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Should travel bloggers talk politics?

Politics. One of those topics you’re not supposed to talk about at the dinner table. Same with religion, money, and sex – and the list goes on, and eventually one wonders what there is left to talk about except for perhaps unicorns.

Well, apparently, blogging is the new dinner table. “Is it appropriate for blogs to state their political beliefs?” has been a very pertinent question in the online community in light of recent events. Needless to say, Trump is the reason du jour for probing such a question; it goes without saying that few things in recent history have divided not only a nation but the entire world as much as the question: Trump, yay or nay? And without going into that particular issue, the overwhelming answer to the question of whether blogs should talk about politics was – probably not.

I don’t necessarily agree. I think that only certain blog genres should stay clear of politics in general and Trump in particular. Genres like DIY or food. Once, praise for a falafel sparked a heated political debate on my blog, but in general, I think food should be a safe haven/topic for everybody. Unless discussed between a vegan and a carnivore of course, but that’s a debate for another time. For now, I will just eat my very politically correct Bircher Müsli and write on.

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I think as far as other blogs go – especially travel blogs – they should not only not avoid politics but talk about it more. Love and marriage, horse and carriage, travel and politics – these combinations work! We need to talk about these iffy things more, not less – whether it be sex, money, or politics – at the dinner table, at the bar, in bed, or on blogs. Because if we don’t, how can we ever learn and evolve?

What politics and pretty beaches have in common

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Travel and politics are not only not mutually exclusive but are inextricably integral to one another. To me, it makes perfect sense that politics will feature on travel blogs and I know that personally, I am interested in it. My brain is perfectly capable of longing for pretty beaches and thinking about women’s rights at the same time. I can dream about my home, South Africa, and miss all the lovely wine, and still wonder what is happening to this beautiful country with its very corrupt president and an ever-present divide between rich and poor. I can see the happy, the pretty, the maybe-slightly-superficial side of travel and still acknowledge that politics here and abroad will have an influence on me and my ability to travel the world. In fact, I like to think that the ability to do both is part of striving to become a well-rounded individual and traveler. And I know I want to be one. Don’t you?

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Travel means to journey around the world, and doing that as a pleasant pastime or hobby is a relatively new thing. Etymologically the word “travel” is said to come from the French word travail, meaning to work or struggle. This root meaning doesn’t exactly imply a holiday, and with it the concept that travel always means pretty beaches and cocktails goes out the window. Is travel an escape? Maybe, but that doesn’t mean it is always pleasant. Sometimes the beauty lies in the adventure, the mishaps, the niggly bits.

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Whether you’re aware of it or not, politics shape the way we travel; they can be a reason why we do travel (or don’t); and to travel in itself can be a political statement. Think of places like Cuba, Tibet and Myanmar, or war zones like Syria, or even how the current refugee crisis in Europe affects the way we move around and see the world. Especially we as women travel differently, which can be an advantage or a disadvantage, but certain things will have a bigger effect on us than on men. That can include covering up when traveling in Muslim countries, knowing your rights when you get assaulted somewhere foreign, and for many it entails the question of whether they can travel at all.

Should I stay or should I go?

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I have quoted one of my travel heroines, Lisa Lindblad, before and recently I dug deeper into the history of her father-in-law’s company Lindblad Travel. Lars-Eric Lindblad went bankrupt after he was heavily fined by the US government for not adhering to the embargo against Vietnam in 1989. He had continued to send travelers there because he didn’t believe that excluding Vietnam was the way to go. He believed that ultimately travel has the power to contribute to world peace. That by traveling you can change lives, both your own and those of others. He was so very convinced by the power of travel that he would rather see his company go under than go against his convictions.
I agree with him. Now, we may not be able to move mountains when we travel, but I think whenever you leave the house and go out into the world you ignite a tiny spark of positive change. And who knows? Maybe you are taking the next big leap for mankind.

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Regularly the question comes up over whether some countries should be visited at all. Is it ethical, or are you indirectly supporting corrupt regimes and animal cruelty, or suppressing religious beliefs? The question has merit and again, it’s a political one – one I wish we could talk about more, because I do think it’s important. I personally don’t believe in embargoes, I don’t think that things will get better by refusing to visit or isolating a country. As I said, I do believe that dialogue is the only way.
Mind you, I have only my gut feeling to go by and it is a personal decision that everybody needs to make for themselves. But I believe in the kindness of strangers, I always try to put myself in someone else’s shoes and generally listen more than I speak. If we have the ability to travel I say we must go. In order to learn, to evolve, and to make the world a better place.

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I believe that this endeavour starts at home and is always based on dialogue. That’s why I will speak about politics and things that are happening in the world, even though this is called a travel blog. No, I am not an expert and yes, I probably harbour my own biases – but that will not stop me from sharing my opinions with you. You are free to agree or disagree and I will understand if you’d rather look at pictures of pretty beaches than read about politics. Once in a while though, it’d be nice if we could have a conversation about things that go beyond the pretty, the sunsets, the fun. Because who knows – we might learn something from each other and could agree that ultimately, we would like to see the pretty beaches and make the world a better place when we travel.

Whether we go out into the world or stay at home curled up on the couch reading a blog, we can engage in an exchange of ideas instead of ignoring the reality that travel is not always picture perfect. And that it is the imperfections, the mishaps, the awkward bits – essentially, the politics – that make it so damn exciting.

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If you are still keen to look at pretty beaches now check out this post. If you rather want to talk about something else, leave a comment and let me know your thoughts on the politics of travel!