On Freedom to Travel

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The following branded content post is brought to you by the World Travel and Tourism Council. Once you see this video, you’ll understand why I agreed to run a branded content post for the first time in nearly a year.

One of my greatest joys was finally visiting my readers from the Philippines in Manila last year.

Filipinos are some of the warmest, friendliest people you’ll ever meet. And they love to travel. If you don’t believe me, check out the traffic on the Filipino travel blogs — despite being from a country with a smaller population, they regularly pull in numbers outdoing all but the biggest travel blogs.

Kate and Pinay Readers

Here’s another thing — it is a lot harder for Filipinos to travel internationally than it is for people from more developed countries. Just going to Europe is a long process requiring a complete itinerary with hotels already booked, proof of income, and bank statements dating back the last few months, among other things.

I couldn’t believe it.

Yet my friends from the Philippines still manage to travel, and not only to places where they can go without a visa. They spend the time jumping through hoops: collecting the bank statements, filling out those forms, making every travel reservation months in advance, and sitting in embassy meetings praying that nothing goes wrong.

Have you been to Europe? How easy was it to book a flight and pay your way? Did you have any moments of serendipity, changing your plans on a whim? Did you even need to get a visa? Think about it.

Serendipity is one of the things I enjoy most about travel — changing your plans at the last minute and doing something completely different. But even something like a little impromptu side trip to a different country would be restricted for someone with a passport from a developing country.

Why do my Pinoy friends and people from other developing countries even bother traveling with all these restrictions? Because they know how much value travel adds to their lives.

Boracay Sunset

The Benefits of Travel

Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime. —Mark Twain

The single greatest benefit of my travels is that I’ve learned so much about the world. And the more you learn, the more you learn that your home country could be better.

Thailand, for one, could be a model on transgender visibility and acceptance. Kratoeys or ladyboys (a commonly used, non-insulting term) are publicly accepted and embraced far more in Thailand than in the United States. The situation isn’t perfect, but it’s already lightyears past what we have in America.

Environmentally, Bhutan is leading the way. Bhutan had the potential to bring in exponentially more tourism — but they purposely limit the number of tourists to cause a minimal impact to their fragile Himalayan environment and only allow people who are serious about treating the country with respect.

Scandinavia and the Nordics do so many things so well. You bet I would love to live in a Scandinavian-style system, pay a ton more in taxes, and receive free healthcare and childcare and mandated vacation time and have a prison system that actually rehabilitates.

Japan is marvelously efficient. Seriously, the Japanese make every effort to make every action, every device, every building to solve as many problems as humanly possible. People in almost every other country would come up with excuses not to do something — it’s too expensive; it’s nonessential. The Japanese just do it.

Travel helps us appreciate what innovations other places bring to the world — and allows us to return home and share what we’ve learned.

Everyone should be able to travel.

Take a look at this video and be inspired.

Take a moment to be thankful.

Think about it the next time you’re sitting on a plane next to someone who smells like they haven’t showered for a week.

Think about it when your bus breaks down and you’re stranded on the side of the road.

Think about it when you’re sweating and suffering from food poisoning.

Travel is a beautiful privilege that we have. Even in the tough times. Never forget that.

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63 thoughts on “On Freedom to Travel”

  1. Thanks for highlighting the perseverance of Filipinos and Filipinas to travel and see the world, Kate! Even with my blue passport, I still seem to take longer at security checks than my Caucasian counterparts and and get called into back offices for additional scrutiny.

    Being a developing nation with many citizens attempting to find work overseas through legal channels and otherwise, legitimate Pinoy travelers to developed countries in Europe, North America and even Japan are often presumed to be wanting to migrate illegally. Guilty until they could prove otherwise.

    I’m glad to see more of my fellow Filipinas doing what needs to be done to secure the funds and visas to get out in the world to soak up experiences and make memories.

      1. Technically, Filipino-American but I’ll always be perceived as a Filipina traveler 🙂
        I’m compiling travel stories and anecdotes of non-Caucasian American travelers: Brown Face, Blue Passport.
        Cheers!

        1. Hi Tessa,
          I would love to read your work! I can definitely relate to the challenges of traveling on a developing nation’s passport – myself holding a Malaysian passport. My respect and admiration to all the avid non-Caucasian travelers out there who keep up their travel spirit in spite of the extra legal hassle 🙂

  2. I’m British and currently applying for a Russian tourist visa, a process which includes providing three months’ worth of bank statements, proof I have at least £100 per day that I’ll be in Russia, listing every single country I’ve entered in the last decade, an official “invitation” from a hotel or travel agency, the exact hotels I’ll be staying in whilst there . . . the month I graduated, the name and address of my employer from 2004 . . . the list goes on.

    I’ve travelled extensively in the past and I’ll admit that I take for granted the freedom having a UK passport allows. That said, I naively assumed that this process for the Russian visa was unusual and that for most people, most of the time, it would be the relatively simple process it generally is for me when a visa is required (fill out a few questions, pay the ransom, send off your passport). Kate, your post has reminded me that I’m incredibly lucky. Russia is a rarity: only a few countries make the visa application this difficult for British citizens. I can travel most of the world with almost complete freedom and autonomy, and there are clearly huge numbers of people who aren’t nearly so lucky. Honestly, I had no idea. I won’t complain again!

    Thank you for opening my eyes.

    1. Sorry to hear that my country is being this “difficult” to you. I hope things will change. I now have dual citizenship with USA and Russia and I get tons of questions at airports about that fact. They also ask me if I’m a spy ))

      1. To be honest I’ve heard that Russia are only doing this because the UK did it in the first place, for Russian citizens wanting to visit the UK. I understand it’s a form of retaliation so really we only have the British government to blame!!

    2. I’m really interested to see how this plays out in Russia for the World Cup in a few years. I’d like to go, but it seems prohibitively complicated. Maybe they will ease up in order to ramp up attendance?

  3. AMEN. As a Russian citizen I am required to present itinerary, tickets (pre-purchased, often non-refundable), proof of income and other papers to even be considered for a visa to Europe and North America. When I lived in the US, as a permanent resident, I still had to do it for every leisure trip to Europe. And yes, it was totally worth it, bc travel is amazing. But it also frustrates me when people, especially my friends with solid financial means, complain about the hassle of coming to see an amazing (and, um, the largest in the world) country like Russia, and try to convince me that the visa process is the WORST THING EVER AND THEY’VE NEVER SUFFERED HARDSHIP AND INDIGNITY LIKE THAT, not even realizing their privileged. I have gone through it dozens of times over the last two decades, as have millions of Russians, and obviously Filipinos and dozens of other peoples from non US-Europe world, all to see the sights and treasures of other countries. And it’s doable, it’s fine, it’s normal!
    *EXHALE*
    Everyone should come to Russia, is what I’m saying 🙂

  4. The only thing I can do is to have admiration for you. In Spain is not common to travel alone and less if you are women. Thia information has opened my eyes to understand is better to travel alone that bad mate

  5. Wow, what an enlightening post. I know I take for granted how easy it is for me to travel and I am so inspired by those who continue to go,despite the obstacles. This makes me what to take advantage even more of my freedom to travel and book a trip today!

  6. As a holder of Croatian passport I also gave a lot of money away for extra visas. At least I always got one. Let’s just say that if you want to go to US you need to pay 150$, pay a trip to Embassy in Zagreb (100$ from my city and back) and be the perfect candidate for it. If you fail to get a visa (which I heard happened to lots of people I know) you lose all your investment.
    Luckily, we became a part of the EU so that made traveling to Europe much easier, but still, we are having problems getting visas from some other countries outside the Europe (most of Asian and African countries).

  7. thank you for this post Kate! You bring up an excellent point. We are SO lucky as Americans (and Canadians) to be able to travel freely. I received a major reality check when I found out the visa process and cost for Americans to Brazil. I nearly cancelled the trip! I was nervous I wouldn’t get my visa in time. But I did and I went to Brazil and it was amazing. It is a unique luxury that we have not to worry about visas to most countries. Philippinos are wonderful. I loved my time in Manila and I made amazing friends. They are open-minded, friendly and warm.

  8. Kate, even having two passports is not as easy as it sounds. But I try to manage around visa stuff and fees. Still I get the looks from people as to why and how I have USA and Russian passports. They do let me travel almost everywhere visa free, but I still have to answer questions ) especially when they see two different names on passports. Can’t wait to go to Philippines )

  9. What an amazing video! Made me wanderlust very hard!

    I never really appreciated how difficult it for some people to travel because VISA processes are so difficult and stupid and crazy until I set about applying for a French Working Holiday VISA. I can’t imagine having to do that for everytime I travel!

  10. Kate, what a lovely post. I definitely take this for granted coming from the States. This really spoke to me and made me appreciate travel that much more. I would love to hear more about other countries’ traveling experiences. I’m loving reading through the comments of this post. Thanks so much for starting such a thoughtful conversation!

  11. Oh Philipnes, I’d like to go there so much.
    Kate, I am brazilian and a big fan of your work on this site.
    Te pictures and places are amazing, and that inspire me to do the same.

    Thank you so much!

  12. I remember before I left Manila some 3 months ago I was cramming to get visas for
    4-5 countries as part of my long journey. It was awful and mentally exhausting. But that was over and I’m enjoying my time now in South America where I can go to some countries visa free.

  13. I know all about that struggle. Going to Europe is so painful on a South African passport! They need every detail of your trip pre planned and cash in the bank not just the fact that you have a credit card. The visas are also so expensive! Why I love traveling in Asia- none of that stress. USA embassy won’t even let you take in your car key or cellphone when you apply for the visa and want proof of everything you own in RSA to check you have stuff that will make you come home. My parents had to give their marriage certificate when my dad went on a trip without my mum to visit his brother who now lives there.
    But nonetheless I do it because once you get there it is so worth it!

  14. I’m British and I travel a lot. I’m painfully aware of how much my nationality opens the door to everywhere I want to go and I have never ever been refused. If I want to go there, then I do.

    I am proud of the Filipino girls and any other citizen of a developing nation that does their best to try and travel the world with all the barriers put in front of them and sometimes I forget.
    I forget and take things for granted.

    A couple of years ago, I wanted to go to Russia for a few days and embarrassingly, I whinged and barked all because I had to pay (at the time) $50 for a visa. I spend more than that for a pair of shoes and most of the time, I don’t even wear them!

  15. Thank you very much for this article. There’s no doubt that I hardly even consider visas when traveling with an American passport. When a visa is required, I make a big stink about it usually or use it as an excuse not to travel to a certain country (Russia and Brazil come to mind). This article has certainly made me reflect on my attitude towards travel freedom.

  16. I recall reading a guest post on another travel blog once, from an Indian couple embarking on a huge travel adventure. Everyone is doing RTW trips these days or so it seems, but for these two it was much harder simply because of their passports. Humbling.

  17. I am so glad for this post! I am a Filipina living in the United States. Whenever people start talking about travel and I respond with “I’m not allowed in!” (joke) they don’t quite understand why. Any time I want to visit another country that requires a visa, it need SERIOUS planning at least 6+ months in advance. and the trip has to be long enough to make the hassle worth it. A quick 2 day layover in Japan on the way home from the Philippines? no way.

    The worst part too is – since I’m in the US – I get charged extra for getting visas outside of the Philippines. :/

  18. What a great post.

    I’m from the US and have only had to apply for one travel Visa…to Australia. I could do it online so it wasn’t an issue at all. So far most of my international travel has been within North America and Europe, but I’m sure I’ll need to jump through a few Visa hoops when I venture beyond!

    My stepson and his family are from the UK … a couple of months ago they came to visit us in the US. We decided to meet them in Canada (Vancouver BC) for a long weekend before the final leg of their journey. After the weekend, we were at the airport and the agent said they needed a Visa to get into the US from Canada. I was so ignorant, I didn’t even think to do research that when we booked their flights. (Any other time we’ve flow him directly from London to the US, so no VISA was necessary.) Luckily we could apply for the Visa at the airport…$20CAD for each UK passenger. So still not a big issue…but it did teach me to do my research before booking flights!

    Again, thanks for the post (and the comments!)

    1. The hardest part about getting into Australia as an American was saying, “No, I did not bring any fruit or feathers or anything made of wood,” about five times to the border agent. We’re very fortunate.

  19. Hello Kate!
    I am a person who is wanting to travel the world in my near future, and I’m wondering where is the which place do you prefer to start my travels? I’m hoping to start travelling in a few years, but I have no idea where to begin or end! Would I end my world travels where I started, or do a big loop? Thanks for reading my comment and safe travels!

    1. You can go anywhere you’d like, Louie! Go to the place that’s calling your name. If this is the first time you’ve ever traveled, it’s a good idea going somewhere where English is commonly spoken, then you can ease yourself into more challenging destinations.

  20. wow amazing article. I read the whole thing. I also love travelling, I never travelled anywhere out of Canada though only Alaska but I love doing new things just like you but sometimes opportunities are washed away because i’m anti-social and very shy. but I am happy with the results of my adventure. I love your blog as well. I love hearing other peoples adventures.

    ~emily

  21. It’s amazing how easy the process for travelling is to some countries.
    I am in total awe of all the people that persevere despite the limitations and set backs xx

  22. Kate, you made some great points in this post.

    Also, I have to say that being a native English speaker (I’m from the US) really helps — it’s amazing how many places you can find someone who speaks at least a little English. That’s something I’m really thankful for. (I can get by in Spanish, French, and Italian, but I’m a long way from fluent.) It seems like for a lot of travel destinations, you pretty much need to speak English at this point, unless you speak the language of the place…

    I just got back from three weeks in China — a very interesting experience! And I lucked out with the visa — when I applied I just asked for (and paid for) a single-entry 60 day visa — but they gave me a 10-year multi-entry visa (60 days per entry).

    On the other hand, there are some places I’d like to go (like Iran) where a US passport pretty much locks you out…

    1. That’s another issue — people who don’t speak English need to practice English for visiting, say, Thailand! We really do hold so much privilege.

      Iran actually doesn’t lock you out if you have a US passport. If you’re American, Canadian, or British, you need to visit with a registered guide or tour group, which is not much of a sacrifice. There are lots of tours.

  23. What a beautiful post! I’m definitely grateful – in fact, learning to practice gratitude is one of the greatest lessons I’ve learned from travel. I hope it’s something I never start taking for granted.

  24. This really made me think! It’s inspiring that some people persevere against challenges and obstacles to travel when it is so much easier for me to do so, as an American. Good to be aware of remembering the privilege we have sometimes. Thank you for sharing Kate.

  25. Hey Kate,
    I went through 2 more blogs about the same topic & found the same reaction.
    It will help countries to generate more revenue & jobs. Every country must support tourism-friendly visa policies so that traveler enjoys the diversity of the world.
    The world is a better place if we have Freedom to Travel
    Thanks

  26. This is an awesome post! Everyone at work gives me such grief because I love to travel and they always say I’m “spoiled” and they have a million excuses why they can’t do the same things I do! I don’t smoke, drink, or spend money on high fashion or concerts and I’m starting to see the world! Everyone has the same freedom in the states!

  27. Couldn’t agree more about how much you learn from travel! So inspiring…. there’s no teacher like experiences and seeing the world 🙂 happy you got to connect with your readers from the Phillipines! hoping to go there this trip!

  28. YES. This! Being able to travel, to travel as much as most of us do, is something that feels normal to us but we should never forget how lucky we are – so thanks for this little reminder.

  29. Wow, what an enlightening post. I know I take for granted how easy it is for me to travel and I am so inspired by those who continue to go,despite the obstacles.

  30. fantastic post Kate. In the western world we take our ability to travel to most places as a given and if we need a visa or need to book a hotel room we find it a massive imposition when most of the world can’t just hop on a plane and come to our countries. We are so very lucky!

  31. I’ve been traveling for 15+ years, but a recent visit to Iran was the first time I’d EVER had to go through a complicated visa process in advance. It was a little bit of work, a decent amount of money, and a LOT of anxiety (got my visa with 2 hours to spare!), but what it really made me realize is how lucky I am that this is a rarity for me. As an American, and one of decent financial means, I have access to just about anywhere in the world that I want to go. My Iranian tour guide, on the other hand, has to get letters of invitation and proof of income and all sorts of other hoops to jump through just to visit friends he’s made while guiding. He says his dream is a world without borders!

  32. It is rightly said that the world is a book with pages to be explored. Your motivational post adds life to my travel plans. My passion is to travel as many countries as I can in the given lifetime. Thank a lot for sharing it.

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