As I write this, my husband and I are on a ferry traveling along the Irrawaddy River from Mandalay to Began in Myanmar (Burma). Between bites of hardboiled eggs, toast and sips of tea, we photograph low-slung fishing boats and gilded pagodas rising from the hillsides like golden trees.
Today is our 41st anniversary, one of many over the years we've spent traveling to parts of the world with cultures and religions different from anything we ever encountered growing up in Cincinnati, Ohio. Here in Myanmar, a country moving slowly from the third world into the first with a shift from military rule to a secular democracy, we've walked barefoot through pagodas filled with giant, smiling Buddha images; strolled past Muslim mosques and Hindu temples; and stepped inside a Jewish Synagogue. We're "foreigners," or so we're labeled by signs advising us to observe local customs such as paying a fee to enter a monastery, "and take pride ( in) yourself for being (a) good citizen of your country."
Many American travelers might find it difficult to muster a sense of pride in the coming days and months as the Trump administration's careless immigration policies take effect, upending the United States' reputation as a nation that welcomes all, regardless of race, religion or ethnicity. Reckless strongmen rule many countries. Now one rules ours.
What should we do? First off, we should keep traveling. Friends back home in Seattle have been asking me if we are "safe." I hate the question, and I hate having to give an answer. Apart from being careful about pickpocketing etc. (not an issue here in Myanmar), I've never worried about terrorism or "anti-American sentiment."
Real Americans, the ones who make an effort to get to know people of different religions and cultures, whether at home or abroad, are our country's best ambassadors. Now, more than ever, your country needs you. As travelers, it's our job to show the world that Donald Trump's rhetoric, policies and attitude do not reflect who we are - as a people or a country.
|With James Brown, our guide on a street food walking tour of Yangon|
If anti-American sentiment does develop in countries popular with travelers, such as Morocco or Turkey, it most likely will be directed towards the U.S. government rather than individual travelers. This is not to say that international travel will not become more difficult for Americans. Other countries could retaliate with travel bans (Iran and Iraq already have) or cumbersome visa rules such as the ones the Trump Administration imposes on them. Americans have become a bit spoiled by how easy it is to travel. Myanmar, for instance, issued our visas overnight through a $50 online application. Our visas into Dubai, where we spent several days before coming here, were issued free on arrival with a quick stamp in our passports.
European countries participate in the same visa waiver program for Americans as the U.S. extends to European citizens. If Trump is serious about stopping potential terrorists from entering the U.S., will he begin requiring our allies to apply for visas? Most of the terrorists in Europe have been European citizens recruited by ISIS. If Trump's next step is "extreme vetting" and visa requirements for Germany, France or Brussels, why wouldn't they do the same, perhaps requiring Americans to verify their status with the French embassy before their next trip to Paris.
I would think the powerful U.S. Travel Association would be all over the potential economic consequences of Trump's bungling.. Spending by international travelers to the U.S. created 7.6 million jobs in 2015 and $246 billion in spending, according to the National Travel and Tourism office.
Boycots will no doubt arrise on their own, but I'm for getting behind one now, and urging our foreign friends NOT to visit the U.S. until things change.
When cruise lines start losing bookings and hotel rooms go unfilledl because Chinese, Mexican and European travelers are no longer coming to the U.S., maybe those with economic clout will end their silence, and convince Republicans to stop their cowering, and take action to make America great again in the eyes of the rest of the world.