Food + Feminism. Photo by the brilliant Alex Chapman.
I started travel blogging the way most people do: to keep in touch with friends and family, and to let my mom know I was safe. But I have always been a political person, someone with a strong sense of justice, tons of opinions, and an allergy to keeping my mind shut. I like when disparate things connect, whether it means seeing Gilbert & Sullivan references alongside homages to Busta Rhymes and Ja Rule in Hamilton, or seeing the lessons of Amnesty International and Comparative Politics play out in tourism. So it should come as no surprise that I have brought my academic and activist background to my blog, just like I bring it everywhere else.
For the first few years, though, that made travel blogging a very lonely place. To most travelers and travel bloggers, I’m a downer who won’t just let them enjoy their cultural appropriation and unchecked globalism in peace. On the other hand, travel blogging has always felt like the most frivolous thing I do, and at times I have held back from the more serious, academic writing many of my friends engaged in, because I was afraid of submitting pieces that wouldn’t be good enough.
Since I graduated Northeastern in 2012, I’ve watched the general public bend closer to awareness and justice. I rarely have to explain what street harassment is anymore, and I’m continually surprised to see sexual violence, racial justice, reproductive rights, and other important social issues discussed by non-activists at parties and in my news feed. It seems while I had my head down in activist land, public opinion has shifted not only more to the left, but toward a better, more nuanced understanding of issues like victim-blaming and dog-whistle politics.
The travel world is no exception. Around 2014-2015 was the peak of shitty, victim-blaming travel advice written by and for women. But, since then, I’ve found many people looking for a more nuanced take on women’s safety, street harassment, and sexual assault. More and more people keep letting me (or even approaching me) write about street harassment abroad, responsible voluntourism, and other issues close to my heart. Some top bloggers have started speaking up about racism in the industry, and platforms are making voices that decolonize travel a priority.
My favorite thing about this post-Web 2.0 world is that my disparate, cross-cutting interests not only seem normal but are sought out. Ever since some emotionally taxing activism in 2012, I’ve been nervous about being too blunt and attracting too much attention on public-facing social media. It should come as no surprise that I am most commonly complimented on my Facebook presence, where I increased my already-strong security settings when the trolls coming after myself and my fellow activists got to be too much. I worry about that group finding me again and making the internet, my de facto home, a terrible place to be; nebulous future employers who could be offended by what many would call My Radical Agenda; and relatives or old friends who recognize themselves in my commentary, even if it was never about them. This past week, my own boss even mentioned that I don’t tweet about work, in spite of my decent following and role heading up initiatives to get other staff to discuss their work online.
Stop describing women as "spirited" or "willful." We are not horses. Our habit of having opinions & sticking to them is not a novelty
— Delia Harrington (@DeliaMary) February 15, 2016
But what I’ve found is that every time I just go for it and share what I’m really thinking with the world, the response has been overwhelmingly positive. The things that I say all the time in certain company, but feel risky online, have been met with encouragement and even folks saying they’re glad they’re not the only one. Truly, the best part of feeling some validation of what has become my life’s work is that it connects me to amazing people. If nothing else, loudly being myself has been an effective advertisement to find great people.
Do not come at me with BS about #TamirRice. He was a child, plain & simple. Children should be able to play outside w/o being shot to death
— Delia Harrington (@DeliaMary) December 28, 2015
I think the digital world is best experienced when it corresponds to real life, in some way. As I’ve been bringing my digital presence more in line with the person that friends know in real life, opportunities and great people keep finding me. I used to pride myself on the fact that everything about my physical appearance is essentially a shibboleth: it is very clear who will enjoy my presence and who will not, and it both helps me meet awesome strangers and keeps others away. Yet, many passions of mine, like feminist pop culture critique, have been underrepresented in what I post publicly, in spite of their prominence in my mind and daily conversations.
His #20MinutesofAction should have included asking if she was ok, finding her sister, getting medical help, respecting her unconscious body
— Delia Harrington (@DeliaMary) June 6, 2016
Finding my voice has helped me find the Wanderverse, an enormous community of women who are eager and grateful to discuss the tough stuff in travel. I’ve been asked to speak at more and more events, It lead me to amazing mentors and peers at BlogHouse, who cheered on my aspiring sprawling empire of social change. It’s how I wound up going to the UN to talk about socially good travel. I’ve even experimented with long-form, semi-voyeuristic storytelling on twitter, and went semi-viral (for me) on Medium. Hell, I’m a frequent guest on a soon-to-be-released podcast dedicated to the world of social justice-oriented scifi nerds! And someday soon, I hope that some of my photojournalism work in the gender-based violence space will send out a beacon in that world, too. This blog may have been dormant, but I’ve been writing and creating perhaps more than at any other time in my life.
Hillary's exasperated deadpan, "no, Donald, you don't," is every overqualified woman rolling her eyes at mediocre white men#DemsInPhilly
— Delia Harrington (@DeliaMary) July 29, 2016
The internet, much like life, is not perfect. I’ve definitely been more tired in the last year than I was the year before. I have probably let more people down with radio silence, blown deadlines, and broken plans than I’ve impressed with what I do manage to create in a timely manner. Trolls still troll, and I have over 50,000 words worth of an essay collection that I’m still afraid to find a home for. Finding folks to pay me for this work is difficult, especially since so much of the value I provide in people’s daily lives is in private and on a platform I don’t own. Impostor syndrome doesn’t go away, and no matter how many things I say no to it still feels like I have taken on too much, am letting too many people down, and should really be doing more.
But it’s an amazing feeling when someone I went to a couple parties with in college texts to say I turned them into a feminist, a good friend tells me I’ve changed the way he watches movies, or more moms of people I went to high school with say their kids are always talking about my commentary. When someone WhatsApps me because they’ve been assaulted abroad and they trust me to help, or I use Facebook messenger to bring a sexual assault survivor in from the cold. The RTs and the bylines feel great, absolutely, but in the end, it always comes down to the real world impact.
After spending years translating my passions and beliefs to technology platforms that many are quick to dismiss, usually on topics most people considered rude to even discuss just a few months ago, it feels good to see that it’s working. More importantly, when this work succeeds in public, it’s an advertisement for who I am and how I want to spend my life.
PS Want to hire me? Hit me up about freelance writing, speaking engagements, candid photography, and social media strategy at email@example.com. Hey, a girl’s gotta eat.