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photo by Tommy Lisbin

Radical Travel

Are we doing vacations wrong? How to be a better guest in someone else’s homeland.

Iolani Palace, the former seat of the Kingdom of Hawai‘i

It’s not unusual for Honolulu tourists to visit ‘Iolani Palace, the former seat of the Kingdom of Hawai‘i. But DeTour guide Terri Keko‘olani uses the visit to discuss the U.S.-backed coup in support of military and business interests after the death of King Kalākaua. YES! PHOTO BY AARON K. YOSHINO

If you’re one of the more than 1.4 billion international leisure travelers who left your home for someone else’s in 2018, then chances are you’re familiar with the quote “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts.” First written in 1869 by Mark Twain in The Innocents Abroad, or The New Pilgrims’ Progress, this quote is so hyped you can find it copied and pasted into Instagram captions, travel blogs, and memes, on posters, mugs, and luggage tags. It continues: “Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.”

Bani Amor

Bani Amor is a queer travel writer who explores the relationships between race, place, and power. Instagram: @baniamor, Twitter: @bani_amor.

Too bad it’s such a lie.

The flawed core in this thinking, that those who have the privilege and access to travel are more enlightened than those who haven’t — especially considering the world’s most well-traveled people brought smallpox and small-mindedness everywhere they went — can be found in Twain’s usage of “our people.” We can assume he wasn’t accounting for the vast majority of this world’s people of color who cannot travel for leisure but are rather unwilling hosts to foreign occupations or peoples being displaced by extractivism and war. We know for sure he wasn’t referring to the Indigenous people of Turtle Island, whom he disparages as fit subjects for extermination in The Noble Red Man, his 1870 takedown of author James Fenimore Cooper’s romanticism. And he wasn’t referring to the stolen Africans and their descendants who were forced into chattel slavery and who were “vegetating” in their respective little corners of the Earth before those innocents ventured abroad and stepped foot on their lands.

So, what is the truth about travel? Are we doing our vacations wrong?

The truth is that tourism, like any other capitalistic project, is about consumption for profit. But “place” isn’t an endlessly renewable commodity — it is someone’s home, and the communities who call it so rarely factor in fairly to our conceptions of travel as an enlightening project.

From the economic instability that tourist cultures bring to their overuse of natural resources that exacerbate climate disasters, to glaring labor exploitation and gendered oppression that keep poor women of color living under the boot of White supremacist patriarchy, participating in the mass tourism industry is more likely to spread social inequality than staying home would.

From the Editors

The Radical Travel Issue

“We knew right away this was not going to be a typical summer travel issue. A survey of our readers showed that while many of us daydream about sunny vacations in distant places, we also understand that our travels — big trips and small — reveal complex social justice issues: Who gets to travel? How much of the Earth’s resources should we use so that privileged people can experience distant lands? Why are some destinations capitalism’s current darlings? And who exactly gets to decide whether we are a welcome guest in someone else’s homeland?

Cover of YES! Issue 90

During the development of this issue, Editorial Director Tracy Matsue Loeffelholz got on a plane to Hawai‘i to visit her mother. On the five-hour flight, she considered the 3,460 lbs. of carbon emissions that a round trip from Seattle to Honolulu creates. Then she added up all the trips to Hawai‘i over her lifetime. Yikes. Unsustainability is an obvious problem for the travel industry.

Other issues aren’t discussed as often. As the plane neared the Hawaiian Islands, she filled out a U.S. government agricultural declaration form and had to check the box that says she’s a “visitor.” Her family has lived on the island of O‘ahu for more than 100 years, well before Hawai‘i was a state. But the people there who lead the Hawaiian sovereignty movement would agree she is a visitor. And actually, they’d say, the U.S. is a visitor, too — the guest that didn’t know when to leave.

It’s a humbling realization that some of our favorite memories are of trips that in many ways were harmful to the people and places we visited.

Editor Zenobia Jeffries Warfield loves to get out of Detroit to any place with sunshine and beaches. Negril and Montego Bay in Jamaica have been her favorites. The depth of poverty she saw on her way from the airport to her five days at an all-inclusive resort showed her that global tourism isn’t working for everyone.

Editor Lornet Turnbull has traveled widely, but her favorite destination is still Tortola, the 21-square-mile island in the British Virgin Islands where she grew up. Her go-to spot is a remote beach where her big extended family would gather. “We’d eat lunch on grape leaves, shimmy up coconut and mango trees, and collect almonds and seaside grapes. I still go to that beach now whenever I go home and revel in still having it almost all to myself.” Tourists haven’t discovered her spot yet, but what if they do? Whose islands are these?

Considering questions like these can help us move through the world differently. We get so much when we visit a place, but what do we give? This issue is full of interesting ways to radicalize our trips so they do more to create a fairer exchange: by supporting local economies, building real relationships, protecting natural resources, and taking the time to learn the political and historical truth about these places.

Change is a journey we’re on together, so we want to hear your solutions, too. Send us a postcard or post a photo on Instagram to let us know about your own #radicaltravel.

Return to the story

Today, U.S. travelers are heading to the Global South more than ever. While Europe remains the number-one global tourist destination, and wealthy Global North nations top international tourist arrivals lists, U.S. Americans in particular prefer to vacation in the Global South and East, with 37 million headed to Mexico, 8 million to the Caribbean, 6 million to Asia, and 3 million in Central America.

From 1950 to 2018, international tourism arrivals grew from 25 million to 1.4 billion. The turn of the century marked a global shift in tourism caused by the mainstreaming of Western backpacking culture and the realization of U.S. travelers that they could fund lavish stays in “exotic” developing countries on the cheap. Poor regions became in-demand tourist destinations.

The truth is that travel isn’t “fatal to prejudice,” but tourism — and its not-so-distant ancestor colonization — can often be fatal to culture. Wielding this privilege only afforded to a minority to prop ourselves up as global citizens of a superior republic kind of defeats the purpose.

It’s time to retire the narrow implications of the Twain quote and pivot from a politically neutral consideration of travel to a systemic understanding of tourism and travel culture through a lens of social justice. If we center host cultures and follow their leads in how to — and how not to — engage with their lands as guests, if we complicate the idea of who travels and why and truthfully map the colonial legacy of the travel genre, we just may be able to tap into travel’s storied revolutionary potential.

Not-So-Innocent Abroad

“Tourists flock to my Native land for escape, but they are escaping into a state of mind while participating in the destruction of a host people in a Native place.”

Haunani-Kay Trask, essay “Lovely Hula Lands”

The impression that travel is an inherently enlightening experience that can lead to a greater good is evident in tourism where travelers participate in volunteer work — “voluntourism,” eco-travel, sustainable/ethical travel, and spiritual tourist cultures. The market for traveling supposedly to help disenfranchised communities in the Global South is booming, with little regulation for what constitutes “help” or who actually benefits from it.

While it’s possible that there’s effective work being done in these spaces, most initiatives are grounded in ideas of the White savior industrial complex, the concept that Black, Indigenous, and other people of color (BIPOC) need to be saved by White folks who know better. In this way, even goodwill manifestations of tourism are still mired in layers of harm.

Consider the recent trend of “conscientious” cruising, in which companies like Carnival Cruise Line and Crystal Cruises offer extended programming presumably to aid local communities. Passengers can choose to teach English to Dominican kids for a day or help lay bricks for school buildings. These activities go far to assuage the guilt of privilege and tug at the heartstrings and pocketbooks of charitable-minded tourists, but good intentions do not compensate for the overwhelming harm caused by the cruise industry. Cruises are an all-inclusive experience that attract travelers looking for deals and ease, but they are wasteful of resources, create unnatural amounts of trash, shred coastlines and reefs, and contribute little to local economies. Just a few hours during a day stop at a port of entry is an insufficient amount of time to positively impact the lives of Jamaican orphans.

This gets to the heart of what’s wrong with voluntourism, and even tourism economies in general: They are intended for the benefit of the tourist, not centered on the needs of underprivileged destination communities. The day-to-day realities of these places will not be radically changed by token donations from multinational cruise ship corporations. And when they do have an impact, they tend to recreate a dependency on a foreign power and thwart progress toward self-determination. Who needs decolonization when a rotating class of White college kids can teach English in your village?

Few travelers seek out and center host cultures, voices, and struggles as part of their travel plans. The chasm of inequality between visitor and visited makes a truly fair exchange between them difficult to measure and nearly impossible to attain. There is no one-size-fits-all exchange — service rendered, money paid — that can balance this power dynamic. But we can strive for an understanding that host communities — especially those that include Black and Indigenous people — should be in charge of how they want their cultures, economies, and environments engaged with.

What does a more balanced exchange look like? Native notions of hospitality are driving new tourism frameworks, as Kānaka Maoli (Native Hawaiians) are doing in Hawai‘i. Solidarity delegations like those between Palestinians and Black Lives Matter activists are choosing who they’d like to open their doors to for mutual benefit. Voluntourism can work when specific expertise is requested by a host community, such as technology or medical help in a crisis.

With colonial mindsets lulling us into guilt-free, do-good travel, and Airbnb tourist dollars elbowing out residents of major travel destinations, are there equitable ways to engage in an industry that thrives off inequality? Well, there are a few rules of thumb.

YES! Photo by Federica Armstrong
Kyle Kajihiro and Terri Keko‘olani

Kyle Kajihiro and Terri Keko‘olani design their tours to expose the everyday militarism that oppresses Hawaiians. Tours like these challenge neocolonial conceptions of places as for the taking, instead framing them for the purpose of Native communities’ self-determination. YES! PHOTOS BY AARON K. YOSHINO

All-Inclusive

“People of color are the most traveled people on the planet; every time we leave our houses, we travel.”

Faith Adiele, June 2017

If you’re a social justice-minded visitor, think less about deals while traveling and more about what to avoid, starting with all-inclusive resorts. Here’s why:

Of travelers’ expenditures spent on all-inclusive package tours as a whole, 80 percent goes to airlines, hotels, and other international companies whose headquarters are located in the Global North, and not to local businesses, estimates the United Nations Environment Programme. In a tourism-dependent country like Thailand, 70 percent of all money spent by tourists leaves the country, and that figure is 80 percent for the Caribbean, perhaps the all-inclusive capital of the world. Avoid cruises — the water-borne version of the all-inclusive resort — as they additionally destroy reefs and pollute local waters.

Stay in hotels owned by locals. Eat in restaurants owned by locals. Shop at stores owned by locals.

Some do’s and don’ts require self-awareness: Practices like excessive haggling, refusing to adapt to local customary dress, taking pictures of people without their consent, or not bothering to learn the local language all signal that you lack empathy regarding your power and privilege abroad.

These are adjustments that individuals can do to ameliorate the direct harm that mass tourism causes. But what can be done about the biggest problem of travel culture: lack of inclusion?

To say that travel media has a race issue would be a meta-joke; travel media is a race issue. Not only are the editors of the magazines, the travel show hosts, the commercials, brochures, blogs, YouTubers, and Instagram accounts overwhelmingly White, they too-often depict White folks self-actualizing in lands colonized by their settler ancestors. And if they are depicted hugging Black kids, the caption will definitely quote Mark Twain.

It’s true that most BIPOC, disabled people, LGBTQIA+ people, and lower-income folks contend with barriers that keep them from enjoying leisure travel as much as wealthy White people do, but to purport they’re not doing it at all is erasure. A survey conducted by Mandala Research concluded that Black Americans spent $63 billion on travel in 2018, for example.

As a queer Latinx kid from Brooklyn who left home as a teen to hitchhike around the continent and later chose to write about travel, I found belonging in the excursions of Langston Hughes in I Wonder as I Wander, jumping into the backseat as he drove through Havana in 1931. I found it in bell hooks’ Belonging: A Culture of Place, running alongside her over Kentucky hills decades before I was born, and in coughing up exhaust with Andrew X. Pham as he biked along the roads of Vietnam in Catfish and Mandala in the 1990s. As Faith Adiele, author of Meeting Faith: The Forest Journals of a Black Buddhist Nun, often says, no one travels more than people of color. Whether for work or via displacement or through forced migration, BIPOC must go the distance to navigate a global White supremacist culture, often without even having to leave our countries. Read them.

In response to travel’s race gap and thanks to social media, people of color, specifically Black women, are creating their own lanes.

Founded by Dash Harris Machado in 2010, AfroLatino Travel connects people across the African diaspora to places the travel guides usually tell us to avoid, inspiring a variety of similar brands in its wake. Evie Robinson and Zim Ugochukwu started their businesses on social networks in the past decade (Nomadness Travel Tribe and Travel Noire, respectively), spawning what has since been dubbed the New Black Travel Movement, and Noirbnb was started after too many alarming #AirbnbingWhileBlack stories went viral.

A rock formation at He‘eia State Park

A rock formation at He‘eia State Park is where locals leave leis and other small gifts of thanks to Kāne‘ohe Bay. The Marine Corps Air Station dominates the far view, though local fishing boats and tourist boats share the bay with the military. YES! PHOTO BY AARON K. YOSHINO

Decolonizing Travel

“For even if history is most often recounted by victors, it’s not always easy to tell who the rightful narrators should be, unless we keep redefining with each page what it means to conquer and be conquered.”

Edwidge Danticat, “Create Dangerously”

Critical analyses that offer solutions to the ills of mass tourism seem to be propagating in disparate spaces, from Anu Taranath’s Beyond Guilt Trips: Mindful Travel in an Unequal World to A People’s Guide to Los Angeles by Laura Pulido, Laura Barraclough, and Wendy Cheng to Detours: A Decolonial Travel Guide to Hawai‘i, edited by Vernadette Vicuña Gonzalez and Hōkūlani Aikau.

Rather than telling tourists where to go, Detours tells them how to act. For one, “no” is a word that guests need to get more comfortable with.

Detours was inspired by A People’s Guide to Los Angeles, which seeks to “uncover the rich and vibrant stories of political struggle, oppression, and resistance in the everyday landscapes of major cities,” according to its summary. Detours writers met with the People’s Guide writers, and “we all agreed that our project is slightly different,” Aikau told me in an email. “Their project is about unearthing alternative, radical stories of places, and the conventions of the travel guide genre support their aims. Our project is about decolonization, not touring — even if differently and more radically.”

Out this November from Duke University Press, Detours flips the traditional Hawai‘i travel guide narrative by reclaiming tourism using an Indigenous perspective. “The essays, stories, artworks, maps, and tour itineraries in Detours create decolonial narratives in ways that will forever change how readers think about and move throughout Hawai‘i,” the book’s summary promises.

Aikau said Detours “is more than just critique — it is also a series of instructions for how to contribute to decolonization.” She continued, “We make the case that Detours is not just a redirection; it is a redirection with a very specific purpose — the restoration of ea,” referring to the concept of the breath and sovereignty of the Hawaiian nation, land, and its people.

Included in the guide is a section of specific tours created by local scholars and activists, from a decolonial tour of downtown Honolulu to an environmental justice bus tour of Lualualei Valley and its naval facilities. The book actually borrows its title from one of these. Hawai‘i’s DeTour guides Kyle Kajihiro and Terri Keko‘olani lead visitors to often-overlooked sites of U.S. military occupation on the island of O‘ahu, educating them on the disturbing link between settler colonialism and tourism in the Pacific. Taking part in one of these tours inspired doctoral candidate Tina Grandinetti to become a demilitarization activist. She ended up creating a critical walking tour of the rapidly gentrifying Kaka‘ako neighborhood for the Detours guidebook.

“The U.S. military occupies about a quarter of the landmass of both Okinawa Island and O‘ahu, and our Indigenous communities pay the price for this,” said Grandinetti, who grew up on O‘ahu in the shadow of the Schofield Barracks Army base near the small town of Wahiawā.

“I grew up feeling a lot of anger and resentment toward the U.S. military, but it felt hard to communicate those feelings in a productive way. The DeTour showed me how the everyday violence of militarism can be made visible, and taught me that there are so many ways we can work to challenge it.” The average tourist who is unaware of Kānaka resistance or perspectives on the mass tourist presence on their land could receive a real education by taking part in a DeTour.

“Every time I went on base as a kid,” Grandinetti continued, “I felt like I was entering a world where I didn’t belong: a hypermilitarized, Americanized, White space. [DeTour] showed me that we can reclaim spaces for community even as they remain under occupation.”

Traveling and taking part in these real-time tours connects the tourist’s body to the land’s history and people in a way that staying at home and reading about it might not. “I remember feeling this most strongly when [activist guides Kajihiro and Keko‘olani] took us to a huge sculpted map of O‘ahu. We circled around the map and repeated Pearl Harbor’s true name over and over again: Ke Awalao o Pu‘uloa. Our voices got louder and more confident each time we repeated it. It was such a powerful moment.”

Tours like these challenge neocolonial conceptions of places as for the taking, instead framing them for the purpose of Native communities’ self-determination.

Aikau told me that she and her co-editor hope their book will inspire others to write decolonial guides to their own places. “What are the Indigenous place names where they live? What are the layers of stories that lie beneath concrete, asphalt, and street names? What are the protocols for asking permission to come onto territory in the place where you live?”

Think Globally, Travel Locally

“Once you commit yourself to a place, you begin to share responsibility for what happens there.”

Scott Russell Sanders, essay “Local ­Matters”

It’s easy to look to marginalized people for the answers to problems they didn’t create. It’s harder to look within and to question our own behaviors that enable that marginalization. As a traveler myself and in studying and writing about decolonizing travel culture, I’ve come to understand that the impulse to travel stems from an entitlement that is inextricable from colonialism.

Wanderlust is often a condition of lacking roots. White supremacy has created a crisis of identity for settlers who have little connection to the lands they are on or the communities they are a part of. And for this reason, they are always trying to escape, move on to the next place, consume, and repeat.

I get what Mark Twain was saying — I do, and to an extent, I agree. Settler colonialism and capitalism tell us to fear our neighbor, to chase excess by laboring in individualism. And when that gets too stressful, to escape “to Timbuktu” (as if it’s not an actual place in Mali). But taking colonial mindsets on the road is what has led to the majority of human suffering on the planet, from slavery to genocide and domination. If modern-day travel culture isn’t based on the goal of working against these ills, then it is only furthering that agenda. And that is the truth about travel.

So to decolonize travel as we move about the world, we need to dismantle White supremacy at home.

In Belonging, cultural critic bell hooks connects this lack of a relationship with home and race: “Again and again as I travel around I am stunned by how many citizens in our nation feel lost, feel bereft of a sense of direction, feel as though they cannot see where our journeys lead, that they cannot know where they are going.” What she calls “a wilderness of spirit” can be linked to much of the White supremacist terrorism that only seems to be on the rise. “Many folks feel no sense of place.”

Scott Russell Sanders has echoed this in much of his writing, most notably in Staying Put: Making a Home in a Restless World: “My nation’s history does not encourage me, or anyone, to belong somewhere with a full heart. A vagabond wind has been blowing here for a long while … I feel the force of it.” The lure of tourism to leave it all and disappear, as it were, seems to be strongest in the people with the most power. Looking at the consequences of mass tourism, we can conclude that the opposite of Twain’s remarks may be true — that “vegetating in one’s corner of the globe” may be what we need more of. As Sanders concludes, “I wish to consider the virtue and discipline of staying put.”

I always find it fascinating that so many international U.S. travelers are so unacquainted with the states in their country, or even neighboring districts, or, for that matter, their actual neighbors. Segregation seems to see no end in our nation’s story. These travelers would rather help build schools for kids in Africa than let their kids attend schools with Black kids in Brooklyn. The adage “you don’t know where you’re going until you know where you come from” can apply to our nation’s memory as a whole.

Perhaps we need to think about home and belonging more intentionally and invest in our local communities to recognize our important roles in them — before we plan our next big vacation. Escape is easy. Long-term commitment takes care and work. Many of the people shouldering that responsibility are the ones who can’t escape, and they deserve a break, too.

With a combination of staying put, learning our histories, and getting to know our neighbors, we can become better global neighbors — and then better global guests.

Decolonization is both the journey and the destination. And to Mark Twain: All of our people need it sorely on these accounts.

Bani Amor

Bani Amor is a queer travel writer who explores the relationships between race, place, and power. Instagram: @baniamor, Twitter: @bani_amor.

12 Ways to Radicalize Your Trip

A geologist and a biologist discover their backyard soil is lifeless, and so they change it. And the world changed.

photo by Saxon Holt; Illustration by Enkhbayar Munkh-Erdene

3 Ways to Travel to Build Real Relationships

Share a Meal in a Local Household

Eatwith.com and Mealsharing.com connect travelers with people in host countries who love to entertain. Prices vary. Eight other guests and I recently paid $49 each, staying past midnight sharing food, wine, and conversation in the home of a French journalist covering the yellow vest protests in Paris. Saigon Hotpot sets up meals in university students’ homes as well as city and street food tours in Ho Chi Minh City.

Trade Off Hosting

More than 2,000 households in 48 states and 50 countries participate in the Affordable Travel Club, a Washington state-based hospitality exchange group for people over 40. Hosts offer an extra bedroom, breakfast, and an hour of their time to acquaint travelers with the area. Members pay a gratuity of $15 (single) or $20 (double) per night to defray costs, but most hosts open their homes for the experience of meeting new people rather than the income.

Walk and Talk

Spend time with a Global Greeter volunteer who likes sharing what they love most about their hometown. Greeters act not as guides, but as new friends in destinations all over the world. I recently hung out with Valerie, 42, a volunteer in Lyon, France, wandering through the city’s network of underground passages and visiting her favorite places, such as sampling oysters and white wine at a Sunday market. The service is free, although visitors are welcome to make an online donation to the Greeters network.

Scarves at Saoban, a fair trade organization

Scarves at Saoban, a fair trade organization that works with artisans to preserve Laos hill tribe textiles. PHOTO BY Leisa Tyler / Getty

3 Ways to Travel to Support Local Economies

Lodge Locally

Sleep where your dollars make a difference by staying in independently owned hotels, small inns, and homestays rather than internationally owned chain hotels. Look for hotels that partner with nonprofit organizations to train and employ disadvantaged youth. The Responsible Travel Guide Cambodia led me to Robam Inn in Siem Reap, whose owners returned to start the business after taking refuge in Canada during the Khmer Rouge regime.

Spend Intentionally

Eat and shop at places dedicated to fair trade. Consult listings on the World Fair Trade Organization’s website. Explore beyond tourist areas where small entrepreneurs can’t always afford the high rents. This is how I found Belil, an art gallery and cafe in San Cristóbal de las Casas, Mexico, selling textiles made by a women’s weaving cooperative.

Tour Responsibly

Use local, independent guides. University students working for tips often guide tours listed on freetour.com, a website that offers group walks in dozens of cities worldwide. Global Exchange, a San Francisco-based human rights organization, sponsors “Reality Tours” focused on relationship-building and promoting local economies. An upcoming trip to Palestine will include homestays with farmers during the fall olive harvest and visits with fair trade cooperatives on the West Bank.

Glacier National Park via Amtrak

Glacier National Park via Amtrak. photo by mike petrucci

3 Ways to Travel to Protect Natural Resources

Visit a National Park — But Take the Train

Help decrease vehicle traffic at these parks and support the struggling Amtrak, which offers trips to places like Yellowstone National Park, The Grand Canyon, and Glacier National Park. You could travel roundtrip to the Grand Canyon, stay two nights in a hotel and two nights onboard, with breakfast and dinner included. Or maybe a trip to Glacier aboard historic Empire Builder with three nights in a hotel and a tour of the park. Over 100 packages are available.

Do Some Citizen Science

If you’re out and about in nature, there are a ton of projects you can plug into, like a BioBlitz using the iNaturalist app. It’s a cool exercise that lets you record as many plant and animal species as possible in a designated area and time, while contributing useful data for science and conservation. A green tree frog in Texas and a wapiti in Alaska are just two of the over 206,000 species documented so far. Or you can measure light pollution and send your data to web app Globe at Night.

Build a Trail in Washington State

Washington Trails Association offers a volunteer vacations program where you can escape for eight days with a group of fellow volunteers to help maintain trails. Trails are important to our environment because they help limit potentially negative impacts on natural areas. Food and tools are provided, and there are camping options available as well, including car and backcountry. There’s time to relax and explore on your own. Options include Kalaloch Beach on the Olympic Peninsula, Lake Chelan in the Central Cascades, and Deception Pass State Park on the Puget Sound.

Glacier National Park via Amtrak

An entrance to Vinh Moc tunnels in Quang Tri province, Vietnam. The tunnels were built by villagers to shelter people from the intense bombing during the Vietnam War. photo by Nigel Killeen / getty

3 Ways to Travel to Learn the Truth

Making the Road

Making the Road is a Chicago-based group that uses travel seminars to educate U.S. participants about the liberation movements and histories of southern Africa. The tours are led by long-time civil rights and labor activist Prexy Nesbitt, who was closely involved with the liberation movements in Mozambique, Angola, Namibia, Zimbabwe, and South Africa. Travelers meet labor leaders, artists, politicians, and intellectuals to educate themselves about the shared issues that southern Africans and Americans face, such as racism, labor struggles, and militarism. makingtheroad.com

Detour

DeTour exists to change the image of Hawai‘i as a tourist playground, a perception that ignores its occupation and oppression by the U.S. military and its treatment of Native Hawaiians. DeTours’ decolonizing tourist experience encourages visitors to support Hawaiians’ wish for sovereignty. Stops include areas polluted by the military and sites important to Polynesian and ancient Hawaiian history — all to show a side of Hawai‘i out of the shadows of U.S. imperialism. [email protected]

Veterans for Peace

Veterans for Peace was formed in 1985 by U.S. veterans to increase public awareness of the causes and costs of war and to oppose militarism and arms proliferation. The nonprofit has hundreds of chapters worldwide, including one in Vietnam composed of former servicemen who live there and organize annual tours across the country. The tours are designed to show damage left by the war in Vietnam and to raise funds for ongoing work, such as ordnance removal and support for victims of Agent Orange. veteransforpeace.org

Commentary

“I Was Glad to Relinquish Power in Those Moments”

Photos shot by strangers

As both photographer and advocate for social justice, I am aware of the power dynamics inherent in travel photography. “Taking” someone’s image and using it to create a narrative of my own choosing is an act of unequal power. In fact, I’m doing it right now with this photo essay about a recent trip to India.

For a White Westerner, travel photography in the Global South remains an especially complex act. India as an aesthetic subject is the most inspiring place I’ve ever worked, from extremes of natural beauty to busy, dynamic streets. Yet making images in India is weighted by colonial history and the country’s ancient and intractable caste systems. In trying to understand my own participation in these power dynamics, I have studied the role of photography in colonialism and how photography was used to justify the British Raj’s “civilizing” mission. This is apparent in the 6 billion postcards that went through British mail service from 1902 to 1910: White colonial image-makers often portrayed unidentified dark-skinned people out of context — often religious ascetics reductively labeled “fakir” — to craft the “Orientalism” that author Edward Said defined as the West’s patronizing representations of Asia, North Africa, and the Middle East. This narrative of “otherness” positioned British culture as necessary and superior.

Most Westerners have their smartphones at hand at all times nowadays, and it’s easy to forget that other parts of the world didn’t always have easy access to cameras, the ability to photograph themselves in their environments, or Instagram accounts to share those images with the world.

So I was fascinated to find, on a recent trip to India after 10 years away, a bit of change: more local people with smartphones and the phenomenon of the foreigner selfie. Everywhere my husband and I traveled, urban or rural, touristy or absolutely out of the way, Indian families or groups of friends approached me and other Westerners with their phones, simply asking, “Selfie?” The Times of India reports that it’s mostly Indian travelers doing it because they rarely see White-skinned people. Often they don’t ask permission.

We were props. I was at turns flattered, confused, then moderately uncomfortable. Why do they want my photograph? What are they going to do with it?

For the past 150 years, people in the Global South have had those feelings, those questions. For me, this simple act of having my image “taken” flipped the usual photographer–subject power dynamic. All over India, there are 50 or more images of me integrated into the stories of Indian strangers.

I will likely never see how I am used in those images. Will the social media caption be nice or mean, sincere or snarky? These foreigner selfies do not heal hundreds of years of colonial wounds or the expropriation of billions of dollars of resources from the subcontinent to the European world. But I was glad to relinquish power in those moments. I imagine them as the tiniest personal act of decolonization.

Just the Facts

The High Costs of an “All-Inclusive” Deal

More people than ever want “all-inclusive” vacations — airfare, lodging, all-you-can-eat buffets, and drink coupons at a remote sunny resort or on a cruise ship. Demand for resort vacation packages has risen at least 75 percent since 2011, and for cruising, at least 20 percent. They are an attractive option for travelers who want to stretch their dollars and not hassle over arrangements. Many people already suspect that traveling this way offers little meaningful cultural exchange. But more importantly, it’s a terrible deal for the people who live where you’re going.

1
Tourists invest a lot of money … About $4 billion a day globally.
the first infographic

… in destinations dependent on tourist dollars
the second infographic

2
But dollars spent at all-inclusive resorts hardly benefit local economies at all. Overall, 80 percent goes to airlines and resorts’ international corporate owners.
the third infographic

3
Locals get low-paying, seasonal jobs. Which means staff from abroad get the top jobs.
the fourth infographic

4
Megaresorts contribute to inequality.
the fifth infographic

5
Who profits? Distant corporate owners. Tourists often have more access to local resources than the local people do.
the sixth infographic

Sources: 2013 U.S. Consumer Travel Report. 2018 Cruise Industry Outlook. 1. U.N. World Tourism Organization Tourism Highlights. World Travel and Tourism Council 2018 2. Global Exchange 2013. European Tourism Futures Institute, “Ethical issues of all-inclusive tourism" May 2015. Tourism Concern, “Perceived Impacts of All-Inclusive Holiday Packages on Host Destinations" 2015. UNEP 2002, Tourism’s Global Environmental Impacts 2018. 3. Tourism Concern, “Working condition in Hotels" 2014. 4. Latino Rebels 2018, World Bank, Expedia/Barceló Bávaro Palace, USAID Dominican Republic Climate Change Vulnerability 2013. 5. European Tourism Futures Institute 2015. Worldwatch Institute. Photos: Getty

A Route 66 Road Trip Through Indigenous Homelands

Along the often kitsch Mother Road, it can be easy to miss the landmarks and historic places that tell the stories of 25 Indigenous tribes and pueblos.

A view from the top of the Acoma Pueblo over the Acoma Nation.

A view from the top of the Acoma Pueblo over the Acoma Nation. YES! photo by shoshi parks

The wind is so powerful on top of the mesa that even hours after I’ve returned to the valley below, I’ll be wiping its ancient sand from the cracks and crevices of my skin. In the Keres language, this is Haak’u, New Mexico’s Pueblo of Acoma, a sky city perched on a 300-foot bluff, some 7,000 feet above sea level — the oldest community in the United States.

Although there is no running water or electricity, around 50 people live on the mesa year-round in brick homes — some covered in wattle and daub, others in adobe — just as their ancestors have since at least the 12th century.

Beyond the pueblo is a 156-square-mile territory of mammoth stone formations and cottonwood trees that road trippers traveling Route 66 have been visiting since the 1950s.

But what was once haphazard and unregulated is today a self-sustaining enterprise directed by the Acoma people that welcomed 72,000 visitors on guided tours last year. “We give them the opportunity to walk our sacred land,” Melvin Juanico, operations manager of the Pueblo’s Sky City Cultural Center and Haak’u Museum, tells me.

It’s one of the dozens of modern and historic Native American places included in a travel guide decolonizing this most famous of American roads.

I too am on the great American road trip. But not one of the “This Land Is Your Land,” Woody Guthrie variety. That Route 66 road trip is one of erasure, one that conceals the Indigenous history of this land with the expanding White capitalism of early Americana.

That Route 66 road trip exploits the stereotype of the “Indian” while simultaneously denying Native peoples (and other non-White groups) self-representation and access to the kitschy motels, diners, and gas stations that made the so-called “Mother Road” famous.

Names of World War II Navajo code talkers at Window Rock, Arizona

Names of World War II Navajo code talkers at Window Rock, Arizona, seat of the Navajo Nation. YES! photo by shoshi parks

There is a lot of pain along this road — sites of massacre and forced assimilation. But Route 66 is also a story of hope — not just of Native American survival, but of success, too.

I’m here to explore that road — or at least the portion of it stretching between California and Oklahoma — and to seek out the histories and communities that existed before Route 66 and still survive today.

The e-travel guide American Indians and Route 66, which the American Indian and Alaskan Native Tourism Association created three years ago, will help me suss out those landmarks and historic places associated with 25 Indigenous tribes and pueblos along the Mother Road.

Gabrielino-Tongva Tribe

It’s not quite 8 a.m. on a sunny March morning in Los Angeles when I head for the highway. I have four days to make this more than 1,400-mile journey, and I steel myself for the miles ahead.

Driving east out of Los Angeles toward the Mojave Desert, I try to imagine how this land looked before it was covered in concrete. Route 66 snakes through the homeland of the Gabrielino-Tongva Tribe, but despite centuries of historical documentation and 7,000 years of evidence from nearly 3,000 archaeological sites, the tribe has not yet been given the federal recognition that would afford the community the right to sovereignty, self-governance, and a series of benefits and protections.

When Route 66 opened in 1926, it was one of the nation’s first long-haul east-to-west arteries, connecting Chicago to Los Angeles. The two-lane highway gave rural farming communities throughout the Midwest and Southwest better access to markets and, in the 1930s, served as the primary route for drought-weary farmers and unemployed laborers to escape the Dust Bowl for the promised land of California.

After World War II, the Mother Road became a route for travel and leisure, spawning a seemingly endless succession of motor lodges, diners, gas stations, and curio shops catering to middle-class Americans at the start of an epic love affair with the automobile.

The Washita River at the Washita Battlefield National Historic Site.

The Washita River at the Washita Battlefield National Historic Site. Prayer flags are hung on the shore (photos of the flags are prohibited). YES! photo by shoshi parks

Today, it’s just one of a network of roads and highways through an urban-suburban sprawl so dense that I lose its thread over and over as I navigate east through Los Angeles and San Bernardino.

I drive over the San Bernardino Mountains, a chain of bald rock faces sweeping dramatically upward from the valley. Once in Barstow, Route 66 dips in and out of the four-lane Interstate 40 for almost 1,300 miles to Oklahoma City, just 106 miles short of Tulsa, my final destination.

Despite the fact that the Mother Road crosses through the nations of multiple tribes and pueblos, the most visible Native American imagery is muddled and generic — Hollywood stereotypes seized upon by White businessmen and mom-and-pop shop owners in the form of eye-catching tourist traps like Rialto, California’s Wigwam Motel, where visitors sleep overnight in 30-foot-tall concrete tipis. In Foyil, Oklahoma’s Totem Pole Park is a series of Pacific Northwest-style totem poles inspired by postcards and National Geographic magazine.

Ironically, writes Peter B. Dedek in Hip to the Trip: A Cultural History of Route 66, even as the highway thrived on the exploitation of Native American culture and history, it was simultaneously excluding actual Native American people, along with African Americans and Latinos, from many of its businesses.

Along with the Jim Crow era’s ubiquitous “no colored” signs, those declaring “no dogs, no Indians” were hung in shop windows along the length of the highway. Of the thousands of tourism-based businesses on the Route 66 of the 1960s, only 250 were listed in The Negro Motorist Green Book, a travel guide written to safely lead African American travelers to welcoming businesses. There is no record of how many also excluded Native Americans.

Hualapai Nation

Many of the actual Native American places, both those occupied since time immemorial and those Indigenous people were forced to occupy, are easier to miss than their neon-emblazoned, cartoon-like avatars.

Though I’m keeping a close eye out for it as I drive out of Kingman, Arizona, I almost breeze by the brick, Colonial Revival-style Truxton Canyon Training School in neighboring Valentine. Beginning in 1903, this residential school forcibly “educated” the children of the Hualapai Tribe with the intent to assimilate them into American life.

The Truxton Canyon Training School in Valentine, Arizona.

The Truxton Canyon Training School in Valentine, Arizona. YES! photo by shoshi parks

By the 1920s, children from a number of Southwestern tribes, including the Hopi and Navajo, were sent there. Tucked among brown hills on a bed of dry weeds, the schoolhouse looks out of place in this rural corner of Arizona. Close to the road is a small, impermanent memorial decorated with fake flowers, a monument to those who attended the school over the 34 years of its operation.

With no sign and boarded-up windows, the historic schoolhouse is worlds away from the modern attractions built and managed by Native American tribes and pueblos along Route 66. Casinos, in particular, serve as a beacon in the nations of those who have won federal recognition and a major draw for roadside entertainment.

While they have helped secure income for rural nations with limited economic opportunities, as Camille Ferguson, American Indian and Alaska Native Tourism Association executive director points out, most are more than just places to gamble. They are cultural centers.

They’re “perpetuating Native American culture through their enterprise,” she says, a truth that is evident not just in their architectural design, but in the museum-like presentation of art and artifacts in places like Twin Arrows Navajo Casino Resort and the Isleta Resort and Casino, both places where I stayed the night.

But Native American tourism doesn’t begin and end with casinos. In northern Arizona’s Hualapai Nation, the tribe has created Grand Canyon West, an umbrella company managing adventure and leisure experiences throughout the territory, including a glass skywalk that hovers 4,000 feet over the canyon’s edge, river rafting tours, and a zip line.

“The Hualapai culture is threaded through every part of our tourism experiences,” says Diana Ambrosie, general manager of the Hualapai Lodge on Route 66 in Peach Springs. “Everything we do is meant to be sustainable. … Without the Grand Canyon and the Colorado River, the Hualapai Tribe could not thrive. [The land] means the world to us.”

Farther east, in Albuquerque, an urban hub for New Mexico’s 19 distinct pueblos, is Pueblo Harvest, a fine-dining restaurant inside the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center featuring precontact and postconquest Indigenous fare.

Half a mile away, Bow and Arrow, the first brewery owned by a Native American woman in the country, features a lager made with roasted New Mexico blue corn.

In Oklahoma’s Indian Country, the Iowa Nation’s Grey Snow Eagle House rehabilitates eagles and educates about avian conservation both via tours at the facility and in off-site presentations.

Each year, powwows, festivals, and events welcome visitors to participate in and observe traditional ceremonies, dancing, storytelling, and other culturally significant activities. Whereas some of these attractions are found within a stone’s throw of Route 66, others are farther afield.

Navajo Nation

The horizon is aflame with the rising sun, the sky painted in shades of cerulean blue and smoky gray, as I drive north from 66 down a lonely road toward the heart of the Navajo Nation and the Hubbell Trading Post.

Protected today as a National Historic Site, the trading post was first established in 1878, after the return of the Navajo people to their territory following the brutal and deadly Long Walk 14 years earlier that forced 8,500 to march 400 miles to Fort Sumner.

For over 140 years, this low-slung brick building has served as a center for the sale of Indigenous arts. Out back bleats a small herd of Churro sheep, a hearty breed favored for centuries by the Navajo for their long, coarse wool ideal for weaving into blankets.

“The trading post is quite unique,” trader Edison Eskeets tells me as I admire the textiles drenched in local Ganado red and delicately wrought silver jewelry. Any Indigenous artisan from the region is welcome to sell their work here.

But the exchange of goods for money is just one aspect of Hubbell. “Our shop here offers a fair price to everyone, regardless of whether you’re a silversmith, a jeweler, a weaver. We deliver the components of the arts in the community. We tell the story,” Eskeets says. “Therefore, we’re still here.”

The Hubbell Trading Post, Navajo Nation.

The Hubbell Trading Post, Navajo Nation. YES! photo by shoshi parks

That they’re still here is one of the underlying themes of this road trip. But, as Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz writes in An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States, it’s not a “miracle” that Native American tribes and pueblos have survived despite the genocidal policies of settler colonialism, on which the United States was founded.

Today’s Indigenous nations and communities are “societies formed by their resistance to colonialism, through which they have carried their practices and histories.”

Cheyenne and Arapaho Nation

There is, perhaps, no place on Route 66 that provides a better example of the odds that Native Americans have historically faced than the Washita Battlefield National Historic Site.

As dawn broke on Nov. 27, 1868, the 7th U.S. Cavalry, led by Lt. Col. George Custer, launched an attack on a winter settlement of the Southern Cheyenne along Oklahoma’s Washita River. Like those tribes who had been driven from their Southeastern homelands to Indian Country on the Trail of Tears, the Cheyenne rejected the U.S. government’s orders that they remain on a reservation and take up farming, a subsistence activity with which they had no familiarity.

875 horses were painted by local schoolchildren in memory of the horses and mules killed by Lt. Col. George Custer and his men at Washita.

875 horses were painted by local schoolchildren in memory of the horses and mules killed by Lt. Col. George Custer and his men at Washita. YES! photo by shoshi parks

Custer and his men were there to drive the message home. In what would more accurately be termed a terrorist insurgency than a “battle,” the army assassinated as many men as they could — between 30 and 60 — kidnapped 53 women and children, and shot or slit the throats of the community’s 875 horses and mules so that those who had escaped could not return to reclaim the animals and their way of life. It took less than 24 hours to wipe the community off the face of the Earth.

On a freezing March morning, I solemnly walk the interpretive trail across the so-called battlefield alone; there is no one else here but the ghosts of those who were destroyed in the name of the country I call home. On the bank of the river, tied to tree branches, tattered cloths in blues and reds wave in the wind — prayer flags hung by the Cheyenne and Arapaho for the ancestors they lost.

I mourn with them, not just for this massacre, but for all of the injustices — the residential schools and stolen homelands, the forced assimilation and broken treaties, the discrimination and loss of sovereignty — visible on this all-American highway.

I carry this sadness and anger with me as I get back in my truck and head toward Oklahoma City. And then I see a sign that informs me I’m entering the Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes territory. I smile to myself: They are still here.

Why Young Jews are Detouring from Israel to Palestine

Some Birthright trips to Israel have turned into political engagement.

Sarah Brammer-Shlay

Sarah Brammer-Shlay is a rabbinical student in Philadelphia. She’s also an activist, part of a growing movement of young American Jews working to help ensure that others visiting the Holy Land are prepared to travel there authentically. YES! photo by Stephanie nolt

On her first visit to Israel a decade ago, Sarah Brammer-Shlay joined her voice to the prayerful murmurings of the multitude of women, their heads bowed against the ancient stones at Jerusalem’s Western Wall.

In the south, she climbed Masada, King Herod’s desert fortress overlooking the Dead Sea and the site of the last Jewish stronghold against Roman invasion. And she strolled the beaches and hung out with trip mates and new Israeli friends in bars and clubs in Tel Aviv, a spirited city that feels more Florida during spring break than ancient holy place.

For Brammer-Shlay, it was as if her entire childhood — Hebrew school, Jewish youth group, and the stories her parents told her growing up in the Midwest — had been preparation for this Israel trip. “I had been talking about Israel my whole life, like I’d been there, so it was very exciting and powerful to finally actually get there,” she says.

She had known little about the Palestinians there, of their decades-long struggle under Israeli rule.

The trip had been arranged and paid for by Birthright Israel, the world’s largest educational tourism program, which serves 18- to 32-year-old Jews from the diaspora. A rite of passage of sorts for 700,000 young people over the last 20 years, Birthright says the goal is to strengthen their Jewish identity by creating and reinforcing a connection to Israel.

Those 10 days in the summer of 2010 had left Brammer-Shlay wanting to know more. So a little over a year later, on a semester abroad in Jerusalem, she visited the West Bank and began to discover just how much her education on Israel had left out.

A rabbinical student in Philadelphia, Brammer-Shlay is an activist now, part of a growing movement of young American Jews working to help ensure that others visiting the Holy Land are prepared to travel there authentically.

From walking off Birthright trips in protest to denouncing what they see as the “omission and erasure of Palestinian narratives,” they are a chorus of new voices bringing fresh attention to the Israeli occupation, its policy of oppression, and the call for a two-state solution.

“What you’re seeing right now is definitely a growing movement of young Jews who are thinking and talking about the occupation and demonstrating that fighting for freedom and dignity for all people is deeply connected with what it means to be Jewish for us,” Brammer-Shlay says.

The size of New Jersey, Israel is a historical and religious marvel — from the beaches of Eilat at the tip of the Red Sea in the south to the picturesque mountain ranges in the north. Sacred to the three Abrahamic religions — Christianity, Judaism, and Islam — it is a destination for people of faith from across the world.

So a little over a year later, on a semester abroad in Jerusalem, she visited the West Bank and began to discover just how much her education on Israel had left out.

Yet 70 years after Israel’s declaration of statehood displaced some 700,000 Palestinians there — and half a century after it seized and occupied the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip in the Six-Day War — it’s possible for the nearly 4 million visitors each year to overlook much of what decades of conflict have wrought.

Israel defends its restrictions on Palestinian movement, the demolition of their homes, the encroaching Jewish settlements and obstructions at every turn by citing a decades-long campaign of cross-border attacks and suicide bombings by Palestinians to drive out Jews.

And that’s what Brammer-Shlay had been told growing up in a conservative Jewish household in Minnesota.

That trip in 2010 was for her what it is for many of the 50,000 Birthright participants each year: the romanticized version of a country they had been hearing about since they were little. On that trip, Brammer-Shlay says, “there was no deep conversation about the impact of the occupation.”

Funded by Israel’s government and global philanthropists, including a substantial contribution by casino mogul and Donald Trump supporter Sheldon Adelson, Birthright in a statement says it was not designed to deal with political issues: “All Birthright Israel participants are required to engage in programming which addresses the complex issues of the Middle East and which does not endorse any specific agendas, opinions, or beliefs.”

For University of Florida doctoral student Madison N. Emas, Birthright wasn’t a search for political answers; it was simply a chance to travel.

Shirts on a chair

YES! photo by Stephanie nolt

She first visited Israel on a mostly religious trip while in high school. On Birthright in 2015, she got to hear from Israeli Arabs with family in the West Bank and East Jerusalem who spoke about their own experiences as well as those of their relatives.

“I didn’t realize how much I didn’t know about the other perspective, about how Israeli Arabs get pulled over more often, about how soldiers could simply just show up at their homes. … I never thought about that before,” she says.

The opportunity to talk to secular Jews, many of whom, like her, support a two-nation solution, “made me feel more Jewish, more connected. … And I think that’s what Birthright is trying to do, foster a connection to the land and the people.”

Last year, in a bold statement about what they felt was the program’s one-sided narrative, Birthright participants began walking off the trip — live-­streaming their actions on social media.

Danielle Raskin was among the first.

She had grown up in New York City in a household she describes as culturally, rather than religiously, Jewish. Her agnostic feelings changed, however, in 2016 when she attended a comedy event where some in a Jewish audience cheered for then-candidate Donald Trump. “It was a turning point … Jews who support a fascist,” she says. “It wasn’t an issue thousands of miles away; it was right here.”

She became an organizer for ­IfNotNow, a progressive and anti-­occupation group formed in 2014 to protest Israel’s bombardment of Gaza. Its goal is to address American Jewish support for the occupation and balance the message young American Jews are getting.

Last summer, Raskin went on a Birthright trip to see for herself.

She did Shabbat in Jerusalem. Rafted the River Jordan. Visited Israel’s northern border with Syria and the Holocaust memorial, Yad Vashem. “They were tightly packed 12-, 13-, 14-hour days,” she says.

She recalls the uncomfortable silence on the trip north as they drove alongside the separation barriers between the Occupied Territories and Israel proper — a system of fences and concrete walls.

Shirts on a chair

Sarah Brammer-Shlay during her Birthright trip in 2010 at the ancient fortress Masada in southern Israel’s Judean Desert. It’s a popular destination and national park. photo from sarah brammer-shlay

“No one said anything; the tour guide said nothing. It was so discreet, I had to open my map app to make sure. I was like, ‘Oh shit, this doesn’t really bode well for the rest of the trip.”

In addition to questions about the impact of the occupation, she and others asked about maps they were given that they say failed to delineate Palestinian territories.

The maps would become the source of a different confrontation that went viral on a video on social media.

Elon Glickman was six days into his Birthright trip a few months later, driving along the separation barrier between Haifa and Jerusalem when he began asking about them.

The guide, he said in a recent interview, “started telling us that these are normal Jewish villages and that the West Bank is just like [Israeli cities] Tel Aviv or Jerusalem.”

In the video, Glickman protests, “I mean literally, like, erasing the fact that Palestine even exists, though.”

Again and again, he challenges what he said is a one-sided depiction, pointing out that for many participants it’s the only side they’ll see and hear. “It feels like the equivalent of going to the Jim Crow South during segregation and not talking about segregation,” he says.

Eventually other Birthright participants on the bus also join in, some agreeing with him, others reminding him that it is a free trip.

On a video of Raskin’s encounter, a tour guide can be heard accusing her and the others of coming “to bash Israel on purpose and in public and in front of all your friends. … You have a clear agenda against Israel. You tried to impose your opinion for the last 10 days and that’s not acceptable.”

In total, 15 tour goers have walked off their Birthright tours, according to IfNotNow. Three others, it said, were ejected for violating a clause Birthright added in December against “hijacking” discussions on its trips.

In Israel, IfNotNow connected both Glickman and Raskin with Breaking the Silence, an anti-occupation group that helped them round out their trip. While Glickman and his group traveled to the West Bank and stayed with families in villages there, Raskin’s went to Hebron, one of the world’s oldest cities and where the controversial expansion of Jewish settlements has often played out in violent eruptions.

left double quoteIt feels like the equivalent of going to the Jim Crow South during segregation and not talking about segregation.”

They visited Shuhada Street, a main road there that leads to the Tomb of the Patriarchs, a shrine complex sacred to both Muslims and Jews. Once the scene of a bustling market in Hebron’s historic center, the street is abandoned — its stores shuttered and boarded up. The closure followed the 1994 prayer-time massacre of 29 Palestinians by an Israeli settler. Shuhada, also known as a sterile street, is off limits to Palestinians — whether by car or on foot.

Raskin and her group were shocked by this sight.

“Palestinians whose front doors open out onto the street have to climb out a side window or onto the roof or exit someone else’s house,” she says. “It was really somber, pretty devastating really, to see on the 10th day a side of the country that we had not seen or talked about at all.”

In the months since, other solutions have sprung up. In March, J Street, a progressive group that supports statehood for Palestinians, announced its own free, 10-day trip to Israel and the West Bank for American college students this summer. Participants will visit major heritage sites and meet with Israeli social justice activists and Palestinian community leaders.

Returning home after her own trip to the West Bank in 2011, Brammer-Shlay had searched for ways to address the conflict more meaningfully. She volunteered with the Center for Jewish Nonviolence, in 2016 traveling to Hebron, where she worked alongside Palestinians and other Jews to help build a cinema.

She was back the following year to help reestablish the village of Sarura, in the Hebron Hills, whose residents were returning after fleeing occupation decades earlier. It was part of the largest delegation of diaspora Jews ever assembled for such an action.

These days, Brammer-Shlay works with IfNotNow on a range of actions, including the group’s Not Just a Free Trip campaign, which provides resources to Birthright participants, including at airports just before trips take off.

“I still feel it is my duty to defend the Jewish people,” she says, “but I also feel that is deeply connected to the duty I feel to promote justice and freedom in this world.”

The Co-Op Alternative to Airbnb

Airbnb alternatives strive to offer short-term rentals that respect a place and its residents.

photos by Kevin Holtham

illustration by Louise Morgan / getty

Pamela Balin Dochen owns a bed-and-breakfast in the Italian countryside. In February, she scrolled through Facebook and, in a group for vacation rental hosts, landed on a post about Fairbnb Co-op, a new Italy-based platform that is poised to be a more environmentally sustainable and socially responsible alternative to the vacation rental site Airbnb.

“I thought it was great because [it plans on] reinvesting [its] money to improve the social activities or the social economy in the place where the tourists, little by little, will absorb the soul of the place,” Dochen said. She currently rents out her property through her own website, Airbnb, and Booking. “I thought it was really a very, very interesting idea with values that I share.”

Dochen, who described those values as “low-consumption” and “community-oriented,” signed on to host her B&B on the Fairbnb site when it launches in June 2019. She said she hopes Fairbnb enables hosts and their neighbors to maintain the culture of their respective cities, allowing tourists to connect with a new place in an authentic way.

While Dochen first learned about the site in February, Fairbnb Co-op’s founders had been thinking about it for years.

Sito Veracruz met with fellow residents of Amsterdam in 2016 to discuss the impacts of vacation rentals and what his city could do to better regulate them to lessen the detrimental impact they have on the city. Veracruz and others were part of a civic group called Amsterdam Smart City, which was created with the goal to make sure Amsterdam is affordable and accessible for locals as the city grows.

Veracruz said that in simplistic terms, Fairbnb is attempting to decrease the problem of overtourism while increasing tourism’s positive effects.

After numerous discussions about short-term rental platforms, the group realized that they couldn’t rely on government to regulate short-term rentals; there won’t be a silver bullet fix.

Airbnb, the most popular short-term rental site, allows people to rent out rooms or their entire homes to travelers. It says it has over 6 million listings in over 81,000 cities worldwide, and as of March, had acquired at least 20 other tourism-related companies. Airbnb is big, and its impacts are wide-ranging.

YES! Photo by Federica Armstrong
Kyle Kajihiro and Terri Keko‘olani

Il Casale Dorato, a country house in the Le Marche region of Italy, will be one of Fairbnb’s listings when it launches in June 2019. photos from Pamela Balin Dochen

As of April, there were over 20,000 Airbnb listings in Amsterdam, nearly 80 percent of which were entire homes or apartments, according to Inside Airbnb, an independent project that regularly scrapes the Airbnb website for data.

Veracruz knew that addressing tourism’s negative impacts would take a multipronged approach.

“Eventually we opened the debate to why don’t we do our own platform? What would that look like?” said Veracruz, an urban planner who previously cofounded City Makers, a civic and social organization focused on improving cities through socially responsive projects.

Those questions were the catalyst for Fairbnb Co-op, which is worker-owned and plans to launch in five European cities. Fairbnb’s co-founders decided to establish the platform as a co-op so no corporation could ever acquire it. It plans to evolve eventually into a multistakeholder co-op so that its workers, hosts, and locals in any city where it operates can become members.

Short-term rentals through sites like Airbnb have been called the “new gentrification battlefront” and are linked to both displacement and rising housing costs. The popular platform came onto the scene in 2008, and many municipalities are still figuring out how best to work with the explosion of largely unregulated holiday rental units. As a result, regulations on those platforms vary widely. Veracruz said Fairbnb has also found that there are cities around the world where governments have not established any regulations for vacation rental sites.

“We cannot solve, by ourselves, the problems with gentrification, but it is important that platforms are aware of the power to be part of the solution,” Veracruz said. “We want to work with cities to tackle gentrification and to talk about this and be part of the solution, as well.”

Some municipalities have adjusted regulations in response to the impacts of short-term rentals. For example, in 2018, the city of Amsterdam reduced the number of days per year, from 60 to 30, that short-term rental hosts could offer their homes to tourists. More recently, in March, Dutch officials proposed a plan to prohibit newly built housing from being rented in the short term, in an effort to free up the housing stock for locals.

left double quoteWe cannot solve, by ourselves, the problems with gentrification, but it is important that platforms are aware of the power to be part of the solution.”

In 2018, Condé Nast Traveler reported that at least 12 other places around the world — including Los Angeles; Japan; and Reykjavík, Iceland — were curbing the number of short-term homes and apartments that are taken off the long-term rental market, to eliminate illegal rentals, and to restrict the types of housing that can be rented to tourists. But Fairbnb wants to do better than just abide by the local regulations in every city where it operates, Veracruz said.

Before they all met, Fairbnb’s other cofounders were also having discussions about vacation rentals and already working on similar efforts in their cities — Barcelona and Valencia in Spain, and Bologna and Venice in Italy. After Veracruz was interviewed for a story in The Guardian in 2016 about the idea for Fairbnb, they reached out to him.

Veracruz recalled them saying, “Of course, we have to collaborate. We are talking about very similar things.”

They set up Fairbnb primarily through Skype calls across Europe, then in in-person meetings in Italy. Among the group’s agreed-upon guidelines: Fairbnb hosts are allowed to have only one listing on the platform and the co-op will not work with any professional operators with multiple units available even if they’re legal under local laws.

Shirts on a chair

Il Casale Dorato, a country house in the Le Marche region of Italy, has three bedrooms, a living room, kitchen, and two bathrooms. photo from Pamela Balin Doche

Airbnb doesn’t have such stringent limits on the number of listings one person can have, and has been accused of facilitating illegal hotel schemes in various cities around the world.

“We try not to collaborate with them because we understand that apartments, vacation rental apartments, are being extracted from the residential market,” Veracruz said.

Gentrification is not the only complaint about Airbnb.

There are several other organizations addressing issues that have come up since its launch. Noirbnb, a platform geared toward Black travelers, got started after its cofounder experienced racism while renting a property on Airbnb. Similarly, there’s misterb&b, a platform largely for the gay male community that was launched after its cofounder and his partner had a homophobic host at a property in Barcelona.

“I don’t want to ever be in this kind of situation anymore in the future, and I don’t want anyone of my community to [experience] this kind of situation,” misterb&b cofounder Matthieu Jost remembers telling his partner on the way back to the airport. 

Jost said misterb&b has reached out to municipalities around the world to comply with their respective regulations. The company has raised over $24 million in funding and boasts about 60,000 hosts in over 135 countries, according to Crunchbase.

At this point, Fairbnb does not have any outside investors.

The platform’s founders are using their own money to launch the co-op and started a crowdfunding campaign in April. Veracruz said the goal is to raise 30,000 euros, or about $33,400.

The local nodes — the founders’ term for the property owners and neighbors involved with the co-op in each city — will also be able to adjust and establish rules specific to their needs. (Half of Fairbnb’s revenue will be donated back into the communities where the node members live.)

Veracruz said Fairbnb’s founders agreed that the platform has to be “glocal,” a mashup of global and local that essentially means the website will have hosts in many countries while simultaneously being responsive to each community’s needs.

In Venice, residents have requested that hosts must be local residents. The city has had issues with foreigners investing in vacation rental properties, with the revenue from those rentals funneled elsewhere and not benefitting the local economy.

That local request morphed into a co-op-wide rule that applied the Venice rule to all the cities in the network. People can already preregister as hosts, and Veracruz said they hope to have at least 20 hosts in each pilot country before launching. They hope to launch in the U.S. by the end of the year.

Commentary

Traveling While Brown Journeys in privilege, guilt, and connection.

Anu Taranath in Xochimilco, Mexico.

Anu Taranath in Xochimilco, Mexico.

I’m a Brown woman in the United States and a Brown woman abroad. My Brownness, though, plays out quite differently depending on where I am and who or what is around me.

As a professor who teaches about issues of race, identity, and social justice, I travel with students to introduce to them people who are working to make life better for themselves and their communities amidst great historical and current challenges. My partners abroad — in India, Mexico, Ghana, and elsewhere — teach us about resilience and strength, and how important it is to see colonialism and globalization through other people’s eyes.

My own travels too help me see myself with different eyes.

In my daily life in the U.S., I can’t help but notice how I’m often the darkest person in a meeting or at an event. Sometimes I’m one of few people of color, or the only, in a sea of White. Being different or sticking out doesn’t always feel bad, but it does make me more aware of when I do belong.

When I travel to Black and Brown lands abroad, what a soul-soothing relief it is to blend in more easily with the majority and not be so visible and obviously different. My skin relaxes into camaraderie, and I don’t have to be so vigilant, so aware.

And yet, the Brownness I share with people around the world can also feel conflictual because of my education, wealth, global mobility, and other advantages. Traveling connects me to experiences outside my own and shows me how Brownness is both window and mirror.

“Are you from Pakistan?” local people ask me repeatedly. “Libya?” I am in Morocco with a group of 18 White educators and one other colleague of color, Ahmed. We all are American and here to learn about Islam, development, and gender issues.

Wherever we go, local vendors rush to the White people in our group to make a sale, but always approach me and Ahmed to guess where we are from. “Somalia?” “Kenya?” people sur-mise as they look at him. “Sri Lanka?” “Ethiopia?” “India?” as they look at me. The friendly hubbub around our skin color and ethnic origins continues in whichever part of the country we travel, and I love the fun interactions that ensue.

It does, though, take me a little while to get used to it. In the U.S., “where are you from?” is often a loaded question, depending on who’s asking it and in what context. In my experience, when a White person asks a Brown person this question, it can feel unsettling. The question might be a small-talk conversation starter for the questioner, but for the immigrant, person of color, or “unrecognizable” accented recipient, it sometimes feels like a way for the White person asking to quickly identify the difference in you and be able to manage it with a category that makes them either comfortable with or knowledgeable about who you are: “Ah yes. Now I can make sense of you.”

In Morocco, though, the vendors’ insistence on finding out where we are from feels quite different to me. I begin to realize that the context in which I had been asked that question hundreds of times before has shifted, and that here I respond more openly.

Ahmed and I use the extra attention as a way to practice our beginner’s Arabic and deepen our understanding of the local culture. It feels nice to be a part of something outside of the spectacle that is our large and loud White group. After a while, we start to notice that whenever a Moroccan comes up to us to guess our origins, a few of our White colleagues sigh, roll their eyes, or turn away their heads.

Increasingly, I get the feeling that the sighs and eyerolls speak to something about identity and racial discomfort — something that is beyond the attention that Ahmed and I receive but related. I get the sense some of my White colleagues — accustomed to being the invisible norm in the U.S. — are getting tired of being on display. Now that their Whiteness is linked to tourism and American wealth, perhaps they aren’t sure how to respond.

This happens repeatedly. Maybe they think that the Moroccans who ask about our origins are rude or inappropriate by pointing out what is quite obvious, that Ahmed and I are not White like the rest of our group. Perhaps they feel we are being unfairly treated special and become resentful. I never ask them what they are thinking and continue to relish the interactions with curious Moroccans who approach us, Moroccans who are Brown like me, and yet differently Brown.

Increasingly, I get the feeling that the sighs and eyerolls speak to something about identity and racial discomfort — something that is beyond the attention that Ahmed and I receive but related. I get the sense some of my White colleagues — accustomed to being the invisible norm in the U.S. — are getting tired of being on display. Now that their Whiteness is linked to tourism and American wealth, perhaps they aren’t sure how to respond. The “Sri Lanka? Kenya?” moments carry an energy of their own, and the sighs, eye rolls, and the bad vibes of some group members only increase, especially when in the presence of the vendors and shopkeepers.

One afternoon, three White men in our group snap and lash out at the carpet vendors who approach us. Faces red with rage, they yell, “Leave us the hell alone!” They shoo away the vendors with big, sweeping arm gestures and shout, “No! No! We don’t want any!” Local people around us gape in surprise. The vendors slink away, chastised, humiliated, and grumble under their breath. The rest of our group and I stay quiet, unsure how to say that something about race and masculinity and entitlement and cultural difference is playing out.

I’m American like these White men I’m traveling with, but I cringe at their unchecked privilege as they dismiss the rug salesmen. The next time Moroccan vendors ask where I’m from, I slink away, not knowing how to stand tall in my Brown difference amidst what feels like White people’s racial anxiety of visibility.

The once-sweet interactions between the local vendors and me now feel sullied by the racial anxieties of some of my White colleagues. Brownness can be a great connective tissue in different parts of the world. It’s also, though, always complicated by Whiteness.

I’m walking through a poor neighborhood on the outskirts of Mexico City, a wealthy Global Northerner traveling through an impoverished area of the Global South. Life — in all its mundane and pungent messiness — spills out every which way. Women squat outside their corrugated tin homes and fan coal stoves. Children play in stagnant pools of water. Everyone watches me, curious, because I am here and people like me are usually not. In my red leather sandals, with my trendy traveler’s backpack slung over my shoulder, I appear so different, and yet I am also Brown, my skin like so many of the women at their coal stoves and the children playing in the pools of water. My belonging and disconnection merge into questions I cannot answer. How does, simultaneously, my race make me feel a sense of closeness and my class make me feel worlds apart? Vexed, I begin to worry how I come across. How does my desire to respectfully observe and learn press up against colonial history and borders and my parents’ immigrant journey from India to the U.S. — all of which have afforded me this shiny passport to travel and witness the pools of stagnant water that splash in the children’s play? I’m self-conscious, and my heart pounds. My discomfort and guilt pull me under, and I check out.

I am a tourist in Tiananmen Square. My particular Brownness flags me as an easy-to-spot foreigner in the ubiquitous crowds of Chinese people all around. There must be 2,000 or 3,000 people in this square alone, I think. Politely curious, people nearby glance at me.

One elderly man stands near me and propels himself forward at an unhurried pace. When he approaches me, he thrusts his hand out to shake mine. I lean back slightly, unsure how to respond. As a woman, should I shake the hand of a male elder? I’m not familiar enough with the nuances of Chinese culture in regard to age, status, gender, and foreignness, but I quickly return his handshake. His hand is worn and strong. His face splits into a big and toothy grin, and I am a bit surprised he has so many teeth. He pats my shoulder and totters away.

As the hours pass, many more elders will approach me with outstretched hands. A few will whisper near my ear sentiments I do not understand. Some elders hold my hand and pat my shoulder. The Chinese elders’ light touch on my skin feels good; they are gentle and kind and welcoming and, at least for a few moments, quell the feeling that I’ve harbored about how conspicuously different my Brownness makes me from all those around me both rich and poor. The handshakes and pats and whispers are small gestures in this big concrete square, and they make me feel a part of the thousands of people around us. Sometimes as an outsider it is wonderful to blend in. And sometimes, sticking out couldn’t be sweeter.

Off the Beaten Path at Home

How to find new routes through our daily lives.

Photo by saketh garuda

Photo by saketh garuda

Grandpa Schiffman joshed that he was taking us grandkids on an ocean voyage to Europe. The round trip on the Staten Island Ferry to the city’s farthest-flung borough and back to Lower Manhattan took a little over an hour and cost a nickel, a bargain even in the late 1950s.

Richard Schiffman

Richard Schiffman is a poet and environmental journalist whose work has appeared in The New York Times, The Atlantic, Scientific American, and other publications. His latest book, What the Dust Doesn’t Know, was published by Salmon Poetry. Twitter: @Schiffman108

While Europe would have to wait, New York Harbor was unusual enough for kids brought up in the asphalt jungle. There was a limitless bowl of sky above us, swift tides, salt-tanged breezes, even wildlife: cormorants diving headlong into the waves and seagulls snagging the chunks of baked pretzel we tossed them. There were boats too of all sizes — tugs and barges, a fireboat fountaining rainbowed streams of water, and an ocean liner two blocks long bellowing its horn while heading out to the open Atlantic and ports unknown.

The harbor was where the world began, an expanse of ocean just beyond Manhattan’s wall of skyscrapers. I will never forget the thrill of being a part of something larger than myself. It was the beginning of a lifelong romance with the natural world, and with travel.

Since then, I’ve done my share of global travel, for which I am grateful. Travel is a powerful antidote to the growing distance many feel from the natural world. But I’m just now learning that travel does not have to mean taking a flight to the other side of the planet. A walk around the block will do. It is not how far we go in miles that counts, but how deeply we allow the world to enter us.

The importance of even the humblest travel was driven home for me during the 1970s, when I was a teacher at Camp Hi-Hill, an outdoor education school in the San Gabriel Mountains above the Los Angeles basin that served sixth-graders from the city of Long Beach.

On one night hike, the students huddled around me. “It’s just like the planetarium,” one boy said as he craned his neck to view the star-studded sky. A classmate was equally dumbfounded by the crunch of freshly crusted snow. She had never seen snow before, still less heard the sounds of walking on it.

Find a new place to travel to every day. Go as far as your legs or bicycle will take you wherever you are in the world. And don’t be afraid to put away your mapping app and get lost.

Our students learned the names of local trees and birds and the facts of photosynthesis during their week on the mountain. But I hope they also discovered a new way of paying attention. That quality of affectionate attention has never been more needed (nor in shorter supply) than it is today.

I’m an environmental journalist, and my stock in trade is reporting on disasters: wildlife poaching, deforestation, species extinction, and the escalating havoc caused by climate change. Often the trashing of the environment is treated as an essentially mechanical problem that can be eliminated by changing laws, conducting scientific research, and developing clean energy.

These are important things to do. But I’m not convinced that even the best regulations and smartest technological fixes will solve the problem. The real problem, I’m growing to suspect, is that we don’t love the world enough. We don’t love it, in large part, because we don’t see it. We don’t see it because we aren’t paying attention.

There is no shortage of reasons for this failure to pay attention: education that feeds the head but starves the heart; an economic system that puts short-term profit ahead of care for the planet; the toxic gospel of unlimited growth that sees a forest as so many board feet of lumber and a mountain as metric tons of coal. Not to mention all the screens vying for our attention. Many of us don’t look up from our smartphones long enough to notice what’s around us.

And even if we do notice it, nature is often viewed as a hindrance. The other day a friend called and said it was a miserable day, meaning that there was snow in the forecast. To be sure, snowstorms can be harmful to those without shelter, hourly wage workers, and people with disabilities. But for me that day, news of the impending snowstorm was like a shot of adrenaline for my inner child. I hopped on the subway to the New York Botanical Garden and stood alone in an open field hypnotized by the swirling flakes, the unaccustomed hush. When I returned to my apartment several hours later, I felt oddly refreshed — as if I had just come back from a beautiful vacation.

Lafayette Street, New York City.

Lafayette Street, New York City. Photo by Julian Vinci

I’ve lived on the Upper West Side of Manhattan for over 25 years and continue to experience things that inspire, refresh, and connect me to the world just outside my two-bedroom apartment — though I have to pay attention. Recently, on one of my regular walks along the Hudson River, I witnessed scores of red-tailed hawks circle in a gyre above the river as they prepared for their yearly migration south. It was something I’d never seen before.

Admittedly, there are times when I would rather be in the woods or standing under a night sky unmarred by light pollution. My happiest days have been spent backpacking through mountain terrain. But I now realize that nature doesn’t exist only in remote places. It is also in a kettle of hawks wheeling above America’s largest urban area or a dandelion blooming in a sidewalk crack. It is also the breath moving through my own lungs.

Such events might seem too ordinary to notice — especially in a city where there is so much else going on. But paying attention to the ordinary miracles of life is the best way I know to feeling fully and blissfully alive.

There are techniques that cultivate this quality of attention. Practitioners of mindfulness meditation rest their awareness on the bare act of observation — watching the rise and fall of their own breathing. While formal meditation practices may not be for everyone, most of us can take a walk in our neighborhood park or by a river. We can make the effort to turn away from our restless thoughts and worries and enjoy whatever the world presents to us.

To help sharpen my own personal focus, I bring a notebook on my walks and jot down poems about what I see and feel. Others take a sketchpad with them, keep a diary, or take photographs. Art deepens our appreciation of the world around us and helps us to see common things uncommonly and with fresh eyes.

Other suggestions: Find a new place to travel to every day. Go as far as your legs or bicycle will take you wherever you are in the world. And don’t be afraid to put away your mapping app and get lost.

Other species migrate across continents and span oceans in pursuit of food and mates. They travel to get somewhere. Humans, by contrast, often travel to lose themselves — ecstatically — in something larger than ourselves. That ecstasy is never far away from those who remain open to being surprised.

One winter day, I stumbled upon a road I had never noticed before at the edge of the Hudson River, appropriately called Marginal Street.

Off Marginal Street a concrete jetty

where I sat with my back to the city

and faced the river.

The billboards, the pylons of the highway

were behind me.

The west was tinctured peach with evening,

the river an icy slurry sliding to the sea.

There are places where nothing happens

to nobody in particular,

where you slip into some crack in time.

Once I tramped the globe to find them.

Who knew you could be lost

so close to home.

Richard Schiffman

Richard Schiffman is a poet and environmental journalist whose work has appeared in The New York Times, The Atlantic, Scientific American, and other publications. His latest book, What the Dust Doesn’t Know, was published by Salmon Poetry. Twitter: @Schiffman108

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