Content Creator, Travel Blogger and Travel Photographer

She’s passionate, adventurous, and creative

a photo of a smiling Gretchen Kingma

Q. Share with us a bit about your childhood/background.

A. I was born in Los Angeles as a first generation Mexican-American, and I’m the only deaf child in my family. Since the age of 2, I learned American Sign Language (ASL) and grew up in both worlds: the deaf world and the hearing world (hearing refers to people who are not deaf, hard of hearing or have any hearing loss). I am now a content creator, travel blogger and travel photographer behind deafinitelywanderlust.com  

Q. What influenced your decision to travel and share your experiences with the world?

A. Growing up, I’ve always been proud to be Deaf, yet  I’ve also internalized some ableism and fears from other people, such as questioning whether it’s possible for me to travel (even traveling with another deaf person). During my every childhood year, I visited Mexico along with my family and always wanted to explore out on my own. I was curious about everything, but my family were fearful due to different reasons (including due being deaf). When I was 18, I visited Hawai’i with my family – and it was just surreal. I’d never thought I’d be almost the other side of the world…to see a different walk of life, people living there, different nature and everything. It was the start of a wanderlust – I wanted to see more. 

Fast-forward to after graduating as an undergrad, I decided to jump into my desire to see the world (along with another deaf person). I researched a lot through different travel blogs, there are a little to no information about traveling while deaf. I cannot just relate to abled and hearing travel bloggers about my fears, communication strategies, etc. Eventually, I came to realize that I could share my experiences with the world, including the deaf communities. 

Q. What impact do you hope to have on your audience?

A. While there are so many reasons, it’s ultimately because I wanted to start living my own life. I’ve grown up living for others, as well as internalizing others’ fears – especially as a Deaf woman. Ever since I started traveling, I became so passionate into sharing with the world about the people I meet, the communication tools that I use to navigate – there is just not enough information about it online, nor do I really see someone that represent me in the travel industry. With my platform, I hope that deaf people are inspired and empowered to travel (if they have the privilege to), despite how the world is designed for abled community.  

 

Q. You are a confident young lady, living an active life. To what do you attribute your confidence?

A. Thank you! I’m not always quite confident, to be honest – but I do often try to be and continuously work and learn on the go. This is a real good question. I think it’s really come down to my personal epiphany, “do I want to keep living in fear and died with regrets? Or do I want to take a leap of faith and live with stories?”. It’s also really empowering to meet or connect with other deaf women who love traveling, whether solo or not. It’s really empowering to see that! 

Q. What are some of the travel challenges you have faced as an individual who is deaf?

A. The world is universally designed for the abled people, not for disabled communities. Thus, there are a lot of areas that need to work on its accessibility – such as having not having sign language tour for different attractions (especially when the attractions require tours) or even a closed captioning or transcript available. There is also transportation, such as bus or train. It’s generally heavily audio-centric experience. They’d make announcement verbally or through the speaker, so I always have to keep my eyes open and study the behaviors of the local people and ask them directly about my transportation. 

Q. Have you ever faced discrimination as a person with an invisible disability? If so, how has it affected your perspective of the world?

A. Yes, a couple of times in different situations. I was rejected to volunteer a local wildlife conservation in another country, whereas other abled travelers were able to experience – despite having some experiences myself back in the states. Another memory that came to mind is having staying at host’s place, and that host wasn’t respectful with me. He kept saying never mind when I asked him to repeat, and he made fun of sign language by mimicking it and laughed right in my face. At some points, it can be annoying because their behaviors can be dehumanizing, but generally – what I see is the local cultural beliefs and lack of awareness are some of the main factors that I cannot expect every single person in the world to know about it. Traveling allows me to meet different people, show them that we, deaf people, exist too – and share some educational information about our communities.

Q. What advice can you give to other young people who are interested in traveling the world but are hesitant because of their disability?

A. The world may be designed for the abled people – unsurprisingly, even your own region/state or country. Do take some steps that personally work for YOU, because you know what works for you best – such as starting to travel domestically/internationally with another friend, and research about other regions or countries to figure out the logistics to navigate the inaccessible world – but honestly, the world is worth seeing to face your fears and learn how to navigate it with your disability. 

You can connect with your disabled community about traveling, even in other countries! That’s one of the ways I do, and I still do! 

Do feel free to connect with me on Instagram, @deafinitelywanderlust, to share your stories with me! We need more disabled travelers to be seen and heard in the travel industry!