Why Intersectionality Matters in Sustainable Travel

Why Intersectionality Matters in Sustainable Travel
Joycelyn Longdon, Climate in Colour


Travelling sustainably is easier said than done; as much as a traveller can be aligned in their purpose to travel sustainably, a person’s social and political identities combine to create many privileges, advantages and disadvantages that produce unique experiences — and hurdles — in achieving greener travel.

“Conscious travel”, on the other hand, considers the pillars of sustainable tourism alongside the intersectionality of a traveller’s identity and how this can create an unlevel playing field. For example, the higher costs of eco-friendly tourism often create a barrier to marginalised individuals who want to take part — purposeful travel considers this, as well as safety factors when it comes to the travellers’ identity.

Below, we’ve created a travel tool that covers all the need-to-know tips for the conscious traveller when it comes to keeping intersectionality front of mind.

What does intersectionality have to do with travel?

“Intersectionality” is a term developed by American civil rights activist Kimberle Crenshaw. It refers to race, class and gender as interlocking systems of oppression, and acknowledges that individuals experience these characteristics at their intersections, rather than individually.

The current design of the travel industry erases certain groups of people, specifically those who are intersectionally disadvantaged. An example of this could be a black queer femxle traveller, who experiences a combination of racism, sexism and homophobia when travelling. What kinds of resources, tools and services are available to help make her travel experience a safe and comfortable one? Not many.

Acknowledging intersectionality in the travel industry means shining a light on how uneven its landscape is, and helps us think about how power, oppression, resistance, privilege, benefits and disadvantages are systematically distributed.

"In my personal experience, I spent many years not engaging or relating to climate-related issues, I felt like it wasn’t really for me and that it was full of rich, middle-class, white people who could afford to do things that I couldn’t –  I was was more involved in race-related issues because that directly affected me.

There are so many things that people of colour or low income families are already doing that are sustainable but they aren’t doing it because it’s sustainable but because of its part of their lifestyle, culture and tradition. So it’s about resonance; if we start having conversations where we make sustainable behaviours or solutions more relatable and remove it from this super-glamourised and super-consumer focused space, we have more scope for improvement and inclusion.” - Joycelyn Longdon, founder of Climate in Colour, Cambridge University

What does this mean for the purposeful traveller?

The world is a complex place. Each destination is unique and comes with its own set of political realities and systems of oppression.

The traveller has not only to think of fitting into the social constructs and norms of their home but to also consider that of the destination they are travelling to, who they will encounter there and how the travel industry will facilitate that experience from start to finish, which in many cases determines their safety.

With travel being both local and global, it’s vital to consider all systems of oppression that shape an individual’s life, the influence of intersectionality and how this impacts and interacts with their travel experiences. In many cases, this also determines their physical and emotional safety. To achieve a positive cultural exchange, we must consider all of the above. This inherently shapes the ways in which each individual traveller is able to approach the pillars of sustainable tourism.

Do your research

Until the travel industry catches up and provides accessible services and tools for marginalised people to travel carefree, much of the work still falls on individuals to check out their destination before visiting. For example, many wonderful things can come from travelling as a queer person — from meeting new friends to learning what queer life can look like in other parts of the world and connecting to a wider queer community.

But at the same time, travelling as a queer person can be highly stressful. Purposeful travel means considering a destinations’ social climate and politics regarding queer culture — in order to both have fun and stay safe.

And while sustainable travel should always be the goal, personal safety must remain the most important factor when travelling. It’s important to make your research as holistic as possible — information on a destinations’ queer scene won’t likely be readily available via mainstream travel sources. Reach out to people from the community in advance for recommendations.