Traveling in the Age of Trump: A Personal Reflection
I've been a bit quiet lately.
At first I wasn't going to write this post, because I know politics are overwhelming our news feeds and the media. (Let's be real, politics has been overwhelming the media for the past 800 days.) I also know that some people may not agree with my viewpoint. But it also doesn't feel right to post another photo of a sundrenched island with palm tree and umbrella emojis without first addressing what is going on in my home country.
Because what's going on isn't just politics anymore. What's going on is called racism, prejudice, fear mongering, and gas lighting.
Donald Trump was elected President of the United States 16 days after I left home for a yearlong journey around the world.
His presidency is already reshaping my journey abroad, and I need a moment to pause and reflect when I now experience feelings of, "Geez, maybe I should be home instead." So, for me, this is more of a personal journal entry than a blog post as I try to navigate my feelings of guilt, anger, and helplessness.
Every morning I wake up and I read the news on my phone, which is a recap of what happened in the US the day before.
"Trump ousts acting attorney general for refusing to uphold refugee ban"
"Trump says immigration ban working out 'nicely'"
"Protests erupt across airports as demonstrators gather"
"5-year-old detained at airport"
Every morning I wake up frustrated, distraught, and hurting. As I cleaned the hostel rooms this morning, I jammed my headphones in, found some emo music (by my standards), and shut down for a good hour as I tried to process what was happening at home.
I've been processing. Here's where I'm at.
First, Trump's travel ban has forced me to further confront the fact that I am in a position of privilege. The fact that I was able to quit my job and travel is a privilege. You are god damn lucky, as I am, if you get to travel to explore new cultures, to scuba dive the world's best diving destinations, to meet new people, to try different foods, to sunbathe on the best beaches.
Because the means to travel is clearly not guaranteed for everyone.
Despite the number of blog posts screaming, "Here's How to Travel for Cheap" or "Here's How to Save $X to Travel" (mine included), there are many, many people around the world who will never have the means to travel.
And if they do travel, they do it out of necessity: to flee war crimes, civil brutality, and persecution. They travel across oceans, across deserts, across mountain ranges. They travel seeking a better life. And while that better life may not be guaranteed for them, they strive to guarantee it for their children and their children's children.
I hold an American passport, a sheaf of folded papers that allows me across the border of any country in this world without question. I have rights and privileges that have been denied to human beings by ruthless dictators, civil wars, and corrupt governments. I have never had to wonder whether I could go home or not, and I have never been forced from my home.
I thought about what it would feel like to be detained in a country I had just arrived to, or to be told I couldn't board a plane and that I had to turn around instead. My brain could only register my thoughts as a backpacker: "Damn, but Pinterest made this country look so cool!"
I cannot fathom the heartbreak, fear, angst, and desperation that thousands of refugees have had to endure this weekend after being turned away from the United States, their beacon of hope, despite being vetted by our visa process.
Travel, at its core, is an intimate experience. It brings people of different cultures, beliefs, and upbringings together in a new place, often when they are at their most vulnerable, far from home and far from anyone they know. Travel is how we weave together our cross-cultural connections and understandings.
To deny access to the United States, a country built on the esteemed values of openness, fairness, and opportunity, is a betrayal to who we are as a nation and as a people. To deny travel to vetted individuals, especially those fleeing persecution, is abominable.
And if you are as privileged as I am to travel without borders, then you should speak up for those who cannot.
Second, I have been struggling with the feeling that I am unable to help while I am so far away. If I was at home, I would have been at the Women's March. I would have been at the Indianapolis International Airport protesting Trump's travel ban. I would be doing something.
Because while we may all want to escape to that island with the palm tree emoji's, the truth is that this is not the time to leave America. This is the time to stay and rise up.
Take it from someone who left at a very unfortunate time.
Right now we are standing up for and protecting immigrants and refugees who seek a better life within our borders. But we will soon be standing up for others who will also come under attack from this administration: gay, lesbian, transgendered, and bisexual individuals; women and their right to choose; individuals who rely on national healthcare; individuals with disabilities; children under the DREAM Act; African-Americans, Mexicans, and other minorities; children enrolled in our public education system. The list goes on.
So, if you're at home, keep the momentum going. Here's how:
Donate what you can to the ACLU, Planned Parenthood, and other nonprofits who will help us move this fight forward.
Volunteer! Donate your time and energy to a nonprofit you are passionate about.
Subscribe to news publications such as The New York Times. Trump regularly attacks the media; it is important to protect free speech.
Engage in your local government. Obama encouraged us to "show up, dive in, and stay at it." I was ignorant to how much we are affected by our local and state governments until I started my MPA degree. This is where the most effective, real change can happen.
Do your research. When you're engaging in civic discussions, you should know your stuff. While many of these issues are personal to us, these issues are also rooted in facts and numbers that cannot be disputed.
Be a friend. Listen to and comfort the people in your life who are fearful of discrimination under this administration. Their fear is valid. Let them know that they are not alone in fighting the good fight.
Join the protests. There will certainly be more to come.
Third, I've realized that even abroad, I can act. And this gives me hope.
Just because I've left America, doesn't mean that I get to leave my responsibilities as an American citizen behind. My responsibilities to my LGBQT friends and family members, immigrants and refugees, women and minorities, didn't vanish once I moved beyond America's borders. It's easy to turn the other cheek when you're on that sundrenched island, far removed from America's burgeoning problems. But there is no easy way out of this one.
The next four years are not going to be easy at home. It's also not going to be easy for American travelers abroad.
Traveling under President Obama was easy. He was extremely well-respected. He was cool.
Traveling under President Trump will be different. When I travel to foreign countries now, as an American, I will inevitably be equated to Trump.
I met another American backpacker in Agnes Water last week, which isn't that common. We were talking about traveling the east coast and where we planned to go next, before Trump inevitably came up.
"Oh, I've been telling people I'm Canadian for the past few weeks. There's no way I want them to know I'm American; I'm so embarrassed," he said.
I couldn't tell if he was being sarcastic. While I understand the urge to want to disassociate with America right now, I still balked. I've heard of this long-time joke that Americans will pretend to be Canadian backpackers to avoid talking politics, but come on.
You're so embarrassed? Damn, I'm embarrassed, too, but what good does it do to pretend your Canadian?
I will admit that over the past few weeks, I have wondered if I am being judged by others when I say I'm American. Do they think I'm racist? That I'm prejudiced? It makes me want to curl into myself, that someone could think those things about me because of the headlines they read.
So that's why, now more than ever, I think we have to own being American. I want to stand up on the table at Cool Bananas and yell, "I'm American, I campaigned for Hilary, and I don't support Trump's policies! Let me tell you why."
Like, please know that I'm American so that I can show you that our country is not representative of one man who unfortunately happens to be in the most powerful position in the world. Let me show you that we are open-minded, welcoming, compassionate people. Let me show you that we will fight for those who are marginalized and discriminated against (I mean, have you seen those photos of the airport rallies?). Let me show you that we are eager to learn from other cultures, just as you are eager to learn from mine.
In her most recent blog post, Adventurous Kate argues that owning our "American-ness" is the only way we can help other travelers understand what is going on in America and what Americans think about it. And I agree. Which is why I'm going to share why I don't support Trump, his policies, and his actions. And, well, if you're a Trump supporter, by all means, do the same thing. It'll make for an interesting backpacker conversation around the hostel dinner table.
Pilar Guzmán, the editor of my favorite travel magazine, Condé Nast Traveler, reminded me in her recent editorial letter that my responsibility as an American citizen is even greater abroad. She's right.
So, I'm going to put my best foot forward as a backpacker, as a traveler, as an American citizen abroad. I'm going to help build bridges between each country I visit. I'm going to consider myself an unofficial ambassador for the United States. I'm going to be open-minded to and respectful of other cultures and people, with the hope that they will be respectful of my views and beliefs. I'm going to try to be the best American I can abroad.
One of my favorite quotes that I read on a poster ar the #WomensMarch boldly stated:
"I will no longer accept the things I cannot change. I will change the things I cannot accept."
It's time to change the things we cannot accept.
And while it may not be time for me to come home yet, I am still fighting.
So #StandUp. #RiseUp. I'm right there with you, 9,100 miles away, until I'm ready to bring this fight home. And I've got a feeling we will still definitely be fighting come this September.
Main photo source: (1)