Photo: Aurimas

TRAVEL IS NOT SOMETHING everyone can do. A few weeks ago on this site, writer Sian Ferguson explained how, when you come from a working class or impoverished background, the possibility of “quitting your job to travel” is just not on the table. Ferguson had to sell her eggs in order to travel, and that’s not an option everyone will consider (and indeed, which poor men don’t have as an option at all). She concluded, “If we’re passionate about urging other people to travel, we need to first work at making travel a realistic option for anyone who wants to do it.”

We are obviously a long way off from making sure that anyone who wants to travel can — but new initiatives are springing up that may allow at least some underprivileged children to see more of the world they live in.

The idea is based off of Tom’s Shoes “One for One” model — in short, if you buy a pair of their shoes, they give a pair of shoes (or eyeglasses, or access to clean water, etc.) to someone in need. Now, the organizations Elevate Destinations in the United States, and Responsible Travel in the United Kingdom, are doing a “Trip for Trip” program. The idea is simple: You go on a trip, they fund a trip for underprivileged kids.

Democratizing travel

This is still a very new program, so we don’t know whether it will have any long-term effects just yet. But Justin Francis, the CEO of Responsible Travel, is optimistic.

“One hope we have is that just broadening kids horizons a little can help them realize there are lots of possibilities for them in the world beyond that of which they might be aware. So seeing a bigger world may inspire them to greater things.”

Responsible Travel has already publicized one of the trips taken by 24 children in Swaziland. The kids live in a daycare center, aged three to six. Many of them have lost one or both of their parents. The trip took them to Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary nearby, and many of them got to see some of their indigenous wildlife for the first time.

The UN has named 2017 the International Year for Sustainable Tourism Development, and part of getting tourism to a more sustainable place will be democratizing it.

“Travel is inherently unequal,” Francis says. “According to Forbes, in the US a family of four will spend on average $4,580 on a vacation each year. Business Insider reports that high net worth Americans will take on average 6 holidays per year at a cost of $13,249. Clearly for people who live a subsistence lifestyle, or whose monthly wage is entirely devoted to keeping food on the table for their family – travel, as we see it, is out of the question. Rich westerners essentially are given opportunities in places where local people are not.”

Responsible Travel’s hope is that the tourism industry will get on board with this idea, and will send 1 million kids on trips by 2020. Elevate Destinations is already sending Peruvian kids to Machu Picchu, South Africa kids to Robben Islands, and Kenyan kids on a legit safari.

What will this mean?

It remains to be see what the long-term effects of this will be, but at the very least, it’s correcting an injustice — it’s obscene, for example, that I, a guy from Cincinnati, Ohio, have had the chance to visit Machu Picchu, thousands of miles away, and that kids who grew up a short distance away have never had that opportunity. With any luck, trips such as these will expand horizons and will also make less privileged kids more attached to and invested in their culture and local environment.

The idea is already attracting some high-profile supporters — former Monty Python member and legendary traveler Michael Palin expressed his support, saying, “My appetite for travel began with day trips, so I know how much they can mean to a child.”

If you’d like to learn more, check out Responsible Travel’s website, and also Elevate Destination’s website.

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