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.

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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

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

5 Reasons Not to Call Yourself a “Gypsy”

Odds are if you are reading this you aren’t a Gypsy . . .

Not because Roma People (those referred to as Gypsy in English) don’t use computers or aren’t into what I have to say. It’s simply because by high estimates there are around 15 million Roma worldwide, or roughly .21% of the world population. So, if the number of people who visit this website is in any way indicative of the broader world that would mean 1.11 of you are Roma. The rest are not.

Here at Vagrant Anonymous we are in no way anti-Roma. In fact, we find the culture to be fascinating. A group of nomadic people, coming from a mysterious beginning in India, and slowly dispersing around the rest of the world over centuries is very interesting. The Roma have a unique story, history, and culture which I know very little about.

What I do know mostly comes from the internet, and it reminds me that the Roma have been subjected to forced assimilation, sterilization, and genocide; something all too reminiscent of the fate of many indigenous people from the ‘Americas’. Continue reading

10.5 Do’s & Don’ts of Travel Talk

I started this website because everybody I know sucks at asking me about my travels . . .

And I have a suspicion it is not because I have a mundane and uncultured group of friends and family. After years of traveling, and just as many hoping to finally feel heard when speaking about my stints on the road, I have found that my stories have become a series of short, humorous anecdotes or grave warnings about the harrows of vagrancy. Either way they are short, simple, and compact. They’re the elevator pitches of travel accounts. Things anyone can listen to, even those who haven’t put in extensive time living out of a pack.

And I don’t think it’s just them, I find myself not being the best audience when other folks attempt to tell me about their latest trip as well. I think that we all kind of suck at listening to each other for the most part.

So, in an effort to create better travel listeners here is my initial list of do’s and don’ts of travel talk (I don’t claim to speak for anyone else; that being said, if you agree please feel free to share this with you social circles, if you don’t let’s duke it out in the comment section):

1. Do be an attentive listener. Body language says a lot. I just got back from months away from home, and you’re barely maintaining eye contact, quickly change the conversation, or won’t look away from that screen in your hand? Cool, keep it up, but I’m going back to where I just came from and spending more months away from home, and people who suck at listening.

2. Don’t try to segway into talking incessantly about your experiences with travel. This is not trying to discourage an open, flowing conversation about similar/shared experiences. I am reminding people to check themselves when it comes to dominating a discussion. I just went through a very real, intense experience, quite possibly by myself and didn’t have much of a chance to discuss it. It would mean a lot to me if you expressed sincere interest in that, and didn’t walk all over what I went through by telling me, once again, about that time you went to Costa Rica for a yoga retreat.

3. Do try to learn what I learned from and about the culture(s) I spent time with.

4. Don’t ask me that kind-of-maybe-a-little-bit racist stereotype about the culture, even if you think it’s ok, and that it’s a kind of funny stereotype, and, but come on stereotypes only exist because there’s a little truth to them. No, stereotypes exist because you perpetuate them.

5. Do ask about the times I felt terrified, homesick, angry, or otherwise unsettled. Travel is about stepping out of and away from the norms we intentionally create and unknowingly accept from our own culture. Talking about the times we lost contact with those customs is a good way to decompress and process after a trip, while also gaining insight in to the differences that exist.

6. Don’t ask my favorite state/country. Firstly, I’m not much of a fan of settler colonial borders that were arbitrarily drawn by people in the last few hundred years. Secondly, I’ve had some of my best and worst experiences in the same states/countries. And finally, it kind of makes you sound like a desk jockey that counts down the days until you can go back to your favorite country, Cancun.

7. Do try and figure out what drove me while I was there. Was it the food, people, or landscape? Or maybe it was the fact I bought the return ticket in advance and had to wait out my hellacious experience until then because I so wisely thought “extra $30 to be able to reschedule my flight? No way. There’s not a chance I’ll want to leave early.”

8. Don’t, please, please, please do not ask me if the women were as attractive as you’ve always heard they were in _______. Women don’t exist for your viewing pleasure scumbag. They wield the power of creation, and there is a high probability that one of them nurtured you and literally gave you their life for at least nine months. So don’t talk like you are entitled to anything from them; especially their bodies, time, or energy. You aren’t.

9. Do try and taste what I tasted, feel what I felt, and smell what I smelt. You will never get the complete picture by looking at a photograph, nor will you know what it’s like to be yelled at by a Mexican abuelita while smelling fresh, homemade chilaquiles cooking on the stove with the after taste of agua de fresa on your tongue on a cool January morning in central Mexico. But you sure as hell won’t know what an abuelita is, or chilaquiles, or agua de fresa if you don’t ask me. So do it. The only way to actually experience it is to buy a ticket, so for now let me tell you as much as I can.

10. Don’t assume the place I just was had any similarities to where I am now. There might be, but if you’ve never been you don’t know. That’s the best way to be open to other people and places. Never assume, and don’t presume superiority. Because that’s what makes people suck.


 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.

 

       What are your do’s and don’ts of travel talk? Do you want to duke it out with the author in the comment section?

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

 

Why You Should Take a Gap Year for Summer Vacation (And Maybe Never Come Back)

An average person graduating this year . . .

in the United States of America is expected to make $39,045 per year. If the class of 2015 is anything like the class of 2014 they will also have an average student loan debt of $33,000, with monthly payments of $242 until it is paid off in 2025, 10 years being the standard for college loans.

      Based on a very unofficial calculation of the U.S. Average cost of living (from M.I.T.’s Living Wage Calculator), a person should expect to pay $21,000 per year for basic expenses. This leaves the average person $1,261 per month ($15,132 annually) to save or indulge in other expenses. Let’s say this person graduates at the age of 25, works until the age of retirement 62, and doesn’t spend their money on anything beyond living expenses. They would have $559,884 saved up to retire with after 37 years of working (if they retire at the anticipated age for millennials, 55, they will have $453,960). Continue reading

Blame it on the Tetons

I work with the band Indigenous Robot…

as their tour manager. A perfect arrangement for a vagrant like myself and a band like them. Since I started helping them at last year’s South by South West, we have traveled through nine states, one Canadian province, four cities in Japan, and I have heard them place at least 80 times in 65 days. That’s an average of one show every five days.

Thursday night they played a great show in Denver at the Marquis Theater with the legendary mr. Gnome. The weekend was supposed to look like; Friday-10am drive to Salt Lake City and spend the night there, Saturday drive to Boise, play a sold out Record Store Day after-party at the Neurolux with mr. Gnome, Sunday the band would leave me in Boise to return to Denver and I would find my way to Seattle for the birth of my nephew.

Obviously, that isn’t anything close to what the weekend looked like, because we wanted to cross the Rockies in spring, and we had plans. Continue reading