Republicans Buy Gift Cards, Too

“Let’s stick to travel hacking, please,” requested Wes when I shared an opinion piece and radio program by London-based entrepreneur Tyler Brûlé that London may follow the decline of Montréal. The piece is a provocative historical analogy to a contemporary event that has no direct parallel. Posting it attracted the typical angries expected on a complicated, controversial subject where many will benefit and many will not. Some of the commenters may have even read the piece before commenting.

When I editorialize or post topics intended to cause thinking, a Wes tells me to stick to my knitting. Wes has decided my blog should be travel hacking in a vacuum. To be another deals repost blog that scours email inboxes and online forums to share deals and hacks in a concise format. Plenty of those exist and their authors provide a service of utility. I cannot better them even if I had the interest. I cannot spend all day on FlyerTalk, Reddit and Slickdeals.

Travel is Political and So is this Blog

Rick Steves argues that travel is a political act. We the fortunate to travel have a duty to engage with the world at home and abroad.

When I visit what former-President Bush termed the ‘Axis of Evil’ countries or countries that President Obama’s drones patrol the skies, it is a political act. I cannot self-deceive that I am just a casual tourist. I may be the first, and possibly only, American, a number of people will meet in their lives. I can confirm or contradict their stereotypes, positive and negative.

Even if you never leave the airport lounge, life-flat flight seat, and hotel lounge, your travel is political, too. I do not like the serial complainer segment of this hobby. The people who set about to find fault with every flight and hotel stay to rake in compensation.

When I had a migraine in Gabon and a meltdown in Congo I was ashamed at loosing my cool with kind people to whom electricity, running water, and wifi may be unimaginable luxuries. Sure, a luxury hotel should uphold the standards that it proclaims and prices. Staff on the receiving end of a tirade draw their own conclusions and it is not about their hotel management.

Travel Hacking is Political

Those gift card liquidation trips to Walmart bump up against what Bloomberg reports as a crime wave at Walmart sapping police department resources around the country.

The flight fuel we burn has environmental costs. Remember the Nordstorm ship and return frenzy when the miles weren’t clawed back? How many said it was incredibly environmentally wasteful (and costly to a company guilty only of generous customer service)?

Our activities in this hobby have real world consequences that we cannot wish out of existence. Some are great, some are now. Have any of us not graciously used miles to help family, friends, and colleagues in an emergency? All of this says something about us and ripples through the world.

If I Hide Who I Am, This Blog Will be Pointless

The only value I can offer as a blogger is my expertise.

I lived in China for 8 years, speak Mandarin, and have traveled every province of the country. When I recommend a Chinese destination you can know that it draws on experience. I have not been to Greece so my advice there will be little different from any armchair traveler or hack journalist.

There are blogs that focus on the ‘can do it.’ A deal or a hack exists. On paper it looks like you can do it. Have at it.

I focus on the why and the did. Why do something? What is the context? The alternatives? How have I done it (or not) and how do it go in practice?

The difference is a general post listing airlines that offer transit hotels (on paper) and a Guide to Ethiopian Airline Transit and Transit Hotels based on many first-hand experiences. The other airlines I have not written such a guide because I don’t have the same expertise as with Ethiopian.

Both approaches have value. Some blogs provide useful info with no author byline. Some blog authors with valuable content are only free to publish under pseudonym.

With this blog, you get me. My name is on the byline. I take it as my duty to you to be honest about who I am and provide the best content that my experience, skills and resources can produce.

Michael Jordan May (or May Not) Have Said It

The famous line attributed to Michael Jordan when questioned about not taking a particular public advocacy stance is “Republicans buy sneakers, too.”

I take my duties as a citizen seriously. My aspirations for myself are higher than I have achieved. I have not served in the military or in public service. I have not made big sacrifices to help others. I try to be pleasant person and I set a goal of giving 5% of income to charity. I should do more.

The Founding Fathers conceived of citizenry as much more than a birthright to posses 21st-century weaponry.

As a citizen I have a duty to learn, to challenge my beliefs and biases, to engage in debate with others. The guiding star is The Economist’s editorial stance from its 1843 founding, to “take part in a severe contest between intelligence, which presses forward, and an unworthy, timid ignorance obstructing our progress.”

This blog is political and will stay political.

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  • Theresa

    Well said. You offer an unique perspective to Boarding Area. I look forward to your posts. Thank you.

  • Rich T.

    Amen Brother! Oops….. now religion’s in the mix too….

  • Daniel K

    Keep on writing!

  • Jon

    Bravo Bravo – looking forward to reading more 🙂

  • An excellent post and an excellent point!

  • DaninMCI

    You won’t make all people happy all the time. For example I love Rick Steve’s and his travel podcast, books, etc. but I hate that he seems to look down on people like me who are tourist, will stick out like a tourist and will stay in chain hotels. Just like him you won’t make people happy and if you want to blog about politics that’s cool but understand that people will disagree with you no matter what you have to post. I disagree with you on Brexit and your post about this on Montreal but it didn’t keep me from coming back to read more about what you have to say about travel.

  • @DaninMCI – I appreciate the comment. I am on an email group of friends that would still be pouring over BO’s birth certificate if HRC didn’t have them so lathered. I try to get all perspective. After all, Montreal I used a question mark for a reason. I think England (or UK, if it holds) has a future as a political ‘regional power,’ and still a cultural world power.

    Re: Rick Steves, I know he is anti-frequent flyer programs, I enjoy his radio show and lectures, I find the books hard to use and too selective of destinations. lot of the general travel voices that speak to people who never travel or don’t know how to travel I don’t pay all that much attention to. Overall I think he has done a good job making Europe a reality for a lot of Americans that otherwise might never go. On balance, I can forgive the smugness.

  • P T

    Right on, Stefan. Keep on doing what you do. Your roots are showing through. I have benefited from clicking on many a non-travel related link in your posts. Broadened my horizons. We are all ambassadors of our country when we travel and it behooves us to remember that.

  • Shannon

    I didn’t see you act like this before, even though there were much more strong opnions or way much more harsh words torward you than Wes. Remeber those flooding strong comments toward you regarding to Indonesia and holocaust? In my observations, your style is always to be more lukewarm, balanced and somehow vague in political or other sensitive issues so some readers were so shocked and couldn’t take it very well. Can we agree even a micro media has it own social responsibility? Or blog is an exception ?

    (from the editor: since those references can be take out of context, the posts referred to by Shannon are Why Haven’t You Visited Auschwitz? and I Had a Good Day in Indonesia, It Was Cathartic.)

  • Jig

    Truly an impressive expression of substance and willingness to take on sometimes inconvenient responsibilities of being an engaged citizen.

    For those who still want Stefan to remain ‘balanced’ or ‘stick to his knitting’, I ask why not engage in reasoned debate instead of asking for silence on topics of the day? Can we not reason with each other and perhaps even change our minds based on new perspective and knowledge? And even if we continue to disagree, is it not better to try to understand the differing opinion’s origins? The inability to disagree constructively is the root of many of our nation’s (and world’s) ills. But it is so very human.

    Stefan, have missed your Chai digests! always enjoy the non-travel section

  • T.

    Sorry, I might agree with your political views, but I have to also agree with your reader Wes – “stick to travel hacking”. If any of us wanted political commentary – we most likely would not be here. I had to snicker a little, but I am actually glad your brought up Rick Steves. Anyone who used one of his guides has to agree – those guides are good and precise when it comes to “…from this yellow door turn right, then make 15 steps to the left where you would see a blue arch; once you pass under the arch, on your left you will see a door with number “2” written on it in red ink…that’s your destination…” very precise directions, but when Rick Steves start talking about art or “this dude Louis the XIV” or some such – I cringe. In fact, if I carry his book with me (for direction and useful info), I try to hide it deep in my bag – I almost feel ashamed of carrying it.
    My point it – stick to what you know best, and spare us the rest.
    This being said – love your blog (when it has to do with travel hacking, not with politics 🙂

  • Shannon

    @Jig I am also one of the fans to keep asking RTC to bring back of our fav column ” Chain Digest”!

  • @Shannon – it is not about harsh or not. I welcome the political debate. I can see the point of readers saying they just want travel without the context, the comments just as easily in their dismissive wording come across as it is not valid to hold an opinion and speak to it, just as in the case of the Montreal article, several commenters reflexively dismissed Mr. Brule as having any standing to state an opinion on Brexit, perhaps without knowing a thing about the man.

    I am not sure I follow your point about social responsibility. My view of taking social responsibility is to stand for something. I have probably been too lukewarm in the past, too cautious to be balanced. Eventually that leads to equal time, rather than proportional, to views however baseless they may be.

  • @Jig – thank you for the kind words and points. I wholeheatedly agree that the increasing inability of people to have a productive debate is a crisis of our own making.

    I feel bad over past months travel and life stuff have let the Chai Digest slip, I have a massive backlog of links, look soon for a daily feature that I hope will be better and more timely.

  • Jennifer

    I personally love your posts. They aire refreshingly different from other travel blogs I read. Pleased don’t change anything.

  • Shannon
  • Mark


  • @Shannon – ah, forgot that one, yes, that’s right, you have sharper memory than me, I remembered some posts had referred to my Indonesia relationship, well, it’s all out there. Guess which country heading to in November? I have two more Indonesia stops on the TCC list.

  • @Mark – fascinating.

  • Darth Chocolate

    Very few businesses can survive for long if they intentionally piss off half of their potential customer base. For example, you may have a very good review of some new product that you will earn a fee for a referral. If I like the review, I might just visit another site that has a referral link and use it just to make a point.

  • JEM

    Stefan – I read a number of blogs to get information. I read yours to get your story. I aspire to get to even a few of the less-traveled places you’ve been, but in the meantime I’m pleased to experience the journey vicariously.

    Your blog reflects the person I’ve met a few times at FTUs. I love the perspective, and the cultural, economic and political links you share. I’m tempted to say “ignore the ignorant”, but just as your travel is political, so too is your blogging political, and I’m glad you engage the ‘other side(s)’ occasionally.


  • Andy

    Stefan – Please keep sharing your viewpoint, and those of others you find interesting. I’ve been reading for five years now and while I don’t agree with everything, you offer a fascinating and valuable perspective.

  • italdesign

    Any blogger can repost deals. I come here for Stefan’s unique perspective, which can only come from someone who has traveled to more countries than I can name. I am grateful to hear his unique voice in this community.

  • Wes

    Thanks for the shout-out.

    It took guts to come straight out and boldly proclaim this to be a political blog. Most would prefer to advance their ideology while portending a guise of neutrality. I salute you for showing backbone, even if I disagree with your positions.

    That said, my question to you is, “When did this become a political blog?” To the date and time of this comment (if it gets through moderation), your “about” page mentions absolutely nothing about political commentary being a cornerstone of this blog. In fact, it essentially summarizes your blog as another “travel often and cheap”-type blog (which you railed against above) from a blogger who is very well-traveled and highly educated. Your blog started circa 2011, right? When did it become political? Today? Do you intend to add this fact to your blog description now? Another poster agrees that you have heretofore taken a far more politically-subdued tone, and you seemed to respond in agreement. Do you intend to simply cite to this post henceforth whenever people, who came to your page looking for travel advice, understandably question why you are posting pure political commentary? If that’s the plan, the least you could have done was titled this post, “This Is a Political Blog!” rather than just saying so at the bottom of a post whose title only references the purchasing proclivities of republicans. To be clear, I have no objection to your writing about whatever you want, but I think fairness would dictate that you give fair notice as to your intended subject matter.

    On that note, your arguments that travel is inextricably intertwined with politics are without merit. Unloading gift cards at Wal Mart is a political act because unrelated comes at wal-mart stretch police forces thin? There is zero logical nexus. By shopping at Walmart, or anywhere, am I committing a political act? Ask a bunch of shoppers why they are at a supermarket, and they probably won’t say it’s an act of political demonstration. You cite flying is political because it burns fossil fuels? In your book, I suppose People are trying to make a political point when they drive their fossil fuel-propelled vehicles to work. Extremely tenuous arguments.

    One could only get to the point of declaring travel per se political if you assume that everyone views everything through a political lens, as you apparently do. The vast majority of people don’t view things this way, and those same people often do not like being preached to about how they should. I venture to say that more than a fair amount of people travel simply for escapism and relaxation, not any political purpose.

  • TA

    Wes, agree with you a 100%.

  • Andrew C

    Baffled at the arguments against your expressing your views on your own blog. Keep it up, always appreciate your perspective. (But bring back Chai Digest!!!)

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  • ZhangXiaoTong

    I have to agree with Wes this time. Please not too much political talk….

  • progapanda

    Stefan, the fact that you have an intelligent, individual perspective on such a wide variety of worldly themes is what sets (and always has) you apart from the other cookie-cutter blogs on Boardingarea.

    It’s bewildering how so many of our fellow travel enthusiasts consider politics to be the equivalent of an ‘F-bomb.’

    I for one look forward to continuing to support your writing in whatever manner possible. I hope your other readers, some of continue to miss the point you tried to make in this post, will consider doing the same.

  • @Wes – thanks for your detailed response. I do not censor comments, though I can imagine certain situations where it would be necessary in the aim of maintaining decency, such as other blogs have experienced personal attacks between readers that have been more than uncivil. So, don’t worry about your thoughful comments getting through. Those from a new IP address have to be manually approved to staunch the tide of SPAM which arrives daily by the thousand.

    I realize you are a new reader and would not expect you go through the archives. You are correct that I have not previously made a statement of it as an explicitly political blog. I have editorialized as well as published occasional editorials. I strive to see the facets of issues so that is part of what can be interpreted as mild or neutral. We have different views of what is political. I am not saying I am turning this blog into a political campaign for a certain party or position. The Jordan quote could have just as easily been about Democrats if it were a different issue. I have and do vote for politicians of both parties. Call it the difference between little-d democrat and big-d democrat. You might find my specific examples specious, maybe not for the MS-ers encountering law enforcement at Walmart, but that does not mean our actions do not have little-p political consequences that I believe it our human responsibility to consider and make informed decisions. The point of the Montreal-Brexit piece was that it should be a thought-provoking case for both sides to consider and attempt to avoid, I shared it because it is thought-provoking and did not even state my personal position on Brexit in the post. As I said, if nothing else, the bit of Montreal history informs visits to that city. That has always been part of my blogging and when I have failed at that, it is indeed my failure.