Dear (possibly offended) reader:
Matador has published over 20,000 articles since 2007. A healthy segment of those deal with social and political issues. We’ve covered everything from conservation to immigration to the War on Drugs.
This type of content has always offended certain readers whose sentiment is more or less: “Matador is supposed to be a travel site! Politics should have no place here.”
Before I address this, I want to acknowledge something: Travel is intensely personal. Each of us has our own motivations for why we travel. Our own unique style. Our special way of interpreting other people, places, and cultures. And at that root level I think there’s something that never has to be politicized.
So if you’re a reader who refuses to cross the lines of politics and travel, I respect that. You’re showing how much travel means to you.
That said, let me explain why Matador covers politics.
Every publication evolves from a specific vision. Our collective vision for Matador has always gone against mainstream travel media. Against what a travel site is “supposed to be.”
Unlike major metropolitan newspapers’ travel sections, we’ve never described places as “destinations.” We don’t write reviews of hotels or restaurants or cruise ships. We don’t care which airline has the best service. We don’t see travel as an “escape.”
Instead we’ve always focused on people.
We believe travel is the gateway to creating empathy and understanding between people.
Making it through this gateway takes courage. You have to be willing, as the phrase goes, to put yourself out there. You have to get over yourself, your fears.
And the moment you do, something wonderful happens. Usually it begins as soon as you arrive in an unfamiliar place and realize that whatever preconceived notions you had are way off. That Mexico City [or wherever you’ve arrived] isn’t at all dangerous or dirty [or whatever you’d thought it would be]. Instead it’s much quieter, cleaner [or whatever you find it to be once you’re there.]
In this way, travel has a balancing effect. It tends to amplify the small, meaningful details about a place you’d never imagine until you’re there. And it deflates the grand illusions and misconceptions you hold about a place or culture. In the end, it always comes back to people. To day to day interactions. And most travelers learn that no matter where you go, the real world is a lot safer, friendlier, and even more familiar than you’d imagine.
And yet the real world is almost never portrayed as such by the mainstream media. On one hand, mainstream travel media specializes in glossy caricatures of places. On the other, mainstream news media works by generating and capitalizing on fear.
This is why we publish stories like The Afghanistan you don’t see in the news. We’re remembering that places most associated with war and turmoil still have people not all that different from ourselves. And that if you found yourself there traveling, you might even be amazed at just how gracious and hospitable you’re treated.
This is why we dispel myths about Colombia.
This is why we run funny listicles like this one from a young Inuit woman from Greenland. We’re recognizing how many cultures go back thousands of years, with geographies and ways of life that barely register to most Americans.
This is why we publish photoessays showing the challenges facing indigenous people in the Amazonian rainforest.
From the earliest days of Matador, we’ve attracted writers, photographers, and filmmakers from all over the world — from Germany to Nigeria to Mexico to Argentina. For these storytellers (and speaking personally) it’s not that travel is a political act per se. Our contributors are not foreign correspondents. Instead, like so many of us, they simply experienced things on the road which compelled them to take action.
Take this example: In 2013 a traveler named Turner Barr volunteered at Thailand’s now infamous Tiger Temple. He was disgusted by the inhumane treatment of animals, and later approached us with a list of reasons not to visit that attraction. The article quickly went viral after we published it. Ultimately it was seen by over 1.2 million readers, adding to the pressure for Thailand to shut down the facility.
Whether it’s wildlife tourism or some other issue, as travelers and global citizens we must be informed so we can make educated choices.
And as we move into this next chapter in American politics, this need has never been greater. So often what passes for “news” is recycled quick reads pulled from social media. This leads to the creations of “parallel universes” where each self-identified “side,” be it progressive, alt-right, conservative, etc., creates a kind of echo chamber.
What matters then isn’t just giving an opinion on an issue but actually seeing places with your own eyes and talking to people yourself. We’re dying for actual contact between people.
A great example of this is Van Jones’ discussions with Trump supporters. In these face to face meetings, he gets at a much richer, and in his words, “messier” truth about how people feel.
This mirrors what happens when we travel. We learn over and over that despite so many cultural or political differences, we’re a lot more similar to each other than we think.
As a reader — and as a traveler — you can make a choice. You don’t have to engage politically. You can keep your politics to yourself. Or, you can express your views and opinions at the drop of a hat. Or, like many people, you can be somewhere in the middle. Wherever you find yourself, though, we hope that by being informed about different issues, and being exposed to a plethora of different viewpoints, you’ll be able to connect with people — to travel — in a more meaningful way. That’s why we cover politics at Matador.
Finally, I’d like to mention that our editorial is always open to thoughtful op-ed and (especially) personal essays, regardless of your political position. Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
–David Seth Miller
Editor in Chief, Matador