“I am not the same, having seen the moon shine on the other side of the world.”
– Mary Anne Radmacher
One of the things that I enjoy talking about is travelling. I’m a proud geek when it comes to facts of geography, history, anthropology, international relations and philosophy. In short I love people. Their stories, their struggles, their languages, their cultures, their food, their existence! This is the primary reason why I love to travel. I grew up in a family who didn’t care for travelling unless it was going Back Home, probably because it was deemed as an unnecessary extravagance. After all why travel when you can use that money to buy something that was tangible and essential, I could hear my mother say. But I always NEEDED to travel. The urge and curiosity has always been an intrinsic part of me.
The first time I stepped on a plane I was 18, it was my first trip to the Motherland. Whilst on the plane I watched Disney’s The Lion King, which I thought was ever so fitting for the journey I was about to embark. Forward many years later and I only went to a handful other intra-continental destinations. Multiple trips to Spain (any excuse to speak Spanish) and a few other places in Europe was all the travel exposure I had (which may sound like a lot but most European cities are a stone throw away from London). I began to feel despondent as I heard tales of friends and witnessed via social media everyone else was travelling far and wide but me. But time and time again I would make excuses as to why I couldn’t travel; conflicting schedule with friends, lack of funds, not the right time etc. Then I realised two things, there is no such thing as the right time and I could certainly go by myself. And just like that I started travelling solo.
Many of the common reasons that others give for their love of travelling I don’t subscribe to; I don’t travel to find myself. Even though I love to eat I wouldn’t consider myself a discerning foodie. I don’t necessarily believe that the path to self-discovery has to take place thousands of miles away from home. I’m certainly not interested in getting that one picture of me hugging coloured children and prove how humanitarian I am via social media. My reasons for travelling are very simple, and in some ways may be more complex. Here are just a few:
I travel simply to exist in a different part of the world. That’s it! Just to exist and hold no real expectations of that particular country. Being in a different country is like listening to a different genre of music. A different tempo, style and melody and yet it is still a rhythm that excites me. Adopting new customs, eating different food, seeing different faces and just being in the mix of it really makes me feel alive and awakes all my senses.
I travel to defy stereotypes and expectations of me and what it means to be a Black Woman. I think it’s fair to say that there is very little expectation for Black people to have travelled beyond the popular tourist destinations. I remember a discussion I had with two male colleagues regarding travelling. One asked the other if he had been to India and the other said no and reciprocated the question, who himself said no. No one bothered to ask me. Now I haven’t actually been to India (but it is certainly on my to-go list) but it was clear that these men had just decided that it was not worth asking me because they already concluded that I hadn’t been. Obviously I cannot say for certain why they would come to that conclusion. I’ve had conversations with people that possess a level of snobbery about travel, and judge people according to where they have been. When I tell them I have travelled to numerous countries in Europe, Asia and Central America solo, they are usually shocked, one person even said to me “it’s nice that you travel to places that Black people don’t normally travel to”. Don’t get me wrong I do not travel to these places solely to prove a point, but in exploring a new destination and coming back alive I am proving that Black people can do it to and have a good time. I often return back home feeling empowered knowing I can do whatever I want, regardless if I don’t see my peers doing the same. Besides, the world needs to see more Black people.
I travel to reaffirm that there are good human beings everywhere regardless of the type of government or economy they have. Often enough we judge people based on their government. When I began to visit other parts of the world I realised two fundamental truths: on the surface we are all so different and secondly that at the core we are all the same.
I travel in order to feel free. Now this is where I can say that I am privileged. I am an able bodied person who possess a passport that allows me to travel anywhere in the world relatively hassle-free. I work for a great company which allows me to pay for this hobby. At any point my privilege can be taken away from me, and for that I am forever humbled and appreciative of the liberty I have as a human being. There are many people who genuinely have limited freedom and options but there are many more people who believe that they do not have the freedom to do what they want and thus confine themselves to limited happiness and potential. Only a year ago I decided to travel back-packer style; I bought a ticket and travelled solo to Panama; stayed in hostels, spent hours on public transport visiting different cities and crossed the border to do the exact same thing in Costa Rica. It was one of the best experiences of my life and had it not been for the bravery to just do it and not think about the opinions of others I would have thought ‘this is not for me.’ I was doing the same thing as privileged middle class folks were doing and let me tell you I’m not middle class (although moving up the social ladder slowly from what I was born into). Perhaps I was better with my money, but travelling brought a mental emancipation that I have never experienced before.