Starting February 1: #100travelHERS

My first version of this post was rather flippant. It read, simply:

“I’m within striking distance of my goal to identity 100 female American travelers, active roughly between 1850 and 1950. To celebrate, I’m launching a hashtag! Starting February 1, I’ll post a picture and some tidbits about one woman each day for the next 100 days. Follow along at @writeroughshod or at #100travelHERS! Let the Twittering begin.”

It didn’t feel quite right, but I hit publish anyway and closed the blog. Then I visited the mud pit that is my Facebook feed and watched, yet again, as so many of my acquaintances hurled clumps of political filth at each other. And for a moment, I lost faith in my project. In fact, I felt embarrassed by it. How dare I post pictures of women (most of them white), who traveled the world a century ago, when so many living, breathing women (many of them not white) are now unable to cross certain borders because they happen to have been born in a country America has decided to fear?

At one point last night, I thought it might be best to scrap the project entirely, to wait for a more “appropriate” time. But then I remembered a quote from Maya Angelou: “Perhaps travel cannot prevent bigotry, but by demonstrating that all peoples cry, laugh, eat, worry, and die, it can introduce the idea that if we try and understand each other, we may even become friends.”

I reopened the blog and scrolled through “The List.” I re-read their quotes and stared at their photos. I realized that I’ve been so swept up in prepping Tweets for my #100travelHERS blitz that I’d started to neglect the original mission of this project: to pay attention to these women, to really pay attention, and to listen to the lessons about life, religion, politics, and art that they learned the hard way.

“I am not the same having seen the moon shine on the other side of the world,” Mary Anne Radmacher once said. I know I am not the same woman I was before moving to Austria a year ago. I am more aware. I am more empathetic. I am tougher and less afraid than I used to be. I am also more appreciative of my home country — and conscious of how precious it is to have a home. I sense that most of the women on this blog would say similar things about themselves after their own respective journeys.

As we are today, most of us can’t change the things about the world we don’t like. But we can change ourselves into stronger, smarter, more capable versions of ourselves. And those brave women will probably be able to achieve a lot.

What I’ve learned most from this blog project is that travel isn’t just for the rich, young, and liberal. It’s for Christians and libertarians. It’s for the middle aged and the retired. It’s for schoolteachers and politicians. It’s for business owners. It’s for women. It’s for you.

At heart, Americans are pioneers, pilgrims, and seekers. We are the descendants of people who migrated, either voluntarily or by force, and built new lives in new places by blending traces of the old with the reality of the new.  Travel is displacement by choice, a ritualized expression of the American tradition of movement and cultural blending. It’s our collective heritage. It’s fundamentally patriotic.

And it’s important, especially now. Because you’ll never really understand what a border is until you cross one.

So yeah, I’m going to keep going. And I hope you’ll come with me.

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