borders and Argyll. This kid has seen more of the world as a toddler than I saw until I was in my 20s – and up until recently, I was pretty proud of that fact.
I’m a firm believer in the benefits of travel, both for kids and adults. There’s evidence that travelling can activate parts of the brain related to play and exploration that often don’t get exercised enough at home, as well as build concentration skills, reduce stress and increase adaptability and flexibility. All good stuff. I posted about this on Instagram and no one disagreed. Travel is great! Let’s take our kids all over the world and expand their little minds!
But then, a few days later, I was riding a trolley through the picturesque town of Frigiliana in Spain with my daughter by my side, and it hit me.
I am so lucky.
Not in a #blessed kind of way, but in a I’ve-had-a-lot-of-advantages-in-life-that-have-allowed-me-to-be-able-to-take-my-kid-travelling kind of way. To be honest, I felt like a bit of a dick. Here I was, extolling the benefits of foreign travel with a pre-schooler, not even considering the fact that a lot of people will never be able to give their kids that opportunity.
Let me be clear – my husband and I aren’t wealthy. We’re middle-middle class skilled professionals, the kind of people who can’t afford to buy a house but don’t have to worry about whether or not we can pay our bills. We go out to eat at least once a week and replace things when they break. And yes, we take a few holidays a year. They hurt our bank accounts but don’t devastate us. We’re getting by okay.
You could argue that our moderate success is due to hard work, which has opened up professional opportunities, and yeah, that’s part of it. But we both grew up in stable households, with educated parents who actively encouraged us to read and get involved in extracurricular activities. Neither of us ever questioned whether or not we would go to university – it was a given. We both received the emotional, physical and financial support that we needed that allowed us to succeed in school. Get multiple degrees. Pursue careers. Become the sort of people who listen to NPR and occasionally waste money on artisan cheeses.
I’m grateful for the support that we’ve had and the opportunities we’ve been able to give our daughter because of it, but I also feel like I need to recognise that I’m one of the lucky ones. If I was a single mother on benefits and I read someone talking about how taking a small child to Spain is good for their brain development, I’d want to punch that privileged jerk in the face. When you’re not sure where your next paycheck is coming from or how your going to feed your family tomorrow, a jolly on the Costa del Sol isn’t even on your radar. You’re surviving while people like me are banging on about thriving, because we’re surviving so hard we don’t even have to think about it.
I guess this is me trying to check my privilege, if that’s still a thing. I get that my position as a white, English-speaking, middle-class woman is an advantaged one. I’ve been given access to the world, and now I get to give it to my daughter. As we sat together last week, sipping cold drinks on a hot Spanish beach, we both had a lot to be grateful for. One day I’ll make sure she knows it.