I am so thrilled to feature my next WWB Passioneer Rachel Parsons, who is founder and executive Producer of ‘The Peregrine Dame’. Have you caught her travel series on Public Television yet? You can find it on most PBS member-stations and Create TV. Hopefully we’ll see more of her nation-wide soon. If ever there was a woman who embodied the title of Passioneer, it is most definitely Rachel. When a friend brought her to my attention the first thing I thought is “oh she is a female Anthony Bourdain without the food focus’! I mean this to be a great complement, as I think Anthony is a fine journalist and an engaging storyteller. What makes him special to me, is his focus on culture, and willingness to understand the complexity of the cultures he explores. Food is just the conduit for him to learn more about cultures and people different from him. Okay well enough about Anthony, this is also what I find outstanding about Rachel Parsons too! In fact to illustrate my statement, I will share a blog post of hers entitled “Why Travel Will Save Our Species (if we do it right) so you can get a sense of her ‘beautiful mind’ before you watch her engaging persona in her series. I think you should follow Rachel, because even if you are not planning on globe-trotting any time soon, you will be inspired by her sense of adventure,competence, intelligence and courage. So let’s get to know our exciting Passioneer…
Lauroly Q- Welcome Rachel! How did you decide you would take your passion for travel and create your own travel show? More specifically, was it a passion for travel, or a passion for culture that inspired your enterprise? I think there are two different kinds of travelers. There are your traditional tourists and then there are your wanderers in search of meaning and connection. But wait before you answer that, I wanted to share the meaning of your brand name ‘The Peregrine Dame’ for our readers because ‘Peregrine’ has different meanings but the more recent meaning sheds light on your inner spirit!
PEREGRINE: The current meaning of “peregrine” has wandered a bit from its earlier meanings. The word originally meant “foreign,” as did its Latin predecessor peregrinus. But even before “peregrine” appeared on its own in English, it was part of the name of that well-known bird of prey, the peregrine falcon. The bird’s appellation derives from “falco peregrinus” – literally, “pilgrim falcon” in Medieval Latin. Peregrine falcons typically nest in high places, such as on cliff ledges or, in modern times, city skyscrapers. Because of the nests’ inaccessibility, medieval falconers who wanted young peregrine falcons to train had capture them on their first flights or migratory “pilgrimages.” That practice led to a new sense of “peregrine” (“engaged in or traveling on a pilgrimage”), which was later broadened to “wandering.”
Rachel Parsons:Neither. It was my intense interest in fighting the ignorance and xenophobia I encountered here in the United States. When I came home from my first trip abroad alone, before the show was an idea, I told people what I’d done and I had a lot of responses along the lines of “That sounds dangerous, weren’t you afraid?” Interestingly, I got more of that kind of response from men than women. I suppose then that it was my passion for changing my own culture that was part of the impetus. The other factor was that I worked in scripted television and film for many years in different capacities, and I got tired of telling fictional stories and stories I didn’t care about. I wanted to work in documentary-style television but had no contacts in that area of the business, so I made my own project. It became important to me to show a wider American audience that the world is not nearly as scary as mainstream media would have us believe. That it’s all right to go out alone, your experience will be richer for it.
Lauroly Q- You just made me think of another broad minded Passioneer, Eleanor Roosevelt. Her quote ‘to reach out eagerly without fear for newer richer experience’ speaks to your passionate project. Here is another ‘passioneer’ trait you have. I read in one of your Facebook posts that you only pick places to travel you genuinely like and have a real curiosity about. What attracts you to certain places and cultures? Did you start out with a bucket list or has it unfolded a little more serendipitously?
Rachel Parsons: I’ve never had a bucket list. For the purposes of filming a series, sometimes locations come down to what’s efficient for the shooting schedule. But broadly, I’ve been fortunate to have been exposed to many different cultures in the U.S., and certain things certainly draw me to certain places. I only wanted to go film in Buenos Aires, in the first season, because I’d been studying Argentine tango at home, and I was very interested in Eva Peron’s life. I wanted to go dance. Some news stories definitely affected my desire to go to at least two of the locations for the second season which was filmed in Southeast Asia. I wanted to see the rebuilding efforts in Tacloban, Philippines, after Typhoon Haiyan’s destruction, with my own eyes. I also wanted to know what people in Myanmar were anticipating in the run-up to their first (mostly) fair general election in the past 25 years. My personal interests always spur the overall plan. When you’re new to travel, particularly solo travel, you have to go to places that really excite you. Otherwise, you’ll lose enthusiasm early on and that’s a killer. The thing is the more you go, more places you never even thought of start to become attractive.
Lauroly Q- When you travel and immerse yourself into a culture, do you feel changed by your experiences? I would imagine as a journalist you maintain a certain amount of objectivity, but what makes the world traveler different from a tourist?
Rachel Parsons:I have definitely been changed by my experiences. I am a less cynical, more accepting human than I was. And I began life as a very cynical human. Being on the other side of the world alone has made me realize that I have to extend trust to total strangers. I was fortunate to be a self-reliant sort already, but traveling has made me rely on people I don’t know in a way that has elevated my opinion of humanity. Travelers generally reach out to and trust others more. We’re not naïve, or gullible, I think we’re the opposite, actually, but for me, it’s been transforming. Unless you’re reporting on the business of travel, there is no objectivity in travel journalism. It’s all subjective. I’ve studied journalism and anthropology, both disciplines that train objectivity into people.
So yes, I look at aspects of some cultures in a more objective way and try to really understand the root cause. Like being in a massively overpopulated country where people cut in lines all the time. My knee-jerk American POV is that it’s rude and I get irritated. But seeing overpopulation firsthand makes me understand that it’s not rude in that society, it’s a survival mechanism. No one would get anything done in any reasonable amount of time if everyone let everyone else go first. That’s a gross simplification, but it illustrates the cultural perception issue. And yes, it’s the tourist who will piss and moan about being cut in front of, and the seasoned traveler that will understand the behavior in its context. Still doesn’t mean I love it, but I get it and it’s the understanding that develops tolerance and that’s the point of travel, for me.
LaurolyQ- What world culture has made the biggest impression on you? Is there one culture that has imparted wisdom meaningful to you?
Rachel Parsons:The thing that has made the biggest impression on me has been the deep similarities between all the cultures I’ve experienced. They’ve all given me something, but the striking thing I’ve taken away from going around the world a couple times now is that we are all much more alike than we are different. And people will say, “Yeah, right,” but it’s true. Most of the time, people in vastly different cultures want the same basic things: if they have family, it’s to be able to take care of themselves and their loved ones; to live in safety; to be able to do something fulfilling with their time; to be healthy. We focus so much on the differences, but they are negligible compared to what ordinary people actually want. I guess the short answer then is that THE world culture has made the biggest impression.
Lauroly Q– What a great answer! I feel my own international travel definitely contributed to a wider world view and a less ‘myopic’ perspective as well. In some sense our experiences and the people we meet along the way do shape us don’t they?
Rachel Parsons:Yes. I think in most senses our experience and the people we meet shape us. Even trivial interaction. If someone is rude to us for two seconds in the morning getting on the subway, for many of us, half our day is spent agitated and angry. That’s the negative influence shaping our mood, our outlook. On the positive side, I’ve been incredibly lucky to be touched by overwhelmingly positive experiences and people in every aspect of my life, but especially traveling. I know bad things can happen, but I’ve had a wonderful run with people all over the world being kind and open and welcoming and curious. It has challenged and shaped my world view, for sure. For the better, in my case.
Lauroly Q- So true and wise Rachel. Our daily interactions do add up and matter. That’s why I think manners and civility matters so much. Okay now for a more practical question. For the many women who may be thinking of traveling solo, what are your top 3 best tips for them to take seriously before they embark on a trip?
Rachel Parsons:Trust instinct, not imagination. Instinct is instant and accurate, imagination is that monster that will convince you that all the terrible things out there will get you. That’s what creates the fear that prevents people from doing what they want to do. I studied a street-based mixed martial art for many years. If it’s something that will make you feel more secure, go take some self-defense classes. My rule of thumb is that I am no more nor less aware of my surroundings when traveling than when I am at home. I live in L.A., so a higher level of awareness is appropriate when I’m home.
Listen to locals when you get to a city, not to the Americans that have only heard that a place is dangerous but never been there. Lastly, remember that for most of us, we live in the most dangerous country we will ever visit. Unless a person is really keen to visit a war zone, there is a higher rate of violent crime in most of our American cities than in many of the places I’ve traveled. I say this with respect for people who have had bad experiences and I know I have a higher tolerance for risk than some, but the best tip is to use your common sense.
Lauroly Closing-Thank you so much for wandering over to World Wise Beauty Rachel! You are a true World Wise Beauty and I hope you come back and visit often! I will be looking out for your public television series and I hope others with a passion for travel and culture follow The Peregrine Dame. I know there are wonderful outtakes and extras to catch right now on your site. Your work is worldly, wise and very PASSIONATE!
Rachel Parsons: Thank you! I’m happy to be a part of the community, it’s been a kick! The second season of The Peregrine Dame will come to public television stations nationwide later this year. Follow me on Facebook for updates!