Lessons learned from Travel

Travel has been a topic on many people’s minds this year, as so many of us have been grounded and have been unable to do a lot of travel. We might wonder about the future of travel, but I am hopeful because as humans we like movement. We like to see things, to experience things, and travel is one way of doing this. Due to increased globalization over the years, the world has gotten smaller. Many of us have loved ones in different places that aren’t a short drive away, and so we will travel again. The world will recover from this pandemic hopefully wiser, stronger, and with more innovations that make travel safer and accessible. Watch this week’s YouTube video here: https://youtu.be/mb5rOfHe9RM

I could talk endlessly about travel. It is one of my favorite things to do in this world—whether domestic or internationally. Some form of travel or movement has been with me throughout my life, at each stage, and I can tell you stories from my youth to more recently. In each case, I have always learned something, whether about myself, a situation, a place, or a person.

Before his death, one of my favorite people to watch travel around the world was Anthony Bourdain. He had what I thought was the best job. Travel to cool places, eat yummy food, and have equally delicious conversations with cool people. He left his mark on the world, and some of us won’t forget his words and his lessons. He said, “Travel changes you. As you move through this life and this world you change things slightly, you leave marks behind, however small. And in return, life — and travel — leaves marks on you.” I agree with this completely.

When I was a little girl, my family lived in Jamaica, in the country. It was lush and beautiful, with places where the river met the sea. One would be tempted to think that everywhere in the world was like this. My first plane ride taught me that this was not the case. When I was a little girl, we moved from the Caribbean to Wisconsin. It was difficult to explain to other Jamaicans where Wisconsin was. North of Chicago, but not quite Canada, and cold! They literally had little pieces of ice falling from the sky—my first introductions to snow and black ice. I learned immediately that while all places have their beauty, that all places are not the same in appearance. There are just some places in the world that take your breath away in beauty.

Even though when I was younger, we did not have a lot of resources, my family always made sure that we went somewhere. We squished together in a vehicle listening to reggae and eating sandwiches my mom made; once we drove from Wisconsin to the Grand Canyon—stopping in each state along the way. My aunt woke us up at the crack of dawn to hike down into the Canyon. I remember seeing red dirt, beautiful birds, and the most amazing desert sunrise. The lessons from the dessert are not the same as the lessons from the sea.

One year we drove from Wisconsin to Florida. I learned just how massive and varied in landscape this country was. In high school, my friends and I took our senior trip by riding a Greyhound, with local stops to Disney world. I learned that music really can get you through a lot. I also took a college tour with Upward Bound where we visited several schools along the East Coast. I marveled at the big cities out East, and dreamt of visiting one day. The East Coast was much more fast paced than the Midwest. Later I would learn that the big city can shred midwestern values if you are not supremely grounded in yourself. But also that in every big city you will find people who still will share a smile and a good morning with you. (After coffee of course).

In middle school, I had a Spanish teacher, Senorita Winters. She had lived in parts of Latin America, Mexico, and Spain. When she showed us slides of Spain, I knew that I wanted to go there one day. Other teachers of mine also influenced my desire to travel. Some had used their summers to travel the world, others had studied in different countries. I ended up at a language high school partially fueled by a desire to travel one day. But I was by all means, a poor girl from Jamaica growing up in Milwaukee. Was this even a practical dream?

In college, I received the opportunity to travel internationally to somewhere that wasn’t Jamaica. I studied Spanish in the Dominican Republic, and I formally studied abroad in Madrid, Spain. I learned about mofongo, bachata, and more deeply about the interconnected history of the Caribbean. Going to Spain, was an experience that changed my entire life, and opened up my eyes to the wonderful possibilities that the world was my oyster. I had to immerse myself in the language, learn how to get around, and learn that even though my family was far away, they were still with me wherever I went.

My good friends including Melody—my sister for life—encouraged me, planned with me, and made a lot of things possible. I traveled in that semester all around Spain—Bilbao, Barcelona, Valencia, Granada, Palma de Mallorca, Toledo, Segovia, and more. Places I had only read about before suddenly came to life. I learned about history, culture, music, food, and the siesta life. We also traveled to Amsterdam, Paris, Italy, Morocco, and England, where I met some of my favorite relatives for the first time.

Each of those experiences changed me for the better. Later in my life, I would have the experience of traveling all over the United States, Puerto Rico, the US and British Virgin Islands, Bermuda, St. Lucia, Antigua, Dominica, Scotland, Mexico and Nigeria. I traveled to Italy with Catholic University and had the opportunity to do a solo trip to the beautiful town of Assisi. There I found a peace that passed understanding. There I made a prayer for my life, and understood why Elizabeth Gilbert chose Italy as one of her destinations in Eat, Pray, Love. I too learned about “il dolce far niente. The sweetness of doing nothing.” While in Italy, my colleagues and I received a private tour of the Vatican’s Secret Archives and the Apolistic Library. I learned just how ancient some of the world could be.

Traveling also shows us who we could be. Part of the great damage and disservice of the institution of slavery is that for most people of African descent in the Western Hemisphere, our ability to trace our ancestry is limited. I traveled to Nigeria once for the wedding of one of my best friends. While there, it was not uncommon for people to think that I looked like people from a certain tribe, and one lady swore I was related to someone she knew. I wondered if maybe I had ancestors from there? The food, music, and people reminded me of Jamaica and Jamaicans. But there was something else about seeing people so sure of themselves and their lineage. Proud to have descended from kings and queens that made the people walk with a sense of pride. Maybe it was by osmosis, but I felt that pride too.

Each mode of travel grants you a different perspective. Whether I have walked, taken a boat, driven in a car as driver or passenger, taken a train, or flown, the perspective has always shifted to accommodate each mode. Life can be the same way. Sometimes we see things when we are walking that we would not see from the plane. Sometimes we need to slow down to see clearly, and sometimes we need to elevate our thinking so that we put ourselves where we need to be.

Other important lessons:

  1. Travel pushes you outside of your comfort zone. There is so much goodness outside of your comfort zone. When you travel, you have already left the comfort of your pond for the great ocean. There are things for you to see and experience, and they are outside of the comfort zone.
  2. You learn how to be flexible. There is a saying that the tree that survives the windstorm is the one that learns how to bend with the wind. If you remain rigid and inflexible, you will snap like a tree in the wind. The pace moves differently in different places, and you have to adjust or risk frustration.
  3. You gain a new perspective. You see things done in different ways, you see people you would not normally see, and your whole sense of being attunes to the fact that there could be a different way or multiple ways of living, being, and doing life.
  4. Travel is healing. There have been several times in my life when I needed deep healing. Thanks to the lovely family and friends who accommodated me in those times, and let me sleep. When I need to heal, sleep is so vital. Like Tere, who provided me with food to eat-plantains and Milo, and words to nourish my heart and soul. Maybe it was a cool breeze in Jamaica, the cafes in Abuja, or the seas and stars of Bermuda, sometimes you do need to “get away.”
  5. Travel shows us how brave we really are. I have traveled to places by myself and wondered, am I being silly or am I really called to go to this place or do this thing. Travel will show you that you know more than you think and you have unbounded courage. It will also require that you rely on common sense.
  6. Like life, travel isn’t always easy. You might lose your luggage, or get lost yourself, or encounter an experience that isn’t the best. But what do you do? You get up, figure it out and keep going.
  7. Travel can teach you a lot about people. Want to know someone better? Travel somewhere with them that you have to stay overnight. You will learn a lot. Travel will also teach you that there are some really kind, beautiful souls out there across the world.
  8. Travel teaches us that the world is beautiful, and that people all over are generally dealing with the same issues. Love, purpose, finances, spirituality, and health. We are so different, yet so alike.

You might say, “Ah this would be great but I don’t have money to travel.” Well, not all trips are costly. Some travel is local, you can walk to it, and yes some requires planning and saving. I did a lot of travel as a young student with very limited resources. I sacrificed a lot but in the end, experiences and the memory of them stay with us always. I hope that if you want to go somewhere, that you are able to find a way, that it is a powerful and beautiful experience, and that you learn just how magical, amazing, and courageous you are. I hope when it is safe to travel again, that you will get your bag ready and let your soul guide you to where you need to go. May the stars shine brightly over your week, and if you feel inclined, please let me know what is on your travel bucket list! Thank you.

2 thoughts on “Lessons learned from Travel”

  1. What unbelievable adventures! I dream of traveling as much as you have. You have really had a lot of interesting and exciting experiences. I look forward to hearing more!

    Like

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