In my inspirational traveler series, I want to highlight fellow travelers who defy the norm.
Has anyone ever truly reflected on how important the five senses are? Our senses are on high alert every second of every day, sending signals to our brains, incredibly. While it’s a mind blowing concept, it’s important to remember that not all of us are lucky enough to have a strong hold on all five.
Try to imagine what it would be like to go to a sports game, live concert or a movie theater without being able to hear. Does it seem a bit intimidating?
…What about traveling the world?
Stacey and Lilo, the two mega-babes behind the travel blog Deafinitely Wanderlust, are doing just that. I first came across their blog last year when I read a think-piece detailing how those of us in the Hearing community can help Deaf peers during a crisis. As I continued to read their blog, I fell in love with how raw, honest and badass these ladies are. I find it so encouraging when young women break out of their comfort zone and travel; Stacey and Lilo are doing it while also promoting Deaf Culture awareness.
The adventurous duo met in middle school in their home state of California and discovered their love of travel years later. They’ve traveled together to countries like South Korea, Japan, Singapore and Thailand, meeting fellow Deaf people along the way. These gals are totally fearless and certainly influential in the Deaf and travel communities.
Can you two tell me a little bit about yourselves?
Lilo: I am a California native. I am half Vietnamese and half Mexican, which I take a lot of pride in my multi-cultural backgrounds. I absolutely love coffee, pizza and chocolate. I can be quite social and talkative once you get to know me. I love talking to people because I think it’s important to hear everyone’s life stories as well as sharing mine in hope to spread awareness about Deaf culture. When I am not traveling, I like to catch up on my reading, spending time with my family, friends and my furbaby, Luke.
Stacey: I was born and raised in Los Angeles, California. I’m Mexican-American and love Selena (“Anything for Selena!”) I’m always open to learning different cultures and languages, including different sign languages. I can be shy and socially awkward at times but will really warm up once I become more comfortable. Traveling has been helping me with that too! I enjoy to try some different thrilling sports, although I’d be scared! Hang gliding is one of them! Ah, I’m a huge fan of Harry Potter, and I don’t suggest you ask me why I love Harry Potter, because I’ll just keep rambling on and on.
When did you fall in love with traveling? Do you have any specific memory or family member who inspired you to go out and see the world?
Lilo: Growing up, I have always done family vacations and I loved just being out there while learning about different cultures. It was my mom that taught me to believe that I can do anything regardless of me being Deaf. I never thought of the possibilities to explore the world (without my family or having to take vacations) until Stacey and I travelled together in 2014. From there, I knew I wanted to take on more and see what else does this world offer.
Stacey: I honestly first thought I’ve fallen in love with traveling as a child when I was visiting Mexico growing up; however, I realize that wasn’t really the case. I fell in love with traveling when I visited Hawaii with my family at the age 18. I was shocked that there are other people living on other side of the world, just living their own life. I mean, of course I see people living in Mexico, but it didn’t really cross of my mind that there are many diverse human beings in many other countries around the world until I see it myself. I didn’t think I’d ever get a chance to travel around the world. So, it got me more intrigued and thought what else is out there? I wanted to learn more about different cultures and learn from different people.
What made you want to start your blog Deafinitely Wanderlust?
Lilo: During our travels, we often meet many hearing travelers who were often surprised that Deaf can travel and they often asked us many questions based on our backgrounds. Also, we’ve had Deaf asking us how it’s possible to travel if they can’t hear or talk. There, it sparked the idea for us to build this blog in order to help inspire and spread Deaf awareness. If we can change one person’s perspectives, it’s a mission accomplished for us because I truly believe anyone are capable of doing anything regardless of disabilities, there’s always a way.
Stacey: One of the two goals is that I want to inspire Deaf and Hard of Hearing community that we are capable to travel, regardless of how the society perceives them – or even how they perceive themselves. Just because we don’t have the ability to hear, it doesn’t mean that we cannot travel. We are so much more than just not having an ability to hear. Not having the ability to hear does not relate to making judgements or other ways that we may assumed that will affect travels. Sure, we will face several obstacles, but we can go through it. We have resilience. I want to also share several stories and tips from Deaf perspective, because we have so many Hearing travelers, but can the Deaf community really relate to them? Can the Hearing community provide tips how to overcome barriers while traveling based on their hearing counterpart? Because we also do not only face language barrier but communication barrier too.
I grew up in a house that was very immersed within the Deaf community. I know that the Deaf culture and history in America is very unique and the community is very close and interconnected. Have you found that to be the same across the world?
Lilo: Actually through my experiences, I find it amazing how easy it is to relate and feel so connected to anyone in the Deaf community. Recently I visited a Deaf school in Guatemala, all I found was smile everywhere and such active participation from the children. I realized that they feel at home around other Deaf peers. As compared to myself who grew up in an Oral program (a program where they teach you how to talk with no accessibility to sign language), I was the only child who is Deaf in a hearing class. Even though I befriended some Hearing kids, they can never fully understand my struggles. I can totally see how much of a difference when one becomes involved in the Deaf community. It’s so much more than just a community. It’s a sense of belonging and that can be applied to anywhere in this world, which amazed me! I felt so welcome in the Deaf community in other countries and I know they would feel the same when they visit America.
Stacey: That’s a really great question, and I’m glad you asked that! There’s a term called, “Deafhood” in our community. It is a sense of feeling like you’re home. Several Deaf people around the world share many similar struggles: lack of communication with their Hearing parents, limited rights, struggling with their Deaf identity, etc. We do have some differences based on where we are from but every Deaf person is interconnected. Many Deaf people around the world share the same connection, “you understand me; I understand you” no matter where we are from.
Like Lilo, I’m obsessed with pizza! What is your guilty pleasure food when you’re traveling?
Lilo: Oooooooh Pizza for life! I am in very serious committed relationship with pizza haha. But if I had to choose another, it would be chocolate. I think it’s interesting how chocolate tastes quite differently in different countries.
Stacey: I’m quite obsessed with Boba Milk Tea – although it’s not really food, haha but I often try to find my way to look for boba milk tea if possible. Oddly, however, when I travel through different countries, my guilty pleasure change from one food/drink to another. Japan: ice cream. Taiwan: boba. Thailand: tangerine juice. Costa Rica: Smoothie.
You wake up tomorrow and you’re told you have an around-the-world ticket to anywhere you’d like. Name the top 3 places you’d visit on this trip. Why?
Lilo: Hmmm the top three places I would visit is Iceland to see the Northern Lights, the national parks in New Zealand and Africa to see wild animals on a safari. I actually want to see everything and go everywhere but I chose those three places because I really want to be able to experience in person since I know words and pictures won’t do them justice.
Stacey: Top three places, wow that’s pretty hard. Hmm, I believe I’d pick Peru, Papua New Guinea and Croatia. I’m really fascinated with Peruvian culture. I’m also fascinated with several national parks that they have there, the same goes for Croatia! You just have to check out the photos online! As for Papua New Guinea, I’m sure not many have thought about visiting PNG, but underrated or secluded countries often intrigue me. It makes me wonder what’s really there – how people are living there and its beauty of the country before tourism take over.
You guys have traveled quite a bit! What is your favorite city? Why?
Lilo: Ooooh, hmm well my favorite was Seoul because I love the culture there and the food.
Stacey: Seoul!!! I can’t really explain why, but I love the Deaf community there, how friendly people they are, and oh especially the vibe in Hongdae area. I love how people will stop by and relax to listen to musicians in Hongdae. I also love the street foods and how friendly they are when interacting me despite being Deaf.
Was it difficult to communicate with Deaf South Koreans or do the languages use similar signs? Did this interaction teach you anything? Also, I have to know: Did you enjoy the soju?!
Stacey: It wasn’t actually so difficult. I mean, at some points we were trying to figure out what we were trying to say to each other since our sign languages are vastly different. So, we mostly use gestures which is so much fun because we became so much more expressive. Some Deaf Koreans I met know International Sign Language, which is comprised of different international gestures & signs around the world – such as “hungry?” (rubbing your stomach in circular motion) and school/studying (by placing two palms facing front of your face, moving in horizontal motion for “reading”). Soju! Ah yes!!! I enjoyed it….with a chase. Haha, as long I have a coke or something fruity! I have to tell you that I definitely underestimated the “power of soju,” as I told my friends. I have average to high tolerate for alcohol, so soju really whipped the heck out of me one night, haha.
What is the most significant life lesson you’ve learned along your travels?
Lilo: I learned so many things from travel but the one ultimate lesson is to appreciate every opportunities and privileges you do have. When I traveled recently to Central America, I have learned so much about the Deaf community there and how their struggles there is quite different from our struggles in America. Even though we all faced oppression throughout our lives, there are some privileges that Deaf have that not many others do. For example, there are plenty of interpreters in America whereas it is not enough in Hong Kong. In Nicaragua, Deaf can’t drive but we can in America. We also have the American With Disabilities Act, known as ADA laws that protect us from being discriminated at work, school, etc. Not many other countries have laws to protect those with disabilities. Although the differences are similar for the hearing community, it is actually much harder for a Deaf community since we rely on more resources.
Stacey: Just like Lilo’s answer, I learned that as well. I also learned one simple life lesson from this Costa Rican man who loved sand so much. He didn’t necessarily need to explain about how to enjoy life, but his pure love for his country and sand taught me about loving and appreciating the simplicity in life, the simplicity that we often take it for granted. He rolled himself in the sand, laughing, smiling, telling me “life is beautiful” and telling me to have gratitude, to be in the moment, to live in the moment, to not forget you’re surrounded with. That very night was meaningful and powerful; maybe not to some people but it sparked an enlightenment. So since then, when I have some bad days, I thought back of that night and remind myself what I’ve learned.
Have you ever experienced any bullying or disrespect from others for being Deaf while you were traveling?
Lilo: Recently I have met a hearing traveler from Canada during my stay in Lake Atitlan, Guatemala. As we were talking and getting to know each other, he paused and told me, “No, you are not Deaf”. I said “Um, excuse me? I identify myself as Deaf, I can’t hear everything”. He proceeded to tell me, “But you can talk? Ok so can you hear this? can you hear that? I tried to explain to him that even though, yes I can hear a few things, I am still Deaf. I even told him that he has no idea how hard I am working just to try and understand what he was saying. He still refused to accept and acknowledged me being Deaf all, because I can talk. I was quite taken back how ignorant and disrespectful he was. Ultimately I could see that he wasn’t willing to listen nor change his mind so I left with frustration and hurt.
Stacey: Yes! There was a time when Lilo and I were in Singapore for a layover. When we checked in our bags for the next destination, the airline staff did not want to accommodate with us nor even try to accommodate with us. We wrote down in English, but the staff were shouting at Lilo and I “you can talk! You can talk!” She did not want to write it down or even try to ask someone to write it down in English (if she didn’t know herself). Lilo and I have never felt so dehumanized in our lives.
What is something you wish you could tell the hearing community in regards to Deaf travel or just being Deaf in general?
Lilo: Just listen and hear us out. Don’t treat us any differently, after all we are all humans. The hearing community are often surprised just how well we are adapted to our environment but you should still try to meet us half-way and adapt to our needs too, as for example, if we ask to repeat or write what you say, then do so. Don’t make it so hard for us when we are already accommodating with you. If you can learn sign language, even just the basic sign, you have no idea how much you can make someone’s day! 🙂
Stacey: I want to tell the Hearing community to try to be more open minded and listen what we need, such as accommodating with us. It may be a culture shock for many, which is completely understandable, but do not be afraid to ask and learn about our Deaf culture too. Many Deafs want to spread awareness and change how the society perceives the Deaf community. For example, just because some Deafs can talk and hear, it doesn’t necessary mean some Hearing people can assume that we are cured or “not Deaf.” I really appreciate when people ask questions, because they’re trying to learn about us.
Do you have any words of advice for other people across the world – Deaf and hearing – who might be afraid to travel on their own?
Lilo: Oh, I was a nervous wreck on my first backpacking trip to South Korea. It was very hard at first when you are travelling to the unknown. I would say: If you really want to travel and get out there, you can do it. The only person you are stopping is yourself. It’s totally understandable to be nervous and scared but the world isn’t such a scary place despite of what the media say. If you ever find yourself in a situation that you aren’t comfortable, then trust your guts. Otherwise, step outside of your comfort zone and see many indescribable beauty that this world has. If you really feel afraid, then I will definitely beginning with volunteering or joining a small tour group. You can do it.
Stacey: It’s not going to be easy to say, “I’ll buy a ticket and just travel on my own.” For some people, it takes time, taking baby steps – such as traveling with friends first and then start on their own. However, if you do know yourself or find yourself disliking traveling alone, don’t feel pressure to conform others who travel solo. What important is to explore the world for your own personal growth and even contribute back to the world by sharing your knowledge, help, etc. Because it’s your journey, not someone else’s.
Do you have any upcoming travel plans?
Lilo: I recently just got back from backpacking in Central America for two months. As of right now, I plan to travel and see the different national parks in America. I am spontaneous, so I could buy a plane ticket to elsewhere tomorrow, stay tuned to see where I head next 😉
Stacey: Although I’m not exactly so sure when I will travel again, I have my eyes on certain Asian countries. I want to finish most of it while I’m at it, and my top priorities are Bhutan, India and China 😉
If you are someone or have a friend who you think should be highlighted in this series, please feel free to contact me!