Feminism hits the road in the new women’s travel magazine, Unearth Women. Launching this month, the quarterly publication was co-founded by its editor in chief, Nikki Vargas, a New York-based travel editor and blogger who said she believes that travel publications largely ignore women, both as contributors and as subjects. Available in print and digital form, the publication combines coverage of women’s issues globally, such as Rohingya refugees in Myanmar, and profiles of travel industry mavericks, such as a female tour guide in Iran, with more traditional destination pieces and city guides that highlight women-owned businesses.
The following are edited excerpts from an interview with Ms. Vargas.
Why does the newsstand need Unearth Women?
Women are a force to be reckoned with in travel. Seventy percent of travel consumers are women. Women make up 85 percent of travel purchasing decisions. Most companies right now, from Intrepid Travel to REI, are launching women-only tours in response. But when it comes to travel media, especially travel print media, most travel publications are founded and/or edited by men. When you have travel content that addresses women and men the same, we feel there’s a missed opportunity there. We’re trying to have guides that women can use and that can be practical, how-to travel while also getting those journalistic stories that shine light on women stories. Unearth Women is first and foremost a celebration of women.
You wrote about your difficulty finding diverse images of women to illustrate stories. How did that motivate you?
Women in travel advertisements and in social media tend to be a certain style, a certain race and a certain body type, and it’s very nonindicative of real women who travel. It makes it look like women in travel are all white, blond and young. We invite women to share their travel photos with us that are unedited. We’ve gotten such a great response, with mothers with their kids on top of mountains after a rainstorm. Their hair is frizzy and they look happy. We’re trying to directly fight the problems with the travel industry, from sexism to ageism to lack of diversity, with the stories we put out.
What do women bring to travel writing that’s unique?
In the first issue, we had the honor of publishing a travel essay by Gloria Steinem about her early travels in India. She wrote about how traveling as a Western woman in India, she was able to access a lot of facets of society that her male travel counterparts weren’t. She could be talking with the men, then in the next moment she could be in the kitchen and making Bengali sweets with the grandmothers. That’s an interesting thing that women bring to travel writing, that ability to access cultures on a deeper level because you’re able to connect with women, go into women-only spaces and get a deep feel for the culture that sometimes men cannot. Women bring a certain level of accessibility and compassion to their writing.
The publication covers women of hill tribes in Thailand seeking independence and the pressure on women in China to marry. Is travel your springboard for larger issues?
Travel ultimately should be a vehicle to larger issues because when you travel, you’re connecting to another culture. As part of connecting to that local culture, you take the good with the bad. If you’re visiting a place like Colombia, yes, they have beautiful beaches and great food and it’s biodiverse, but if you go and completely leave out anything going on in terms of politics and history, you’re completely missing out. I think the travel industry has a very rainbow-colored view of traveling. We’re trying to get to the realness of travel, and that’s the good and bad and that’s beauty in the hard parts of travel.
In another essay, a writer processes her father’s suicide while traveling in Alaska. What is the role of travel in a personal journey?
For me, travel will always be a touchstone where whenever things are complicated, I can go back to basics and find myself. These moments in my life where I don’t know what to do, I’m able to step outside of my life. I realize that is a luxury that’s not afforded by everyone. But I will say that whether it’s flying across the world to India or simply taking a day trip to just be in nature, I think there’s a real power in allowing yourself to step outside of routine and your comfort zone and just be with your own thoughts. Travel will always be a very restorative thing.