Although there isn't the slightest chance that the current Congress
will pass such legislation, I continue to yearn for the day when we as
a nation will assist the poor to travel. In the spirit of the holiday
season, let me set forth the reasons for my dream, repeating much of
the same language I composed some 25 years ago. That background is as
While most of us enjoy the widely-recognized benefits of
travel--the awesome beauties of an outside world, the broadening aspect
of foreign cultures, the mind-tingling sense of human
possibilities--the same rewards are unavailable to persons of adult age
who happen to be poor and living in the United States.
But should this be? If the ability to enjoy rest and leisure is a
human right--and it certainly is (see the Universal Declaration of
Human Rights, quoted below)--shoudn't we concern ourselves with travel
opportunities for the poor?
In Europe some sixty years ago, leading travel figures began
meeting to discuss the contradiction between low income and the right
to travel. From these talks emerged an organization called the
International Bureau for Social Tourism. It continues to exist today
(as "ISTO", the International Social Tourism Organization), and though
its work may seem a bit simple, it is of remarkable importance.
*The vacation itself: The Organization advocates, first, for the
fundamental right of a yearly paid vacation by people of all income
strata. Sounds self-evident, doesn't it? Yet in an America that
mandates the minimum wage and the 40-hour week, no law protects the
right to a paid vacation, and numerous low-income people fail to
receive one. We appear to pay no heed to that statement in the UN's
Universal Declaration of Human Rights (Article 24) that "everyone has
the right to rest and leisure, including reasonable limitation of
working hours and periodic holidays with pay".
*Access to the vacation: The European organization seeks to
persuade governments, owners of the railroads, to provide poor people
with a free or drastically reduced round-trip rail ticket, once a year,
to a vacation destination. That brings a proper vacation into the
financial reach of a great many of the poor, but at no cost to their
*A fulfilling vacation. The Organization promotes the
construction and operation of dignified, low-cost "vacation villages"
in seaside and mountain areas, by political parties of both the left
and right, by labor unions and philanthropic societies.
*Filling unused accommodations. They enroll farmers with large
and partially underutilized homes, or educational institutions with
vacated residence halls, to list those facilities for holiday use by
the poor, at low rate.
*A host of other measures: They develop camping facilities--the
cheapest form of meaningful travel--and caravaning, issue reduced-price
travel vouchers and credit facilities for travel by the poor.
By now, you undoubtedly have questions.
First, isn't social tourism a form of subsidized tourism? Of
course it is--but so is "commercial tourism".
When the non-poor travel, who pays for the highways on which they
drive their cars? Who funds the aviation authorities that secure the
safety of their landing fields and flight paths? Who maintains the
port facilities, docks and marinas at which they park their boats?
Because the taxpayer is already so heavily supporting travel by
middle-income and high-income Americans, common justice requires that
at least some resources be spent on travel by the poor. Call me a
star-gazer, but I believe in "social tourism". And someday we'll
follow the lead of the several European countries that have adopted at
least some measures of tourism for the poor.
(Photo credit: Mikecogh/Flickr)