Destination: Discrimination

Destination Discrimination.

It’s a real thing.

When I was eight years old, I was thoroughly disinterested in the idea of our family trip to Mexico, and wanted to know why Disney World wouldn’t be getting our business yet again. Similarly, during my junior year in college when I told my parents I was one click away from booking a three-week trip through Vietnam, they asked why I didn’t want to choose a more sensible location, and study abroad instead. And when my boyfriend, Kris, first proposed the idea of going to Indonesia this summer, I hesitated and said “hmmm… how about South America?” Without a conscious thought, I disregarded an entire culture, based on… absolutely nothing. But why? Because I’ve seen an uptick in Instagram posts from Machu Picchu and none from Jakarta?

Whether it stems from news channels, viral videos, or dramatic family members, I find it fascinating that most people have strong opinions about places they’ve never been. Myself included.

While I’d like to delve into the root of the travel discrimination problem, I don’t think there’s enough coffee in the world to get me through all of the contributing factors. Plus I’m completely unqualified in the psych department. So let’s skip the causes and proceed directly to the solutions!

It’s the year 2019 and we’re making awesome strides in the world, in terms of opening our minds and striving for equality (really, I think we are). But these aren’t just issues for the paper at your polling station. It’s not a check the box for the progressive thinker, and proceed to Margaritaville situation. With every plane ticket we purchase, and each hotel or Airbnb we book, we make a conscious decision to support the already-popular, or encourage the underdog.

And the underdogs need us.

So I’m here to tell you to skip the same Florida beach destination you choose every year, and discover something off-the-beaten tourist path. Yes, I know this is a bit hypocritical coming from the person who was hating on the idea of a trip to Indonesia, but every now and then I have some good ideas. Bear with me.

At the age of 21, I felt compelled to travel. Up until that point in my life, I’d traveled exclusively with my family, to some lovely destinations like Costa Rica, London and Banff, Canada. But I was craving the backpacking experience and “eat pray love” revelations that come with a no-frills trip abroad. Mind you, I had zero idea of where I wanted to go. So like all indecisive people, I took to the internet to find inspiration. And sitting in the Travelzoo Top 20 Deals of the Week, was a trip to Vietnam with an adventure travel group called Intrepid. All I knew about Vietnam was the skewed information passed down from my grandfather, who served time there during an unfortunate war. Nobody I knew had been to Vietnam for fun.

To be honest, when I first saw the trip title, I immediately glossed over it and moved on to the deals for Paris and Brussels. But, being the emotionally analytical acting student I was, I went back and clicked on the link once I realized my brain had no positive connotation with the name “Vietnam.” I had no burning desire to go. So in quite possibly the boldest decision I’ve ever made, I entered my credit card information and secured my spot on a trek through a country I knew nothing about.

Long story short, that trip changed my life. From the warm-hearted people, to the incredible food, to learning the account of war from the other side, it’s safe to say that everything I imagined about Vietnam was completely wrong. At the end of my three weeks, I was sad to leave the country that had welcomed me with open arms, and was sending me home with a far more open mind.

And just a few days ago, as I left the coast of St. Maarten, I realized I was finding pleasure in being oh-so-wrong… again. (You’d think I’d learn.)

As I mentioned, my parents took my sisters and I on some incredible vacations but the Caribbean never appealed to them. Through osmosis, I inherited their disinterest in small, resort-filled islands and the idea of the Caribbean altogether. It was tacky, they told me. Well, I’m currently at the end of my two-month stay in the Caribbean… ha. And just like 21 year-old me traipsing through Vietnam, all of my expectations about this vast conglomerate of islands were wrong. Ok, almost, all of them.

I didn’t love every stop of my journey through the warm, tropical waters. But if you’ve got time, I can rave for hours about my love for the authentic charm (and TACOS) of Cozumel, the glorious empty stretches of sand in Grand Cayman, and the stunning mountaintop views in St. Maarten, to name a few. Every island in the Caribbean is (almost) its own country, with its own culture, people, and distinct energy, so it feels wrong to loop them into the same sweeping general title of “the Caribbean” or “die Karibik” in German.

My slice of humble pie only grew larger as I learned a bit more about each island, riding past skeleton buildings destroyed by relentless hurricanes. Entire blocks of St. Maarten and Grand Turk lie in ruins from recent natural disasters, yet the people have an enduring spirit, and love for their roots, that I’ve never experienced in my travels. In my opinion, the point of traveling is to experience something new, in order to broaden your understanding of the world. In this sense, I’m eternally grateful for my time in the Caribbean, fending off pushy Jamaican taxi drivers and eventually finding my way to a passion and sense of island calm that I never felt in New York. Plus, these islands need us. Well more specifically, they need our money to rebuild and flourish again. And if taking a trip to the white sand beaches of Grand Turk is considered good karma, then sign me up!

Oh, and can we talk about Russia for a moment? As I was in the process of getting my visa to explore Russia, I was fielding questions and comments from concerned people in my very-American life, about the dangers of traveling to Putin land. In general, we don’t hear nice things about Russia in the US. Not once have I met someone who has chosen to spend their limited vacation time in the land of vodka and those funny fur hats (clearly I have a deep, cultural understanding of the Soviets). But I’m happy to report that after a few days exploring St. Petersburg, I was navigating my way on the public transportation, exploring hip vegan cafes, and walking by palaces, awe-struck at the colorful opulence that starkly contrasts with the gray facades of many residential buildings. I didn’t find the Russians to be particularly friendly, but in a strange way, I kind of appreciated it. When you come from a country that undoubtedly believes it’s the best, where pride is not an option, but your middle name, it’s refreshing to be in a society so completely different, with an equally inflated sense of self-worth, and even more pride (I didn’t know this was possible). In simple terms, it makes you think… especially when you’re sipping on a top-notch vodka.

Time and time again, my initial expectations of a new destination have been proven wrong. And wrong, in the best way possible. I can’t guarantee you’ll love every new place you travel to. But I can promise you the stories, and people you will meet, in places like Vietnam, Russia and India, will be richer and more meaningful than having tequila shots with all of the other white folks vacationing in Cabo. Because with every plane ticket to a new place, I feel like an undiscovered part of my brain is unlocked. Questions I never knew I wanted answers to, start bubbling to the surface of my thoughts.

As hard as I try, a small piece of the destination discrimination is still there. Though as I’m slowly learning, we all have the power to override it. If we’re privileged enough to have the means to travel, I think we owe it to the world to discover as much as we possibly can. So yes, I understand that the all-inclusive resorts in Florida are nice. But have you seen the similarly gorgeous stretches of beach in Brazil?

I guess you could say I’m on a quest to change my own mind, and through reverse osmosis, undo my Disney World longing. For starters, I’ve added India to my travel bucket list. I’ve never wanted to go to India, and that’s not fair to India now is it? Oh, and Indonesia? It’s happening this summer, and I couldn’t be more excited. But please don’t applaud me for booking a trip to Bali, which I’ve now discovered is the Instagram travel influencer capital of the world… Let’s look to those who are recommending trips to destinations that trigger immediate hesitation, and instead of hesitating, let’s go for it. We owe it to ourselves, and to the world, to discover as much as possible. And I’m sorry Walt, but that is one kind of magic that doesn’t happen at Disney World.

Though Harry Potter World is still calling my name.

Maybe after India…

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