Written by Yassmin Abdel-Magied.
Art by Kristel Brinshot.
Kiona, Ph.D., M.S., M.A. is the founder of How Not To Travel Like A Basic Bitch, a digital platform offering honest travel content helping travelers feel more confident before they travel, while simultaneously checking privilege and giving readers an opportunity to learn about important issues from people actually impacted by them. Launched in 2016, HTNTLABB now reaches 80,000 people each month. Born and raised in Hawai’i, and now living in Texas, she travels the world spotlighting different cultures and uplifting marginalized voices, while inspiring people to travel mindfully. As an academic, her mission has always been to deliver education through travel in a digestible and accessible way.
Her work has won her Travel Content Creator of the Year by Audacity Fest and World’s Best Influencer by Fodor’s Travel. In addition, her travel expertise has gotten her features in Outside Magazine, Huffington Post, the Washington Post, Pop Sugar, Next Shark, and many more. She hosts a biweekly podcast called “How Not To Travel,” has monthly educational trips to Cuba, has a locally run Airbnb company, and writes quarterly articles for Sisu Magazine, amongst other publications. She’s been the keynote speaker at the Cosmos Summit, a panelist at World Travel Market, and moderator at MissFits Fest. She’s even been invited to do stand-up comedy at The Megaphone Show in Austin, Texas.
What led to the creation of your platform?
How Not To Travel Like A Basic Bitch started off as a joke between me and my best friend. We started traveling the world any chance we scored a cheap plane ticket and a school break. Through those travels, we realized that, more often than not, people were raised with a sense of ethnocentrism — judging another culture by believing that one’s own culture is superior. They would travel to new places and interact with new cultures only to disrespect local people and their customs in the process, while using their power and privilege to assert their dominance. So, I started this website to discuss these things I saw. And it blew up. Over time, it stopped being a personal blog and started hosting stories of locals and how they wanted us to travel to their countries. Now, our Instagram account has turned into an educational platform that hosts a variety of well-researched and academic presentations, all in terms that are understandable to the common millennial so that the information is accessible.
Until borders are open to everyone and people can freely travel throughout the world, travel is political, and the only people with access to travel are those at the pinnacle of privilege, including myself.
You talk a lot about “decolonising travel.” What does that mean exactly?
Travel is an act of colonization, no matter which way we slice it. Until borders are open to everyone and people can freely travel throughout the world, travel is political, and the only people with access to travel are those at the pinnacle of privilege, including myself. So, decolonizing travel is impossible as a single individual. However, I speak a lot about decolonizing travel perspectives. For those of us with the privilege to travel and with the platforms to amplify and educate, we can use travel as a form of exposure to pass the mic to people in those locations and hear from them, learn from them, and pay them.
What has been the biggest surprise while developing your platform?
The amount of people who hate it! They go out of their way to write hate pieces, send death threats, call up anyone associated with me. Like, why are you so pressed about what I’m doing? But sure, waste your own time in 2020. I swear, I’ve never been that concerned with another human being in my entire life.
You have multiple degrees, including a Ph.D. How does the world of travel and online media compare to the world of academia?
There are similarities across all industries, including the academic and travel industry, in that everything is set to a standard White norm, having White People in positions of power, and White People curating and crafting the lens in which we are doing analyses. And also White People all the way not giving a fuck when you correct them, tell them you’re intelligent enough to have your own narrative/perform your own experiment/report on your own culture, and telling them that they cannot use your Brown body for their work while they simultaneously shut you out, take your credit, and cut off your access to opportunity.
It’s a rinse, wash, repeat of those things. Then, you must also take on their violent responses as they cry, throw tantrums, and fail to understand that their Whiteness is secondary to your human existence and you will not be fulfilling their demands to educate them, center them, or coddle them.
Both industries are incredibly violent to People of Color, especially those who define themselves as women.
You also post an ass shot for every 1,000 followers you gain on Instagram. Where did this idea come from, and how has it been received?
I started doing this after someone told me that women can’t be taken seriously if all they do is post bikinis; that women do it for attention and it’s an insult to their intelligence. Meanwhile, I have four fucking degrees — out-ranking even my own damn professors — have multiple businesses, pay my own bills, travel the world, and still frolic in a bikini because nudity isn’t always sexual and the White Puritan lens is not the only lens in which to view nudity. If a woman chooses to sexualize herself, that really has nothing to do with her intelligence or work ethic. She is allowed to own her own sexuality and be a sexual being. Being a doctor and businesswoman would never usually be associated with an ass shot. I’m here to change the image of what professionalism looks like.
There are similarities across all industries, including the academic and travel industry, in that everything is set to a standard White norm, having White People in positions of power, and White People curating and crafting the lens in which we are doing analyses.
I cannot tell you how many people have replicated the shot! It’s so empowering to read the letters, DMs, and emails [from people] saying they’re finally embracing their bodies, fighting back against the patriarchal systems in their own lives, donning bikinis, showing their ass, and embracing their intelligence and their ability to be multi-faceted human beings. It’s actually one of the more wonderful things about my platform.
What’s next for you? Tell us a little more about your vision!
Oh, the visions! There are too many visions! Firstly, while Instagram has been a wonderful tool, it is subject to White algorithms and their definition of “safety” or “appropriateness.” Instagram is also subject to capitalism, where activists dare to create information systems and pipelines that are important to a social cause yet get drowned out because Instagram would like for you to pay to promote your work. My dream is to create my own digital platform, concentrating in education. A digital university, if you will. Where we define who the expert is, and it can be accessible to anyone with a smartphone.
Secondly, I’d like to take education offline and into the real world. I’ve started with Cuba, creating educational trips. Hiring young journalists, Ph.D.s, professors, and artists to teach classes outside of the classroom and in the real world. These educational tours wrapped up in touristic experiences pay local people for their intelligence and connect foreigners to the option of being educated by experts in the country they are traveling to in order to be a more aware and well-informed person when discussing, posting information, and traveling about the country. My vision is to replicate this across as many nations as possible, creating a global education network where people can pay each other to learn from experts in their field from their respective countries.
Finally, how does one not travel like a basic bitch?
To put it simply: when you travel, listen without the intention to speak or judge.
About the Author
Kiona, Ph.D., M.S., M.A. is the founder of How Not To Travel Like A Basic Bitch, which was launched in 2016. Born and raised in Hawai’i, now living in Texas, she travels the world spotlighting different cultures and uplifts marginalized voices, while inspiring people to travel mindfully. As an academic, her mission has always been to deliver education through travel in a digestible and accessible way.
Follow on IG: @hownottotravellikeabasicbitch