Reflections on Feminist Travel in 2016
2016 has been a rough year for me personally and the world politically, but damn has it been an eventful year for Jill Kerouac!
Miami, New York City, San Francisco, Portland, London, Rome, Florence, and Peru in twelve months! With a bit of help from work, family, and friends, I’ve made it to so many beautiful places in the world this year even while my personal life crumbled (boooooo boys) and the American political landscape tanked (boooooo Trump).
I think it’s particularly important to travel when the world seems challenging or violent or just too large to manage.
I’m planning a trip to Berlin in the spring, and after the attack at the Christmas market there yesterday a friend asked me if I was hesitant to go. Without even thinking, I responded, “of course not!” and then I had to pause to think why. What I realized is that I would rather be in Berlin mourning loss with the citizens there and understanding their pain as a global pain than stay home, allowing my fear to trap me within borders, holding on to the false reality that my life here is any safer than it is elsewhere in the world.
Saying this, I also have to recognize that there is a lot of privilege in the fact that I hold a US passport and can travel across so many borders, putting my self/body/identity in so many spaces. I reflect on this often when I think of feminist travel. What role can and should I play as I travel? Should I travel to spaces that were once colonized by my ancestors? What does my presence there entail? I always try to raise these questions of the colonial nature of travel (it’s important!), and I often wonder how feminist travel can really be.
But in my travels this year, I was stunned by the conversations I had, the connections I made, and the spaces I was able to enter when I listened to and cared for the people I encountered. I was blown away by the signs women placed in the central markets in Cusco demanding their freedom and safety, and while their experiences are not and cannot be my experiences, I could certainly draw connections between those signs and the battles I fight against rape culture in the US. I could speak with a young woman in a bar and compare notes on our struggle for equality at work and in relationships.
What feminist travel teaches me over and over again is that while it is important for feminists, especially white feminists, to never universalize our lives or project our experiences onto the places we visit, it is just as important not to brand them as radically different or fail to see the commonalities between people around the world.
I know that next year will likely only be more challenging than this year. But as I travel into 2017, I want to hold on to a quote by another traveler who wrote a book on her road experiences this year: Gloria Steinem.
“It’s true that hope is a form of planning.
It’s true that dreams are a form of planning.”
Travel always allows me to hope and dream again. So here’s to another year full of seeing the world, mad ones!
GIF by the amazing Abbey Lossing
This essay is reposted from my travel blog Jill Kerouac where I document my adventures in feminist travel primarily through photos. Apologies if you're seeing it twice, but I hope you'll follow me in both spaces!