Can we stop with the travel shaming?

+ a special gift for our subscribers

In today’s newsletter: travel shaming, a special gift, and entirely too much turmeric. This month, a portion of profits from paid newsletter subscriptions will be donated to the Black Mamas Matter Alliance. If you’ve found your way here but are not yet subscribed, here, let me help you with that:

Last Wednesday, my boyfriend and I packed up our pets and drove two hours upstate to the town of Hudson, New York. Hudson is a charming little place that sits right on the east shores of the Hudson River. Warren Street — the city’s main thoroughfare — is a colorful expanse of restored Victorian buildings, boutique shops, small eateries, and gourmet markets.

A quick history lesson here: Hudson became a city back in 1785, shortly after the United States declared independence from Great Britain. By 1790, Hudson had become the 24th largest city in the United States. Today, Hudson is quaint and calm; but back in the day, it was quite the scandalous town. In the late 19th century, Hudson was a center for sin and vice. Prostitution was rampant, gambling was widespread, and bootlegging was standard — earning Hudson the nickname “little town with the big red-light district.”

Many of the vices that plagued Hudson came with the whaling business. So, when the last whaling ship sailed out of Hudson in 1844 you’d think the town would crumble. It did not. Rather, the city leaned into its reputation and became a center for brothels in the 1920s and 30s. In the 1950s, police moved in and cracked down on the illicit activities going on in Hudson, ultimately transforming this community. While the city fell on tough economic times, it bounced back when the Hudson Railroad Station was built, connecting New Yorkers to Hudson with a two-hour train ride. Real estate surged, the restoration took off, and now Hudson is a getaway touted in the likes of Vogue.

Staying in Hudson, my boyfriend and I checked into The Wick Hotel. The Wick is a former candle factory transformed into a boutique hotel, that is an excellent pet-friendly option near the riverfront and main street. Although we were only two hours away from home, our Hudson trip was the closest thing I felt to travel since the pandemic began. Our trip had all the hallmarks of traveling that I’ve dearly missed: the crisp white sheets and sun-kissed windows of a freshly cleaned hotel room, the exploration of a completely new city, the aimless wandering to discover local shops and markets, the relaxation that comes when you let go of your routine and worries back home. The only thing that was missing was the boarding of a flight and the stamp of a passport. While I thoroughly enjoyed traveling in Hudson, I began to wonder how my trip would be perceived. Would I be shamed for traveling?

Traveling has become a dirty word these days thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic. Mandatory quarantines and border restrictions have given rise to an unfortunate trend known as “travel shaming.” From the early days of the pandemic, we were all shown images of spring breakers defiantly partying on the beaches of Florida amidst rising death tolls. These images created a sense of disbelief and — above all — judgment. The idea of traveling began to be associated with frivolity and irresponsibility, and those who dared to post photos of themselves doing it were subjected to scrutiny and shame.

Last week, a friend of mine asked me if I wanted to join her on a last-minute trip to Jordan to which I could only dumbly respond, “Jordan….the country?” It’s not that I didn’t want to go — standing in front of a candlelit Petra has been on my bucket list for ages — rather, I couldn’t fathom going amidst a pandemic. A few days later, this friend of mine posted a screenshot of a message she had received via Instagram in response to her Jordan travel photos:

It didn’t matter what precautions she had taken or that the trip was directly tied to her work; she had been travel shamed. Travel shaming is a topic I’ve both avoided and struggled with these past few months as friends close to me have started traveling abroad. As someone who has built a career on encouraging people to travel, it is odd to want to criticize someone for doing just that. For people, like my friend, whose income depends on traveling, travel shaming seems an unfair judgment. One wouldn’t point fingers at the restaurant server, grocery store clerk, or pharmacist going to work amidst a pandemic. Their jobs are their livelihood. For the many travel editors, journalists, bloggers, tour guides, agents, and operators who are struggling right now — travel is their livelihood.

But what about people traveling for leisure? In my NYC bubble, things still feel very apocalyptic. Even as restaurants open to 25 percent capacity, the overall city has felt cold, barren, and boring. I haven’t seen my friends in a few months, my days feel empty, and most of my social interactions (outside my boyfriend and our pets) take place via technology. Yet, when I open social media and am confronted with vibrant vacation photos, I can’t help but think to myself: am I crazy for staying home? The whole thing has me feeling like a Y2K believer donning a tinfoil hat and sitting in a fall-out shelter.

It’s not that I’ve travel shamed anyone during this pandemic, but rather I’ve harbored internal frustrations towards people for traveling — something I’ve grappled with. On one hand, I am admittedly that dirtiest of all words: jealous. Having built a career on travel, I struggle emotionally with having been grounded for over a year. I am desperate to step off American soil and travel again. On the other hand, I am the other dirtiest of all words: a hypocrite. While I may not be boarding a plane and jetting off to other countries, I am still traveling to places like Hudson for leisure.

The more I think about travel shaming — or shaming of any kind during a pandemic — the more I think it’s unnecessary and cruel. Whether traveling for leisure or traveling for work, every single one of us is surviving in any way we can. Every single one of us is struggling in ways both seen and unseen. Those who live alone are faced with the isolation that those living with roommates, family, or partners cannot fathom. Is it right to judge them for wanting to escape? For the self-employed, freelancers, and contractors in the travel industry who are scraping to get by, is it right to judge them for trying to make a living? At a time when we should be coming together, maybe the last thing we should be doing is pointing fingers.

In honor of Women’s History Month, we’ve got something for you

If you’re a paid subscriber to this newsletter, chances are you’ve already received some exciting perks! From a copy of our 4th issue to our Feminist City Guidebook to NYC to exclusive discounts, we’re always thinking of fun ways to treat our paid subscribers whose generosity both support this newsletter and donate to some incredible non-profits.

In honor of the upcoming Women’s History Month, I am excited to share a little gift we'll be sending our existing and new paid subscribers. This little charm bracelet is handmade and woman-made in the United Kingdom. It features a 100 percent cotton band with a small compass charm; a reminder of how we’re all finding our way right now and looking ahead to brighter days. We’ll be sending out these little bracelets along with some additional small surprises to all of our paid subscribers. Not yet a subscriber? Here, let me help you with that.

a mission to use turmeric and fueling your true-crime obsession

Buy this turmeric from woman-owned Diaspora Co. Realize you have no idea what to do with ground turmeric and make it your mission to cook, drink, and bake with turmeric for the following week. Cook this Morocco-inspired lemon saffron chicken from Milk Street. Roll your eyes when your boyfriend describes the taste as “sweaty.”

Order this coffee from Heart of Dinner, which is an amazing collaboration with Coffee Project NY. Buy this seriously epic milk frother/steamer/wizard off Amazon because you’re about to become an at-home barista, baby! Attempt to make a turmeric latte, which tastes….okay, I guess. Because your mom told you turmeric is nothing short of a miracle root, bake this lemon turmeric tea cake, which is actually pretty awesome. Sure, combining turmeric with sugar might water down those health benefits, but it’s the thought that counts.

Watch this true-crime documentary on Netflix about a pharmacist who single-handedly takes down a pill-mill in his neighborhood. Because you can’t get enough of true-crime, watch this documentary series about the Cecil Hotel, which is just about the creepiest, eeriest, most disturbing case. Because you need MORE true-crime injected into your veins, damn it, pick up this gothic thriller about a creepy hotel in the Swiss Alps and a mysterious murder that unfolds there (I’m currently on chapter 50).

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