Should Travel Bloggers “get political” on their Travel and Social Media posts? Should writers, influencers, celebrities, doctors or teachers? Frankly, I think this is a silly, even stupid question. To be candid, I’m not one that necessarily believes that there are no ‘stupid questions’ in life. But I’m here to answer why I think that this question/statement is ignorant and irresponsible when people dismissively say we shouldn’t. My Travel Blog has been focused on Travel, Culture and Food. I also periodically include posts on Non-Profits and Real Estate. Every single one of these subjects pertain to politics. In reality, every moment of our waking breath, every household supply, our education, the roads we drive on, the air we breathe – is a result of politics in our country, as well as it’s political relationship to the world. Even if we often forget about it. It’s kind of like breathing.
Of every few posts on Travel, I may post something considered ‘political’ on my Bohemian Vagabond Facebook Page that pertains to a country and how it may relate to America. Though, I’m not exactly posting random CNN Articles on the Mueller report for no reason unless it pertains to Travel and Culture. This past week, I posted an article on Finland: “The World’s Happiest Country Is All About Reading, Coffee, and Saunas“. And in the post, I wrote:
The World’s Happiest Countries in the World are Happy
Because Frankly, their Government Cares about it’s People
When I read this comment from “Miss Mobile, Alabama”, I laughed out loud. First off, thanks for letting me know you’re not pushing like. I’ll inform you once I stop crying in a few months and stop mourning over the loss of your important ‘like‘. In this Afar travel article, it shares that along with Finland, countries also in Northern Europe like Norway, Iceland, Netherlands, Switzerlands, Sweden, Austria and Denmark came close to being on the top list of ‘happiest places in the world‘. Making the top 10 list outside of Europe is Canada and New Zealand with the United States falling down to the 19th place. But why? With so much wealth and ‘winning’, why can’t our people be happier?
“While these results are based entirely on self-perception, factors that the Happiness Report says contribute to making these life evaluations better in each country include a high GDP per capita, a strong social support system among friends and family, healthy life expectancy, freedom to make life choices, absence of corruption in government and the business world, and generosity when it comes to donating to charity.”
Let’s Try to Explore what the Top 10 Countries may have in Common that the US Lacks:
- Strong Social Support System means that the American obsession of “Individualism”, “Independence” and “Entitlement” is less present and of less importance
- Book Recommendation: “Tribe” by Sabastian Junger
- Health Life Expectancy
- The Life Expectancy in the US is at an average of 77 while those in the top 10 countries range in the mid to high 80’s
- Universal healthcare and affordable medicine (if not free) are available readily for citizens
- Freedom to make life choices
- Includes women’s reproductive health, choice over their bodies, readily available abortion and birth controls (not a continual debate among the men in power)
- Healthier, local food options where corporate, greedy companies like Monsanto aren’t dominating every inch of the food industry
- Which has caused Americans to have much disease through processed, genetically modified food
- An exponentially longer Maternal (and Paternal leave of absence) after the baby is born
- In addition to this, childcare at affordable costs
- Generosity when it comes to donating to charity
- Helping the poor, recognizing the sense of community and not focusing on what you don’t have
- More vacation days, higher wages, higher taxes, less work hours = less stress
- Lower debt in general (Public College Education free to low cost)
Backpacking Southeast Asia isn’t just about
Raging in Hostels, Full Moon Parties and Tiger Beers
I backpacked through Southeast Asia for a month at the age of 24. This trip included Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia and Myanmar. What I thought would be a hedonistic month of hopping around $5 hostels, meeting other travelers, tasting delicious cheap street food, beers and beautiful beaches turned into so much more. Outside the fun, I had continual learning experiences about these countries. And a growing urge to travel the world to observe, learn and to hopefully share as much as I can with others on my blog. It taught me more than I would ever learn in school or the media.
It started on our first night as we roamed the streets of Patpong District in Bangkok. A vulgar and scandalous touristy and old white male destination with tons of underaged strippers & prostitutes for services that cost less than your Uber ride from the airport over. There, I witnessed the harsh reality of so many young women in Thailand. Some willingly, many forced by their own family due to poverty. Some trafficked from smaller villages and neighboring countries who had to work to feed their family. I wondered (quietly to myself of course as it’s highly controversial):
If the Thai King was so beloved by the masses for all his contributions and love for his people, couldn’t he do anything to stop this?
Or is this really the ‘acceptance factor’ that comes with the Buddhist religion?
The Vietnam War, Agent Orange & the Parts of History Americans Don’t Discuss
The American education system covers the Vietnam war (1961-1971) very briefly. In a nutshell, they told us: Communism = Bad. Vietnam in the 1960’s = Communist. Therefore we sacrificed lives and millions of dollars to bomb the bad guys. And then Boom! Moved on to the next subject. Frankly, I don’t remember the US history textbooks admitting much wrongdoing to anything done in the past. Definitely not in the way that Germany and Canada apologizes profusely for atrocities they’ve committed.
As I landed in Ho Chi Minh City (the capital of Vietnam) formerly known as Saigon, our first tours were to the Cu Chi Tunnels. This is where Americans expected their enemies to hide. But instead, this is where way more innocent families who couldn’t flee the area hid and lived in this underground tunnel. As a result of the poisonous Agent Orange, a Rainbow Herbicide and defoliant chemical first used by the British to destroy forest and crops (which fed the ‘military guerillas’), many were poisoned. The US army would continue to use the spray during the Vietnam War, using over 20,000,000 gallons of the chemicals. Up to 4 million people were exposed to the defoliant with 3 million today still suffering mental and physical illnesses/deformities from it.
I quote our tour guide, “Every country wants to become a Superpower. Well if you want to become a superpower, you come attack Vietnam. US, France, Japan, Mongolia, China have all been here.” He said it with a light humor and chuckle, as the group of westerners had an uncomfortable silence, reflecting some of the truth behind what he had said.
Khmer Rouge Genocide & Killing Fields in Cambodia
We explored the killing fields in Phnom Penh, a result of the evil Pol Pot Regime during the traumatizing ruling of the Khmer Rouge (1975-1979) and Cambodian Genocide. On other days of our travels in Cambodia, we enjoyed the fish foot spas, the cheap beers and explored the gorgeous Angkor Wat in Siem Reap on bicycle. While our experiences as western backpackers were free-spirited and dirt cheap, there was no denying the extreme poverty that existed in Cambodia.
Children as little as 5 years old were (and still are) selling souvenirs and begging on the streets. Adults that had lived through the Khmer Rouge had kind smiles on their faces to tourists, hiding behind a psychologically traumatized mind and soul. Many were open to sharing their first-hand experiences. So many had witnessed their own family members murdered before their very eyes. All in the name of what? You guessed it, politics, greed and power.
Burma or Myanmar? Either Way, a Lot has Changed in a Decade
Visiting Myanmar in 2009 before the release of Aung San Suu Kyi (a symbol of Burma’s Democracy) from wrongful house arrest and the easing of total dictatorship was like visiting a whole other planet in itself. Our hosts, taxi drivers and waiters were not allowed to voice any sort of political opinion, even in their own home. Many who have, including journalists and monks have ‘disappeared‘ or been jailed as a result. Seeing the diversity on the streets of Yangon between various ethnicities of Indian, Bangladeshi, Chinese and the mix of Burmese people led me to buy more books on Burma’s history. I learned more about the British occupation there as well as in India.
From May 2012 to February 2013, the United States were in talks to lift it’s economic sanctions on Myanmar. In 2016, President Obama and Aung San Suu Kyi met.
“It is the right thing to do to ensure the people of Burma see rewards from a new way of doing business, and a new government.” President Barack Obama
Rohingya Refugee Crisis
In the mean time, the Rohingya Refugee Crisis would be one of the most controversial topics of our decade in the world of Human Rights. Plastered all over the news, with differing views depending on where in the world you lived. I visited Myanmar in 2012 and again in 2018, witnessing it’s change and progression each time. My traveler friends and I would be trolled on Twitter for being in Burma. Simply by posting a friendly photo of our wooden boat ride in Inle Lake. Some of us would respond and ask:
“If you travel to the United States and post a photo in sunny Santa Monica, does that mean that you support everything that the Trump Administration is doing? Do you support police brutality against the lives of innocent Black Men and caging toddlers who were brought over with their parents as Asylum Seekers?”
The opinions of the Burmese people on the Rohingya Crisis differed extremely than what we heard on the media. I was lucky to hear both sides, from locals who we met including insight from my expat friend, Tomas. This was done obviously over Myanmar Beer and local Whiskey where conversations got more real. Tomas had lived in Yangon for the past 2 years working in the Healthcare and Environmental sector (originally from France). We dug deeper and learned that the Rohingya & Burmese conflict had started 200 years ago when the British brought the Rohingya People from the bordering country of Bangladesh as cheap labor (or possibly slaves). History records also reveal some Rohingya arrival to the Rakhine State as early as the 8th century.
Many people in the west have been vocally advocating the stripping of Aung San Suu Kyi’s Nobel Peace Prize for her silence over the crisis. “Does it mean that she supports the genocide against the Rohingya victims? Does she support the Burmese Military Government’s decision to not allow them citizenship & rights despite living here for decades or centuries?” With a seat in the government (but constitutionally not allowed to ever become president), after a life time of serving her people, being jailed and on house arrest for 2 decades, could it possibly be that she would lose all power and jailed again for speaking out against the Military (who still has a strong seat in government)? Could she be holding on to power, not simply because of power-hunger, but with intention to help the 97% of Burmese people who aren’t Rohingyas? I don’t know what’s really going on in her mind nor do I have a strong opinion on this. But these are things we should think about as travelers and fellow human beings as we start to learn more outside of what the media reports. It’s something to ponder about before reaching to absolute conclusions on such controversial matters.
Read more on Travels in Myanmar (Burma): https://www.bohemianvagabond.com/category/asia/se-asia/burma-myanmar/
Landmines in Laos and Extreme Poverty
In 2014, I went on a Volunteer trip with the non-profit organization, Room to Read to Laos, one of the poorest countries in the world. A country that is rarely covered in American history lessons or media. Especially considering the amount of unexploded ordnance “UXO” dropped in Laos by the US Military on their way out of Vietnam during the war. This includes bombs, shells, grenades, land mines and more. Still today, innocent children and adults trip over landmines and lose body parts or lives. It can be cleaned up faster and easier with the aid of the United States. But no, they haven’t acted on it or really recognized the wrongdoing.
Note: There are still an estimate of 110 million mines in the world with the top ten countries being Egypt, Iran, Afghanistan, Angola, China, Iraq, Cambodia, Bosnia, Kuwait and Vietnam.
Read more about the Girl’s Education Program in Laos (by Room to Read): https://www.bohemianvagabond.com/room-to-read-laos/
Travel Bloggers and Politics
So I ask you, how does one travel and completely tune out the politics that make the country? How could I have returned from my current trip to Cabo San Lucas (a resort destination) without hearing Mexicans and expat Americans laugh at the whole “Wall Situation”? Actually, how does one ever step foot outside of America without the ridicule of the trump family?
I mean sure, you can just zone it all out at your resort pool sipping Mai Tais. Avoid looking at your phone, the news and drink your worries away from the stresses of corporate world, family drama and debt. Ignore the poverty that exists outside your all-inclusive resort. For many Americans, their hard earned money goes towards that one vacation a year. Why should they care?
What I also see when people say that travel bloggers or fill in the blank profession ____ should ‘avoid discussing politics’, what they really mean is “I don’t like your politics so shut the f up”. And that’s fine. Because they likely won’t believe you when you travel to Muslim countries, return and post about how absolutely hospitable and warm the people are. Or how Iranians really don’t hate Americans, it’s the government rhetoric. Or when I visit European countries, confirm that socialism CAN work in SOME countries and has raised happiness levels. That ‘socialism’ wasn’t the sole cause of the downfall of Venezuela, it was mainly corruption.
Disclaimer: I’m not here to promote socialism or whatever you want to call it. Because the “socialism” labeled in America, is considered ‘centrist’ in Europe. So the term is subjective. Oh the irony.
How else is travel and blogging political? In case you didn’t know, the Visa requirements to enter a country has everything to do with the relationship between your home country and theirs. Some are stricter than others, some costs more than others. Cost of currencies is also political as it has to do with their economy. And guess what? These are all information travel bloggers include on posts to help you plan your trip! Oy Vey.
Newsflash: Religion and Culture is Just as Political
If anyone were to take a few minutes to think outside their rigid box, it would be pretty clear how political ‘religion’ is. Yes, something THAT sacred to the majority of the world is still POLITICAL. This affects our travels because what we witness as ‘religious practices’ have often been influenced from government interference.
Christianity throughout America is so different than Christianity in Lebanon and Syria (often intertwined as one in the same as Catholicism). An Evangelical Christian in the US has differing views than a Christian Pastor in San Francisco who has interpreted the Bible to say that Homosexuality is not a sin. Islam in Senegal and Philippines is so different than Wahhabism (the ultra-conservative Muslims) found in Saudi Arabia. What was the stem of Saudi Arabia’s extreme rise in power? Did it have to do with their rich oil resources? Without greed of oil from the West, would Saudi Arabia and the rise of Islamic Extremism not rise to the level of it’s power, greed and fortune? Should we not mention the weapons given by America to Afghanistan, Israel and Saudi Arabia without mentioning the POLITICS involved? I’ll let you contemplate on that one.
Recommended Book: “House of Islam“ by Ed Husain
The ‘Arabization‘ happening from Saudi Arabia to the rest of Muslim countries and even to the west, IS A RESULT OF POLITICS. The wars that have gone on for centuries, the birth of Israel as a nation, the continual conflict in Palestine and the Arab world is all political. It also goes back thousands of years in political wars.
Let’s get back to Christianity in American politics. Politicians must voice their support for the ‘Christian God’ during their campaign. This includes pastors across the board rooting (usually) for the republican party. The issue of ‘abortion’ and ‘same-sex marriage’ is a common topic which becomes a very ‘christian/political thing’. Catching my drift just a little?
Read: “Travel as a Political Act“ by Rick Steves
Americans Traveling to Cuba
Was the Embargo lifted from Cuba by the US Government not a result of Politics? So many Americans traveling to Cuba after 2012 were ultra excited to go. They want to smoke cigars, ride colorful classic cars and sip Daiquiris on the beach. Some Americans dove deeper during their travels to learn about the Cuban life, many didn’t.
- On July 16, 2012, the Ana Cecilia became the first officially sanctioned direct ship to sail from Miami to Cuba. It carried food, medicine and personal hygiene goods sent by Cuban-Americans to family members.
- In 2014, the Obama administration announced its intention to re-establish relations with Cuba.
- In January 2015, the Administration lightened restrictions on U.S. citizen travel to Cuba.
- President Obama and President Raúl Castro of Cuba met on April 11, 2015, which was the first meeting between distinct leaders of the two countries in over fifty years.
- In May 2015, several American companies reported they had been granted licenses to establish ferry travel between Florida and Cuba, with a U.S. Department of Treasury spokeswoman confirming they had begun issuing licenses
For tips on Americans Traveling to Cuba: https://www.bohemianvagabond.com/tips-traveling-cuba-american/
Hot Topics of the last decade that are equally
Relevant & Political to Travelers coming to the US and Abroad:
Healthcare & Politics
Should we go on into less controversial matters than the notorious relationships US has had with other countries? Ok let’s talk about Healthcare in America. Wait, what’s that got to do with travel blogging? How about the fact that so many artists, freelancers and business owners including Travel Professionals cannot afford proper Healthcare? I had a friend tell me during a press trip that she’s had some insane migraines. As a result, she cannot work due to blackouts and fainting. Yes, she can get medicaid, but it won’t cover Medical Specialists that can run deeper tests to figure out her problems. So she’s self medicating and using CBD to temporarily relieve her pain.
Just a few weeks ago, a fellow travel writer had a brother diagnosed with Diabetes. She heard that others had gone to Canada and Mexico for affordable medicine. She made an ask publicly on how and where to buy medication.
Let’s go on to the topic of Medical Tourism. A huge travel trend. Countries like Taiwan and Canada are famously known for their amazing healthcare system. Mexico, Thailand, Jordan and India are just a few more countries that have lower standard costs of living, well-known medical facilities and medicine for cheaper. A roundtrip flight, hotel and all the healthcare procedures (including some life-threatening surgeries) would amount to less than the total cost than in the US. Even after applying their high deductibles.
Gun Obsession in America, Mass Shootings and the NRA
The Bill of Rights 1689 allowed Protestant citizens of England to “have Arms for their Defense suitable to their Conditions and as allowed by Law”. It restricted the ability of the English Crown to have a standing army or to interfere with Protestants’ right to bear arms.
The Second Amendment of the United States Constitution reads: “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”
In 2018, there was an outrage when the NRA told Doctors to “stay in their lane“. Of course they would say that, the National Rifle Association and Republican politicians bank millions of dollars from American’s obsession of gun use despite it’s deadly consequences. As a result of the entitlement and gun obsession today? Thousands of children and innocent lives dead due to mass shootings. More deaths in the past decade from gun deaths than Islamic terrorism has done to the US in the past century alone. I bring this up as another example of people as important as MDs, being asked to ‘not get political’.
Read Doctors sharing bloody photos after being told by NRA to ‘stay in their lane’: https://thehill.com/policy/healthcare/416391-doctors-share-bloody-photos-after-being-told-by-nra-to-stay-in-their-lane
Mental illness, entitlement and gun obsession is what I’ve summed up. But not limited to as the issue is too complex as a result of the shootings that happen in America every single fucking day. With little access to mental health, as a result of greedy Drug Companies and the GOP cutting healthcare costs, leaves even more Americans depressed and in debt. Mass shootings which have left thousands of innocent lives dead, creating a national endemic that is ridiculed, feared and talked about around the world. Everywhere we go out the US, people ask in total confusion about the American obsession of guns. My Lyft Drivers in LA have relatives in Russia, Armenia and Iran calling to check in on them after every massacre. Turkey has issued Travel Warnings to their citizens against traveling to the US.
We need to start by explaining the greed of politicians and the power of the NRA in America to even start this conversation.
Now Should Celebrities Get Political?
I have heard many say that celebrities shouldn’t get political. This is largely where the term “Liberal Elite” came into play. Including the highly-educated, affluent individuals living in the big coastal cities who had a strong voice for human injustice and poverty. I understand that most celebrities live in their own bubble but many come from humble beginnings and have seen much of the world. People assume that they do not understand those who live in the south, midwest or get those who have lost their coal mining jobs. How can they understand while they drive electric cars and advocate for Global Warming which Fox News told us is ‘fake news’?
For those that used that argument, do they really think that donald j. trump or George W. Bush understands the people more? Talk about people who really grew up with diamond-studded gold spoons fed to their mouths. More than half of celebrities came from humble beginnings, many who came to Hollywood with nothing. A large amount of them continue to support non-profits. And use their voices and audience reach as a platform to influence/educate their fans. So yes, if celebrities wish to get into politics, they most definitely should as well. Along with doctors, teachers, lawyers, engineers and any profession.
Injustice and Poverty Witnessed around the World is Political
Last but not least, when we talk about injustice and poverty in which we often witness first hand in countries we travel to, it’s not enough to say (as many Capitalists in America do) “that they are lazy, hence deserve to be poor”. It’s been proven that there are enough food and resources in the world to feed everyone. It’s the governments in many countries that deliberately suppress certain ethnic minority or religious groups that cause continual repression. This happens in the US too. We see the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer.
We as travelers have an obligation to do our research before traveling to a new country. It’s important to learn about their history, their culture, traditions, religions, food, art and more. Our tourism dollars often go towards helping their economy. For some corrupt countries, it goes mainly to the government. In doing research, we can also find out how to help the local people by buying directly.
So, Should Travel Bloggers Get Political?
It’s ultimately up to them. If they don’t want to, then don’t. But we know that if we do, we are going to get our share of haters who don’t like what we have to say. We also know that we have an obligation to be raw, to be honest and to share what we have witnessed from the road first hand. Anthony Bourdain did it best and it changed the lives of millions of people around the world. Our information shared is valuable for what to expect in certain countries, current policies, visa process and the relationship between our governments. So yes, some of us travel bloggers are going to continue to be vocal and if you don’t like it, then eff off.