Getting Real About Decolonizing Travel Culture

Wherever you are, you’re on Native land, and wherever you go, anti-Blackness follows

I claim travel writing because it’s like cheating. I get to write about everything. Travel is a vehicle for which to explore the condition of living, how our relationships to place shape us and our experiences, how our identities and political histories inform place, how power structures inform how we migrate (or don’t) and how that affects the places we pass through.

How we move through the world, whether it’s how we or our ancestors came to be where we are now; a trip to the bodega as a visibly trans woman of color at night, or to countries we have no connections to but are guests in, varies phenomenally from person to person, but those journeys are all informed in some way by capitalist imperialist cishetpatriarchal white supremacy. A part of decolonizing travel culture is being real about where we came from, how we got there, where we’re at, and where we’re going. It is a moving conversation between the ways that we are privileged and the ways we are oppressed, because places, like identities, are not static; they are always in flux.

The industry of tourism (especially mass tourism, which cannot function without global inequality) and the colonialist tradition of the travel writing genre implicates those of us who participate in either, and if we don’t have the power to do so, decolonizing travel is also a discourse, and finally, a resistance, to the barriers that keep some from moving freely and safely throughout the world. If we’re going to write travel, we have to reckon with these histories; we must constantly question how our presence affects the spaces we move through and be real about how power functions. Because wherever you are, you’re on Native land, and wherever you go, anti-Blackness follows.

If communities don’t have sovereignty or the self-determination to shape how they want their cultures to be consumed or communicated, their economies to be governed and their environments to be treated, then tourism and travel culture are only a continuation of imperialist practices. We have to locate ourselves within the spectrum of power — which is hardly ever as linear or binary as basic white travel narratives paint them to be — to tell the truth about place.

In being real, we not only disrupt the colonial tradition of these travel narratives and who gets to tell them, but we can recenter migrations that aren’t deemed worthy of the genre; we do justice to the complications of place and our relationships to them. We recenter narratives of migration to those who aren’t tourists, but in fact Indigenous, displaced, stolen or forced to labor for the industry itself. And, finally, in doing this, maybe we can move closer toward the goal of ending domination.

As a broke disabled light-skinned genderqueer AFAB* first generation immigrant USian travel writer and activist of color, I know that not only is this shit complex as hell, but that the frontier regions of identity, the terra incognita on maps (or the palenques and reservations and uncontacted communities that are still resisting colonial white supremacy and Western hegemony) are the places from which when we choose to write from, we tell the most truth, the stories are just better; less comfortable, more dangerous; and we might even find Home. That’s the journey I’m on. You coming with?

*Assigned female at birth

This essay was originally published as the introduction to Muchacha Fanzine Issue 12, Decolonize Travel, which you can purchase here.