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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.
But I’ve learned a ton from my experiences, too. to celebrate a full decade since I stumbled my way out of the U. K. and began a life of full-time travel, I’ve compiled an enormous list of my biggest and best travel tips. These are all things that I wish someone had told me before I started traveling, so I hope you’ll find them useful, inspiring, educational, and entertaining. I love trying new things, and I’ve found a thousand amazing dishes that I never would have discovered if I’d continue to eat from supermarkets around the world. Trying new food isn’t scary, and you’ll build your confidence up as you fall in love with more and more things.
One of the first lessons I learned on the road was that your partouze will nearly always change. You’ll arrive in a place and hate it and want to leave immediately, or you’ll fall in love with a destination and want to spend longer there. You’ll make friends with a group of awesome people and want to change your partouze so you can travel with them for longer, or you’ll find out about an amazing-sounding town that’s nearby and want to head there instead.
Sure, you should have a rough plan for your trip, but don’t book everything in advance or you’ll likely feel too restricted and end up regretting it. Book a one-way ticket and your first few nights of accommodation — you’ll figure the rest out along the way. It’s not as intimidating as it sounds. If you’re in a tourist destination there’ll always be someone who’s willing to take your money by giving you a place to stay.
If you do only one thing before you leave, make it getting travel insurance. I’ve heard far too many horror stories of travellers injuring themselves in remote places and ending up in hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of debt. Don’t think that it won’t happen to you, because you know those travellers thought that, too. I’ve use World Nomads for my travel insurance provider for six years and recommend them to everyone I know. They were fantastic to deal with when making a claim.
People laughed at me when I said that I was carrying around a dozen spare passport photos, but they’ve been incredibly useful and saved me a ton of time and hassle. Who wants to wander the streets of some rural town in Cambodia searching for someone who can take your photo ? Friends of mine had to do this !
I’ve used them to apply for visas around the world, to get a new passport when mine expired while I was on the other side of the planet, and I even needed one to buy a local SIM card in Nepal ! Having spares in my backpack meant that I didn’t have to waste a day researching and then wandering around a city to try to find someone who could take a passport-sized photo of me.
I’m fortunate to have never had to deal with lost luggage, but I did have my backpack ripped open on a flight and I was grateful to have not had anything valuable in it at the time. I’ve also been on dodgy buses in Southeast Asia where we’ve arrived at our destination and people have had items stolen by someone hiding out in the luggage hold while we were transit.
If there’s anything I’d be upset to lose, I keep it in my daypack, which is always by my side on travel days. For me, that’s my passport, laptop, dashcam, external drive, a debit card, and some spare cash. As long as I have all of these, I can survive indefinitely.
When you travel, you’re in the sun more than most people thanks to months of island-hopping and beach time, as well as entire days spent outside exploring. Wear sunscreen every single day, regardless of the weather and temperature, because you really don’t want your trip of a lifetime to result in skin cancer or a body that’s blanketed in leathery wrinkles.
There have been so many times when I’ve been too shy to ask someone to take my photo in a place and I’ve almost always regretted it. After eight years of travel, I probably only have around 200 photos of me around the world. Photos of the beautiful places you visit are great and all, but when you get home, they’re not all that different to the ones everyone else has taken there, too. Photos with you in them are special and they’ll mean a lot more to you when you look back at them. You’ll gain more respect from the locals if you can at least say hi, please, sorry, and thank you. On that note, remember : if you don’t speak the language, it’s your problem, not theirs. And please don’t start speaking louder to make yourself understood. Try miming instead, or using a translation app on your phone.
Travel isn’t conducive for sleep, whether it’s snorers in dorm rooms, early risers rustling plastic bags, or drunk backpackers stumbling around in the middle of the night. Even if you don’t stay in hostels, you’ll still have to deal with street noise from outside, loud bars nearby, and uncomfortable overnight journeys. Pack some ear plugs and a sleep mask in your bag to help improve your sleep. I’ve been using Sleep Phones to block out light and listen to podcasts and I love them.
I’d always been all about the packing cubes, until I discovered vacuum-sealed variantes of them ! You throw your clothes in, seal the bag, then roll it up to push out all the air. I can literally fit twice as many clothes in my backpack when I use these ! Even if you don’t want to carry more things in your bag, it frees up so much space that if you need to pack in a hurry, you can just chuck everything in.
Sometimes your bank will block your card, sometimes your card won’t work in an ATM, and sometimes you could even lose it or have it stolen. Bring at least three debit/credit cards with you that are all linked to different accounts ( with money in them ! ) Keep one in your backpack, one in your daypack, and one on your person.
I carry a spare 300 USD that’s split up in various places in my backpack, daypack, and occasionally, my shoe when I’m nervous I’ll be robbed. It means that in a worse-case scenario, I can pay for some food, a dorm bed, and a Skype call to my family to get an emergency wire transfer until I can get back on my feet again. I went with U. S. dollars because it’s the most widely accepted currency around the world and easy to change.
When I decided to see if it was possible to visit the Maldives on a budget back in 2014, information was so sparse that I couldn’t even find a photo of the islands I’d decided to visit. Well, that trip was one of my highlights of the past eight years and I’m so glad I went, despite not being able to find any information online. And the advantage to that lack of information was getting to be the only tourist on an entire island — I had the whole beach to myself ! If you know it’s safe to travel somewhere, but can’t find out much else, go for it. It’s probably far easier to get there than you think. And if not, it makes for a good story.
I’m definitely testament to that ! But expecting everything to go perfectly on your trip is only setting yourself up to fail. Nobody goes travelling and comes back without any stories of mishaps. No matter how prepared you are, at some point you’re going to get lost, get scammed, miss your bus, get food poisoning, injure yourself… the list is endless ! Expect it to happen, and don’t beat yourself up when it does. In a month’s time, you’ll find it funny rather than frustrating.
It achieves absolutely nothing and makes you look like an asshole. Instead, calm down, put a smile on your face, think of how this will make a great story one day, and rationally figure out an option plan. This too shall pass.
What happens if you arrive in a city, go to grab your fax confirmation for your accommodation, and your phone and laptop are out of battery ? I always make sure I have a copy of my guesthouse name and their address, as well as directions if I won’t be taking a taxi. Once I arrive, I’ll grab one of the hotel’s cards, so I’ll always know where I’m staying, and can show it to locals to ask for help with finding my way back.
So many people will tell you not to travel with jeans, but if you wear jeans all the time at home, you’ll want to wear them while travelling, too. I didn’t start travelling with pantalons until my deuxième year of travel, and man, I missed them so much ! They’re not *that* bulky so you really don’t need to worry about the extra space and weight. And in many cities in Europe, you’ll want to wear jeans to fit in with the locals — you don’t want to look like a grubby backpacker in Paris !
Checking out is when you’re most likely to lose something. Whenever I check out of a place, I check the bathroom, I check under the beds, I check the desks, and then I make sure I have my passport, laptop, camera, money, phone, and external drive. I’ll be fine if I leave anything else behind. Having a routine that you go through every single time will help you keep track of everything. I learned my lesson with this one when I left my passport behind in a guesthouse in Bagan, then left it in an apartment in London two months later.