8 Difficulties of Being an Activist Traveler
You see inequality everywhere
I remember that studying filmmaking destroyed the magic of watching any movie because my brain would keep noticing all the techniques used on screen: The movement of the camera, the lighting, the size of the shots… Well, something similar happens with every social struggle you become aware of. They suddenly become so obvious that you can’t understand why you didn’t see them before (hint: it’s called privilege). Not only when I travel, but also in my day-to-day sedentary life, I keep noticing little details in the way people behave or speak, or situations that you might miss without a second read, that directly depict many different kinds of inequality.
You can’t stop talking about it.
This is the main side effect of seeing inequality everywhere — you feel the urge to point it out to everyone in your environment, you want them to see it too! Of course, the main outcome of this is your becoming of that friend and getting a ton of rolling eyes… and to be fair, sometimes I can be a bit insistent about these topics. It’s so hard not to, it IS everywhere.
Every time I write about any situation of inequality, there will always be somebody eager to tell “the other side of the story” or how “we suffer too”. Especially when we get to the “f” word (feminism). So here is a message to all the trolls I’ve been getting for the past year: do not hesitate for one second that, when I’m addressing a social problem that I consider to be important, what I’m really doing is blaming you for it and saying that you have a perfect life in which everything has been given to you and that you are the worst person on Earth. It’s all about you!
You feel guilty when you just visit a place.
There’s been many times in my travels where I’d stop for a few days in a city or town and just enjoy it in the plainest way: I’d take a walk, eat something at a nice bar, or maybe even nap a little without really talking to any locals during the whole day. In other words, I’d be a tourist. And I’d feel guilty about it. And that’s crazy. We cannot be productive all the time — we mustn’t. Sometimes, you just have to be a tourist, and that’s alright — just remember to be a responsible one.
That condescending asshole questioning your intelligence.
There was a time, in Montenegro, when I was having dinner with a group of strangers, friends of a fantastic girl who was hosting me at that time. Among all the guests at the table, there was a guy from the U.S. (35 years old, give or take), who seemed to have in his hands The Truth about every topic that was discussed. He kept interrupting everyone else (especially if they were female) and suddenly, he asked me where I was heading next. I explained that I ultimately wanted to reach Greece to help in the refugees crisis. He stretched back in his seat, pulled a condescending smile and said: “So.. do you really think you are going to solve anything with that?”
Writing about travelling is already something that makes people question your value and decisions, but when the ingredient of activism jumps in, brace yourself. However, there is a wonderful, bright side (as there is in every unordinary lifestyle), which is that you get to inspire lots of people who meet you, because you are the living proof that what you say you want to do is actually possible. And that makes up for all the condescending assholes in the world.
The constant danger of portraying a social problem with a paternalistic tone.
This is a journalist problem 101: using your own voice to give voice to others holds the danger of speaking for them. This is why I always try to mix what I write with personal experiences that I’ve had, so that the origin lies in something I’m sure I know. It is essential to be aware of this possible mistake in order not to make it, because you can add more harm than healing to a cause without even knowing it.
Starting a conversation with someone and suddenly realising you’re interviewing them.
The second I engage in a fascinating conversation with somebody, I feel the urge to pull out the recorder on my phone or to take notes. I’m starting to solve this by sending myself audio-notes in brief trips to the bathroom. Yeah, it’s that bad.
There is always something to write about.
This is not a practical difficulty, but more of an emotional one. Inequalities will keep existing, so you will never run out of topics. In that sense, sometimes you will think your work is not useful. If it happens to you, just zoom in a little and watch the effects in a smaller picture. Nobody can change the world, but we sure can change little pieces of it… And trust me, it is absolutely worth it.
This article first appeared on No-YoLo and is republished here with permission. Read more of Elisa’s work on Revolution on the road.