Reality Check: Not Everyone Can Travel, Can They?

This week I was updating my website in order to list all the countries I’ve been to and I just realized that the grand total is 60 (the last new country I visited was Palestine btw).

Now, I’m not the type of person to pay attention to country counting and I don’t really think that this is an accomplishment in any sense of the word (after all, there’s no difficulty at all in boarding a train/bus/airplane) and yet, this number really makes me be grateful for how privileged I am.

Nevertheless, it is important for everyone to understand that even though sometimes your nationality *might* be against you, the struggle and sacrifices you’ll face will only make you stronger.

If you want to travel…travel. It’s as simple as that. However, it’s important to understand that there’s 3 very big reality checks that will hinder your dreams of freedom and here’s how you can overcome them.

Reality check #01: Sometimes, your nationality is against you!

As a Mexican, I am very blessed by the fact that we have very good international relationships with most Latin American and European countries. The only “hard-to-get” visa for us is the one for the United States of America and that’s only because of the bad image that illegal immigrants from our country have given us. And I totally understand that, I really do.

But how about people from other Third-World countries located in other continents? It might surprise you to know that, until recently, citizens of Peru and Colombia required a visa to visit the Schengen area of Europe and another separate visa for the United Kingdom!

But hey, my dear Latin American reader, you should feel privileged. Why? Because there are people who have it worse than us: Citizens from African and Central Asian countries.

Take a quick look at Visa Mapper and type any African or Central Asian nationality. You’ll be surprised and depressed, trust me.

Why travel to Egypt

Hatshepsut Temple in the Valley of the Kings, Egypt

Reality Check #02: Geography and supply/demand are against you too! 

Citizens from big and decentralized countries such as Mexico and the United States of America find it very hard to travel abroad because of the geography of their countries, which stretches a big chunk of the continent left to right as well as the fact that there is a lot of variety to be found within their borders.

Did you know that Mexico has 32 Unesco World Heritage sites? That’s the biggest number of all the Americas (North and South) and ranks at sixth place in the whole world (after Italy, China, Spain, Germany and France). Not bad, uh?

But hey, that’s not fair! Australia and Canada are as big and their citizens travel a lot! Yes, but remember the word I put emphasis on? Decentralized countries. Out all of the Canadian travelers I encountered, most were from one of the big three cities: Toronto, Montreal (East Coast) and Vancouver (West Coast). Same with Australia: Sydney, Melbourne (East Coast) and Perth (West Coast).

Quick, name the three most important cities in the USA! You’re probably thinking of either the East (NYC, Boston, Washington D.C.) or the West Coast (Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle) but did you know that most of the population of the country lives in the Mid-West? It is the same case with Mexico, we have many main cities such as Mexico City, Monterrey, Guadalajara, Cancun and Guanajuato and yet, the majority of the population lives far away from those areas.

For the average citizen, traveling abroad is very financially difficult since, chances are, that he/she doesn’t live anywhere near the major international airports of their country and has to pay the cost of getting to such airport in the first place!

And because supply/demand is the one that rules the market, you’ll be surprised to know that a round trip between Acapulco and Mexico City costs 60 USD by LAND. Yes, the same amount it takes for buying FOUR Ryan-Air tickets to country hop between Spain, France, Ireland and England.

A couple of Cuban gentlemen in Trinidad

A couple of Cuban gentlemen in Trinidad

Reality Check #03: Your income is not good enough!

The main rule of Travel Economy is simple: Income – Cost of Living = Savings.

So, what happens when you live in a First-World Country? Your cost of living is insanely high, yes, but so is your income. In Third World Countries is the opposite, the cost of living is extremely low and such is the average income.

No surprises here, but then, what happens when a person who works on a First-World country decides to use his/her savings on a Third-World Country? His/her money stretches and allows him/her to live a very luxurious life for a very low price.

When a Third-World person travels abroad to a First-World Country, the opposite happens. My best advice for Mexicans who want to actually save a lot of money is for them to work for a long period of time in a First-World Country (for example, check out how to apply for a working holiday visa for Australia) or to start their own company with foreign clients, there’s no other legal way, basically.

But hey, how about vacationing in another developing country? Good idea and I absolutely agree with you, my hypothetical reader. However, there is one small problem: We, as humans, always tend to crave for something extremely different.

When I was advising a Mexican friend of mine on how to optimize her savings for her Round the World Trip, I suggested her to spend at least two months exploring South America. You know what she said? “No way, I’ve saved this much money to see something very different from Mexico! South America feels too similar to me”.

The Supertrees of Singapore at Night

The Supertrees of Singapore at Night

This is a very bad misconceptions that most Mexicans (and probably Central Americans as well) have about South America. Just because we share the language and (a little bit of) post-colonial culture doesn’t mean that we’re similar.

Not at all! Some of my favorites places are located in Peru and Bolivia, and of course, who can forget about Brazil and Argentina?

Maybe this “travel elitism” of preferring on going to Europe and USA instead of exploring the rest of Latin America is what’s stopping most middle-class Mexicans to travel abroad and see the world.

Huasteca Potosina Mexico 2

Colorful boats in the Huasteca Potosina of Mexico

They save money and get into loans to visit Disneyland with their children for one weekend instead of using that same money for visiting Peru for one whole month.

But hey, to each his own. There’s no better way of traveling, not at all. I’m not here to judge your travel decisions, I’m here to inspire you to travel more and hey, YOU CAN DO IT. I believe in you and I invite you to believe in me too. Let’s make travel a reality!

The first step? Commit to travel. Don’t treat it as a hypothetical situation (“someday I’ll visit Paris and…”), no, treat it as something that can and will happen (“when I visit Paris this 2015 I will…”), once you have this right mentality you’ll begin to visualize and feel your trip.

Before you’ll realize it, you will begin to make small sacrifices each day, I mean, who needs that soft drink anyways? Water’s good enough!

Can you feel it? Travel is just around the corner and it’s calling your name. Time to pack your bags and go through that boarding gate for your next destination!

Humans of Nepal, some of the kindest in the world

Humans of Nepal, some of the kindest in the world

48 Responses

  1. vickyinglis

    Great post. Your perspective is very eye-opening to readers from developed countries, like myself. I’ve travelled a lot in West Africa, and heard from the people I’ve met just how difficult it is for them to get visas to travel in Europe, Australia and North America. And forget the option of a working holiday, unless you jump through several hoops including English language certification, even if you grew up English-speaking in Ghana or Nigeria. It made me feel very fortunate.

    • Raphael Alexander Zoren

      Indeed, recently I found the website of one of the few Egyptian travel bloggers and I was very sad to find out that he has been denied a visa for the USA twice even tough he has already been to Europe and other countries! Another dear friend of mine from Senegal who studies at Harvard and was on a exchange in Buenos Aires couldn’t even go to Uruguay without a visa! How crazy is that?

  2. Marissa Sutera

    This is a great reality check for how nationality impacts the likelihood of traveling. It’s also great inspiration to overcome those odds! There are still ways to travel, even when the odds seem like they are against you!

    • Raphael Alexander Zoren

      Exactly! In an ideal world, every country should follow Brazil’s unique stance on visas: “You let my people into your country and I let your people into me”. However, there are many Third-World countries that depend solely on tourism and have to suck it up to the big powers and abide to their rules.

  3. jessica729

    Great post! Those statistics you shared were really interesting. I think I might look some up about the U.S. now. And as always I can’t agree with you more about making travel a priority. Where there’s a will there’s a way! That’s why I’m here in Spain :)

    • Raphael Alexander Zoren

      I absolutely agree, Jessica, it’s all about priorities and the right mentality, the problem is that people in Mexico (and probably the USA as well) are very materialistic by nature. Why care about a 3 months abroad if they can buy a car that they will end up paying in 3 years? Sad but true :(

  4. Chasing the Donkey

    What a thought provoking piece. I want to share this with my Aussie friends and family who use more than their fair share of reasons that ‘can’t’ travel – as in they want to, but find so many obstacles. It’s such a shame that so many have never seen the ocean though, that one shocked me.

    • Raphael Alexander Zoren

      Me too!!! Specially when a big chunk of Mexico’s territory has access to the Ocean! Sure, the country is very big but still…the Ocean is right there!!! :(

  5. surfingtheplanet

    Very interesting article, I have never read anything similar to this, congratulations!

  6. clay

    great article and i agree that sometimes it’s difficult for people from 3rd world or less developed countries…coming from south africa, i know how much work and saving is required to have got me to the UK and now being in a position to travel more…

  7. David @ That Gay Backpacker

    I love this post, and actually those stats don’t surprise me at all. The “I travel the world, so you can too” rhetoric is loaded with so much elitism. Some people just can’t. And in fact, it’s not just people in third world countries. Where I am from in London, it is so hard for young people at the moment. Many can’t afford to take a bus to get across town to get a job interview. They don’t even dream of leaving the country.

    • Raphael Alexander Zoren

      The irony resides in the fact that those young people could actually gain money (with an extremely cheaper cost of life) by teaching English in Asian countries. The main problem? Airfare prices :(

  8. natjtan

    For many British, travel is a luxury too. Many save up for one or two weeks away in the summer in the South of Spain, Ibiza or Greece on cheap beach holidays. That said, short weekends in major European cities are getting popular due to cheap flights. Getting to the airport can take hours like in Mexico too! It’s expensive to travel in the UK also and due to the economic climate, travel is last on the list. Many British also have never holidayed outside the UK! It’s only because of my boyfriends job, that I’ve been able to travel and live in mainland Europe. I wouldn’t have had such travels if I’d have stayed in the UK. I think more Europeans (The UK many be in the EU, but we prefer not to be called European! That’s for the continent!) travel more as the borders are land not sea, passports aren’t necessarily needed, photo ID will do, thanks to the EU. I find also that Europeans are more likely to learn another language (English!) knowing it’ll help them in work and travel than the British. We know wherever we go someone speaks English.

    • Raphael Alexander Zoren

      That’s also a very good point! Although in my opinion, traveling within the UK is far more expensive than traveling from the UK to the rest of Europe, mainly due to the disparity of the value of the pound and the euro.

      • natjtan

        Yes, traveling within the UK is expensive. A single tube ticket can cost as much as a 10 journey metro ticket in Barcelona!

  9. Christine |GRRRLTRAVELER

    Thanks for sharing! No one has done a post like this and while as an American, I understand how money may be a factor, it never occurred to me .. the visa issue. That’s a big one. Also, thanks for sharing the visa Mapper. Didn’t know that site existed. Will reshare your post!

    • Raphael Alexander Zoren

      Thank you Christine, since most travel bloggers have a golden passport (USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, UK, EU), this issue is never a problem since obtaining a visa consists of only paying a fee on arrival for most countries, Russia and China being the only exceptions.

  10. Elaine Masters

    Great post and information. As an American just north of Tijuana, I’m always encouraging people to venture south of the border. American’s are missing out on so much great culture, music, food and great friends! I look forward to continuing south more as well, having been in Brazil and Peru only thus far. Passports in America may be ‘golden,’ but many countries make us pay a premium for visas. Travel is a mixed bag but so worth the effort. Saving my pennies till the next jaunt!

    • Raphael Alexander Zoren

      South American countries tend to have a reciprocity fee aimed at Americans, charging them the same amount the embassies charge for an US visa (140 USD). I was surprised to find out that most nationalities can enter Bolivia for free except for Americans!

  11. Adelina | PackMeTo

    Great post and lots of food for thought here. I can really relate to your point #3 from first hand experience. I lived in Budapest for a couple of years and my goal (& challenge to myself) during that time was to not dip into my savings unless I was traveling out of the country. So all my day to day expenses and travel within the country all came out of the salary I was earning. It was hard! I had significantly less disposable income when compared to living in Canada (despite the higher cost of living there). What I was earning in Budapest was pretty much just making ends meet. I can understand it being a struggle for people to travel when they just don’t have the money to do so. That whole experience was very humbling and has definitely opened my eyes.

    • Raphael Alexander Zoren

      I can definitely relate to that, Adelina. When I was working in Buenos Aires, I never had enough money to travel to Patagonia since I spent most of it traveling around South America. It was a hard time for the wanderluster in me!


    Hello there! This article could not be written any better!
    Reading through this post reminds me of my previous roommate!

    He always kept preaching about this. I’ll forward this
    article to him. Pretty sure he will have a good read. I appreciate you for

  13. Katrina

    I just found your website today and think you did a great job with this post. I especially agree with your last paragraph about making small sacrifices now (drinking water instead of buying a soda) so that you can have big rewards in travel later! That’s how we can afford our travels. We’re lower middle class here in the U.S. but we do have to sacrifice daily luxuries of eating out, buying new clothes, new cars, new phones, etc, so that instead we can have a trip later. Keep up the good work and I look forward to reading more of your posts!

  14. Victoria

    I love your post Raphael. Well done! I’m British and I know how lucky I am because of it. I live in Germany and I have an interesting time convincing people to go outside the German-speaking environment. The problem? Fear. Fear of the language, the culture and the unknown.
    The other day, someone told me that he didn’t want to go to Japan bceause of the poverty!!??%#! and he also didn’t want to go to Poland because he feared he would be made hostage and robbed. In Poland!#%&!!

    I am delighted to be able to read blogs from people who stem from developing countries and their own perspectives of life, while travelling. Thanks for sharing.

  15. Sammi Egan

    I know I regularly disagree with you on things you post about, but I have to give it to you here Raphael. Such a good post, great advice! Not just for your so-called “hypothetical” Mexican readers, but for all of us :) like you said, “Commit to travel” :)

  16. World Travel Family

    You’re absolutely correct. As a Brit who travelled like crazy and then ground to an almost-halt when I moved to Australia, I know how geography can go against your travel dreams. It’s HARD to get out of the big remote countries, and expensive. Not many Australians travel, it just looks that way, very few had even left Queensland, when we conducted a quick poll in our old home. It’s so much easier to do it from London, but we don’t now because…..London is so freaking expensive! We don’t have much spare cash once we’ve paid the rent now ( on a 1 bed flat for a family), so we’re just enjoying London for several months. Europe costs the earth, luckily we prefer Asia as a travel destination. It’s about how you set your life up. We prefer freedom, that’s what we have now, and not so much cash, freedom is our commitment. We’ll be back in Asia after Christmas where our small savings will last longest, looking forward to it, but still enjoying our stay here.

  17. Valeria

    Tell me about living in Venezuela hahahahahaha. With all the diplomatic troubles the president has had and how the amount of venezuelans immigrating it’s getting too high, I feel like venezuelans are not so well looked upon anymore.

    Also, the almost inexistent plane tickets, unless of course, you’re willing to pay more than 3x times the price (money few people have, with the increasing cost of living and low incoming).

    Still, trying to do my best to plan of traveling the world solo when I graduate from university. Feeling the wanderlust in my veins!

    Great blog and wishing you the best on your travels!

  18. JM Libero

    I can completely relate to this post. So many good points mentioned that I have realized over the past years I’ve been travelling within my country. I only started travelling to other countries last year.

    I’m from the Philippines and travelling to other countries can take months to save. One great example is when I met an American who saved about $20-30K and travelled to South East Asia living like a royalty, while an average Filipino will take minimum 6 mos to save Php30k but it’s not even enough for airfare to Europe.
    The visa restrictions and requirements too going to 1st world countries, most of the time, are not achievable for average Filipinos. And yes, on point, most will want to travel to 1st world countries rather than the neighboring cheap destinations.

    In addition to what you pointed out,
    a. In our culture, breadwinners end up spending all their monies for the family and nothing’s left to save. Majority end up sending brothers to school or carrying the expenses for the entire family when parents are older. Unless you’re lucky to land a high paying job or move up for promotion.
    b. Due to close family ties, parents are too afraid to let the young ones explore the world and at the same time, some are too afraid to leave the comfort of their homes that even at the age of 35 with kids, some still live with their parents.
    c.The culture of travelling here is still seen as a luxury instead of way of learning culture. So many of my countrymen haven’t even seen Palawan, Boracay or Cordillera Banaue Rice Terraces while foreigners have explored them. Here, when you travel, you’re seen as a rich person and sometimes family members resent you for spending it on “unnecessary” expenses, that is travelling, rather than buying food and things for the family. People here are only starting to understand backpack travelling and that you can travel the world on a budget.
    d. We’re still very traditional in professional career history. Very few can do the quit-job-travel-the-world or even work-save-quit-travel-repeat because you’ll have a hard time finding the same high-paying job if you’re seen jumping from one job to another. Companies will always consider loyalty and length of stay. We can’t also have multiple jobs because it’s illegal. Unless they’re freelance which mostly don’t pay well. Majority are stuck in low paying 8-5 jobs. We also do not have a culture of travel where employers allow employees to be on vacation for a long period of time to travel.

    Sad reality but still, you find ways and commit to travel if you really want to, right?

    • Raphael Alexander, The Man of Wonders

      Hi! Thanks for the lovely insight on the Philippine culture, I think that it relates to the Latin American culture in terms of family values since people often end up using their money to help family members instead of spending it on travel and possessions.

      That being said, I’m glad that you achieved your dreams of travel. Enjoy the wanderlust and hope to see you soon! : )

  19. Angie

    Hi Raphael, I just found your web page and I loved it.

    This articule is really useful and by the way I wanted to tell you, since last December, Colombians don’t need visa Schengen anymore for traveling to Europe. We are so happy about it!

    Have a good day