Like most things in our world, the travel industry has historically left many people behind. From outdoor recreation companies only showing white, able-bodied individuals in their ads to travel companies and bloggers ignoring the accessibility concerns of certain trips, there’s a lot to address. So where does one start?
This blog post will offer a couple of inclusivity-focused tips for those involved in the travel industry. If we truly want all kinds of people to explore outdoor spaces or book exciting trips around the country/world, we need to ensure that these destinations actually welcome individuals of various backgrounds. Diversity itself is important, but we need to take the next step and make travel inclusive.
1. Disclose Important Accessibility Information
One of the largest groups excluded from travel experiences is the disabled community. Ideally, every space should be created with a range of body types and ability levels in mind, but the unfortunate reality is that many spaces aren’t disability-friendly at all. However, one thing travel companies and content creators can do now is explicitly describe a space’s physical environment for potential travelers.
Some basic questions to consider: Is the ground level? Are there inclines or steps? How big is the overall space? How wide are the pathways throughout the space? Are the pathways composed of dirt, gravel, or something else? Are there any specific accessibility features that have been included, such as boardwalks or ramps? Of course, these are only a few of many possibilities, as each space will be different, but answers to questions like these will help form a clear picture of the space being explored.
Such information is important to disclose because it will signal to individuals whether or not they can access, or feel comfortable within, a certain outdoor space or travel experience. If, for example, a wheelchair user goes on a hike thinking the trail is accessible but discovers along the way that there are several steps to ascend, that’s a problem—one that could have easily been addressed had folks known ahead of time just what they might encounter on said hike.
Accompanying this information should be several pictures that provide a comprehensive look at what somebody might see on the trip. This isn’t for aesthetic reasons but, rather, providing a way for potential travelers to visualize themselves in the space being pictured. If you’re a travel blogger taking cute pictures of the trip anyway, then it shouldn’t take much extra effort to document the physical environment you’re engaging with.
A word of caution: When sharing this information, don’t assume a space is accessible simply because the ground is level or there’s a ramp for wheelchair users. The disabled community isn’t a monolith. As such, describing the space itself rather than making a judgment about it will go a lot further in helping potential travelers access it.
Overall, information is power. If universal design still has a long way to go in terms of being implemented throughout our country (and the world), then the least someone should be able to do is decide for themselves, with all the information available, if a trip is worthwhile. We need to rethink spaces and make them accessible to all, yes, but in the meantime, we can pay our information forward.
2. Consider the Safety of Marginalized Travelers
It’s easy to simply say that a space welcomes everybody regardless of identity, but the reality is that too many spaces feature very few people from marginalized backgrounds. This is especially true for outdoor spaces.
For this tip, it might be helpful to more specifically think about inclusion over diversity. For example, many BIPOC individuals engage in outdoor recreation, but if you work for a travel company that’s advertising a certain outdoors activity in an area that’s mostly trafficked by white people, it wouldn’t be wise to suggest just how “comfortable” or “welcome” a person of color would feel in said area. This advertising tactic screams of “diversity on the books” without actually making sure that marginalized individuals are included in the activity or within the space in general.
Ultimately, inclusion in this sense boils down to safety. Not being welcome or comfortable in a space might translate into being insulted, followed, or even physically assaulted. Accordingly, in addition to accessibility information, travel companies and content creators should disclose any safety concerns about certain trips or spaces.
Some basic questions to consider: Do BIPOC, queer, disabled, and/or other marginalized individuals often travel to this space? Have travelers from one (or more) of these historically disenfranchised groups written about this place? How conservative are the surrounding areas? Questions like these will help individuals of different groups determine how comfortable they'd be should they embark on a certain travel experience.
Like accessibility, safety for marginalized groups isn’t something that’s going to be worked into every space overnight. Changing the culture of our country, specifically within the travel industry, will take time. For now, though, a queer person or BIPOC individual shouldn’t have to go digging to determine if they’d feel safe on a specific hike—that information should be readily available.
Follow us on Twitter @InclusiveGuide, Instagram @inclusiveguide, and Facebook @InclusiveJourneys to stay up to date with Parker’s Liberation Tour across the South and Midwest. You’ll also want to follow along to catch more educational posts and insights like this about inclusive travel.
For the past week, our amazing co-founder Parker and her family have been taking on their all-American cross-country road trip. As they hike, camp, and explore the great outdoors, in a way, they’re also time-traveling through U.S. history. Some stops are active timestamps, marking the distance between our past and present, as well as providing guidance and insight into a possible future. This week, our co-founder will be traveling back to Georgia and South Carolina to reconnect with their Gullah heritage.
The Gullah/Geechee people are descendants of enslaved Central and West Africans who were brought to the Sea Island plantations of the lower Atlantic coastline in the 1700s. Researchers designate the region from Sandy Island, SC, to Amelia Island, FL, as the Gullah Coast. However, the Gullah/Geechee are said to span as far north as the Virginia/North Carolina border. This unique culture has been linked to specific ethnic groups that are indigenous to West and Central Africa, bringing with them a rich heritage of cultural traditions.
The geography and climate of the southeastern coast often brought disease to captors and enslavers, especially as they introduced new enslaved Africans to shore. Research states that “West Africans were far more able to cope with the climatic conditions found in the South.” As a result, some islands were completely left to the care and management of enslaved Gullah/Geechee people. This isolation brought a sense of relative autonomy to the enslaved people of the region, allowing them to retain much of their African heritage and, subsequently, develop a new, beautiful Gullah/Geechee culture.
According to the New Georgia Encyclopedia, “Gullah” is the accepted name of the islanders in South Carolina, while “Geechee” refers to the islanders of Georgia. Anthropologists and historians speculate that both “Gullah” and “Geechee” are borrowed words from a number of ethnic groups such as the Gola, Kissi, Mende, Temne, Twi, and Vai peoples, all of which contributed to the subsequent “creolization” of the southeastern coastal culture in the U.S. The Gullah/Geechee also developed their own language, a form of creole mixed with the languages of West and Central African ethnic groups, as well as from their enslavers. According to the Gullah/Geechee Corridor, the Gullah/Geechee language is the only African creole language in the U.S. and has since deeply influenced Southern vernacular.
The fact that hundreds of thousands of Gullah/Geechee remain in these marshlands and coastal islands doesn’t mean that they didn’t attempt to escape enslavement. Between the American Revolution and the Reconstruction Era, thousands of enslaved laborers from the Gullah/Geechee region gained their freedom by escaping to Nova Scotia. Self-emancipated Africans who were once harbored by the Spanish formed an alliance with Native American refugees in Florida,forming the Seminole Nation. Parker shares a story that her family told her about their great-great-grandmother and father (who was a baby at the time) who were being pursued by slave catchers. She talks about how the group was so afraid of being captured and taken back that they suggested killing the crying baby to avoid getting caught. Her family determined that if they killed the baby, the mother wouldn’t have survived. Instead, she sat under a bush, nursing the baby and trying to keep quiet until danger passed. There’s a huge possibility that our co-founder Parker might not be here had their elders gone through with this suggestion. This is not a statement of “pro-life,” however; this is a powerful testament to the terror of chattel slavery and the grave cost of the pursuit of freedom.
Though originally brought as slaves to what is now part of the Gullah/Geechee region, Parker’s family has lived on James Island in South Carolina for hundreds of years. As she reconnects with her Gullah heritage, we keep in mind that many of the beliefs that substantiated the mass genocide of Indigenous peoples of the First Nations and the trans-Atlantic slave trade are the foundation of socioeconomic structures today. In order to truly change the world as we know it, we must take this knowledge with us and act. Stand up for Black and Indigenous rights in your own communities. Support legislation to tackle discrimination at the highest level. Donate to nonprofits and other groups trying to make a difference.
One small way you can help is by supporting Inclusive Guide and the work we’re doing to address systemic racism and, more specifically, discrimination against Black and Indigenous communities. Using the Guide itself is a step in the right direction, but if you have the resources, we encourage you to contribute to our GoFundMe campaign so that we may continue the work of racial justice: https://www.gofundme.com/f/digital-green-book-website.
Follow us on Twitter @InclusiveGuide, Instagram and Facebook at @inclusiveguide and @kweenwerk to stay up to date with Parker’s Liberation Tour across the South and Midwest. You’ll also want to follow along to catch more educational posts and insights like this about Southern and Midwestern history.
Sumpter, Althea. "Geechee and Gullah Culture." New Georgia Encyclopedia, 31 March 2006, https://www.georgiaencyclopedia.org/articles/arts-culture/geechee-and-gullah-culture/.
Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor Commission.” Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor, https://gullahgeecheecorridor.org/thegullahgeechee/.
Powel, Aisha, and The Black Detour Team. “African History You Should Know: Gullah-Geechee Nation - The Black Detour.” The Black Detour - Black Culture Unfiltered, 25 Jan. 2019, https://theblackdetour.com/african-history-you-should-know-gullah-geechee-nation/.
RVing While Black
Most of you have probably heard of DWB: “driving while Black.” This term refers to the difficulties faced specifically by Black drivers, including being yelled at by highway patrol officers, being forced into random vehicle searches, or worse—being physically assaulted due to racial profiling. Unfortunately, DWB extends to other types of personal transportation in America, such as RVs. RVing may be considered a quintessential American pastime—images of the “great American road trip” come to mind—but this activity has risks for BIPOC, especially Black families.
As you know, our co-founder Parker is on a road trip across the American South and Midwest with her mixed-race family to raise visibility for BIPOC travel and outdoor recreation. However, things aren’t magically discrimination-free in 2022 for Parker’s family or other BIPOC families. When on a road trip today, there’s a high likelihood families will pass through predominantly white communities full of conservative residents with their Trump signs still up; in fact, this was one of the first things Parker encountered on her journey. Even if nothing happens when passing through these towns, the mere anxiety of mentally preparing for a list of what-ifs puts strain on those traveling, especially the parents of children of color.
Moreover, as we discussed in earlier blog posts, sundown towns were in full force in certain areas until the 1970s, and national parks that were located in segregated parts of the country during Jim Crow upheld the local “separate but equal” policies, thereby making outdoor recreation less safe for Black families. American road trips, whether as the mythology we see satirized in National Lampoon or the practical, lived experience of them, are overwhelmingly white. Some Black men from the South remember hearing the story of “the Bogeyman in the woods” growing up, which was often code for “the KKK will get you.” While a lot has changed for the better since the civil rights movement of the 1950s and ’60s, these childhood stories stick with people. You don’t simply forget the racism you’ve experienced—and that you’ve been taught to be wary of—because businesses are legally obligated to say they don’t discriminate based on race. Racism lives on, however insidiously.
Fortunately, there are groups trying to make activities like RVing more welcoming and comfortable for Black individuals. The National African American RVers’ Association, for instance, is one organization that’s on a mission to connect Black RVers and their families around the US. While many Black people have been discouraged from outdoor recreation because of a lack of representation and inclusion within the travel industry, a history of racism in the outdoors, and other legitimate concerns, there does exist a community of Black outdoor enthusiasts. You may not see a Black family hitting the road on the latest RV ad, but there are many Black and mixed-race families, such as Parker’s, enjoying this American dream—you just have to pay attention.
So what can you do to help make Black individuals feel more comfortable RVing or engaging in outdoor recreation? If you work for a national park or interpretation service, you could reflect on and update your educational content to ensure that it doesn’t tell history from a “white victor” perspective, thus allowing BIPOC to be a more significant part of the narrative. If you’re an outdoor recreation retailer, you could represent BIPOC in your advertising and even team up with folks like KWEEN WERK to encourage more people of color to enjoy the outdoors. Or if you’re a fellow RVer, you could simply check yourself and your privilege when interacting with travelers of color on the road or at campgrounds.
Follow us on Twitter @InclusiveGuide, Instagram @inclusiveguide, and Facebook @InclusiveJourneys to stay up to date with Parker’s Liberation Tour across the South and Midwest. You’ll also want to follow along to catch more educational posts and insights like this about outdoor recreation for BIPOC.
Dixon, Nanci. “Where are all the Black RVers? Why the outdoors isn’t as inclusive as you think.” RVtravel, 15 Oct. 2020, rvtravel.com/blackrvers970. Accessed 29 June 2022.
“National African American RVers’ Association.” NAARVA, naarva.com. Accessed 29 June 2022.
In his famous documentary, Ken Burns called national parks “America’s best idea.” When individuals think of the United States, they often conjure images of wilderness in the American West documented by Burns, such as Yosemite and the Grand Canyon. These spaces, which have been preserved through the National Park System, are associated with environmentalists like Teddy Roosevelt and John Muir, the latter of whom founded the Oakland-based environmental justice organization Sierra Club. To think of Yellowstone, for example, is to think of America itself.
But behind this grand narrative of conservation is a complicated racial history, one dotted with segregation, prejudice, and white privilege. During the Jim Crow era, national parks adhered to the “separate but equal” laws throughout the country, meaning outdoor spaces in the South and within border states such as Kentucky and Missouri were treated like segregated businesses. The park rangers who oversaw these spaces upheld segregation in campgrounds, restrooms, parking lots, cabins, and other public facilities. While some National Park Service employees desired to treat visitors equally, these officials were usually challenged throughout Jim Crow states by park superintendents, Southern congressmen, and various organizations.
Even when governmental officials were sympathetic to the concerns of Black citizens, the actions and policies carried out often didn’t reflect a pro-Black sentiment for fear of upsetting white people with power. For instance, Harold Ickes, a known supporter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) who held the position of Secretary of the Interior between 1933–1946, opposed marking facilities as “segregated” on maps, even if there was segregation in practice, so as to not perpetuate the idea of separation throughout the national parks. This idea may have seemed good in theory, but Ickes’ decision effectively made it more difficult for potential Black visitors to discern which spaces were safe for them. In the absence of word-of-mouth insights from fellow Black travelers, Black families would have to risk using a public resource, such as a picnic table or a bathroom, to ultimately determine if they were allowed to use it.
Another questionable policy was upheld by the third director of the National Park Service, Arno Cammerer. He only wanted to build public facilities for Black visitors if there was sufficient demand for them. However, this policy didn’t apply to white individuals, and because of the perceived low interest in outdoor recreation from Black folks, facilities often weren’t built for Black use. And of the facilities that were created specifically for Black visitors, they were generally deprioritized, underfunded, and/or simply subpar compared to those built for white people.
These historical accounts of Ickes and Cammerer represent only a fraction of the racist practices and attitudes that prevailed throughout the National Park System during the Jim Crow era. A couple of other distressing truths: Virginia’s Colonial National Historical Park was completely developed using segregated Black labor, and Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Civilian Conservation Corps, which was responsible for the development of various trails and park facilities, would segregate their workers across Southern parks. Even big names like Muir and Teddy Roosevelt are fraught with racism, as the former made derogatory remarks about Black and Indigenous folks and the latter viewed Filipinos, Cubans, and Puerto Ricans as inferior to Americans. Ostensibly bastions of freedom, egalitarianism, and democracy, as Burns’ documentary might present them, national parks have been anything but. Two years ago, the Sierra Club’s executive director even called out the organization’s founder, the “father of national parks,” for his racism.
On top of all this, Indigenous peoples have been forced off their homelands in the name of national park preservation. One of the earliest national parks, Yosemite bears a history of bloodshed as the Miwok people were exterminated and, if any settlements remained afterward, were evicted from their land. And even if Indigenous peoples weren’t murdered or relocated, they were denied access to national park resources, which they’d used for many years before the areas were deemed “national parks.”
Unfortunately, the problematic history of the National Park System follows us to today. Inclusive Guide Co-founder Parker McMullen Bushman was recently denied entry at a California park by a worker there who thought she was going to do something “nefarious.” Although this particular area was open to the public 24 hours a day, Parker was racially profiled by the park official and subsequently treated unfairly. In Colorado, too, Black women have been harassed by park employees. Indeed, a group of Black women was recently stopped by a ranger at Rocky Mountain National Park because they were thought to be smoking weed, but they didn’t have any cannabis on them. These are only a couple of the many stories that exist for people of color at national parks across the US.
Like any business, national parks aren’t neutral spaces. They contain human beings with the potential to discriminate, treat people unfairly, and maintain the status quo. National parks are only as welcoming as the people who oversee them. As such, park rangers and other staff should be aware of the biases they may bring to their management of parks and other wilderness areas. Segregation is no longer the law of the land, but like Parker’s experiences reveal, outdoor spaces aren’t free from microaggressions, prejudice, and unwelcoming attitudes in general. If we want everybody to use and benefit from national parks, we must manage them intentionally with an eye toward equity, inclusion, and social justice.
Follow us on Twitter @InclusiveGuide, Instagram @inclusiveguide, and Facebook @kweenwerk and @InclusiveJourneys to stay up to date with Parker’s Liberation Tour across the South and Midwest. You’ll also want to follow along to catch more educational posts and insights like this about the history of outdoor spaces.
Colchester, Marcus. “Conservation Policy and Indigenous Peoples.” Cultural Survival Quarterly Magazine, March 2004, culturalsurvival.org/publications/cultural-survival-quarterly/conservation-policy-and-indigenous-peoples#:~:text=National%20parks%2C%20pioneered%20in%20the,central%20to%20conservation%20policy%20worldwide. Accessed 15 June 2022.
Conde, Arturo. “Teddy Roosevelt’s ‘racist’ and ‘progressive’ legacy, historian says, is part of monument debate.” NBC News, 20 July 2020, nbcnews.com/news/latino/teddy-roosevelt-s-racist-progressive-legacy-historian-says-part-monument-n1234163. Accessed 15 June 2022.
Melley, Brian. “Sierra Club calls out founder John Muir for racist views.” PBS Newshour, 22 July 2020, pbs.org/newshour/nation/sierra-club-calls-out-founder-john-muir-for-racist-views. Accessed 15 June 2022.
“The National Parks: America’s Best Idea.” PBS, pbs.org/kenburns/the-national-parks/. Accessed 15 June 2022.
Repanshek, Kurt. “How the National Park Service Grappled with Segregation During the 20th Century.” National Parks Traveler, 18 Aug. 2019, nationalparkstraveler.org/2019/08/how-national-park-service-grappled-segregation-during-20th-century. Accessed 15 June 2022.