Politics and holidays: If you don't want politics in your travel stories, it's because you're privileged

It's time for a holiday. So: what do you think about now? What do you consider when it comes to choosing your destination? Location? Price? Food? History? Ratio of palm trees present to pesos spent?

All of these are reasonable and normal considerations. But what else do you think about? Do you think about racism in your destination of choice? Do you think about sexism? Do you think about discrimination?

Maybe you don't. And if that's the case there's probably a reason: you don't have to.

This is the thing with the uncomfortable parts of our experience of the world, the ugly, gnarly bits that plenty of us prefer not to see making their way onto the travel pages or into our travel dreams. If they don't affect you, you don't have to worry about them.

What a luxury.

I get emails week after week from people who have this joy, those who aren't happy about seeing "politics" appear in stories of mine any time I criticise a government, or call out a problematic norm, or stray into the world of white privilege and power. Just stick to talking about your holidays, people say. Politics has no place in a travel story.

To which I always reply: why? Why should travel and politics be separated? Why do political viewpoints not belong in stories about your holidays?

You may not like to think it, but travel is inherently political. The places you choose to go, the things you choose to do, the people you encounter and the way you interact with them – these all have deep political ramifications. You're choosing to support some countries, and some people, while choosing to ignore others. You're taking money from here and putting it there. You're influencing your environment and being influenced by it in return.

We don't travel in a politics-free bubble. Travel and politics are inseparable.


I've spent the last few weeks thinking about this, partly because of a few stories I've written and the reactions I've provoked, but mostly because of global events, because of the Black Lives Matter movement, because of the increased awareness of the way people who don't look like me – a white male – experience the world. I've been working to listen to other voices, to other travellers, and I've realised more than ever what a luxury it is for privileged people like me (and maybe you as well) to claim to want to ignore the world of politics when it comes to travel.

Because the people who don't like politics are generally the ones who don't need politics. This is a mechanism for change. The political process is a weapon in the fight for equality and justice. So if you don't seek change, and if you already have justice, I can see why you would have no interest in politics, and no desire to hear about it. As long as everything stays the same, there's no need to worry.

But that's a luxury many don't possess.

Sceptical? Try logging onto Instagram and following a few travel influencers who see the world in a different way to you: if you're male, that's women; if you're white, that's people of colour. If you're a white male like me, it's both. Have a look at someone like @glographics, travel blogger Gloria Atanmo, who is posting a series on "Travelling Black", describing what the world looks like to her as a traveller.

"I've been to 80 countries across six continents," Atanmo writes, "and my experiences are littered with isolated moments that remind me no matter my education, qualifications, or income, some will always relegate their opinion of me down to my black skin."

In another post, she lists the countries she has found to be the most racist. To me, Spain is a warm and welcoming and beautiful place. To Atanmo: "Men would follow me in their car, in broad daylight, and would get close enough to ask, 'Cuanto por hora?' ['How much per hour?'] Elderly people often gave me stares as if I didn't belong, and when I rode the bus, people would rather stand than sit next to me. If I sat next to them, sometimes they would stand up and move."

Maybe in a travel story about Spain you don't want to hear about racism, but that's only because you don't have to worry about it. But some people do.

Social media is littered with stories like these if you look for them, stories of people having to prepare for travel in certain ways, mentally and physically, who have to develop strategies to show the world that they're not a sex worker, or they're not a thief, or they're not dangerous, just because of the colour of their skin. That must take away a little of the carefree enjoyment of travel, don't you think?

And then there are all of those people who just can't travel at all, due largely to the political situations they find themselves in.

So yeah, maybe you don't want to think about "politics" when it comes to travel. Maybe talk about right and wrong, about black and white, about systemic problems and the effects your choices as a traveller have on them makes you uncomfortable. Congratulations. You're privileged.

But maybe it's time to step outside that bubble.

Do you think politics belongs on the travel pages? Do you think about the political ramifications of your decisions when you travel? Is it a privilege to not have to consider this stuff?

Email: b.groundwater@traveller.com.au

Instagram: instagram.com/bengroundwater

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