First World Travel Privilege: What Is It?

After all my years of travel, I cannot help but think about people in situations different than mine that see what I do as something extraordinary instead of seeing it as something normal.

I cannot help but think that our world could be a better place if we could all just take a step back and recognize how privileged we are to have been born in the right place at the right time.

If you have seen the news you probably have heard the word “White Privilege” being used to describe the situation of the ruling majority of the United States in comparison with the minorities that inhabit said country…

But how about the rest of the world?

Vespa Adventures

Daily life in the countryside of Hoi An

What is First World Travel Privilege?

Privilege in the globalized world is not defined by the color of the skin, privilege in the globalized world is defined by nationality. You see, despite what philosophers and religious scholars might tell you, not all men are born equal. By the moment of birth, people start in different levels of difficulty in order to succeed in life.

You have probably heard the story about the professor who placed a basket in front of his classroom and instructed his students to fold a piece of paper and throw it at the basket, those who scored would get an A+ with the only rule being that they must remain seated.

Of course, people in the back rows complained because the situation wasn’t fair since people in the front already had all the tools they needed to succeed without doing anything to deserve them. As you can imagine, the people at the front didn’t complain at all.

Why would anyone complain about being ahead of the game at the moment of their birth? That’s privilege in a nutshell: A man born into poverty doesn’t have the same tools to succeed as a man born into wealth.

That’s just the way the world works and wait for it…it gets worse.

What the metaphor failed to mention was the fact that in real life, there are students who are instructed to accomplish the same feat while wearing a blindfold and with their hands tied behind their backs: People born into poverty in developing countries will most likely die in poverty since there’s no welfare in developing countries.

The odds of escaping poverty in developing countries are extremely low despite the fact that people try harder and harder every single day in order to get out of the eternal cycle of working low paying jobs and begging in the streets.

If you thought than being poor in a First World Country was bad enough, then you clearly know nothing of the world despite how well-traveled you think you might be.

It's better to be poor than being dishonest

It’s better to be poor than being dishonest

The True Face of Poverty

I have seen the true face of poverty while growing up in Mexico. I have seen childhood friends die of diseases that could be easily cured with the right resources. I have seen childhood friends die because they chose a life of crime in order to feed their families. I have seen childhood friends take their own lives just so their loans would die with them and their brothers could finish school.

Even after experiencing all of this first-hand, I’m privileged enough to understand that my experiences pale in comparison with the ordeals suffered by people in war-torn countries in Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa. Human pain and suffering are incommensurable in the sense that you cannot really compare one experience with another, but let me tell you something: If you’re reading this, you already have it easy.

If you’re reading this, you have access to the Internet, something that 60% of the world does not. If you’re reading this, you’re literate, something that 26% of the world is not. If you’re reading this, chances are that you’re not living below the global poverty line of 1.25 USD a day unlike the 25% of the world who do.

If you’re reading this it means you have a social conscience or that at least you’re interested in building one. And trust me, the percentage of the people in the world who think like you and me is smaller than what I would like it to be. What is the First World? To me, the First World is not about developed nations, the First World is about people like you and me: People who have the tools to change and shape the world.

It doesn’t matter if your passport is British, Mexican, Cambodian or American, what matters is that you’re a world traveler. What matters is that you have seen the world, what matters is that you already know about the human injustices that take place in lands other than your own. You are enlightened in the ways of the world. And that’s the greatest privilege of them all.

The though life in the countryside of Siem Reap, Cambodia

The though life in the countryside of Siem Reap, Cambodia

What can we do to help our World?

Listen, there’s nothing wrong with being privileged. I’m not trying to guilt you into thinking that you’re in the wrong because you have too much while the rest of the world has too little. That’s not what I want, not at all.

What I want you to do is to dedicate at least a tiny fraction of your time to think about what you can do to make this world a better place because trust me, in the end all material possessions come and go in the same sense that people come and go.

In a few years I’ll be gone and all that will remain will be my legacy. All that will remain is the smiles I helped make, all that will remain will be the stories of the people I have helped, all that will remain is the positive change that I have made in this world…

The positive change that WE have made in this world.

Don’t let the world shape you into being someone you’re not, instead shape the world to make into the place we all need and deserve. Recognize your privilege and think of ways in which we can make every single person in the world as privileged as we are right now.

Isn’t that a future worth fighting for? Worth living for? Worth dying for?


Travel and empathy

Travel and empathy. Bucharest, Romania.

12 Responses

  1. Tripper

    Raphael I don’t even know where to begin… Thank you for this post. I have many things running through my mind right now. I like that there’s a fun side to you but a “wake up and smell the coffee” side too. And you touched a big nerve here when you started describing what you witnessed and how it still isn’t as bad as in other countries. It’s a very humble message (and lesson).

  2. This American Girl

    Thank you for being someone who cares <3 That's how it all begins.

  3. Piccola Ying

    I used to dislike my Malaysian passport since it doesn’t provide me with all first world travel privileges. But after circumventing around the globe in my own way and with my own funds, I realised that I’m just as privileged as everyone else. I did after all, possess the capacity to travel in my own time and on my own terms. There are so many others who couldn’t and for that I feel blessed.

    • chewy travels

      My friend just gave up his Sri Lankan passport for a Singaporean one. It was the choice that made sense, since then he wouldn’t have to get visas in many, many more places. But you make a great point, and it isn’t just about the visas!

    • Raphael Alexander Zoren

      Thank you for your kind words, Piccola! Glad to read your unique point of view. It’s true that it’s easy to view ourselves as the underdogs while forgetting that the real underdogs are the ones that have never left their home.

  4. chewy travels

    I like your message. I haven’t seen even half as much as you have, and nothing nearly as bad as what you saw growing up in Mexico. I want to do what I can to help, and I want to see more of the world. But what can I do to not feel like I have to apologize for my nationality and privilege when I’m in a developing country?

    • Raphael Alexander Zoren

      I believe that apologizing for things beyond our control is not good for anyone, instead I would recommend empowering the local people so they can someday enjoy the same lifestyle that we have. At least that’s what I do ;)

      • chewy travels

        Thanks for your thoughts. I still struggle with it though, and wonder who I could empower local people if I’m just passing through. Hopefully on a larger scale what I do can help them in the long run!

  5. Sri Purna Widari


    This post of yours has really opened my eyes about how blessed I am.
    I live in a developing country where most people probably earn 19 times lower than the developed nations.
    But I am lucky that I have someone who had given me the chance to travel even in luxury at times, I have the money for internet connection, I have good English skill, I have knowledge about the world and the time to access it more than my peers who are busy with family and social responsibility and I have the freedom and at the age of 31, I still have the physical energy to travel more.

    I sometimes had to really suppress my anger when people from developed countries act with arrogance and entitlement especially in my island only because they come from developed countries and I feel less privileged because my country is not the one with the highest GDP, but I am privileged.

    Keep posting.


  6. Eric

    Wow, so interesting to see the article and responses. Your facts and stats at first caught me off guard and I questioned them, and I was amazed to confirm their accuracy as I was at the same time astonished at them. Great job. When we travel, I think it important to think of yourself as an ambassador representing the best of what you have to offer as an individual; where you are from is secondary. I am aware that there are some from my country of the USA that appear arrogant, rude, domineering and, to me, embarrassing when abroad. I have found myself at the end of an international extended stay, boarding a plane full of mostly people from the US, and cringing of those I live amongst in my home land.

    I’ve seen wealth and poverty. It is interesting that the most generous are those with the least to offer; while those with wealth are often the most stingy and frequently the rude ones.

    Also think that when looking at a picture of the world from space, what do you see? Truly, a world with no boarders. The lines of countries are all made up and change from time to time. And while we are all born with different advantages or disadvantages, sometimes based on where these lines have been drawn, there is nothing that prevents us from traveling and just being a member of humankind. I once heard the phrase: Human kind, be both. I try to keep that in mind. Also, true class has no boarders.