When Planning a Trip, Do Local Politics Matter?

Travel Blog  •  Jenna Schnuer  •  01.30.09 | 11:57 AM ET

No, you didn’t imagine that loud (and long-lasting) yay coming from Nashville on Jan. 22. It was the sound of the city’s English-only? seriously? contingent celebrating after the ridiculous measure was defeated in a (costly) special election.

While nothing could come between me and my Nashville (cause it’s a pretty damned fantastic city), it did get me wondering how much local politics play a role in other people’s travel choices. Have you ever put the kibosh on a trip because you didn’t like the politics of the place?

Jenna Schnuer

Freelancer Jenna Schnuer writes about travel, food, culture, books, and life's quirky bits (and bites) for publications including American Way, National Geographic Traveler, Southern Living, and many others. She also co-writes Flyover America, a site filled with quieter stories from around the U.S. Send Jenna an email or, if you're so inclined, follow her on Twitter.

15 Comments for When Planning a Trip, Do Local Politics Matter?

Eva Holland 01.30.09 | 1:04 PM ET

Hmm, good question. I’ve never canceled an existing trip, but I think local politics can definitely colour my perceptions of a place and affect whether or not I think of it as an appealing place to visit.

I’ve had a couple of run-ins with verbally abusive separatist types in Quebec, and while it doesn’t stop me from going back (heck, I only have to walk across the bridge from my hometown to get there) I do kind of brace myself for potential unpleasantness when I go.

Sophia Dembling 01.30.09 | 1:16 PM ET

They don’t affect my travel plans, though they will color my feelings about a place. I have had a couple of   unpleasant run-ins with resentful native Hawaiians and I will never feel completely warm and fuzzy about Hawaii because of that. It’s not even that I begrudge them their anger but why take it out on me?

Craig Howat 01.30.09 | 1:18 PM ET

Perhaps this is exactly what my city, New Orleans, has been dealing with pre and post Katrina!

Jenna Schnuer 01.30.09 | 4:13 PM ET

OK, so now this has put a million more questions in my head. But I’ll start with Craig and New Orleans—if you had your wish list of fixes, what do you think it would take to counter the city’s bad press? Will it just take time or will it take a full court press of better press to turn things around? Or more? And what do New Orleansians (is that the term?) think of the press the city has received post-Katrina? Do you think the press is missing the true story in post-Katrina New Orleans? What would you like to see covered that’s not? (And I hope I’m not being too nosy but…that’s what I do.)

Daniel 01.31.09 | 11:46 PM ET

I’m Jewish, I’ve never been to the mainland of Europe [England and Scotland when I was little], for reasons of history moreso than politics. But with anti-Semitism on the rise yet again, why support people like that? If it gets much worse, I wouldn’t travel to such a place. Also, with Israel stamped on my passport, and also because of who I am, I obviously would be wary of traveling to any country in the Middle East. [that said, I may be going to France and Spain in March, and look forward to such a trip].

Ling 02.01.09 | 9:47 AM ET

I’ve never had to worry about not going to a place because of its politics, but I have given serious consideration about going to a place because of its politics - Canada, after John Kerry lost to Bush in 2004.

Eva Holland 02.01.09 | 11:19 AM ET

Ha, Ling, did you know Immigration Canada’s servers crashed the day after the ‘04 election? Too many hits, couldn’t take the strain!

Laura Byrne Paquet 02.01.09 | 11:46 AM ET

This is a great question, Jenna. I hemmed and hawed for ages over a trip to China a few years ago, and ultimately decided not to go. But I totally understand why people DO go to places where the politics are dicey. There’s a lot to be said for seeing a place in person rather than just reading about it.

Sophie 02.01.09 | 12:32 PM ET

I did think long and hard about visiting the Western Wailing Wall Tunnel in 1996. I wasn’t sure that Israel’s decision to open the tunnel exit in the middle of the night was worth the anger it caused Muslims and the riots that followed. In the end, I did go but I wrote about making the decision and how these decisions do matter.

Jenna Schnuer 02.02.09 | 3:06 AM ET

Daniel—I’m also Jewish but, up til this point, I haven’t held back from visiting places because of it. (Well, sort of—I can’t say I’ve ever run off to Germany but I would like to visit at some point.) While the rise of anti-Semitism does concern me, it’s my great hope that by traveling places and interacting with people, we can do our part (big or small) to make connections and help quash bad feelings between people. But it can smack you in the face, too. Years ago I was wandering Venice (oh, how I’d love to go back) and deep inside the maze of the city, I came upon a huge swastika painted on a wall. Up til that point in the day, I was just kind of happily wandering and the graffiti just smacked me hard. To put it mildly, it certainly did suck some of the romance out of the day but…looking back,  it’s one of the many layers of experience from the trip, it’s not a fully defining moment. And I met so many incredible people along the way—I would hate not to have met them. As for the passport issue, yeah, I would probably be (very very very) wary of going to the Middle East with an Israeli stamp.

Laura—Do you think you’ll go to China one day? Or is it off your must-see list permanently?

Kathryn 02.04.09 | 1:18 AM ET

When I was in a small town in Tennesse, I was disgusted by all the Styrofoam that was used for to-go orders. I ordered lunch. The tea came in a Styrofoam cup. The sandwich was in one container, the salad in another. The brownie was in a container five times the size of the brownie.  At a church bean feed, I was stared at because I didn’t want a separate disposable plate for my corn muffin and held out my hand to take it.  I knew not everyone recycled (I grew up using wash clothes for napkins and paper towels before recycling was really in), but I couldn’t believe the amount of Styrofoam and plastic that piled up in this town as a result of a festival.  It won’t make me not go back (I have to go back for the Storytelling Festival every year for the rest of my life if possible), but I think next year I might turn into one of those California-types and bring my own reusable plate and utensils.

long island girl 02.04.09 | 11:28 AM ET

I really don’t care much about the local politics when i travel. I actually focus more on the adventure and the exciting places i’m planning to visit but of course it will definitely affect my impression to the place im visiting. If you really like a certain place, i really don’t think you are going to cancel you most awaited trip or travel just because of the local politics.

Jodi 02.04.09 | 11:55 AM ET

The political situation of a place has kept me away only when it makes visiting the place dangerous. 

I haven’t ever found general politics or history a reason to stay away; to the contrary, it actually makes travel more compelling.  As an American Jew, I have found it personally important to visit Europe.  I have been to places in Spain, Germany, France, Italy, and the Czech Rep where Jews used to have vibrant communities.  The history of the places actually drew me, and I took away a strange and unexpected feeling of vague triumph at still being around, as a Jew, to visit those places.

Scott K 02.04.09 | 12:09 PM ET

Great question!

Local politics play a huge part in where I travel. As a gay man, I always need to be aware of local laws. If I travel to a place where being gay is a crime and were to go there with my legal husband, we could be arrested or worse.  As a person living with AIDS, there are some countries where it is illegal for me to visit. And the US is not much better in that respect. Local laws here have just been changed to allow immigration of those with AIDS to come to the US but the new law hasn’t been implemented yet. While it’s nice to have the option to visit anywhere in the world, the reality is that I can’t, either from fear of arrest or local laws. So I travel where I can and that is great! Growing up in New York I still haven’t seen all of it!

Oi-Oi-Oi 02.10.09 | 2:49 AM ET

Yes definately.  I wont be going back to the USA after my lastr trip.  Evey plane ride on my last trip saw me randomly searched.  How random is a search if I get selected EVERY time?  How effective is a search if it says on my boarding pass that I am going to be searched?  Why can’t I lock my bags when I get on the plane, and why after opening the locks for security am I not permitted to relock them?  Im guessing the security guard has a good reason - so they can steal stuff once the bag has disappeared from sight.  Of course I am assuming here, but is there any other explanaiton for my missing goods?  Similalrly I have the right to watch airport securtiy search my hand luggage, even if it means they have to stop searching me while I watch them.  By all means have security, but dont target everyone who doesn’t have an American passport.

Same way I won’t be going to indonesia.  Not saying Schapelle is innocent, just that I dont like the legal system, and the way her trial was conducted.

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