Traveling and Reporting in a World with COVID-19 and Black Lives Matter
2020 has been an unprecedented year in terms of politics, civil rights, science, and humanity. This year has tested the strength of the human spirit like never before. We have been introduced to a global pandemic, mass quarantine, and the second coming of the civil rights movement all in the first half of the year. 2020 has been such a prolific year that I believe we’ll begin to talk about things in a pre-20 and post-20 sense.
The events of this year have changed us as a whole, highlighting the hidden veins of society that had previously been well hidden by formalities, political correctness, and corrupt systems. Now, there’s no escaping who you are and where you stand on the issues that matter. This year has very staunchly put people into one of two groups: the group of people who have shown regard for other human life, and the group of people who have not. And that’s not something a lot of people will be willing to forget.
The world has changed a lot in the last six months—which means we must change how we interact with it. Travel is different now. Journalism is different now. The way we consume media is different now. I know we are all ready to scream anytime we hear the phrase “the new normal,” but with six more months to go, we must begin to look into the world through the post-2020 lens. We must find ways to act with conscious ethical compassion. Otherwise, we have learned nothing from our time in this tumultuous climate—and we can not allow ourselves to have gone through 2020 for nothing.
Travel journalism is an industry that is run on the ability to, obviously, travel. But how does that industry exist in a climate where travel is discouraged? How does it adapt once traveling is safe again?
Conscious Travel with COVID-19
Traveling in the post-COVID world is going to look completely different than it did before the global pandemic. The way things were is no longer acceptable anymore; new protocol and guidelines must be followed. At the beginning of this year, the world woke up to its own fragile mortality, shattering the naive mindset of invincibility. We are all now too much aware of how quickly a pandemic can (and does) happen.
Masks will (and should) be a long time part of our new normal. There is a reason why places like Japan have had less than 1,000 total COVID deaths as of July: they regularly wear masks. All of the time. Whenever they feel sick. Masks work, and they protect everybody.
Traveling by public transit such as planes, trains, subways, and buses should all be met with proper cleaning processes and, when appropriate, masks. When you are scrunching yourself into a tiny airspace with a large group of people, sometimes from all over the world, it should be standard practice to wear a mask if you feel sick or if you feel you want to protect yourself from others. When you are entering new countries, states, or provinces with a vulnerable population, wearing a mask should become standard.
Masks have become a symbol synonymous with compassion. Wearing a mask shows that not only do you want to prevent yourself from getting sick, but you consider the health and wellbeing of others as well. It’s an international way of saying: I care about me, but I care about you too.
Conscious Journalism with Black Lives Matter
Not only should we be traveling with masks in mind, but we also need to consider how our international actions are affecting BIPOC people globally. The Black Lives Matter movement may have started in the United States but it has swiftly become a worldwide phenomenon. Systemic racism is everywhere, deeply rooted in the colonization of countries in most of the modern world.
2020 has taught us a lot about racism and what it really looks like in all its ugly forms. Unfortunately, it looks a lot different than how we were taught about it as kids. It’s a sad reality, but for many people this is the first time it’s been presented in such a way that they finally cannot ignore it. Many people are just now relearning how to enter society in a fully anti-racist way.
When we travel, especially as white people, we must be extremely conscious about how our actions are affecting the Indigenous people in the places we are visiting. Are we consciously and intentionally spending our dollars? Are we staying in a place that has taken land from native people? Are we using non-racist language? Are we buying and sourcing ethically? Are we participating in things that are hurting native and Indigenous people? These questions aren’t always easy or “fun” to ask ourselves, but they are very necessary.
White tourists have a responsibility to stop “culture vulturing,” a trend that has become incredibly damaging to Black people and people of color all over the world. It’s something that many white travelers and journalists fall into, feeling like they are allowed to cherrypick from cultures without giving due credit or payment, or making Indigenous struggles seem ‘chic’ and ‘trendy’ for social media. Vapid attempts at virtue signaling are not something that a world that was collectively awoken to deeply rooted systemic and micro-aggressive racism will allow any longer.
There has now become a certain responsibility thrust upon travel journalists to report on traveling in a responsible and conscious way. Whether it’s an article on the best Black-owned businesses in New Orleans or how to ethically source your food in South Africa, we must look at the world in a more conscious and compassionate way. Black stories are dying to be told all over the world.
Reporting on destinations should go deeper than its aesthetics and should dive into the people who make these places rich in culture and diversity. Staying at a 5-star hotel as a tourist while residents are living in poverty is an unfortunate side effect of tourism, but it’s one that should be acknowledged. While some of these hotels keep local economies afloat, there is still damage done by tourists, journalists, and reporters who visit these places without educating themselves on the issues of the area. Every action in a place that is not our home should be done with educated intention.
Conscious Traveling and Journalism in a New World
It’s imperative that travel journalists and content creators are using their platforms responsibly. Whether it’s looking behind the lens at racism or being conscientious about the health of others while traveling, it is a completely different world than it was before the global pandemic and the global civil rights movement.
COVID-19 and the Black Lives Matter movement have shaken the world to its foundation and shown us the importance of caring about your fellow human. Whether it’s their physical health or human rights, there is always something we can be doing to help each other. As travelers, journalists, and content creators, we bear a certain responsibility to be conscious about our actions, words, and platforms.
Our “new normal” doesn’t have to be bad—it can be one that is compassionate, ethical, and inclusive. We are living in a world that is different from the one we lived in just over six months ago. Our actions must reflect what we’ve learned in that time.