Sometime in the next month or so, I’m going to be a parent. My colleagues at Matador are all travelers, and at the end of every December, we talk about the places we’re going to go and the experiences we’re going to have in the next year. But this year, my answers are a lot different than everyone else’s — newborns can’t travel all that much, so the only new place I’m going to be going will be Costco (for bulk diapers), and the only new experience I’m going to have is touching another creature’s poop with almost hourly regularity.
Settling down is a totally normal thing to do when you’re having a kid, but it runs completely counter to everything I’ve been for the past decade. Travel was a central part of my identity in my 20s. It made me who I am today. But it’s not going to play as big of a role in my 30s. I can’t really justify putting an international plane ticket on a credit card when I should be depositing money into a college fund for my daughter. So, instead, I find myself plotting ways to keep the family wanderlust simmering during this little nesting hiatus. I want, in short, to turn her into a world traveler.
I wanted to travel in part because I read books and watched movies where the heroes were globe-trotters, wanderers, and questers. But my books and movies were all extremely guy-heavy: Lord of the Rings is basically a sausage fest, Treasure Island does not have a single main female character, and Indiana Jones is kind of an alpha-male creep who spends his free time plundering treasures from their indigenous cultures. (Why does it belong in a museum, Indy? Why doesn’t the idol belong in the heavily-guarded, booby-trapped temple you just stole it from?)
So I’ve begun to search for better role models for traveling girls, and that’s meant dipping into kids’ movies for the first time in a couple of decades. And holy crap, the movie I found is perfect: Disney’s 2016 animated feature, Moana.
Disney and girls
Before watching Moana, I was somewhat nervous: Disney, after all, doesn’t have the best track record with its depiction of young women: sure, a lot of the great princesses over the past 30 years have been empowered, strong women, but they’ve also all, without exception, had stories that are driven by their romantic entanglements. While I certainly want my daughter to find love someday, I don’t want her to be immersed in a culture which, from birth, tells her that romance is the only thing that matters for her as a woman and that her value is based on her marriageability.
And, while I loved Disney movies (Aladdin especially) as a kid, I can see some, ah… issues with them now, in retrospect. Like how Princess Jasmine is hypersexualized despite being only 15 years old, or how “A Whole New World” can basically be read as a song about losing your virginity (“Unbelievable sights! Indescribable feeling! Soaring! Tumbling! Freewheeling!” “I can’t go back to where I used to be!”), or how the reward for every male hero is a woman.
But Moana skips all of that latent creepiness and is just about a young girl who wants to travel. There is no boy she’s chasing, there is no boy chasing after her.
If you haven’t seen it, Moana‘s story is fairly simple: it’s about a young Polynesian girl (named Moana) who lives on a beautiful island in the Pacific. No one ever leaves the island, and no one ever sails beyond the surrounding barrier reef, because the island provides everything they need. Moana, though, has a deep, painful wanderlust, and wants to sail over the horizon and see what’s in the larger world. When the island starts to die, Moana decides to leave by boat and seek help from Maui, a trickster demigod played by the Rock.
I don’t want to give away the ending, because it’s great in the way that all of the Disney classics are — the music is incredible, the characters are lovable and funny, and the art is beautiful. But more importantly to me, as a father-to-be, is that the movie not only portrays travel as something that is central to being a human being, but it also grapples with the age-old traveler question: how can you love your home while simultaneously wanting badly to leave it behind?
Moana is hardly an unknown movie, but I don’t know if we in the travel community have fully grasped just how important it is going to be to future generations of travelers. I want my girl to go out into the world and discover new things, but I also want her to love a home, a family, and a community. And if she grows up with Moana, she’ll have a role model who is able to do both.