When Anthony Bourdain died, certain ideas surfaced over and over in the obituaries written about him.
- He was deeply respectful of the traditions of the people he visited.
- He saw everyone as individuals, not products of their governments.
- He believed that through sharing culture, food, and drink we might find common ground.
These are big, important concepts and each speaks to the same quality fans around the world recognized in the travel host: A global citizen’s deep compassion for the planet and its residents.
We desperately need that approach right now. So far this summer, we’ve seen the Trump administration treat the lives of refugees with callous recklessness, put full or partial bans on visitor visas from seven countries (five of which are majority Muslim), allow Hurricane Maria to grow into the single most deadly natural disaster in modern American history, hand a National Monument over to mining concerns, and start trade wars with our top three inbound travel partners.
Moreover (and perhaps more glaring), the tone and tenor of how the United States government has navigated these conversations have completely cratered any sense of international goodwill we were trading on post-President Obama. Opposing political factions can fight over the exact policies our government employs, but the empathy deficit of this administration is impossible to ignore. It’s hard to think of a time when so many government officials all seemed so gleefully cruel.
“I see us failing in massive ways, in terms of how other countries and cultures are interpreting the actions of our representatives,” Travel Channel’s Andrew Zimmern told me recently. “The isolationist, nationalist tendencies of our current administration are pulling us out of everything that we’ve engaged in since World War I, in terms of coalition building politically and diplomatically.”
As a result, the progressive American traveler is left at a crossroads: To tune out of politics while on vacation or to stay engaged. To leave the issues that our nation faces behind or to vote with each dollar spent. To use PTO to chill by the pool or as an opportunity to make protest tangible and personal.
Though this challenge may teeter on the precipice of “making my time off feel like work” rest assured that’s not the goal. Plain old fun is good too and you deserve relaxation. But if your mindset is to resist — if not Trumpism, then at least our current regime’s glaring absence of kind-heartedness (with regards to both humans and the planet) — there are things you can do this summer to gain a deeper understanding of the issues at stake while having a good time.
1. APPLY FOR A PASSPORT
There’s an apocryphal story that’s been passed around for years, that only 10% of Americans have their passports. It was true, too… back in the 80s. These days the number is more like 40% — which isn’t great, but it’s something. Just getting your passport and securing permission to see a world outside our borders is an important act and a great starting place for using travel as a means to push back against xenophobia.
You may not go anywhere for a year, maybe more, but there’s a mentality shift: You’ll be someone who has the potential to look at our country from both inside and out. Suddenly, should you so choose, you could visit a place our politicians have vilified. You could talk to the people there and hear their perspectives. Even that mere possibility holds tremendous power.
If you can’t afford processing fees, keep your eye on the Passport Project, by Zach Houghton — founder of the popular Instagram account @PassionPassport. The site often runs contests and activations to cover costs for would-be travelers.
2. SEE A NATIONAL PARK
Ecologically, one of the major markers of our current Commander-in-Chief is his desire to re-privatize land that President Obama made public. Though it’s difficult to calculate the economic impact of these protected spaces with precision, because so many non-tourist businesses thrive thanks to an influx of travelers (think cafes and grocers where campers buy food), it’s clear that US National Parks are a significant cog in our economy. The president’s willingness to ignore them — even as long-term, renewable economic assets — defies his “American businesses first” mantra.
Regardless of how you feel about National Monuments getting mined for minerals (which is exactly what has happened, as predicted), it’s important to see our National Parks firsthand and understand the communities they support. By visiting Bear’s Ears or Zion or Dry Tortugas, you will come to understand small-town America in a whole new way.