It’s been almost 4 years since I wrote about how I was left feeling after our last presidential election, both personally but also as someone immersed in travel blogging and media.

Since then, and it feels like 100 years have passed instead, so much has happened. So many communities – already vulnerable – have lost loved ones due to racist, ineffective, and/or weak policies while many others remain threatened. Nations around the world seem to be divided between progressive, forward thinking leaders and others who embrace nationalist, draconian rules.

It became more and more difficult to embrace the travel narrative in a way that promoted escapism – as much as so many of us need those moments in our lives.

Instead of escaping, I got in deeper.

I started to volunteer as an interpreter for a non-profit organization of lawyers who work to help represent the many asylum seekers detained by ICE and trapped in the system without representation or hope. That work further exposed the many ways in which that same system violates human rights and safety, and too often fails those who need it most, even after asylum is granted. I am working with a friend to start a non-profit to help acclimate new asylum recipients to a life of freedom in this foreign land.

I found that my travel writing felt incomplete if I didn’t focus my experiences more and more on the local narrative. I became less apprehensive about asking the direct questions that exposed the truth of the lives of others, not just in our country but around the world. I found that people wanted to talk, to tell their story, to step out of the restraints of marketing messages and just speak their truth. I haven’t always published those stories – mostly to protect those privacies, but I have learned and been changed by them.

As I traveled around Montana, indigenous groups were struggling (and still are) with the increasing number of Native women vanishing from their communities; and their pain, frustration, and activism began pushing politicians and the press to finally talk about it.

Traveling through North Dakota, I couldn’t help but think about the valiant protestors against the pipeline who fought so hard to protect their land there and wished I could tell that story too.

As I traveled through Peru, its neighboring Bolivia was in political upheaval and the violence between protestors and police escalated in such a way that it impacted movement and travel for many – not to mention the safety of its citizens.

While “influencers” snap Instagram shots posed over the rubbles of war-torn Syria advocating for the return of tourism to the country as a way to help restore its economy and normalcy, on trips funded and/or monitored and controlled by Assad, Turkey and Russia continue to throw bombs, over hospitals, homes, and villages, further minimizing the “safe zones” and increasing the already uncontainable number of refugees in camps and elsewhere.

Even travel to visit family in the Dominican Republic or Puerto Rico meant coming closer to the protests and rising voices of a people tired of corruption and abuse at the hands of their government.

Suddenly blogging about travel, without a deeper purpose or meaning became something I was no longer interested in. And so I gravitated towards people and groups that I felt are doing it – with a greater good in mind. Such as Intrepid Travel and their focus on sustainability and empowering local voices and communities wherever they travel and tour through. And I further committed myself to incorporating these ideals with clients, such as Finger Lakes Wine Country, so that the stories we share are insightful and educational, just as they are beautiful and fun, and highlight those who create ways in which travel to the region is positively impactful not just for the traveler but for the locals.

It became easier and easier to focus on things in a way that felt like I could make a difference, add something good, even if that work took me away from the spotlight of influencer media.

And then, as if someone understood that I could and wanted to do more, I was offered the opportunity to become politically involved. I was offered – and accepted the role of communications director for a Democratic congressional candidate in upstate NY who was running to unseat a Republican incumbent. I did it for a few months, and have since moved on, because though important, it wasn’t the work that I felt made the difference I wanted to see – and maybe that’s politics in a nutshell.

But I did learn something really important in the process: the change we need and want – the change I want to see doesn’t actually lie in the hands of our politicians. It is in ours.

We, the people, are the ones who not just with our vote, but also with our voices, our willingness to demand and protest, and advocate, and push for change over and over and over, relentlessly – we are the ones with the power to change everything. These are the things that will push them to do better and be better.

It took being in the weeds of all of it to really see it and it empowered me with insight I needed to keep going. To use my voice to stand up for those who need it most and to encourage all of you to do the same.

I entered the world of travel blogging because I felt there were voices, like mine, that weren’t being heard or represented. I wanted to make a change, in my own small way. Never would I have imagined all that it would lead to and how much it would change my life. This industry has given me so much.

I want to continue to use my voice, all that this incredible industry has afforded and gifted me, and anything else I can bring to the table to continue to make change, in any way that I can, whether in my travel stories or in my community, and I really hope that more of us will do the same.

I feel like all the lessons I’ve learned, both over the years and through this pandemic and from the political job, will make me a better writer, better advocate, and better storyteller. Let’s all take the lessons that we learn from this journey and do something great, as only we can.

Let’s also stay connected. Follow me on Twitter at @ImCarolCain.