As much as we all might believe that we walk through the world with an objective, open mind, that is simply not true.
We have all been shaped by our personal histories and experiences. You might benefit from societal structures built on colonialism and racism, or you may be silenced and marginalized as a result of these systems. We all shoulder baggage shaped by our lived experiences and understanding of the world. We all carry bias and perceptions that we aren’t aware of or don’t recognize. Each one of us looks through a lens shaped by all these things.
There is nothing wrong with any of this, per se. In fact, we each have a unique story, and that’s what makes me different from you and you different from anyone else. Our uniqueness also makes the world an interesting and complex place, and we should celebrate that.
But it is important to understand and recognize that you are shaped by a whole host of factors.
Being a thoughtful global citizen and responsible storyteller means you carry this knowledge with you. You are aware of how your presence has an impact — positive and/or negative — in this particular place, at this particular time, and in this particular context. It means having the wherewithal to navigate your personal perspective and bias as a storyteller in the tourism space.
Acknowledge your perspective.
Understand how your personal history, culture, heritage, and perception shape your storytelling work. It affects the experience you have, the people you talk to, the way people interact with you, and the way you interpret your surroundings. Also understand how a long and deep history of racism and colonialism may have provided you with privilege that you carry with you in your work. Ultimately, it impacts how and why you write the stories you share with your readers.
Recognize this when you approach and interview people, make observations, have experiences, and share travel-related stories. To be clear, you don’t need to outright state your perspective. However, you should approach storytelling with this knowledge and keep it in mind as you craft your work.
Do background research.
People don’t know what they don’t know, and that includes you. Take the time to read and research so that you understand the historical and cultural context of a destination. Who lived on the land first? What happened to them? What was the dominant colonizing culture? How does that affect the people who live there today?
Having this knowledge while going through the storytelling process will help you ask better and more thoughtful questions. It also gives you time and incentive to seek out diverse storytellers and experiences that might otherwise be silenced or unknown.
Content consumers might not understand where you are coming from. They aren’t in your head; they don’t know what background research you conducted and why you chose to make certain decisions in telling this particular story. Any additional historical, cultural, or personal context you provide aids in understanding.
Think beyond the destination.
When creating travel-related content, it’s easy to lean heavily on the destination — the where — to drive a story. Certainly the place plays an important part in storytelling, but don’t stop there.
The “five Ws” of journalism offer a blueprint for asking good questions, digging deeper into stories, and challenging preconceived notions and perspectives you carry into a situation. These are who, what, when, and, importantly, why. And, don’t forget their tag-along cousin, how.
Consider point of view.
First-person, narrative storytelling allows more space for you to better acknowledge your perspective. When writing with a first-person point of view, you are a single person sharing a single person’s observations. You are not an authority or expert. You are simply a conduit through which your single story flows.
Spend time with diverse people, especially when you travel.
It is easy and comfortable to stay in the bubbles we know, but this does not introduce us to different perspectives, belief systems, or ways of thinking about the world around us. Challenge yourself to interact with people who challenge the narrative you think you know or with which you are familiar. Spending time with diverse and non-dominant storytellers during the travel experience, in particular, provides a more dynamic and well-rounded narrative of this particular place at this particular time.
Actively counter stereotypes.
According to researcher and psychology professor Patricia Devine, one way to combat implicit bias is to actively counter it. If you find yourself leaning into a particular stereotype, actively find examples that break the mold. Spend time with this example, actively thinking about and internalizing the characteristics that keep it from fitting into that stereotypical model. Like a bad habit, over time that stereotype loses its credibility and that implicit bias loses its potency.
Ask deeper questions.
Don’t accept the first story you hear as the definitive story of a place. Alternatively, remember that any single person’s story is only a single perspective. How a place is understood and defined depends on each individual, so seek out a diverse array of perspectives to get a more well-rounded picture.
Ask questions from a place of curiosity and make observations about the world around you. For example, what is daily life like for the people who live in the destination? What current events are shaping their current reality? This kind of information may not have anything to do with the eventual piece of content you create and everything to do with providing context to your own personal understanding.
Be mindful of power dynamics.
You need to be aware of how your personal story shapes interactions with other people and your place within conversations. Check your position, privilege, and perspective throughout exchanges, and think about how your life experiences shape how you hear and understand a story.