Over the course of their existence, planes, trains, and cars have been getting more affordable. Because of that and many other factors, traveling the world has been more accessible than ever! Rather than taking days, weeks, or even months to travel hundreds or thousands of miles, someone could cross thousands of miles in several hours. But there’s still a bit of complexity to travel. It feels, at times, like traveling is getting more and more accessible, especially with the countless blog posts and listicles about inexpensive travel and social media influencers showing off their latest trip.
Travel as a political act
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
Many argue that traveling can easily be a political act, one that can build empathy, bridge difference, and broaden one’s horizons. Rick Steves, a travel writer and television personality, wrote an entire book about how travel can be a political act and argued that travel can help you better understand the world and the other people who live in it.
For example, if you’ve only ever been feed one narrative about one part of the world and you travel there, there’s a good chance you’ll see that there’s really not a single narrative about a place and a community. There’s more to the world than we might realize and traveling can help us see the world in less black and white.
- 10 Tips for Traveling as a Political Act by Rick Steves
Voluntourism and Decolonizing Travel
A part of the conversation around traveling as a political act is voluntourism, as traveling to another country to “help” a poor community can often do more harm than good. By participating in this field of travel, one easily helps to maintain the same status quo they’re trying to work against. Plus, participating in the voluntourism industry and traveling with an immense amount of privilege has an impact on policies and the communities you visit (and/or try to help), whether you realize it or not. I’ve written about voluntourism a few times before over the last couple years; you can find those posts here. (Those posts also include more resources on voluntourism, including many articles about the issue from folks who are much smarter than I am.)
If you want to read more about decolonizing travel and voluntourism, here are some resources:
- What Does It Mean to Decolonize Travel? by Amy Lam, Bitch Media
- The Fragility of the Western Traveler: Time to (Un)pack the Colonial Baggage by Bani Amor, Bitch Media
- Check Yourself Before You Wreck Someplace Else: A Guide to Responsible Summer Travel by Bani Amor, Bitch Media
- ‘Slum Walks’ Aren’t Educational – They’re Glorifying Poverty for Profit by Shailee Koranne, The Establishment
Travel is, at times, a luxury
For many, travel is a luxury and not just in a financial way (although that can be a deciding factor). For those who are marginalized in some way, traveling (especially when you travel alone) can sometimes mean dealing with some potential harassment. For example, if you’re traveling as a marginalized person (especially if you’re queer, trans, and/or gender non-conforming person, a woman, etc), there’s a chance you might deal with harassment, including in places you might deem “safe”.
Over the past couple of years, some have shared their experiences of discrimination/harassment while traveling, including dealing with racism with AirBnB hosts and the misgendering that many trans folks deal with while traveling. #TravelingWhileTrans on Twitter is one place that trans and gender non-conforming folks have shared their own experiences while traveling.
For some, a sense of safety might be rooted in stereotypical and racist beliefs. Bani Amor wrote a piece for the site On She Goes at the beginning of this year that critically looks at travel safety for women of color in a racist, sexist world. In that piece, Amor writes in particular “that safety to white women travelers is not the same as safety to nonbinary travelers and women of color” and goes on to write about how what might be considered safe by white women travelers may be rooted in racist assumptions.
Of course, not everyone is going to have the exact same experiences in the same places. If someone feels unsafe in one part of the world and you don’t, there’s a good chance that you are both right and the deciding factor is less about who’s wrong and who’s right and more about the differences between you (both in identities and in experiences). It’s really important for many (especially white folks like me) to confront our own biases while also respecting ourselves and others when we don’t feel safe.
Ultimately, travel can be this enriching, wonderful experience for many. Through travel, you can learn about the world and the people that live in it with you. You can broaden your horizons and better understand that the world is a complicated but beautiful place. The reason I wrote this piece was to really challenge myself to continue to critically think about how traveling is a complex issue and to continue challenging my own set of assumptions and biases about traveling. And I hope this piece can challenge someone else as well.
I really don’t want to discourage anyone from traveling because I really do believe that seeing the world can be this fantastic experience. But I also think it’s important to challenge our own biases when it comes to travel and different communities around the world. If you are planning a trip and looking for some fantastic tips and travel writers, here are some great resources:
- Bani Amor is a travel writer from Brooklyn.
- On She Goes, a digital travel platform for and by women of color
- Traveling While Queer: a series of articles from them, an online LGBTQ platform
- Traveling While Fat (episode 13) of She’s All Fat, a body positivity podcast
- Tips For Flying While Fat by Jes Bake, Ravishly
Additionally, if you’re planning to travel, learn a bit about the place you’re going to before you leave. Read about the culture and customs a bit and like I mentioned, broaden your reading of travel writers/bloggers. While you pack and get ready, take the time to unpack your own biases and have an open mind to new experiences and new perspectives while you travel.