As a 20-something Latin woman who frequently travels abroad, and often alone, alumna Victoria Gonzalez sees herself as a cultural trailblazer. And as a travel writer and photographer who blogs about her journeys, Gonzalez encourages other young Latin women to blaze their own trails.
“I definitely got some pushback from my parents,” Gonzalez recalls of her early solo travels. “Being a Latina in the USA, a person of a different background, of a different story, it’s important to break expectations of what people think – of what kind of people we are, I guess. We’re also Americans, in so many ways.”
Gonzalez, who graduated in 2011, first traveled overseas by herself during her senior year at Rutgers, when she visited a classmate who was studying for a semester in Paris. Gonzalez had just turned 21. Paris enchanted. She was hooked. “That did it for me,” she says. “I knew I wanted to make travel a huge part of my life.”
And so she has. In the ensuing five years, her wanderlust has known few boundaries. From her home in Hackensack, New Jersey, Gonzalez has traveled throughout Europe and Central and South America, to Japan and Spain and Italy, to 30 countries in all, including Sweden – twice. “I have an obsession with Abba,” she confides.
Gonzalez finances her sojourns on the cheap. She works part time for a local party business and does freelance TV and video production in New York City. She travels in off-seasons, books flights at odd (and less costly) hours, avoids checking bags and finds free places to stay at couchsurfing.com.
On her blog, Open Air Pursuit, Gonzalez highlights her travels to historic sites and national parks. She also contributes to Travel Latina, a website featuring female travel writers from the Latin American and Caribbean diaspora. (Her family hails from Colombia.) Earlier this year the National Park Foundation named Gonzalez one of eight minority travel writers and photographers chosen to embark on guided tours of national parks and historic sites around San Francisco as part of Find Your Park Expedition.The project is designed to inspire more people from minority groups to visit America’s national parks. (The National Park Service’s most recent survey found just 22 percent of visitors to the park from underrepresented groups, who make up 37 percent of the population.) For Gonzalez, the mission hits home. “There needs to be a diversified image of who travels or who explores the outdoors,” she says. “I want to increase the visibility of people of color in these spheres so that individuals don’t feel limited or that something isn’t attainable simply because they don’t see others like them doing it.”
Gonzalez and her fellow millennials spent three days hiking and biking and “hanging out with park rangers” in Yosemite National Park. They visited the home of the naturalist and author John Muir in Martinez, California. And at the Rosie the Riveter World War II Home Front National Historical Park, Gonzalez met Marian Wynn, one of the many women who went to work during the war at the Navy shipyard in Richmond, California. “For me to meet her, a living piece of history, someone as iconic as Rosie the Riveter, was just unbelievable,” Gonzalez says.
Rutgers journalism professor Steven Miller, who once helped secure an internship at NBC for Gonzalez, first suggested that she start a travel blog. Miller says Gonzalez looks at life not as one large meal but more as a tasting table, and she’s determined to savor a full menu of experiences. “Victoria can do anything she wants,” Miller says, “and it seems like she’s trying to do everything she wants.”
It turns out one of those things is roller derby. When she’s not trotting the globe, Gonzalez dons her skates as a blocker for the Garden State Rollergirls, part of the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association. (Her roller derby moniker: Tacocat.) She also volunteers as a producer for WFTDA.tv, an online, broadcast roller derby video channel.
For Gonzalez, Open Air Pursuit represents a marriage of her passions for both museums and history. “I like finding places that really place special emphasis on physical context, and how these things help tell the story more than objects in a glass case,” she says. “That’s what I try to get across in my blog.”