If you are a long-time traveler who enjoys venturing to distant locales and really experiencing a place, chances are you’ve found yourself in a place like Africa or India where the poverty around you is overwhelming. I was in India over a year ago, and could not believe my eyes when I walked around (and through) some of Mumbai’s colossal slums. The average American who doesn’t travel has no idea what real poverty is really like.
The LA Times runs a really compelling piece by Susan Spano about travel and poverty that you should read. She talks about her own experience walking in India: “I clutched my money belt and walked fast. I was sweaty and scared by the time I reached my hotel, where I sat on the terrace and had a gin and tonic, chilling out but hating myself for behaving like an ugly American.” If you’ve been to places like India, you know exactly what she’s talking about. But as she also points out, these experiences are enriching. They expose you to how much of the world lives, and I’m not sure there could be a more valuable experience for the average person living in the first world. The article also talks about giving money to beggars and some of the other practical and emotional issues of what you might call “poverty tourism”.