I have been fairly quiet about my trip to India. It has taken me a while to process everything I learned and saw on the trip. Someone on the trip said to me, “You never speak”. I joked and said it was because I was waiting on my words to become pearls. I think that comes from being a photographer. I’m much more of an observer than a participant. I sit, watch, and listen a lot. What I’ve been trying to do more of, though, is to really listen and dig deeper.
There has been a lot of talk about overtourism and the impact of travel on the planet. I feel travel is so important that I don’t think stopping it all together is the best move. Nor do I think that the traveler should solely shoulder the problem of overtourism. There are things as travelers that we can do, and one of those things is to choose who we travel with wisely.
I chose to go to India with a group of women lead by the travel company Purposeful Nomad. They focus on in-depth travel experiences that “empower both the traveler and the places we visit”. In this post I’m going to talk about values that are important to me, and how Purposeful Nomad aligned with those values. These values are:
1) My impact on a location and its people
2) Supporting women
3) Being a better ally.
Impact: I feel I take in more from a trip than I give back (see above). I’m not talking about stuff; I’m talking about an exchange of culture and ideas. Being that this was my first trip to India, I felt Purposeful Nomad and their local guides did a terrific job in educating us on proper behavior, dress, and customs as well as making sure we brought reusable water bottles to cut down on waste. They also focused on taking us to businesses that were independent and not just western chains. We ate a lot of meals in homes and not just restaurants. We supported people that I wouldn’t have known about had I booked this trip on my own. I had a lot of one-on-one conversations with local women that gave a true picture of what it’s like to live in India. When I travel, the conversations with locals about mundane, everyday things are the memories I carry with me long after the trip is over. Purposeful Nomad did a great job in facilitating these exchanges.
Women: After an all-women trip to Cuba I took a few years ago, I vowed to travel with women more often. Purposeful Nomad was founded by women, is run by a woman, takes only women travelers, and supports women in the countries they visit. We were in Jodhpur for International Women’s Day and marched with the women of the Sambhali Trust. Sambhali Trust is an organization dedicated to educating and training women and girls no matter their religion or caste to help them become financially independent. We visited its two centers. One is in the city of Jodhpur and one in the desert village of Setrawa. The ability to reach rural communities I feel is very important. Often, big organizations only serve the women in the big cities because it’s easier to operate there. However, the women and girls in the big cities are often more educated and have better access to services like healthcare. Also, rural communities tend to be more conservative and less likely to see the problems of women as an issue that needs to be addressed. I was so impressed with the work of the Sambhali Trust that I am working with a group of volunteers to get 501c3 status in the US and plan on volunteering there in the future.
Being an ally: When I was doing my nurse practitioner internship in cardiology, one of my tasks was to coach people on their diets. Most of my patients were truck drivers. I had been doing this for a few weeks when one of them stopped me and said, “Have you ever been to a truck stop? I can’t eat like that there and that’s the only place I can park. I can’t just take my big rig anywhere!” I was so focused on the exact foods he needed to eat that I didn’t take into consideration that his access to those foods was limited by his mode of transportation. I thank that truck driver everyday for schooling my young, naive ass on what it’s like to live in another’s shoes. I heard Deesha Dyer (former Obama Administration Social Secretary) say in regards to being a good ally, “Give us the mic”. It’s easy for us to think we know what’s best for a person of color or someone from a different religion or socioeconomic class or someone who needs to change their diet and lifestyle. It’s much harder to stay quiet and listen to what the real truths are.
Purposeful Nomad does not have a white-savior complex. The local women were able to tell their own stories. Just because a woman wears a sari and covers her face, does not mean she doesn’t want a job to support her family. Just because a woman wears a hijab, doesn’t mean she doesn’t want stand up for herself. She just has to see it. Representation matters. When young or struggling women see other women who are like them succeed and have better lives, they feel they can do it too. Men, too need to see that when a woman is educated and contributes financially to the family, the world doesn’t fall apart.
This trip had a profound impact on my worldview, but I can’t leave out the impact my fellow travelers had on me. The women in this group still inspire and challenge me, and we plan to do other trips together in the future.
I don’t want to leave you with the impression that it was all heavy. We had A LOT of fun (what happens in Jaipur stays in Jaipur!). We got to see the tourist sights that bring people to India, and we also got to experience something deeper than a regular tourist would.
Purposeful Nomad goes to more places than India. Check out their other destinations. I can’t recommend them enough.