Travel Shaming in the Workplace (and Beyond): What It Is and Why It Needs to Stop
Travel shaming. You’ve either heard it or you may have even dealt it yourself (we probably all have at some point, even harmlessly). “Oh. You’re going somewhere again? Must be nice.".
Am I right?
Because it’s unfortunately so easy to travel shame, and so cringe-worthy to hear it directed at you, I wanted to share exactly what it is and why it’s important to be aware of the implications that come with it.
What Is Travel Shaming?
Travel shaming is something we do – whether consciously or without even realizing – to make someone feel guilty about the way they approach traveling. Most commonly, it’s a way of making someone feel bad about exercising their right to travel, or about the way they’ve chosen to travel. But while many people think travel shaming simply is about making someone feel guilty about doing it, it can also mean the exact opposite – calling someone out and shaming them for not traveling.
Though I’ve definitely been a ‘victim’ of travel shaming more times than I can count, as a travel blogger, I’ve also unfortunately been guilty of the latter (calling someone out for not traveling), which is why I feel it’s important to address both ends of the spectrum. Shaming goes both ways, and it comes in many forms – some subtle, some incredibly deliberate. Here are a couple of examples.
Making someone feel anything from less-than-happy to downright guilty about planning to take time off from work or responsibilities (or, to not take time off from work or responsibilities).
‘Going somewhere again already?’
‘If you’re leaving the office just know it’s going to reflect badly on you.’
‘Are you sure you should go? Who’s gonna handle X, Y, or Z if you’re not here?’
‘Must be nice. Wish I had your life.’
‘Why don’t you ever want to go anywhere?’
‘Why haven’t you gone yet? You need to get out more. It’s just [destination] it’s not expensive’
Making assumptions about someone’s work ethic, dedication, personal choices, finances, etc. based on their decision to travel (or not travel).
‘Wow. You got that much time off approved by your boss? I had to work 7 years just to get that.’
‘You’re practically never in the office!’ / ‘You’re practically never home!’
‘Do you think he/she is ever even in the office?’
‘You’re never here.'
‘How can you afford all this travel?’
‘You’re always glued to your desk / your laptop / your couch. You need to get out more.’
Right vs. Wrong
Providing unsolicited advice about the right and wrong way to approach taking time off or traveling, especially since 9 out of 10 times it’s just your opinion, not fact.
’That’s not how you do [destination.]’ / ‘You haven’t really been there if you didn’t do X, Y, or Z’
‘If I was going to [destination], I wouldn’t waste my time tourist traps.’
‘Ugh, why [destination]? I heard it was overrated.’
Why It’s Unfair
At the end of the day, a person’s decision to exercise their free will, their financial savings, and their work benefits is their choice. Unless someone is blatantly abusing their relationships, their commitments, or their responsibilities, it’s really not our part to have a say in what someone does or doesn’t do.
Guilt-tripping is unfair because if you’ve earned the time off that you are taking, you should have every right to exercise that benefit. If you are currently working on a project or under a deadline, of course, it’s your responsibility to take the necessary steps to make sure the work other people are relying on you for gets done. But otherwise, your vacation time is 100% meant to be used.
Character judging is unfair because you never know a person’s unique circumstances unless you are standing in that person’s shoes. Making comments about whether a person is or isn’t traveling is disrespectful to their personal, financial, or professional situation. Remarking on a person’s lack of presence in the office – or in your social lives – based on your observation could get misconstrued and make your peer look bad in front of others, even if you’re just making a passing joke.
Calling out someone’s approach to travel as right or wrong is unfair because your outlook isn’t the only way to play. I’ve heard countless people call out other people’s plans and itineraries as touristy, too organized, not organized enough, not adventurous enough. Touristy places, after all, are touristy for a reason. Who doesn’t feel whimsy and romance at the foot of the Eiffel Tower, or humbled and awe-struck standing face-to-face with the Pyramids of Giza, or like they’ve stumbled into an idyllic slice of Italian dolce vita in Cinque Terre?
What We Can Do Better
I want to make it clear that I myself am NOT perfect at avoiding travel shaming in the workplace or in my everyday life. I’m sure I’ve made jokes in the past, and I’m sure we all say things we generally intend as harmless. Most of the time, we don’t even realize we’re saying something that could be hurtful or hazardous, so it’s something I personally have been working on as I continue to travel more and encourage others to do the same.
Not everyone prioritizes travel in the same way, but that is 100% okay.
When it all comes down to it, I think of it like this. I want to travel and feel free to take time when I need a well-deserved break. I want to feel comfortable in the decisions I make, as long as I’m putting in the work first and tending to my obligations and my relationships. I want to feel like my peers and my friends support my decisions and have my back even when I’m not there to stand up for myself.
And if I want all of those things for myself, I have to be the person that pays each of those things forward – to my coworkers, my bosses, my peers, and my friends:
Supporting each other in their travel decisions.
Standing up for each other if you overhear someone making negative remarks (even as a joke) about a person’s decision to be out of the office or away from ‘normal life.’
Being aware of the things you say to someone else, or about someone else, who is taking time off. You never know how those words might be interpreted or misconstrued.
Volunteering to cover for your peers when they leave the office, so they can be stress-free and come back to work feeling recharged. You know you’d want the same when you take your next vacation, too.
Being welcoming when people come back after a vacation. Ask about their trip, catch them up on what they missed while they were gone. Don’t create a hostile, jealous, or indifferent environment for your peers if they did nothing to deserve it other than spend a couple days in Hawaii.
Asking genuine questions about why others may have chosen to approach travel the way they have, versus making split judgements about their situation.
As people who love travel (you, who chose to read this article), we know that at the end of the day it’s all about being open-minded, supportive, and non-judgmental, both in our adventures and in our everyday lives. It’s about seeing things from another person’s perspective and growing stronger and more empathetic because of your widened worldview.
We apply all of these perspectives when we travel. But it’s just as important to apply them when we’re home, and at work, too.
Have you ever been travel shamed, or have you ever travel shamed yourself?
Tell me your thoughts and experiences on this subject below, or shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’d love to hear from you on this subject!