Saturday, April 29, 2017

WITS17: Midwestern Mastery

I took the Milwaukee public transit bus to and from the airport on both ends of my trip. It was a little tricky because I over-packed a bit and also had my heavy laptop case to maneuver with, but it cost me a total of $8.25. I wondered how many attendees for the Women In Travel conference knew that there was a public bus-stop directly across from the Hilton where many of us stayed and attended the summit. After a whirlwind five days of tours and networking it felt really strange, in an isolating but also introspective way, to be standing there Sunday morning, by myself for a good 20 minutes or so.

Inviting magic: curate space in your life for receptivity. Wherever you go, there you are .

Post-Yoga Enlightenment
There was a woman that arrived at the bus stop after me. We squinted at each other in the mid-morning sun and took turns silently looking in the direction the bus was coming from. She struck up a conversation with a compliment on my hat and appearance, asking me if I was visiting or going to school. I know that I look younger than my years to a lot of people, and to others, I have heard the compliments for my alleged fashion sense. Nonetheless, it was funny to admit that I was traveling alone and several years beyond my Master's Degree. Our chat was so engaging that I never got her name, but I could not help but to tell her that she reminded me of my mother, in skin tone and appearance, and her humbly conversational manner of speaking.

We connected on many levels as it pertained to upbringing and family dynamics. And as I explained to her why I was in her city and what it meant for me to get to Milwaukee and participate in the conference, something crystallized in my mind. She said to me at one point, "I've always wanted to go to Australia, but I don't even know how that would happen now."  I shared with her how I had the same desire at ten years old, and through many fortunate events and leaps of faith, I did in fact get there at age 20, and lived and traveled there for three months. I had an epiphany: I can cater my thoughts in this blog, my voice and advocacy efforts towards creating an inviting and safe space for those that may feel stuck where they are, and that travel is out of reach for them, whether due to perceived distance, or cost, or unfamiliarity with modes of transportation.

Most of my time in Milwaukee was focused on the mantra of having space for divine feminine qualities as writers and travelers. The Women In Travel Summit (WITS) is now my annual thing that I do. I am in my third consecutive year, and was grateful to be included as a volunteer at the conference this year. It has always recharged me and helped me to refocus on my writing and goals as a socially-conscious journeywoman. The added bonus this year was witnessing the increased participation and leadership of women of color, as critiquing panelists, dynamic host committee members, and autonomous thought leaders of the travel industry.

I have met many gracious and sincere people on this first extended trip to the Midwest. That means a lot to me, as a woman who grew up in a large northern metropolis. We sometimes feel, in New York, that we have everything, and never need to leave, because we are so often the destination for others, whether permanently or passing through. But what I learned during this trip was that there are many things still to be shared and gained from leaving familiar borders. And, most endearingly, even a landlocked state like Wisconsin reveals artistic mystery and a deep water-focused perspective that allows for a unique consciousness on science development, environmental conservation, and other values that I can identify with as a New York State resident. I can enjoy Milwaukee's distinct heritage and location while sharing and supporting similar goals for the bigger picture.
The first of many river walks

Finding unique traits and offerings to share with others.

One of the most poignant statements that still rattles around my head came from a panel discussion dealing with "purpose-driven travel", described as reaching beyond voluntourism and ecotravelling. To make tourism a force for good, build local capacity; visit urban areas and support local businesses at your destination. You don't necessarily need to hear a different language or get on a plane to experience another culture.

I knew that something special about Milwaukee was the nonprofit sustainable agriculture initiative founded by former NBA player Will Allen, Growing Power. I had read about this organization in regular emails for years, never dreaming that it would be so easy to go and visit. Because I have a personal as well as public interest in learning from and advocating for more green spaces for under-served communities and functional access to healthy food, I knew that I had to speak up about my interest in getting to this site. I mentioned my desire to Visit Milwaukee's Executive Assistant and Communications Manager Margaret Casey, and she arranged a tour and drove me out there herself. Amazing! This visit was the highlight of my trip. All in all, I have met some true masters of many crafts here in Milwaukee: farming and gardening, hospitality, visual arts, cheese and beer!

Milwaukee Art Museum, as seen from the S/V Denis Sullivan
Milwaukee's windy "big sky-ness" completely engulfed me, rising up from between the boxlike edifices with their glimmering reflective windows, further enhancing the atmosphere. Even on the overcast days, I basked in the openness of the city, which gave me untold permission to lift my head upwards and appreciate the architecture, the animated denim hanging from lampposts, the colorful street art. and many riverviews. I did not feel claustrophobic here.

Looking beyond your destination desires.

WITS17 Purpose-Driven Travel Panel Presentation
When you have a heart and a will turned towards giving back and lessening the impact of one's footprint wherever you land, this concept will naturally come up. Know that there are other ways to engage with the place you seek to be. If you are at all concerned about sustainable communities within the beautiful and intriguing places you visit for a short while, consider that you can (and should) look beyond your tourist interests and think critically about the effect it has on the communities that you travel to. Yes, travel has a political impact as much as it has environmental and social ones that affect the destination as much as if not more than you, the visitor. Keep abreast of local news and happenings, for your safety and as a quick etiquette check. I listened to the stories from the residents about food deserts giving rise to the historic revitalization of urban farming, and of socially conscious muralists creating controversial works that spark necessary dialogue about the origins and future of incarceration of their  fellow citizens. These stories will stay with me as much as the pictures will.

As soon as I learned that Milwaukee was a "walkable city", I was excited, being a perpetual pedestrian in New York City, and always fascinated and ready to engage any other locale that boasts even a minute capacity for public transportation (see my hi-larious account of the L.A.-to-Irvine experience via bus for WITS16!). Which brings me full-circle back to that last ride out of the city. I have always had the most interesting conversations with strangers passing on a train (or bus), and have even made years-long friendships this way. I gave that woman my card, and I truly hope that this post and many others I write would inspire her to go wherever she wants to, and encourage others to love her city and its people more.
Black Cat Alley


  1. What a great recap of the conference! I love your photo of the Art Museum, beautiful!

  2. Thank you for reading! It was hard choosing which photos to use for the museum, as I took many from different angles! I'm honestly a little obsessed with the architecture as well as the contents, @SaraBroers, and need another whole day to see everything!

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  4. I am glad that you asked the question about food deserts, @thexygirls, and I plan to do a more in-depth post about Growing Power and the importance of urban agriculturevery soon. Stay tuned!