Decolonizing Travel

Decolonization is the process of attaining freedom from a colonizing force . . .

Even once a nation has gained independence from it’s original occupying force, such as the United States of America, there is still a long, up-hill climb to complete decolonization from all of the forces, whether they be physical, mental or emotional, that came with the colonial process. Often, as is the case with this country, many are not even aware of how these factors still impact their day to day life 240 years after so-called independence was attained.

Arguably this initial process of decolonization bred a hyper-nationalism in a desire to remove ourselves as much as possible from the original English, French, Spanish and Dutch colonists many of our lineages descend from. This, in and of itself is complicated enough, but we must not forget that those immigrants seeking freedom from their previously recognized nations murdered millions of the original indigenous inhabitants of this land mass, and displaced or assimilated many more. While the effort to remove direct association from England, France, Spain, and the Netherlands was relatively successful, there is a much more in depth decolonization process for the indigenous people and all others who wish to no longer be complicit in the ongoing genocide of those people and their cultures.

For those who are attempting to consciously inform their actions and understand the social, economic, and environmental impacts of them, working to decolonize our lives is a complicated, arduous journey. It is as multifaceted as every single person colonization impacts. There are many questions one can ask themselves to become more aware of just how deeply they are still implicit in colonization; who traditionally inhabited the place you currently live? What was the name of this place? How often do you interact with those who continue to inhabit that space, despite the hardships faced by their ancestors? Where does the food you eat come from? How many plants could you identify that have nutritional or medical qualities within one mile?

Working to address this phenomenon at home is difficult enough, but we must not forget that it also shapes our entire worldview and dictates how we interpret the information we take in as we leave our current place of residence (also read occupation) to travel.

Decolonizing Travel

For many, traveling to Cancun for spring break is more of an after thought than anything. It’s a great place to go if you want the thrill of being in a predominantly “Brown” country (according to U.S. tropes) while essentially being in a traveler’s colony. The cost of the plane ticket makes that $150 you just paid for a passport seem like chump change, but who cares about that stuff anyways, right?

I have a hunch of who might care. The descendants of the people who, since time immemorial, have traversed the land slated to house the planets 2nd Great Wall (if a certain presidential candidate gets his way) without the need to show a militarized guard a $150 ode to nationalism. It is well documented that countless trade routs were followed by indigenous people from present day U.S.A. to what is now called Mexico. And now, U.S. Citizens (many ironically being descendants of immigrants themselves) have the audacity to call those—who very well may have had great grandparents who knew a time when a U.S./Mexico border didn’t exist—illegal immigrants.

The complete process of decolonizing the act of traveling has been rendered nearly impossible with the implementation of passports. This requires one to at least surrender to, and validate, recognized settler-colonial states, and their subjective borders, before they even leave their front door. This can be subverted, however it can be difficult and often has harsh consequences, which must be considered if on chooses to go down this route.

Even if we do decide to engage in the system to the point of paying for and utilizing a passport, there is much that can be done to decolonize the act of travel.

First, we must educate ourselves. Learn about who was there before it was Mexico, Australia, or Sierra Leone. Find out how the original inhabitants were treated, what became of them; complete genocide, assimilation, survival?

Second, engage with these people. And don’t be offended if they chose not to engage with you. Respect their autonomy. Something they may well not be used to, but deserve, since they are humans after all.

Third, don’t tokenize these folks. Indigenous people stolen from the landmasses now called Africa and the Americas were placed in zoos throughout westernized countries for people to gaze upon the amazing beasts and specimen that they were. These zoos were open well into the 20th century. Don’t be one of those people that paid to see the “savages.”

Fourth, don’t encroach on, or invite yourself into ceremony of communities you are not directly involved with, ever. These are sacred events that are crucial to the continuance of many cultures, and while that Ayahuasca trip seems super enlightening dude, probably shouldn’t be pursued. If you are involved in that community and invited into ceremony your involvement is obviously up to your discretion.

Fifth, when purchasing goods inform yourself about their origins. Was it made under slave labor, stolen from indigenous people, or being sold by a supplier that coerces the makers?

Sixth, recognize that if you are reading this, you benefit from a multitude of privileges; in particular the class privilege that allows you to own the device you are accessing it on, to be connected to the internet, and/or are afforded the leisure time to spend reading this.

Many people impacted by colonization world-wide are subjected to severe classism and racism that limits their ability to access many basics to human survival. When thinking about the flux of immigrants and the refugees fleeing predominantly from the Global South into more developed nations of the Global North these lines from the poem “Home” by Somali poet Warsan Shire sums it up well, “You have to understand/Nobody puts their child in a boat/Unless the water is safer than the land.” Colonization is a cruel process and the first step in reversing it is awareness and then addressing it. While it proves very difficult to completely decolonize traveling—being that the majority of this planet has been colonized more than enough times—there is a lot that can be done to lower the extent to which we perpetuate, and benefit from, that process. It seems that the best way to begin to decolonize ourselves as travelers is to decolonize ourselves at home.

Decolonization is ongoing and has no formal guidelines. This makes it very difficult for those of us who are interested in it, and wishing to do our best to assist in dismantling structures that perpetuate oppression of people the world around. This piece is in no way a claim to be a definitive introduction to the decolonization of travel, rather is merely my attempt at engaging in the ongoing and ever evolving discourse on the subject. It is also an invitation to all people to begin thinking differently about how we interact with each other, the land we move over, and the shared human experience of travel; no longer consuming it merely because we have the privilege to.


M. A. Chavez

 Is co-founder of Vagrant. Anonymous. He spends his time split between traveling and the North West. He is currently working on getting his debut novel published, and writing his second.

How do you decolonize travel? What steps do you take to become more conscious while traveling?

Let us know what you think: Leave us a comment, connect with us at Facebook.com/VagrantAnonymous, on Twitter (@VagrantAnon) and Instagram (@VagrantAnonymous), or email us at VagrantAnonymous@gmail.com.

How to Travel at Home

There are many travel blogs out there . . .

A lot of them will tell you about what it’s like to walk off a plane into some remote culture. The bliss that comes with eating fresh coconut on a beautiful beach in the Caribbean. You will read these things, and you will feel jealous. Wanderlust, itchy-feet, maybe you will relish their experience because it brings you back. Continue reading

Questions Answered by Questions

Why do I travel? The ultimate unanswerable question. . .

I travel for that feeling, the feeling you get when you walk out of the airport, taxi, train. Whether it’s the heavy humidity lapping at your temples, or the rush of nerves at the recognition of a lack of familiarity. I love that. I am not what I would pin down as the assumed ‘traveller’ stereotype. I am not an entirely relaxed, go with the flow kind of girl, in fact I love structure, order, planning. Yet it is breaking that routine and forcing myself out of my soapy bubble of comfort when I truly feel alive. Continue reading

Leaving

We walked along the snow lined sidewalk down Main Street in Bozeman . . . 

The faint whisper of Christmas sprinkled about in sparkling light-adorned facades of homes and businesses. The brisk fall night cradled us like the cold lover that it is: reminding us of the transience of life, of love. We were walking somewhere, but nowhere in particular. My friend sought me out to talk about love, and life. Continue reading

The Scariest Part of Traveling, Part III: The Art of Saying Good-Bye

Even though I tried to prepare myself, even though I felt it coming, one cannot truly be ready to hear it . . .

Good-bye.

You never said those two syllables. They didn’t slip out of your lips and into the receiver. Your expansive vocabulary said it, but in a different way. Not in a definitive way. Not in a way that puts a period at the end. It was like a whisper, a secret. You never said it with words.

But you still did. Continue reading

Culture

I guess that’s why they call it shock, because it feels like. . .

It’s hard to say. Other than your whole body is involved. Every sense is taken aback, put in it’s place. From the delectable tastes to the smells. And the sounds. The rain patters in a different dialect. White noise of crowds is even more indiscernible and now slightly off-putting. The reason culture shock is so powerful is because we so often feel immune to it. We think that we’ve seen it all. Nothing can phase us. And that is exactly when it does.
Since I was a child I always had an image of a Japanese airport in my mind. Looking back now I know that this airport was really a place to store stereotypes that I was accumulating as a misinformed Western youth. The place was full of neon colors and you could find anything you wanted in this or that vending machine. It was extravagant. For some reason there was an excessive amount of conveyor belts as well. My stereotype of Japan never left he airport. For some reason I never really imagined what it would be like there.

Getting off of the plane at Tokyo Narita Airport the most shocking thing was that it looked like every other airport I have ever been in. Sanitized seats, walls, floors. Brightly lit. Something of a dull drone was delicately draped over the excitement of being in a new place. But perhaps that was the remnant from 12 plus hours in planes.

The language divide is different. When traveling in a country of other Romantic speakers there is an underlying commonality. Signs, while ambiguous can still at least  be sounded out. This is not the case in Japan (although there is a fair amount of Latin alphabet usage in public spaces). You look at a sign with symbols, and can recognize it as that, but only that.

It makes me wonder, above and beyond human nature, what are shared commonalities between cultures; and how much off my culture do I carry with me despite my personal attempts to delineate from it? I find myself critical of my culture often, sometimes in the realm of hyper-critical. To find flaw within your culture and voice it is no different then to notice you don’t like the way the furniture is arranged at home. I have reached the point in conversations multiple times where someone will reproach my critical nature and say something akin to “well if you don’t like it so much maybe you should move to (insert far-off sounding country here).” I’m not sure if this is because I’m being a little too worrisome about where the sofa is, or if they are too attached to it’s location. Either way, culture, and our attachment or aversion to it, is a very divisive topic.

Maybe what is most shocking is the realization that I am so deeply ingrained in, and attached to, my culture, despite my criticism.

It isn’t because people are different from place to place. They actually aren’t. Leather bags, food and water goes in, excrement comes out, that’s about it. It’s what they do that varies. It is what they do, and how they do it that will make your eyes widen at the sight of the same food you’ve eaten a hundred times at home, change the smell of a city from acrid to intriguing, and even make the call of a bird sound that much different. Almost like it has an accent.


Marco Pollo

When was your worst case of culture shock? How do you manage it when it occurs?

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Before You Go to Mesa Verde

The park ranger reminded me of an ancient alien theorist . . .

Maybe because my friends semi-jokingly insisted that the cliff dwellings of Mesa Verde were built by them. Or because the striking ambiguity behind their claims.

“We will be descending into an alcove where these ancient people resided,” Is something along the line of how the speech started, “What do you do? Are you a doctor? Carpenter? Teacher, student, farmer? I want you to imagine what you do on a daily basis as you enter this place, because these people were living their lives much the same way we do.” Continue reading