Is Travel a Human Right?

Arc de Triomphe
Creative Commons License photo credit: Slices of Light

In April, the European Union (EU) declared that travel and tourism is a basic human right and introduced a program whereby the EU will subsidize vacations for youth, the elderly, the disabled and for those who are poor.

For those who qualify, the EU will pay for up to 30% of travel costs in order to allow people to travel to places they might not otherwise visit. Those from northern countries will be encouraged to go south and vice versa.

Declaring travel a basic right may seem a little outlandish and extreme, but it creates an interesting philosophical question. Should everyone be able to travel?

Anyone who has hit the road or boarded a plane in search of adventure and exploration of the world can tell you that the benefits of travel are many. There are the intangible benefits of increased global awareness, emotional growth and ultimately intellectual growth. Vacationing also has several physical benefits including a reduction in stress which in turn lowers blood pressure and helps you live longer. Given these benefits, it would seem a logical conclusion that everyone should be able to take a break.

Unfortunately, although there are many things that perhaps should be a basic, indelible right, taking a vacation is not one of them. Even though travel is extremely important, particularly for the young, it is ultimately a luxury. No matter your style of travel, be it budget or ultra-luxury, the expense is discretionary and usually the result of hard work.

MEPs back Estonia's euro ambitions
Creative Commons License photo credit: European Parliament

While subsidizing vacations may be somewhat dubious, it is the economic issues that lay at the heart of this debate. The EU isn’t paying for entire holidays, rather they are offering some assistance to those who wish to take advantage of the program. For inclusion in the program, there are bound to be several conditions, including eligible locations and black-out dates. That means that the EU will be able to target areas that need additional vacationers during their low season.

It is a brilliant idea really. The EU offers some vouchers to pensioners and students, who in turn spend money on airline tickets, trains, hotels, food, and so on in areas of Europe that normally don’t get a lot of tourists and at times of the year when they most need them. This isn’t speculation either, the EU plan is based on a Spanish program that was tremendously successful. Spain calculated that for every €1 it spent in subsidies, €1.6 was gained for its resorts.

What does this say about Western society though? While it is obvious that the EU plan is a poorly disguised stimulus plan, it is still asserting the claim that vacationing is on par with protecting citizens from torture and forced labor.

Since I don’t want to devolve into a discussion of political philosophy, I’ll stop-but I want to know your thoughts. Is traveling a basic right and should governments help their citizens enjoy this right?

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By: Matt Long

Matt has a true passion for travel. As someone who has a bad case of the travel bug, Matt travels the world in order to share tips on where to go, what to see and how to experience the best the world has to offer.Also follow Matt on Twitter, Facebook and

8 Responses

  1. Adam

    Interesting question. While I thing travel is very important, and I personally have it at or near the top of my priority list when it comes to how I spend my money, I really think it’s up to the person. I like the idea of governments getting involved with the intention of helping, but being from the US, at this point in time and politics, I think people would be up in arms if the government tried to butt in to one more thing. Not saying that’s right or wrong, but living in a country where travel is not a priority for many (if not most), I just couldn’t see something like this working here, at least right now. I’d love to see some kind of law/rule mandating a minimum amount of vacation time, but again, I just don’t see that happening any time soon. I am normally not so pessimistic, but when it comes to American politics at this point in time, I find it nearly impossible not to be.

    I’m curious to see what others think.

    Reply
  2. Christian

    There’s so much to consider here. There’s really no question that travel is beneficial. I could spend all day listing the ways it has helped me personally. On the other hand, travel is not a necessity in the same way that food and healthcare are. To me, this separates travel from things that should be subsidized on the basis of moral principle. I also consider the benefits of travel to part of the reward for the work it requires. It only makes sense that people would be rewarded for working hard, saving their money, and enduring occasional hardships in order to improve themselves. Saying that travel is a human right and should be subsidized, because it’s beneficial, is almost like saying people have a right to healthy bodies even if they’re too lazy to exercise. I know this isn’t really about human rights; it’s about stimulating the tourism industry, but using such language here seems irresponsible. It seems to be saying, “You have a right to advantages and luxuries without having to work for them.” That’s the (almost always false) criticism hurled at liberals by conservatives all the time. We shouldn’t go about making it true, even if it’s to sell a good idea.

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  3. Andrew

    I’ll agree with the rest in saying it seems a bit far to call Travel a “Human Right”. I support the program though, if it gets people to actually travel; although Europeans seem to travel a fair amount anyway compared to the US. Actually if Travel is really as they say a ‘right’, then the first place to start is visa and passport regulations. Inside the EU, not so bad, but coming in from out can be more difficult.

    Reply
  4. Christine, WhyGo France

    I had NO IDEA this was happening. I’ve been doing translations recently for some EU labor policy documents, and I actually did think about this issue – but it was more like a dream than an idea! Wow. You know what, I don’t even have an opinion right now – I’m totally blown away.

    Reply
  5. Everywhereist

    Matt – I’ve been thinking about this concept every since you first mentioned it. I think it part of the reason I find it to be such a brilliant idea (and one of the reasons why I think it could work) is because the EU is helping promote travel within the EU. They’ll receive money and subsidies for vacations, and during those vacations, they’ll bring cash flow to businesses, hotels, and restaurants in the EU. It’s truly brilliant.

    But it’s definitely a luxury of the first world. I’m pleased to think that people within the EU have such a high standard of living that they can afford to spend resources on stuff like this. I hope one day that the U.S. gets to that point. As for other countries in the third world, there’s too many other issues of poverty to address first.

    I’m not going to lie, though – it gives me hope. If we expanded our list of government-funded human rights to travel here in the U.S. (after we secure reproductive care, health care, shelter, food, higher education, and job training for everyone who lives in this country, regardless of citizenship) I’d be absurdly happy. I know it’s unrealistic … but a girl can dream, right?

    Reply
  6. @PatRobeck1ofHis

    I think that travel as a right is silly. I would love the government to pay for people to stay at my BnB, but there is no free lunch. Some one else has to pay for that, without their say so anytime the government decides what to do with your money. I already help pay for too many thing. I think keeping some of our own money is a right. It is what motivates us to be productive. If I can have everything I want without providing any product or service, why would I go through the effort? I love travel and travelers, but earning the treat, makes it better.

    Reply
  7. Carol @NYCityMama

    I am not sure that I would go as far as calling it a “Human Right”, however, it is a brilliant way, disguised or not, to encourage tourism to neighboring countries. I think it’s actually very forward thinking, in the same way in which I think the European nations have made it a standard for their students to learn more than just their native language as part of their general education (something I so wish the US would also make a standard). Travel broadens a person’s understanding of their place in this world, it also makes the world that much smaller, giving people a sense of global community. I don’t look at it as someone paying for someone’s vacation. That’s too much of a simplistic view for me…it may be a vacation, but it’s also an exposure to a different culture, different people, and customs. So yes, it may serve to benefit the economy of the countries visited, but I think the overall benefits of being able to travel go beyond that. My goodness, if people in the US would just leave their town, let alone their country, and open themselves to something new and different, I think we would be a lot more open minded as a nation. Good for the EU in being so smart about their approach…we have a lot of catching up to do in not only this area, but many others as a country.

    Reply
  8. Matt Long

    Great comments – thank you all for your feedback. Personally, my opinions mirror many of yours. Travel is obviously of tremendous value, no doubt there. However, making it a basic right seems outlandish to me. I also think that if you must implement such a program, that it also must include the 25-60 age group. Just because someone is gainfully employed does not mean they can afford vacations. Especially in these times, it is sometimes hard enough for a family to scrape by. I would think that to subsidize the 25-60 set would be more important as you are benefiting the economic backbone of the country.

    Regardless, in the US this will never happen. Continued stimulus measures to citizens may occur, and people may use that money to travel, but a separate program is not in the cards. Even though I may not necessarily agree with the philosophy behind the pronouncement, I must applaud their ability to be so forward thinking and to truly care about all aspects of their citizens’ lives.

    Reply

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