“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes.”
– Marcel Proust
Recently I achieved a personal goal of travelling to 30 countries just a few months shy of my 30th birthday. And with all the long layovers, sitting in transit and discussions with friends, family and other travellers I’ve had plenty of time to think what travelling has taught me within the last few years.
So here is a list of lessons (or in some cases confirmations) that have really stood out to me and significantly shaped my view of travelling.
Anti-Black racism and anti-dark skinned colourism is a global phenomenon
Ah, what a depressing thing to start with but for me this is paramount and something that I couldn’t ignore. There are people of African decent all over the globe, yet you would never know until you travel, because they are denied the opportunity to access social capital to be seen, heard, generate wealth and share their stories to the world. Anti-Black racism and colourism is prevalent in many countries and this manifests differently throughout the world. Subsequently, I feel a sense of despondency when I travel to countries and see fellow Black people living in perilous poverty or are disenfranchised. Political dissent is often squashed by the state and progress for equality is slow for many Black people (though not to discredit the civil rights movements in many countries).
Seeing this with my own eyes, it has definitely strengthened my love and appreciation for Black people across the entire diaspora and it has contributed to my growing Black Consciousness.
With that said…The colour of your passport will always surpass the colour of your skin
Travelling as a Black woman is one thing, but travelling as a Black British woman is another thing entirely, and with all the anti-Black racism that exists in the world, I am able to escape most (but not all) of it once people find out that I’m from the UK. This is something that continues to make me uncomfortable – should I only be deserving of someone’s respect because I’m of a ‘desirable’ nationality? Call it first world guilt perhaps.
Not all travel experiences need to be the same
I love travelling solo, staying in hostels, meeting other solo travellers, long bus rides moving from town to town. But don’t get it twisted, I also love my basic bitch girls trip too. Be it Cambodia or Vegas, solo or a group, all my travel experiences are of great value, shake things up a bit and make the world an interesting place to explore.
To be more approachable & approach people first
This is specific to a hostel / tour group setting: Many people are still shy of being rejected, myself included. From my experiences I feel that people are less inclined to approach a Black woman (or maybe it’s just me and my resting bitch face). So I find that I have to do it first; sometimes it’s fine, other times I cannot be bothered to engage with people. But there have been instances when I have gone up to someone and have made their day simply because they were too introverted to approach others first. It’s okay to make the first move, it doesn’t make you a beg friend and I’ve definitely carried this trait into my daily life in London.
Our travel choices can be very political and an extension of our values
Perhaps not political in the literal sense, however I have met many people who have chosen not to travel to certain countries because of the way the country [is perceived to] treat its citizens or specific racial / ethnic groups within that country. Many of my Black and Arab friends have expressed great concern of travelling to the US and they’re not the only ones. Tourism has seen a significant slump in the US during 2017 – 2018. Conversely there are many people that are driven to travel to specific destinations because they solely want to spend their money on helping that specific group of people. From the Jewish travellers I met in Israel who were devoted to protecting and promoting Zionism, and thus travel there often. To the Pan-African idealists who are solely committed to travelling to as many African countries as possible. Our travel choices can be deeply personal!
Your vibes attract your [global] tribe
Now this is probably the hippie in me, but I truly believe that the energy you put out comes back to you in the form of people and experiences. I have met the most like minded people in my travels. I think when a person travels alone and meets other solo travellers there is an instant bond created and people are more likely to be sincere and transparent than they are at home. Plus being in a different country always creates a romanticised backdrop to the deep conversations – pondering over life’s great questions.
The world is a problematic place
The world isn’t all rainbows and butterflies. It’s political and full of disparities. If anyone wants to see the world for what it really is, that includes seeing the good and the bad. Inequality is everywhere; racism, sexism, homophobia and all the social ills exists in every country. Some nations are dealing with ongoing conflicts and tensions between different ethnic groups . The question I often ask myself is how does one engage and experience such a world? That will be different for every individual and what they are willing to tolerate. As mentioned before, the places we choose to travel [or not] is somewhat a personal and political expression of who we are.
Live in the present and seize the moment
Every country that I’ve visited I tell myself that I will return. But truth be told, I know that it’s very unlikely since there is so much world to cover and I want to see as much of it as possible. Therefore I have made every effort to enjoy my time like it is the last time I will be there; from asking people to take pictures of me, wearing colourful outfits, dancing with locals, showing a greater enthusiasm, sincerity and willingness to engage with strangers etc. because the present is all we have. We may never see that place or person again but we will have those pictures and memories to look back on.
From my travels people have left a positive impact on me that will last a lifetime, I can only hope that I’ve done the same.
I could go on but I think at this point I would be writing a book. I would love to know what travelling has taught you; be it about yourself, the world we live in or anything else.