While travel is my life, I’ll be one of the first to admit there are many tourism industry issues that exist. One of them: Diversity; as in, the lack of it. This is why I’m really excited to share insights from one of my favorite content creators on the planet, Chantel Loura of Voyaging Vagabond. Chantel is a plus-size storyteller, content creator and passionate advocate of inclusive travel. Through her blog, Instagram and online platforms, she works to make the travel space more inclusive, diverse and accessible for all. And if you want to be a part of this important movement, keep reading to learn Chantel’s inspiring story and favorite tactics for helping to change travel for the better.
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Tourism Industry Issues: Inclusive Travel Q&A VideoPrefer video? Watch the Facebook Live version of the interview above! By the way, I go live regularly with travelers who have inspiring stories to tell. If you’d like to get updated on future Facebook Live events, click here to join my email list. You’ll snag my #BeyondTheGuidebook newsletter — full of stories and ideas for having unique travel adventures — as well as updates on fun online and offline events for travelers.
How Can We Make Travel More Diverse & Inclusive? (Text Interview)1. Hi Chantel! Thank you so much for taking the time to chat with us and share your insights on travel inclusivity. To start, can you share a bit about yourself and how you got into travel? My name is Chantel and I got into traveling on my first international trip was when I was nine. Being the product of two proud Portuguese immigrants, my parents were insistent that my brother and I go back to Portugal so we could understand and appreciate their very humble upbringings. I can still remember how awestruck I was leaving the airport. I felt like I was in a whole new world, somewhere remarkable that was nothing like anything I knew. Man, it was in that instance the travel bug sunk its teeth down deep into me and hasn’t let go since. Once I was old enough I did everything in my power to create a career out of traveling so I could feel those feelings over and over again, all over the world. Which is why I created my travel blog, Voyaging Vagabond. At first, I created this hobby blog to give back to the travel community that taught me so much during my first few trips. Then as time went on I found myself focusing more and more on my experiences as a plus-size traveler. Once I embraced this part of myself that I was ashamed of for so long, I realized how desperately voices like mine needed to be heard. So after three years of maintaining this blog, I shifted my entire brand and decided to focus more on plus-size traveling and create a space where travelers of all shapes, sizes, and backgrounds can be celebrated. Traveling helps me feel empowered, it makes me feel proud and it teaches me how to love parts of myself that I didn’t realize needed loving. Now all I want Voyaging Vagabond to do is create that in somebody else who needs it. Traveling helps me feel empowered, it makes me feel proud and it teaches me how to love parts of myself that I didn’t realize needed loving. -@V_Vagabond #travelinclusivity #travel 2. To start, can you share some of the issues you’ve noticed that currently exist in the travel industry? You know the biggest issue that I am constantly seeing is the lack of representation. Over and over again we’re bombarded with the same travelers: Women wearing their flowy size two dresses, twirling in Bali, and their boyfriend with the perfect six-pack abs is doing flips off of waterfalls. Constantly we see this in our social media feeds, in travel magazines, and in marketing campaigns. The worst part is now influencers are replicating this model knowing that this is what brands, hotels and tourism boards want. They pose in their flower baths, or kiss on a moving train, throw a preset on their photos, write a basic caption thanking whoever sponsored them and post — and we applaud them. It’s their stories and their experiences we’re hearing over and over again; but, what about all of the travelers that don’t fit into this cookie-cutter mold? All of the fat, LGBTQ+, people of color (POC), disabled travelers that deserve to be seen and heard over and over again, too. I often come back to this statement, but if your hostel dinner table looks like the United Nations then why doesn’t the travel industry look like this, as well? We’ve seen other industries learn and profit from the power of inclusion and it’s time that the travel industry does, too. There are thousands of people with disposable incomes out there terrified to even book their first plane ticket and it’s our responsibility as professionals in this industry to teach them not to be afraid by showing them we’re doing it. We’ve seen other industries learn and profit from the power of inclusion and it’s time that the travel industry does, too. -@V_Vagabond #travelinclusivity #thisissustainable 3. Going a bit deeper on that, have you encountered any specific instances on your travels where you’ve thought “Yea, we’ve got some work to do here” in terms of inclusivity in travel? Not so much on my travels, but more so when I talk about my travels. I often talk about themes that speak true to me as a plus-size, queer woman. Things like pushing through difficult moments, backpacking the world while learning to love myself, even just wearing a two-piece bathing suit while doing it. Whenever I do this I receive so many comments and messages from women thanking me for speaking these truths and applauding my bravery; that prior to me showing off in a two-piece they felt they could never wear one, or being scared to go to a specific region because they know it’s not plus-size-friendly, or being scared to buy a plane ticket because they don’t know if they’ll need a seat belt extender. These messages show me how much work we still have to do. I don’t want to be applauded for my bravery; I don’t want me out here being fabulous and living my best life to be considered “brave.” I want it to be normal. I want to create a dialogue that women can relate to and normalize our experiences. There’s still a lot of work before we get there, but I’m trying to lay down the foundation. I don’t want me out here being fabulous and living my best life to be considered 'brave.' I want it to be normal. -@V_Vagabond #travelinclusivity #thisissustainable 4. One thing I love about what you do through Voyaging Vagabond is you’re an incredible storyteller, particularly on your Instagram. What advice would you give to someone trying to use telling stories as a weapon for change? The stories I share are who I am. What you read online is exactly what you’ll get when we meet face-to-face. So much so that people who know me tell me that when they read my captions they do it in my voice. My captions are conversations. There’s power in being your true, confident self and having a drive that’s rooted out of love for a positive change. I didn’t create Voyaging Vagabond so I can get a million followers; and if we’re speaking candidly, even though money is nice, that’s not why I do it either. I do it because I see a problem; a problem with women not believing in themselves. I spent years of my life hating who I was and doubted myself for wanting to create a life that was unconventional. I didn’t see women like myself or hear encouraging voices like mine. I know first-hand how low you can feel and once I made it to the other side I didn’t want a single woman to feel held back like I was. I mean, can you imagine how different our society would be if we uplifted women or if we didn’t learn at a young age to discredit our efforts and hate our bodies? I’d like to think that there would be a hell of a lot more strong females in this world, conquering their fears and changing the game for all those after them. I write my stories for them, for those who are climbing those figurative walls that surround them; I want my voice to be their light and the thing that keeps them pushing forward. If you have your purpose and you see the change it could bring, use your voice over and over again to find who needs to hear it and get them to that change. If you have your purpose and you see the change it could bring, use your voice over and over again to find who needs to hear it and get them to that change. -@V_Vagabond #travel #travelinclusivity 5. What do you think makes Instagram a great platform for creating change and encouraging inclusivity in travel? My biggest takeaway from Instagram has always been this sense of fierce community. I feel like I have 3,000+ people in my corner on the regular. Every time I’ve felt moments of self-doubt, it’s the community I’ve found on this platform that pushes me through. Each and every one of them is the reason I fight so hard to be seen. Instagram allows me — and other groundbreakers in the travel inclusive community — to start filling feeds with real travelers, and also to reach out to well-known repost accounts to remind them of the importance of including all kinds of narratives, not just the ones that fit the cookie-cutter mold. We’re out here making our presence known to brands, so much so that they’re reaching out to us to work with them. The average person spends hours scrolling their feed and watching stories. Instagram allows us to make sure that those people are seeing themselves and hearing their voices in us. Every time I’ve felt moments of self-doubt, it’s the community I’ve found on Instagram that pushes me through. -@V_Vagabond #travelinclusivity #influencer 6. One story you recently told on Instagram was about how you and your girlfriend, Steph, traveled to Thailand and marked your 22nd country traveling as an openly gay couple. Congrats, by the way, my partner and I have only been to three together and I’m definitely excited to up our number. Anyway, I was really happy to read that you noted all of the countries you’ve visited thus far have been welcoming to you, and I’m curious what your trip planning process looks like. Do you look for certain things to ensure it’s gay-friendly? What does a gay-friendly destination look like to you? Honestly no. I don’t know if that’s irresponsible of me, but the honest answer is no. Steph and I go somewhere because we want to go — or more likely because we found a really cheap flight. There’s this narrative that I often find within the queer travel sphere where you’re constantly being warned where to avoid going. I think this narrative is problematic, it creates fear for queer travelers and I wanted to do something different. I openly talk about Steph and me because we’ve been together for so long that our relationship is my normal. We’ve been together now eight years; she is my first love, travel is my second. We travel where we want because that’s our normal and I’m very open and honest about it. I want to show other queer couples that they don’t have to be afraid anymore. Being safe and being held back are two different things and while we’re safe when we travel as a queer couple we’re not going to let our sexuality hold us back. A gay-friendly destination for me is a place where I can live my normal life and not feel like I’m being judged. I can hold Steph’s hand walking down the street without raising eyebrows. I don’t have to worry about my safety or being seen as a queer woman. I can just enjoy where we are, together, happily. I should say though that I know Steph and I are privileged because we can be considered as “passing”, which means that when you look at us you’re not going to automatically realize that we are queer. For those who may not feel this way, there’s no reason to fear traveling. There are plenty of places in the world that will welcome you happily at your truest self. A little research goes a long way. There are plenty of gay-friendly destinations, with accommodations ran by queer staff and so many queer activities you’ll run out of time before you do them all. A bit of research will lead you to these places and so many more! Being safe + being held back are two different things and while we’re safe when we travel as a queer couple we’re not going to let our sexuality hold us back. -@V_Vagabond #travelinclusivity #lgbtq 7. What do you think needs to change in the travel industry to make it more inclusive? We need to start celebrating diversity! And when I say celebrate we need to like shout it from the mountain tops or clear the streets for a parade. No, I’m just kidding, but really it’s just being more conscious of who we’re celebrating. It starts with working with influencers that can share different experiences and making people more conscious of the fact that each person travels a different way and each of these ways need to find representation in the industry. It’s supporting and uplifting these voices, just like you’ve done for me, Jessie. Doing what we can as an industry to make sure these voices are amplified and learned from. For brands, don’t just go through a checklist when choosing influencers to work with on a campaign. One white, one POC, one Latina — check, check, check. Create an inclusive space that celebrates diversity not to compile with some imaginative checklist; create an inclusive space because it’s true to your audiences and demographics. You’ll find that audiences not only celebrate this but crave it. It’s better for our industry, it’s better for marketing and it’s better for our entire community and those generations that will come after us. Create an #inclusive space that celebrates #diversity not to compile with some imaginative checklist; create an inclusive space because it’s true to your audiences and demographics. -@V_Vagabond 8. What are some travel brands that are getting inclusive travel right? I have to say that REI is really stepping up in this regard. They just created an inclusive campaign celebrating some of my favorite influencers like Kiona from How Not To Travel Like a Basic Bitch and Phil from Phil Good Travel. Kiona and Phil have taught me so much about celebrating diversity throughout the years of following them and now it feels really great to see a nationwide brand recognize them too. Even before all of this, REI was the place where I bought my first backpacking pack in 2014. I remember how embarrassed I felt when I would try on the women’s packs and not be able to buckle the waist belt around me; wondering if maybe this backpacking lifestyle was even for me. The staff at REI were my saving grace. They spent so much time hearing my needs, making me feel valid and finding a backpack that is beyond perfect for me. I’m forever thankful for their patience and good nature and I feel like the company overall really represents that so I will shout their praises any chance I get. What are your favorite #travel brands celebrating #inclusivity + #diversity? @V_Vagabond loves @REI. Here's why! 9. What are some ways travelers can help make the travel space more inclusive? Feel free to speak to bloggers who may be able to use their platforms in a positive way. Start listening to the voices of the people that look nothing like you. If you’re scrolling through social media and every person you follow looks like you, you should switch the game and expand your horizons. As travelers, we have this unspoken curiosity, and that same curiosity and desire to learn should follow through when you’re exposing yourself to new voices. If you’re a blogger or a professional in this industry then work with people who are trying to put travel inclusivity on the map. Stand behind us, share our content, follow us, get to know us, talk to us, listen to us, collaborate with us. Use your platforms for good and for something deeper than a sweet view and a few hundred likes. When you open your heart and mind to different experiences than your own you quickly learn how different lives are for each person. Challenges you may never face while traveling may be the normal of someone else. It’s important that we expose ourselves to all of those experiences so that we can put out thoughtful, inclusive content. Use your platforms for good and for something deeper than a sweet view and a few hundred likes. -@V_Vagabond #influencer #thisissustainable 10. What advice would you give to someone who wants to travel, but maybe is nervous because they don’t feel represented in the travel space? Go! Don’t base your life solely on what you see from social media. If you don’t see yourself being represented then, honey, you better step on up and make your presence known. Traveling doesn’t have to be exclusive to certain people. Traveling is what you make of it. Don’t have the funds to hop a flight? Catch a bus and go two hours outside of where you live. You’re bound to find somewhere you’ve never been and those “new city feels” can find you anywhere. Your life is for you to live, and that spark you feel inside needs to be fanned. Just because you don’t see someone like yourself in the industry doesn’t mean your dreams have to be put on hold. Go for it, I’m rooting for you! Don’t base your life solely on what you see from #socialmedia. If you don’t see yourself being represented then, honey, you better step on up and make your presence known. -@V_Vagabond #diversity 11. Shifting gears just slightly to speak to those wanting to start mission-based online platforms like blogs and Instagram channels, what advice would you have on growing a community around this mission? Just speak your truth, honestly. The first three years of Voyaging Vagabond I tried to fit into the mold of every other female travel blogger I was seeing. I lost weight, I stressed getting the perfect shot, I wasn’t myself. That was a problem. Just be yourself, speak on themes that you know best, those moments where you are so vulnerable that you wonder if you should post it. Do it. These moments are what make you relateable and the best way for your community to find you. Another way to create and grow your community is by being part of a larger community with the same cause. Once I immersed myself more and more in the plus-size community, collaborating with other body-positive writers, meeting more plus-size influencers, traveling with other plus-size bloggers, taking part in communities like Fat Girls Traveling or Curvy, the subgroup of Girls Love Travel, that community found me. I didn’t buy my followers or compare which hashtags brought me more views; I just did what I needed to do so that community I wanted to be surrounded with, found me. How can you be an #influencer with #impact? Speak your truth + be honest. -@V_Vagabond #thisissustainable
How do you think we can work to make travel more inclusive?
And are there other tourism industry issues you think we need to tackle?
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