I’m an introvert through and through, but I do enjoy getting to know others, learning new things about different cultures, and experiencing life through someone else’s eyes. There is something truly magical about being able to see and live in a different world. I’ve long hoped that one day I would travel. During the pandemic, I began to think a lot about my hope to one day become a traveler and how to make that happen.
Traveling has always been something I pushed aside “until I had the time.” The pandemic only made my dream feel more urgent, because time is not something we can ever get back. The pandemic showed me that life is fragile, everyday counts, and tomorrow is not promised. Traveling, for me, is coupled with a kind of fear (thanks, COVID) and curiosity about what the world is like outside of my little New England bubble. But I don’t want to get on a plane right now. I don’t want to bring my kids on a plane right now. And a family vacation needs to include my kids. Then there is the issue of race, as a dark skinned woman, an American traveling in another country. I have fears because of this reality too.
When I was in college oh so many years ago, I traveled to Mexico for my studies. While there, when I would leisurely walk around with friends once classes were over, the locals would taunt me. I was called “bañarse,” a call in Spanish telling me to go and bathe, to wash off the darkness of my skin. Ever since then, I’ve become super aware of who I am when I am out in the world, especially if it’s a place I’m unfamiliar with. I’ve paid attention more and looked around more and into the faces of those around me. Yes, this makes me more aware of the stares people give me, but I must see them and their stares. Why? Because it’s an opportunity to connect with them, even if that opportunity is uncomfortable.
Being an African American in the United States is hard enough, but my previous experience dictates that it will be hard outside of my country too. I have to take that awareness into consideration as I think about how I’d like to travel in the future.
I never, ever get to take off my skin color or can change the fact that I am an American. I can, however, help people understand what I stand for and how complicated that all can be — to be an African American in a world that has issues with both of those things. To boot, COVID-19 influenced the urge to know where I come from, who I come from, sparked an impromptu purchase on Ancestry.com. I wanted to know all of the places that my people lived and where my ancestors came from. I feel like I owe myself this.
I am a bougie type of traveler. I like running water and warm blankets. I like hot coffee and access to a hot tub or pool. While domestically, roadtrips and camping are on the rise, those types of destinations are not in my purview. According to USA News, “Road trips and camping vacations have grown in popularity, as many Americans have discovered the country has more than its fair share of stunning natural landscapes, from the Grand Canyon to Acadia National Park. Some people have even created memorable vacations in their backyards.” I like my backyard, but the birds and I don’t speak the same language — I need to see more than what lives in my very own backyard.
I work remotely since COVID shifted my entire life to working on my laptop, which I can now do from virtually anywhere in the world. It seemed like a dream until I thought about working from Mexico or Canada — the only two places I’ve ever traveled internationally. In my heart, I want to safely travel and expand my understanding of the world I live in. But it’s hard to do that with the fear of catching COVID, and grappling with the worry that my Blackness and being an American will make people fearful.
COVID-19 reminded me how precious life is and how everyday matters — whether I am walking around my house or living my dream of buying items from an African market in Uganda. Maybe it’s the stillness that has become my way of life since working remotely. Maybe it’s the desire to teach my kids that they too can overcome adversity while traveling. Maybe it’s because I realize that our world needs us to show up, even as Americans, and especially as African Americans, to help mend the broken parts of systems much bigger than us. With our new normal being pandemic life, at least this introvert can experience fewer crowds whenever I do decide to hop on the plane and get out of town. I will manage my fears and my dreams together, no matter where my trip takes me.
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