Beyond Guilt Trips

Beyond Guilt Trips

Mindful Travel in an Unequal World

By Anu Taranath


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  • Foreword INDIES Book of the Year Award Bronze Medalist Non-fiction/Travel, 2019 (Winner)
  • Washington State Book Award in Non-fiction, 2020 (Short-listed)
  • Wishing Shelf Book Award in Non-fiction, 2019 (Short-listed)
  • Next Generation Indie Book Award, Social Justice, 2019 (Short-listed)
  • Newsweek's The Future of Travel Awards, 2021 (Winner)

Every year, hundreds of thousands of young people pack their bags to study or volunteer abroad. Well-intentioned and curious Westerners—brought up to believe that international travel broadens our horizons—travel to low-income countries to learn about people and cultures different from their own. But while travel abroad can provide much-needed perspective, it can also be deeply unsettling, confusing, and discomforting. Travelers can find themselves unsure about how to think or speak about the differences in race or culture they find, even though these differences might have fueled their desire to travel in the first place. Beyond Guilt Trips helps us to unpack our Western baggage, so that we are better able to understand our uncomfortable feelings about who we are, where we come from, and how much we have. Through engaging personal travel stories and thought-provoking questions about the ethics and politics of our travel, Beyond Guilt Trips shows readers ways to grapple with their discomfort and navigate differences through accountability and connection.


“Taranath skillfully blends storytelling with a guidebook approach to how we can all travel better—go beyond good intentions and become intentional travelers. A much-needed book to transform the travelscape.”

– Amy Gigi Alexander, Editor-in-Chief, Panorama: the Journal of Intelligent Travel

“I am so grateful for this book, for it left me reflecting on the one trip we are all on, traveling through this life! Taranath is an excellent and humble storyteller who teaches us through stories. Readers will find nuggets here that will help us all to be our best selves.”

– Michele E. Storms, Executive Director, American Civil Liberties Union, Washington State

Beyond Guilt Trips is part reflective memoir, part ethnographic deep-dive, and part user manual for navigating our increasingly unequal world… This book is certainly the most teachable—and instructive— book on global travel I have read yet.”

– David Citrin, Global Health and Anthropology, University of Washington

“In Beyond Guilt Trips, Taranath shares personal stories of navigating discomfort and guilt that she, her students, and other travelers encounter as they face their positionality and privilege in cross-cultural travel, whether it be around the globe or down the street. Without pretending that we can eliminate the complexities and contradictions of travel in an unequal world, Taranath provides thoughtful strategies, activities, and guiding questions to deconstruct guilt, stay present, and find joy so that we can build mindful, genuine relationships across difference. I continue to be amazed and inspired by what she brings to global education and can’t wait to assign Beyond Guilt Trips as required reading in my study abroad courses.”

– Dr. Liz Mogford, Department of Sociology & Global Learning Programs, Western Washington University, Board member, Health Alliance International and Institute for Village Studies, Peace Corps, Cameroon, 1994-97

“Whether your trip requires a passport or a bus token, Beyond Guilt Trips should go along with you. If you are traveling in a landscape of inequality and extraction, racism and sexism, as we all must, Beyond Guilt Trips is a guide on how to move beyond both the appropriating gaze and the critical eye to embody fully the privileges of travel.”

– Kathryn Mathers, author of Travel, Humanitarianism and Becoming American in Africa; Duke University International Comparative Studies and Cultural Anthropology

Beyond Guilt Trips is a fantastic guide to encountering cultural difference in productive ways.”

– Timothy Longman, Associate Professor of Political Science and International Relations, Boston University

“For those considering travelling abroad for learning, volunteering, or work, this book is an essential guide. Beyond Guilt Trips presents complex ideas and critically-informed analysis in an accessible and engaging way. Taranath shares her personal journeys and experiences while guiding the reader through an inspiring path of self-discovery and deep reflection.”

– Rebecca Tiessen, author of Learning and Volunteering Abroad for Development: Unpacking Host Organization and Volunteer Rationales

Beyond Guilt Trips is my new favorite guidebook, one I will press upon anyone considering a trip overseas—or across town, for that matter. I fought the urge to devour it in one sitting. It is a gift to travelers.”

– Anna Vodicka, award-winning travel writer and educator

“With the eye of an ethnographer and the heart of a poet, Taranath weaves travel stories that invite the reader to pause and see differently. Through all of this, she asks us to pause, to breathe, to listen, and we are better for it.”

– Willy Oppenheim, PhD., founder and director of Omprakash

“Over the past twenty years I’ve led groups on tours and explored the globe on my own, travelling to over fifty countries. The search for deeper meaning is consistent through it all. Taranath is an expert at recognizing deeply felt issues and providing an approach that is inclusive and fulfilling. Let her be your guide through whatever travels you have ahead!”

– Ben Cameron, Rick Steves’ Europe Tour Guide

“This book takes us into the heart of where we need to go if we truly aim to do away with injustice and transform the world.”

– Michael Westerhaus MD, MA and Amy Finnegan PhD, Co-Directors SocMed

Beyond Guilt Trips is the resource I wish I had during the last eleven years of directing human rights study abroad projects in the Americas with students, community and government leaders, artists, and scholars. This is the first text I will assign in my transnational study projects in the United States and in other countries as well as in my regular on-campus classes that include students majoring in social science, humanities, and science.”

– Dr. Tamera Marko, Executive Director, Elma Lewis Center in the Social Justice Center, Emerson College, Founding President of Mobility Movilidad, Inc.

“Instead of guilting or shaming people when they become more aware of their privilege or wealth, Beyond Guilt Trips brings everyone along without erasing histories of oppression. With a generous spirit, Taranath holds space for both the learning of travelers and the dignity of the people they encounter, offering the possibility of meaningful mutual exchange.”

– Frances Lee, writer and cultural activist

Beyond Guilt Trips offers a consciousness-raising for travelers, even as it shows us ways to stay present and compassionate amidst a sea of potential confusion, doubt, and guilt.”

– Laurie Hovell McMillin, editor of Away Journal

“Without pretending that we can eliminate the complexities and contradictions of travel in an unequal world, Taranath provides thoughtful strategies, activities, and guiding questions to deconstruct guilt, stay present, and find joy so that we can build mindful, genuine relationships across difference.”

– Dr. Liz Mogford, Department of Sociology & Global Learning Programs, Western Washington University

Beyond Guilt Trips is a thought-provoking book that prepares the teacher and the student for a life-changing journey abroad. It helps prepare readers in a holistic way to look inward, deeply reflect, understand, and appreciate the issues of equity and social justice. The many real-life examples and the conversations narrated throughout help prepare travelers for an immersive experience and the opportunity to be a change-maker. A much needed contribution to the world of study abroad.”

– Bhargavi S. Rao, co-director and faculty, India Programs (International Honors Program 2002-2010, Minnesota Studies in International Development 2014-16 and Other Faculty led programs from USA and Europe since 2002)

Beyond Guilt Trips offers an insightful roadmap for those of us looking to engage—meaningfully and mindfully—with cultures that may not be familiar to us. Using relatable vignettes to weave a narrative, Taranath helps us navigate complex subjects like race, power, and privilege, without condescension or judgement.”

– Lakshmee Sharma, William J. Clinton Fellow, American India Foundation, consultant, Tata Centre for Development, research assistant, University of Chicago

“This book provides tools for navigating the most powerful part of the travel experience, the internal journey that occurs as we negotiate our multiple intersecting identities in a new context. Through narratives and reflection, Taranath defines mindful travel and illustrates the powerful ways that cross-cultural encounters can create space for intra- and inter-personal learning that can fuel social justice work. I look forward to using the observation tools, reflective questions, and discussion guides in this book to deepen my own travel experiences and to hold space together with my next study abroad cohort and deepen our learning.”

– Dr. David Wick, professor of International Education Management, Middlebury Institute

“Whether you’re a world traveler or someone who wishes to travel, Beyond Guilt Trips will open your eyes to the race and equity issues faced by both global visitors and the visited. The book is a guide to empathy, for understanding race, equity, and identity and the challenges they present in travel culture. These issues have always been there—it’s just inconvenient to think of them when we’re on vacation or delighting in new places. Taranath brings compassion to the discussion of how we can access humility as travelers.”

– Tracy Matsue Loeffelholz, editorial and creative director, YES! Magazine

“As a director of global service-learning programs, I cannot wait to get this book into the hands of my students. I would often spend half a trip trying to get them to move past the shame they feel, while still acknowledging that they feel it, and onto the myriad growth opportunities that await them. Beyond Guilt Trips has now become my pre-departure solution to that challenge.”

– Brian Buntz, Executive Director, Dream Volunteers

“I find this book immensely valuable for its scholarly yet deeply honest material. Her tone is conversational and she models the deep work she wants her readers to do before they embark on their trips. Discussing inequities and racial disparities often makes people defensive, but Taranath’s book compels us to approach difficult questions in community with one another. This book is valuable for anyone who is an educator, a student, a traveler, an NGO worker who might find themselves crossing borders.”

– International Examiner

“By sharing colorful stories and by asking probing questions, Taranath inspires critical reflection on the paradoxical politics of helping. If you struggle to challenge good intentions in the ethically-complicated arena of global service, this book helps reshape narratives around identity, power, and social hierarchies—and illustrates how to nurture more authentic human connections.”

– Benjamin J. Lough, faculty, School of Social Work, University of Illinois, lead researcher and writer, UN State of the World’s Volunteerism Report 2018

Beyond Guilt Trips helps students and teachers go beyond study abroad tourism and superficial international experiences with its frank and thoughtful discussions of race, cultural differences, and privilege. With examples from travels across the Global South by herself and former students, Taranath illustrates the importance of being open, reflective, and curious about one’s positionality, expectations, and prejudices, and how these attitudes affect everyone’s interactions with other cultures and peoples. This book will enrich and illuminate study abroad students’ experiences and lives, both during their trips and once they return home.”

– Dr. Stephen Bishop, Director of the International Studies Institute, University of New Mexico

Beyond Guilt Trips unpacks some of the biggest racial and cultural issues facing Westerners traveling abroad. In straightforward language, Taranath addresses white privilege, micro-aggressions, inequality, and the unspoken rules of race and economics that travelers face when visiting foreign cultures. Simple, necessary, and razor-sharp, this book is an accessible and friendly guide for anyone interested in learning how to ‘sit with discomfort.’”

– Adriana Paramo, author of Looking for Esperanza and My Mother’s Funeral

“Taranath offers the reader sympathetic understanding while firmly naming the realities and complexities of the unjust societies we inhabit and create. While she does not let us off the hook, she consistently brings us back to our shared humanity. I wish this book had been available when I first began to travel abroad.”

– Tina Lopes, co-author of Dancing On Live Embers: Challenging Racism in Organizations

“This is a must-read for anyone who wishes to travels the world lightly with deep care and respect for the various communities, people, and countries they visit.”

– Nana Darkoa Sekyiamah, African feminist writer and blogger

“Taranath illuminates perspectives that many of us seldom consider but are vital to our understanding of our neighbors and ourselves, both at home and abroad.”

– Larry Habegger, executive editor, Travelers’ Tales Books

“Taranath writes with eloquence while speaking truth to power. Beyond Guilt Trips has a rare blend of stories, research, and humility that invites readers to participate in our own journey while building a case for justice and courage. I look forward to using this book with the next group of students I support on a global experience of the heart and soul!”

– Aukeem Ballard, middle and high School vice-principal; race, equity, and mentoring consultant, doctoral student in education

Beyond Guilt Trips is a call to self-awareness and reflection. Taranath invites all of us to not just travel, but to engage in rich, honest, and critical conversations about identities and the nuances of our presence wherever we find ourselves.

– Onyinye Edeh, founder and director, Strong Enough Girls’ Empowerment Initiative (SEGEI), Kenya

“This is the guide I wished I’d had when first starting to travel the world as a young person. Packed with wisdom and useful tips, Beyond Guilt Trips should be in all campus libraries, youth hostels, and community organizations.”

– Faith Adiele, author of Meeting Faith and founder of VONA Travel Writing

“Taranath deftly unlocks a series of conversations critical to thoughtful engagement with the global community. Her approach unpacks many of the big picture challenges of travel in an unequal world while providing readers with lenses to assess and reflect on their place, space, and role. International education professionals struggling with ways to constructively prepare students for travel in transformative ways will find a positive and powerful tool in this text.”

– C.J. Hobson, Senior Director, Extension and International Programs, California State University Fullerton

“Anu’s writing never sugarcoats, but helps us speak about unequal structures, uncomfortable facts, and our own positions as we travel five or five thousand miles from what’s familiar. This isn’t just a book to read; it’s a way to walk in the world.”

– Dr. Peter Moran, former director, University of Washington Study Abroad Office

Beyond Guilt Trips is unapologetically critical for the well-intentioned, big-hearted traveller, volunteer, or student from the Global North hoping to make a difference in the “poor” Global South. From medical tourism to international volunteering, Beyond Guilt Trips invites dialogue and provokes conversation on the ethics and privilege concerning social justice advocacy in the developing world.”

– Dr. Veronica Fynn Bruey, Global Health & Law Scholar, Faculty of Law, University of Cape Coast, Ghana

“In Beyond Guilt Trips, Taranath invites us to ask difficult questions about ourselves and what it means to travel an unequal world. Through beautiful prose and illuminating stories, she helps us become comfortable with discomfort and dissatisfied with simple answers about what “global citizenship” means.”

– Dean Chahim, Anthropology, Stanford University

“Taranath unflinchingly confronts the awkward feelings of guilt, shame, and privilege that inevitably arise from international (and even inter-neighborhood) travel, and somehow manages to stare them down, deconstruct them, and take away their power. *Beyond Guilt Trips/8 is an essential companion to all those leading, engaging in, or contemplating travel, to ensure they will embark on an inward journey that mirrors the outward one.”

– Claire Bennett, co-author of Learning Service: The Essential Guide to Volunteer Travel

“A must-read for all global citizens, whether on a mission to save the world or simply to travel it!”

– Dr. Shafik Dharamsi, College of Health Sciences, University of Texas at El Paso

“At a time when it has become radical to ask ourselves what it means to be who we are, where we are, Beyond Guilt Trips holds space for these conversations where there wasn’t any before.”

– Bani Amor, queer travel writer

Beyond Guilt Trips provides an amazing opportunity for a deeper reflection of your identity, race, and positionality in different spaces and cultures. I highly recommend this book as a must-read!”

– Eric Opoku Agyemang, founder and National Coordinator, Patriots Ghana

“A must-read for travelers of all kinds: students abroad, volunteers, tourists, and business people will all be gracefully guided through the unexpected twists and turns of global travel. In Beyond Guilt Trips, Taranath’s insights sparkle as she provides practical ways of navigating the many forms of injustice we meet in our varied journeys. As our world continues down this path of increasing inequality, Taranath’s book will be worth returning to over and over again.”

– Shazia Rahman, author of Place and Postcolonial Ecofeminism

“When Mark Twain observed that travel was fatal to bigotry and narrow-mindedness, he somehow predicted we would have this wise and timely book in hand. Taranath shows us how to build a toolbox of keen observation, respectful engagement, and honest examination as we move among our neighborhoods as well as through our world.”

– David Fenner, Peace Corps Volunteer 1979-82, founding director, World Learning Oman Center, former assistant vice provost for international education, University of Washington

“This cathartic literary journey healed and absolved me of my own guilt and lifted the weight of responsibility by allowing me to be present and aware. Taranath gently reminded me—a social justice warrior—of the value of staying curious, being present, and holding space for everyone to come to the table.”

– Dr. Hannah Song, Senior Director for Diversity, California Institute for Technology (Caltech)

“As someone who helps prepare undergraduate students for life and service abroad through Peace Corps service, I welcome and appreciate Taranath’s work in Beyond Guilt Trips. The book is both thoughtful and thought-provoking and much needed as we prepare all students for global citizenship. I look forward to applying it in the classroom.”

– Karen Mauldin-Curtis, Director, Peace Corps Programs, Illinois Institute for Rural Affairs, Western Illinois University

“Though there are many books and guides that discuss the importance of being good eco-travelers, there are few that help us to be good “anthro-travelers.” Beyond Guilt Trips takes us deep into that world, providing tools for deeper awareness and engagement during our interactions with unfamiliar cultures and individuals. Taranath helps us to navigate our inner and outer journeys, and to return home with a profoundly enriched view of our world.”

– Jeff Greenwald, author of The Size of the World, Director of

“Taranath’s experiences of travel and those of her students form the basis for this fascinating analysis of the discomfort felt in crossing boundaries of privilege and identity. While fully acknowledging the history of domination that shapes such travel, she encourages us to cross those boundaries with awareness and to take the “journey from guilt to solidarity and action.” And she offers much practical advice for how to accomplish this.”

– Judith N. Lasker, PhD, author of Hoping to Help: The Promises and Pitfalls of Global Health Volunteering


Chapter I Before You Buy Your Ticket, Read This
Chapter II Luggage We Take with Us: Difference and Advantage
Chapter III Ticket Bought, Part One: Identity, Culture, and Race
Chapter IV Ticket Bought, Part Two: Friendship Across Difference
Chapter V I Thought I Was Here to Look at You: Story Clusters
Chapter VI Limits to Well-Intentioned Desire to Do Good: Politics of Help
Chapter VII Displace Guilt, Center Dignity, and Breathe: Strategies to Stay Present
Chapter VIII Helmet-to-Cheek: Go Small and Find Joy
Chapter IX Goings and Comings in an Unequal World: Journey Continues
Epilogue Night Here, Morning There
Appendix Especially for Educators, Program Directors, Leaders, and Coordinators