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I write a lot about politics here — and even more so on the Adventurous Kate Facebook page. Every single time that I post something remotely political, I get plenty of people saying, “Stick to travel.”
Let’s talk about that.
Travel is a political act.
Every time you cross an international border, every time you spend money in another community, every time you take public transportation or visit a public park or beach, you are making a political decision.
Yes, that’s the case even if you’re heading to a resort and not leaving the property for two full weeks.
You are representing your country, whether you like it or not. You are engaging in commerce with another nation and living under a different set of laws, regardless of how it feels to you.
A lot of people think that politics are simply a group of out-of-touch, self-righteous people arguing about boring things and they would much rather tune out. You can go ahead and tune out all you’d like — I feel like political junkies are the only kind of people who can keep it up all the time — but that doesn’t change the truth.
Politics affect every single aspect of how you live your life.
Close your eyes and take a deep breath. Feel the air deep in your lungs and let it out slowly. Wherever you live, that air you just inhaled is the result of your local environmental protection laws. Are you inside? You’re being impacted by housing and construction laws as well — or else your lungs would be full of cancer-causing asbestos.
COVID has made it abundantly clear how political travel is. Within months, countries shut their borders; Americans went from having one of the most desirable passports in the world to being persona non grata.
These political decisions have made have kept loved ones apart — and in some cases, separated parents from young children. These political decisions have cut off revenue sources for entire companies, especially in the travel industry. These political decisions have paused futures — or in some cases, destroyed them.
I know there are people who read travel blogs for the escapism. You want to see Instagrammable cafes and pretty waterfalls and find out the best place for a carbonara in Rome.
But that’s not this blog.
It’s impossible to travel without learning about politics — unless you choose to ignore it.
The more you travel, the more you learn about how other countries work differently. The more you travel, the more shocking it is that the United States provides such a limited social safety net.
My friends in Europe get a year or longer of parental leave, complete with full salary, whereas in the United States there isn’t even federally mandated maternity leave. You just need to hope to get offered a job at a company with a good policy.
The transportation in other countries is another revelation. Take my favorite transit country in the world, the Netherlands, where you can get trains all over the country without even leaving the airport.
And healthcare! My God! I’ve received healthcare treatment all over the world, and the difference from the United States shows just how bad we had it.
Like in Thailand, where I got an ultrasound at Bumrungrad, the best private hospital in the country, and paid $83.
Or when I had to go to A&E in the UK (the emergency room) and didn’t have to pay a thing. Not a thing!
And when I got a concussion in Germany a few years ago, the pricey emergency hospital visit and brain scan came to 300 euros — and if I were an EU resident, it would have been free.
You know what I would have have to pay for each of these in the United States?
Several hundred dollars, if not thousands of dollars.
How is that fair, or just, or normal?!
Most Americans who travel internationally are politically liberal.
It’s not a 100% correlation — that would be statistically impossible — but it’s a significant correlation.
This is a map of passport ownership in the United States.
According to CPG Grey, as documented in The Atlantic, the states with the highest passport ownership are New Jersey (68%); Delaware (67%), Alaska (65%), Massachusetts (63%), New York (62%), and California (60%). All but Alaska are largely liberal, safe blue states.
The states with the lowest passport ownership are Mississippi (20%), West Virginia (20%), Kentucky (25%), Alabama (25%), and Arkansas (25%). All of them are largely conservative, safe red states.
People who travel internationally, or are interested in international travel, different countries and different cultures, tend to be more open-minded about people who are different from them. That’s one reason why Democrats work to increase rights of marginalized groups while Republicans work to consolidate power to the few at the top.
Why is passport ownership so low compared to other developed countries? Tons of reasons. Enough for its own post. Some of them positive — the United States has incredible beauty and diversity; you could spend decades exploring the US, always finding something new.
Some of them are negative — the American Exceptionalism that is taught in schools, the little vacation time that Americans receive, the fact that most Americans don’t speak a foreign language.
Factor in intersectionality — the effects of race, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation — and it gets more complicated.
But no matter the reasons, there’s an obvious correlation — write about international travel and you will be writing for a liberal audience.
Write about travel with the purpose of driving pageviews and conversions — as virtually every professional travel blogger does — and you will be writing for an even more liberal audience.
When you have an audience, it’s your duty to speak out.
A public figure has to make a choice about how personal they are going to be about their political views. While artists and entertainers of all kinds have been forthright in their views for decades — from Muhammad Ali to Jane Fonda to Bruce Springsteen — in the age of social media, it’s a lot harder to keep your views under wraps.
Take Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. I find his media strategy fascinating. For years he’s cultivated the most inoffensive image you can possibly imagine — with themes of working hard, staying positive, loving your family, treating yourself when you deserve it, and occasionally saving puppies from drowning.
Beyond that, he stayed so neutral, you couldn’t have even guessed his favorite color.
Well, until now. This year The Rock spoke out against the atrocities of the Trump Administration and endorsed Joe Biden and Kamala Harris.
“Where are you? Where is our leader? Where are you? Where is our leader at this time? At this time, when our country is down on its knees, begging, pleading, hurt, angry, frustrated, in pain, begging and pleading with its arms out, just wanting to be heard. Begging and pleading and praying for change. Where are you?”
Yeah. It’s serious enough for The Rock to make an Instagram video about it.
When you have a position of influence, you have the power to change minds on a large scale. (For the record — anyone who is an actual influencer, with a proven track record of driving sales and impacting industry trends, detests the word influencer.)
And while it’s unlikely that your words will ever convert a die-hard person of opposite views, they often influence someone with similar views to shift more into line with you on some issues.
I am a white woman; my audience is primarily white women. This means that I am in a position to communicate with that group specifically — a group that demographically is more likely to vote for Republicans. I do my part to ease over people on the edge.
The situation is dire.
I’m not voting for what’s best for me. I’m white. I’m straight. I’m privileged enough to survive most of what can be thrown my way, with the obvious and terrifying exclusion of climate change. Hell, I was able to move out of the country — but I’ll be damned if I use that as an excuse to stop working to make my country better.
I’m not voting for what’s best for me — even though Biden and Harris are, coincidentally, what’s best for me.
I’m voting for those children who were torn away from their parents and put in cages. I can’t stop thinking about them. I can’t believe the sheer level of cruelty of our government in doing this.
I’m voting for every Black person who is driving today. Or running today. Or sleeping today. Not knowing if this is their last day.
I’m voting for my friends with chronic illnesses who are up to their eyeballs in debt and just barely able to get by with their expensive medications.
I’m voting for my friends’ kids — and all kids — who are being trained to hide from shooters in their classrooms.
They need more privileged folks like us to vote for them. It is our responsibility to do what we can to make life easier for them.
Saying “Go vote, America!” isn’t good enough.
Shouldn’t we say, “Go vote! Whatever you do, just make sure you exercise your right to vote!”?
I think that’s a bit minimal.
Call me crazy, but, DON’T VOTE FOR THE FASCIST! seems like a pretty low bar to clear.
Are there Trump-supporting travel bloggers, though?
Believe it or not, there are. While most American travel bloggers tend to be liberals, both those from the United States and elsewhere, there are a handful of conservative travel bloggers. Some of whom are white supremacists.
You can recognize them by seeing them rave on their blog about how madly they are in love with Mexico — the culture, the food, the cities, the beaches — then voting for the man who said that Mexicans were rapists, and defending the caging of children, saying, “Well, if they didn’t want to lose their kids, they shouldn’t have come here.”
You can recognize them for saying they vote Republican because It’s all about Jesus, y’all! — all while voting, canvassing, and cheering for arguably the least Christlike human on the planet, a cruel man working to deny healthcare and ban refugees, a man who said the Nazis chanting “Jews Will Not Replace Us” were “very fine people” — the absolute opposite of what the actual Jesus Christ, a brown Jewish refugee socialist, lived and taught.
You can recognize them for going on and on and on about the property damaged in the protests after George Floyd was killed — yet not saying a word about the fact that BLACK PEOPLE ARE EXECUTED BY THE POLICE ALL THE TIME WITH NO CONSEQUENCES, the result of 400 years of structural racism.
And you can recognize them when you see a male travel blogger erupting in sexist vitriol against a woman who dared to have a different view from his, as misogyny so often dovetails with white supremacy.
The fact that these people make their living by learning about other places and cultures…the cognitive dissonance is dizzying.
Look for it and you’ll see it, too.
I also have some friends in the blogging world who were lifelong Republicans but are now voting for Biden and Harris; some voted for Clinton in 2016. I’m happy about that.
(For what it’s worth, every right-leaning blogger I know from outside the United States thinks that Trump is a buffoon and America’s healthcare system is cruel and inhumane.)
My travels and education will always be a work in progress.
There is no such thing as getting to a point where you are “complete” in your political education as a traveler. My work at bettering myself will never be complete, and I’m proud of that.
Some examples of that from the past 10 years? I used the word “tranny” a lot on my first trip to Thailand ten years ago. I don’t use that word anymore. Instead, “ladyboy” is a better, more positive term in Thailand.
I used to want to travel to North Korea, but today, I don’t think it’s possible to visit North Korea in an ethical way. That may change in the future. I hope it does.
I used to think the idea of defunding the police was insane. How would you even do that? Today, I think it’s a crucial tool in dismantling structural racism, and we need to create a better system from the ground up.
I’m more careful in my language, saying things like “died by suicide” rather than “committed suicide,” or “people who menstruate” rather than “women of child-bearing age.”
And years ago, I’m sure I would have gladly accepted the lucrative campaign offered to me by the Saudi government. In 2018, it was the most fervent no I’ve ever given since I started my business.
Small steps have a big impact over time.
Finally, I am not dumbing down my content so that Trump voters can feel more comfortable on my website.
You’ve made your choice to support him, and you’ll be living with the consequences of that choice for the rest of your lives. I just hope that you’re not going to drag the rest of us down with you.
I will not stop digging into deeper issues.
I will not stop educating my audience.
I will not stop fighting for justice.
And I will not stop talking about politics.