Peak Travel Pilot Transcript

We are in the early stages of Peak Travel, and we need your input to help develop the show. Your insights and ideas will help us shape the series, ensuring that it’s informative and entertaining. Please listen to the pilot episode, and share your honest opinions and insights in this survey.

TARIRO MZEZEWA, HOST: What happens to a city when entire neighborhoods of people can no longer afford to live in their homes? Or to a culture, when generations of families are forced to move?

ALEXANDRA DUNNET: Every single apartment is an Airbnb now, so you can’t live anywhere.

TM: Alexandra Dunnet was born and raised in Mexico City. In 2017, she found her dream home: a two-bedroom apartment in the Condesa neighborhood. It ran her 9,000 pesos a month — about 500 U.S. dollars. She was part of a thriving community. Some of the neighbors had lived there for decades. They would meet up at locally owned taquerias and coffee shops.


AD: Those places were filled with stories, like my first date, the first time I had a fight with my best friend. Those were the spots, because that was the life.

TM: But in 2021, her landlord told everyone in the building that their leases wouldn’t be renewed. One by one, each tenant was forced to leave. The apartments were remodeled, and soon, they were occupied not by Mexico City residents — but by Americans and other foreigners.

AD: They turn it into this, like, pretentious. Mexican, but not really, boutique Airbnb hotel for like digital nomads. And it was very depressing because, like, you would see them going in and they would just like, like they wouldn’t even say hello.

TM: These new tenants also drove the rent way up.

AD: And it was shocking because it was like about $5,000 a month, while I was paying $500. And like, the same flat, the exact same flat than mine.

TM: It wasn’t just Alexandra’s building. This rapid turnover was spreading — especially in popular neighborhoods at the center of the city, like Roma and Condesa.

The apparent culprit? Foreigners who could afford to work remotely. They’d stay for six months or a year at a time, bringing their high salaries to a city with cheaper rent and fewer rights for tenants. They came in, and — whether they meant to or not — displaced people.

AD: And now because of like, some f—ing bunch of gringos want to come here, like, give yourself the experience to live in Mexico City, it’s like now you’re ruining lives in a way, like you’re destroying lives.


TM: This is Peak Travel, a new podcast from WHYY about how travel shapes local communities around the world. We’ll share the wonder and awe that comes with exploring new places, as well as the profound harm that our travel habits can cause. And we’ll try to figure out how we can do it better.

I’m your host, Tariro Mzezewa. I’m from Zimbabwe; I grew up near Washington, D.C. and I’ve lived in LA, Rome, New York and Atlanta.

Travel is part of who I am. My earliest memories are road tripping from Harare to Durban with my family; standing in front of Victoria Falls in total awe, and later, getting on a plane to leave an increasingly unstable country, with the hope of finding opportunity in another.

In my work as a travel journalist, I’ve talked to influencers, politicians and leaders of tourism boards. I’ve also interviewed performers on cruise ships, safari guides, hotel housekeepers and airport restaurant workers. I’ve come to realize that though travel can offer personal fulfillment, it often comes at a cost.


When Mark Twain wrote that, “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness,” I don’t think he had influencers flooding his Instagram feed.


The truth is the modern day travel industry is selling us a fantasy: bungalows in the Maldives, bamboo treehouses in Bali, or bottomless rum and cokes at all-inclusive resorts in the Caribbean.

Worse yet, “Must-see” lists and TikTok trends are leading us all to the same angel-wing murals and pastel-colored homes. But these Top Ten lists have a real impact on people’s livelihoods, and the planet. So, what can we do about it?

In this episode we’re exploring this question in one of the most beautiful cities on earth. Nestled in the Sierra Madre mountains, with balmy weather year-round and bustling streets filled with song, Mexico City is the oldest and most populous city in North America. But it’s currently in a housing crisis, fueled by travel.

EMILIANO RUPRAH: Often people who visit Mexico speak of a country that’s kind of imbued with a sense of magic realism, where nothing is what it seems. And it’s true. It has that aspect where you could walk into a street and find yourself in an incredible garden, or visit the home of a famous painter.

TM: Emiliano Ruprah grew up here. He treasures what the city once was.


ER: One of my earliest memories is walking along the street with my mom and passing by all these ,like, little mom and pop shops. There was the carpenter. There was the shoe shiner. There was the tortilla stand, and you could smell, like, the sweet smoky corn being processed into tortillas. I remember a lot of street salesmen selling candy that smelled like mango or tamarind, always covered with, like, a dust of chili and lime powder.


And then the other element is the sounds, like the organilleros who have these organs, which they churn and make this really kind of sad music, or the flutesman, or the lone saxophonists, or the mariachis, you know, wailing out as they walk down the street.


TM: But thanks to social media, the rest of the world got wind of what a well-kept secret the city was. Corporations bought in, airlines added routes there and, naturally, tourists came. When they arrived, things started changing. The city began catering to the visitors.

RACHEL LANGLEY: I’m Rachel Langley. I’m from Austin, Texas originally, and I’m 32. And I live in Mexico City. I’ve been there since 2018.

TM: Rachel started out as one of these visitors. She first came on a six-month tourist visa, and she never left.

RL: What has kept me in Mexico for as long as I’ve been here is just this sense of trust here that I don’t, I never experienced in the U.S.

TM: At first, she didn’t realize the impact her presence could have on her neighbors.

RL: At that time I didn’t see it as a place that was being necessarily gentrified, and that was like a little bit of my own ignorance to what was going on in the city at that time.

TM: What began as a trickle turned to a flood. Instead of regulating the wave of foreigners, the government dove in head first.

CLAUDIA SHEINBAUM PARDO: Y están muy contentos ayer se presentó aquí en la Ciudad de México, una alianza entre el gobierno en la Ciudad de México, Airbnb y UNESCO para promover a la Ciudad de México como capital del turismo creativo…

TM: In 2022, Mexico City’s then-mayor, Claudia Sheinbaum Pardo, signed a deal making the city an official partner of American tech giant Airbnb. They said their goal was to, quote, “promote the city as a global hub for remote workers.”

On some level, the deal made sense. The pandemic hit city governments across the world hard — and local officials expected the partnership would bring Mexico City an influx of $1.4 billion. Sheinbaum Pardo promised that new money would trickle down to native residents.

News of the deal immediately went viral, worldwide.



Emiliano has seen the effects firsthand in his neighborhood.

ER: Think of the difference of a city where, for years, the tenant and the homeowner knew each other. When a corporation takes over buildings and apartments and kind of rules from the outside, that dynamic completely changes.

TM: Alexandra also felt the shift — in big ways, like losing the apartment she loved…

AD: I was so scared. It’s like, where am I going to live? Like, if everything is this expensive, what am I going to do?

TM: And in her everyday life. It’s been frustrating.

AD: I was, I went to this one the other day and they gave me, um, a menu in English, and I was like, are you serious? As I am in Mexico, I would like to read the menu in my own language. Thank you very much.

TM: Eventually, Alexandra moved in with a friend. But she misses her old neighbors.

AD: It’s like a thing that I don’t allow myself to think about very much, because I find it very painful. It’s not just like you lose a flat. You lose a life.

TM: We reached out to Airbnb and the Mexico City government for comment. Neither of them got back to us.

Since the mayor announced the partnership, she has walked it back — saying she never intended for rents to rise, and that she would consider regulating Airbnb.

Still, what happened to Alexandra’s building is now common in Mexico City. In the last two decades, the number of short-term rentals has more than tripled — from about 22,000 units to nearly 72,000. At the same time, more than 20,000 low-income families are forced to leave the city every year because there isn’t enough affordable housing.
Sometimes, the stakes are life and death.

ESTI ROMERO: My name is Esti Romero.

TM: Esti grew up between Dallas, Texas and Mexico City — where she says she was…

ER: …always at my grandmother’s house. She lived there my entire life up until the very end. My whole family has lived in that neighborhood for, like, over 50 years.

TM: Like many grandmothers, Esti’s abuela had a lot of influence in her community.


ER: Her name was Olivia Romero Garcia. And this woman always had her lipstick on, always had her nails done. She was very famous for the amount of blush that she would put on every day. They called her La Chappy, which is just a way to say blush in Spanish.

TM: She wasn’t just known for her looks. Esti’s grandmother was genuine and giving.

ER: No one ever went hungry around her, or if anybody needed a night to stay at her house, she was always that person.

TM: Her home was a gathering place for Esti’s family for generations.

Esti: My family would throw a party for, like, the opening of an envelope like. We always wanted to be together.

TM: Then, the city started to change before Esti’s eyes.

ER: I started noticing that there was a lot more people who were international coming to Mexico City. And I was like, okay, you know, this happens all the time. But they go back.

TM: The tourists seemed to be staying much longer. And soon, their presence would affect her family directly.

ER: My grandmother never owned her home. The landlord that she had for most of her life passed away and left the property to his daughter. She almost wanted to start over with the building.

TM: The new landlord raised the rent multiple times. But Esti’s grandmother wasn’t going to leave without a fight. She was the last tenant remaining in the building.

ER: And it came to a point where she just literally asked my grandmother for the house. She said she had all these plans for it to make it a short-term rental. And that day was a very, very dark day. You know, we got the call, and I thought someone had died. Because we knew what it meant.

TM: It meant that the life Esti and her family shared would be permanently upended.

ER: She was, you know, an older woman. She had advancing dementia. And she moved into a, basically a studio. Tiny. Really, really tiny. And that was really like the beginning of the end for my grandmother. As soon as she moved, her dementia just got… It happened so quickly. And she had a cardiac event and passed away.


It was so sad because we all grew up there, like we all grew up at my grandmother’s house. And she had lived there for so long.

TM: Coming up on Peak Travel, we’ll hear about the policies that are forcing displacement in Mexico City, and how travelers can visit without making life harder for locals. That’s after the break.


We are in the early stages of Peak Travel, and we need your input to help develop the show. Your insights and ideas will help us shape the series, ensuring that it’s informative and entertaining. Please listen to the pilot episode, and share your honest opinions and insights in this survey.

CARLA ESCOFFIE: We were really mad, because the Mexican government, they are doing an agreement without even knowing how this is going to affect the people in Mexico City.

TM: That’s Carla Escoffie, a housing advocate for tenants across Mexico.

CE: And I deal mostly with cases that involve a right of housing.
TM: When the city announced it was partnering with Airbnb, Carla was shocked.


CE: Obviously, my reaction, I think most of the people and mostly from Mexico City, was frustration.

TM: To Carla, the city was neglecting its citizens for profit.

CE: The problem is that the government of Mexico City, it’s not that they just haven’t regulated Airbnb, but they are promoting Airbnb. So the situation is like really, it’s really sad.

TM: But then, people started to push back.


CE: There was a protest in Mexico, a march in Mexico City for their right of housing. It was the first time that this new generation, the young generation, take the streets to protest because of the right of housing.

TM: Rosalba Loyde studies urban sociology and the emergence of Airbnb in Mexico City. She agrees with Carla, and says that activists and residents are fighting two connected battles: one against Airbnb, and another for housing rights and protections for tenants.

ROSALBA LOYDE [TRANSLATED FROM SPANISH]: So, when a foreigner arrives and says, ‘I’m going to pay you in dollars,’ and he’s also light-skinned and has light-colored eyes and speaks English, well, it’s easier to rent to that person than to give it to someone in the city.

TM: She doesn’t think digital nomads are to blame. The real problem is the system, which lures visitors and prioritizes them by making it easy to settle without regulation.

RL [TRANSLATED FROM SPANISH]: I always say that the issue is with foreigners because we can put a face to them, right? They do have a face and we can point the finger at them like, oh the problem is the one coming here, right? Rather than understanding the processes of, well, the system, how public policies have worked, how the financial system works at a global level, how technology works a little bit, and those things don’t have a face, right? So we fight more with what we can point to.

TM: Rosalba and Carla say tenant rights in Mexico have been neglected for far too long. There’s no public housing system, and no fair housing authority like in the U.S. That makes it easy for landlords to dissolve leases, evict locals at a moment’s notice — and replace them with higher-earning foreigners who can pay more in rent.

RL [TRANSLATED FROM SPANISH]: We don’t know who rents in Mexico City, who are the landlords, right? How many, how many houses do you have? And how many apartments? The issue of paying income taxes on real estate for housing in Mexico City is opaque. We don’t have any information.

TM: Other cities have taken a tougher stance when it comes to regulating Airbnb. Montreal banned them in some neighborhoods entirely to preserve housing for residents. New York City requires Airbnb owners to register their properties, and prove that they live in the units with their guests. If they don’t, they can be fined thousands of dollars.

Carla says Mexico City’s not just losing residents to the Airbnb boom. The city is also losing what makes it special. Many locals say they feel like their home is being taken over by tourists.

CE: I think when people say colonization, it’s because they’re feeling that something is getting lost, that they are not going to get back. A lot of people in social media are saying that they are scared because right now the salsas in the restaurants and in the taquerias is not spicy anymore. They are feeling like foreign people in their own city.

TM: Rachel, who moved to Mexico City in 2018, has become more and more conscious of the dynamic she’s involved in, especially after living in a rapidly gentrifying part of town.

RL: I didn’t really love taking up space there, you know? I was like, ‘I’m just one other white woman taking up an apartment in this neighborhood.’


TM: She’s trying to do it better. Rachel has become fluent in Spanish. She’s working toward her citizenship and has a Mexican ID. She wants to invest back into the country that she’s been living in. Housing advocates say that this self-awareness is a good start.

RL [TRANSLATED FROM SPANISH]: I think it would be worth it if when, when that migratory process occurs, they recognize, let’s say, what process they’re participating in and how they’re inserting themselves into the city where they are doing it.

CE: If you’re going to move someplace, you have also to make an effort to understand that sad part, because any city, any place has problems, has social and political problems.

TM: But ultimately, it’s up to elected officials to clean up the mess.

AD: It’s like, oh wow, how exciting that you get to work and also live in Rome for three months. That sounds like a dream, obviously. I mean, I don’t blame them. I would be in the same position, but I think it’s our government’s responsibility to make sure that the people that live in Mexico are taken care of, and their rights are being protected.

TM: After the break, we’ll talk to a travel journalist who’s seen the industry evolve firsthand, and get some guidance on how we can travel more ethically. That’s coming up, on Peak Travel.


TM: After learning what’s going on in Mexico City, I wanted to find out how widespread this problem is, and what travelers should do differently. So I called my friend Sebastian Modak.

Thanks for joining us. I want to talk to you about so many things. I’m kind of overwhelmed about where to start, because I’m just like, I feel like we’re so lucky we got you.

SEBASTIAN MODAK: Likewise. It’s good to be here.

TM: Sebastian is a travel writer from Brooklyn. In this episode, he’s going to help us unpack the themes we’ll be exploring for the rest of the season — how special travel can be, and also how we can try to do it without hurting people. He said he’s not surprised that Mexico City is struggling.

SM: It’s frustrating to see this happening so rapidly, and with such a huge impact in Mexico City, because it’s happened already in so many other places that I feel like, why haven’t we learned from this?


TM: He’s keenly aware of the harmful effects the internet can have on our wanderlust.

SM: We have been told through travel journalists like me, through social media, etc., that to be a quote-unquote traveler is to go to a certain list of places.

TM: And how it distorts our expectations and experiences.

SM: I think it leads directly to places being overrun, It leads to, that like expectation, reality dichotomy that you see in places like Bali where it’s someone riding a swing over fields of rice paddies, and you turn the camera around and it’s a line of tourists trying to get that exact same shot.

TM: This new reality paints a bleak picture of our romantic ideals.

SM: Can you think of anything more horrific for tourism than a machine that is just telling you what to do based on what everyone else on the Internet is already doing and saying? Like that is the exact antithesis to why we should be traveling.

TM: Sebastian feels it’s critical to consider the reason for a trip before you book it.

SM: A big part of it I think is down to intentionality, right? Like, I think it’s like, you’re asking yourself why before, hopefully, you’re asking yourself where.

TM: And prioritize connecting with others, over sharing your trip on social.

SM: The more I travel, the more I think that the true luxury is access. Having that connection to someone who’s going to show you something that they might not show everyone, anyone else, creating that real human connection. That, to me, feels way more like a luxury than, I don’t know, a $1,400 a night hotel room with a waterfall shower.

TM: This opportunity to build relationships, learn a new language, and change your perspective, Sebastian says it’s why we shouldn’t just stop traveling.

SM: Absolutely not. I shudder to imagine a world without the cross-cultural exchange, the interactions, the mutual understanding that comes out of travel. We’re better people when we travel and we interact with the world around us. I just think we have to think a little deeper about how and when we do it.


TM: This season on Peak Travel


RODNEY PASKO: Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, the lounge car is once again open and serving.

CADEN OINE: It’s mind blowing on what the train can do.

TM: … We’re going to travel all around the world, to destinations near and far.


Like Hawaii, a place whose identity has been shaped by the colonial roots of travel…

HAWAII RESIDENT: The irony of it all is that the thing that caused the demise of our culture and our people and our way of living is what we are forced to thrive with today.

TM: Which is?


HAWAII RESIDENT: Just take a walk down Kalakaua Avenue and how many of those accommodations are locally owned?

TM: And Swedish Lapland, where Indigenous people have started to profit from their own centuries-old traditions…

REINDEER HERDER: I have found out it’s good to meet people from all around the world. And I tell about Sámi culture, tell about the reindeer herding.

TM: We consider our responsibility in protecting the places that we visit, like Australia’s Great Barrier Reef.

MARINE BIOLOGIST: It’s so important that we save this. It’s, there are so many animals that are relying on us to not ruin what we have.
TM: And we’ll experience wonder from breathtaking sites across the globe,


TM: That’s coming up this season, on Peak Travel.

SM: Oh, my God.


TM: This is Peak Travel. I’m your host, Tariro Mzezewa. Our producers are Michael Olcott and Michaela Winberg. Our executive producer is Tom Grahsler. Original music and sound design by Catherine Anderson. Our engineers are Charlie Kaier and Tina Kalikay. Our tile art was made by Nick Rogacki.

Special thanks to Naomi Brito, Danya Henninger, Jordan Levy, Therese Madden, Sarah Moses, Asha Prihar, Sophia Schmidt, Kayla Watkins and Avi Wolfman-Arent.

Peak Travel is a production of WHYY. Find us wherever you get your podcasts.

We are in the early stages of Peak Travel, and we need your input to help develop the show. Your insights and ideas will help us shape the series, ensuring that it’s informative and entertaining. Please listen to the pilot episode, and share your honest opinions and insights in this survey.

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