Photo Credit: Credit: Mwabonje
Traveler Story: The Truth About Travel As A Way Of Unlearning
I love being nomadic but it has peeled back so many layers of what I thought I knew about travel. Coming from a big city, I knew I had much learning to do about how to live by the coast, how to chop a coconut, what to do when you come across a bull while minding your business on your way to the beach, for instance. It has been a joyful moment in my twenties that corporate life just couldn’t offer.
I write often about how cute life generally is when in constant movement and uninterrupted flow. Even still, I’ll be the first to say that it gets real, often and suddenly. The truth about travel, particularly as a lifestyle, is that you have lots to unlearn. In this piece, I unpack the truth about travel as a means of unlearning and a way back to self.
Not traveling with assumptions of what Blackness means
I’ll start by saying it because we’re all thinking it, anti-Blackness is very real and traveling won’t shelter you from that. If anything, it exposes you to the saddening depths of it. Even still, I no longer assume it’s there waiting for me as soon as I land. I do my research before I arrive in a new space. I’m aware of history, migrations, communities and how they navigate Blackness in the country — all of this is business as usual as an avid traveler.
Starting my travels in Mexico, I knew I wanted to land in Oaxaca because of what I thought was proximity to Afro-Mexican land. I actually showed up in Oaxaca City, notably far from the Costa Chica where most of the Afro-Mexican towns are located. After sharing with my Airbnb host my dream of connecting with the diaspora here in Mexico (and my disappointment with the sometimes hostile Otherness of being a Black woman in Oaxaca City), I knew that I had to adjust my mindset. She recommended me some places to visit and reminded me of how vast Mexico is. I assumed that being in Oaxaca state would work out for me and that this was the principal place where I would feel comfortable. In reality, this was only something experience could teach; experience, open-heartedness, and Irma, in whose house I learned exactly what type of friend and listener I had become.
My assumptions about what Blackness would mean in Latin America were informed by my experience growing up in the UK. This was another thing worth unlearning. It is not only unlearning assumptions but also fear. I unknowingly expected certain behaviors which I have slowly unlearned. Mexico has shown me many different experiences, from colorism to intense kindness to familiar Caribbean energy to Mexican friends who have become family. Unlearning those assumptions as a form of survival mechanism, has been crucial to my long-term travels.
The reality of being triggered
No doubt I have been triggered while solo traveling as a Black woman. There are endless scenarios that come to mind, from having to explain in Spanish why I don’t want to have my picture taken to having other white travelers from Europe and the U.S. present colonizer-type behaviors that remind me of exactly what I moved away from. This is expected as I travel from place to place, I remind myself of this. While I purposefully expose myself to some of the most beautiful energies and individuals possible, an unfortunate balance often exists.
Even though it can’t be avoided, thankfully it doesn’t need to be indulged in. Being nomadic has taught me how (scarily) easy it is for me to up and go, to move, to re-center myself. When in a triggering environment, I do not feel obliged to sit through it, I simply leave. If I am unable or unwilling to and/or safe enough, I find ways to assert myself. I take up space and teach my body softer ways of handling discomfort.
It’s different for everyone
The unlearning process is different for everybody. I think that this has been the most easeful of all the lessons. The truth is, depending on your home country, how you’ve been socialized, your family, your passion, your birth chart, and so on (and on), you will handle change differently. If travel has taught me anything, it is to stay in my lane and be in the moment, completely, and with tamales at hand if possible.
Relearning the self
In the midst of dismantling what I believed life to be, I also found myself discovering new parts of myself. Of course, this was to be expected. I was traveling far from everything known and familiar, navigating in countries that looked nothing like my own. And just as I took my time to relearn the world around me, I found myself slowly meeting new versions of myself. By that I mean I was unpredictable to myself, I mean I was new.
Traveling has exposed me to new personalities that seem to only exist in another language; a way of extending my voice and introducing myself that I have never truly had to think about; new ways of communicating with self and family back home even, and so much more.
I know I have a lot to thank the world for, the parts I have torn down and the parts I am journeying towards. All of it serves to help me see life in its fullest, most authentic state, dia a dia.
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