This year has been unlike any for me for so many reasons but one of those is that I traveled like I never have before. I didn’t start the year imagining that I’d visit 14 countries, but that’s was one of the beautiful surprises of 2015.
For me, travel is important for many reasons, and I’m passionate about it because of the lessons that come from it. Seeing the world is more than about collecting passport stamps. For me, it is about stepping out of my bubble and my comfort zone. It humbles me to get reminded about how little I know, and it expands my mind because I soak up so much while on my jaunts. I pay more attention, and come back home appreciating my space.
In 2015, I set foot in: Dominican Republic, Kenya, British Virgin Islands, Morocco, Turkey, Spain, England, United Arab Emirates, Thailand, Qatar, Mexico, Egypt, Barbados, Haiti.
Here’s some of the lessons I am walking away with:
7 Lessons I Learned from Traveling to 14 Countries in 2015
Home is everywhere.
No matter where I go, I find home around the corner. It could be as I walk down a street in Istanbul, Turkey and smelling food from my favorite restaurant back home.
Or sitting at a cafe in Port-au-Prince, Haiti and seeing someone who looks like someone I know.
Or going to a mall in Bangkok, Thailand and seeing my favorite stores.
It could be as we turn the corner in Alexandria, Egypt and I’m reminded of Lake Shore Drive. Happened in Qatar too.
Or being in Tortola, British Virgin Islands and hearing music that reminds me of AfroBeats.
These moments ground me and make me feel connected to everything. No matter how faraway from Chicago that I am, there is familiarity and I hold on to it. Home is everywhere, no matter if you are a 12-hour plane ride away from your bed.
You are but a tiny dot in this giant universe.
Sometimes, we take ourselves too seriously. We might err and think the world revolves around us, our whims and our wants. If you’re ever in that space, travel can bring you down a notch. Whatever brilliance you think you possess is tiny and almost inconsequential as you stand by a pyramid that was constructed to be a calendar (that is still accurate today), with 365 steps, and placed so that when the sun hits it at the right time, the light looks like a serpent is coming down the steps. This happens on March 21, every year at 4:45pm.
I traveled to Mexico with Up in the Air Life Inc in October and we visited Chichen-Itza, one of the seven wonders of the world. It was completed in 900 AD and it took 300 years (10 generations). That pyramid not only tells time accurately, but it echoes your own claps back to you, and makes it sound like a bird. It’s SO COOL.
Mayans were savants and the things they considered to construct these buildings are out of this world. Our tour guide said “you write knowledge in sand and someone can kick it away. You put it in books and someone can burn it. You construct it into your buildings and it stays even after you’re gone.” I was like WELP.
So as you stand next to that, you cannot take yourself too serious. Perspective can be priceless.
Food everywhere else is more delicious.
Some people buy keychains as their travel souvenirs. Me? I drink Fanta. I like to taste how orange Fanta differs in the places I visit. At this point, I can say with all confidence that the Fanta we drink in the United States is sub-par to other orange Fantas. Part of that is that real sugar is used in the drink everywhere else and here, we get high fructose corn syrup. The taste is so much more refreshing everywhere else.
Similarly, eating abroad is a delight for me. The fruits are better and the juices are unfuckwitable. When I was in Thailand, I had freshly-squeezed orange juice and watermelon juice for breakfast every day. It’s hard to describe the difference of juice here and there but it is tasteable. Also, Morocco is known for its orange juice and I gulped down multiple glasses for breakfast there too.
Seafood out of the country? Listen. FRESHER THAN SPRING RAIN. The moral of this story is: the quality of American food is a cheat. We are being cheated out of meals as experiences.
The entire world is not unsafe.
A couple of weeks ago, the United States issued a global terror alert and told citizens to be careful when they travel abroad. I had to laugh because as the government is doing that, Black people are being shot down by cops in the streets. We’re facing more danger walking down street than from traveling. We’re supposed to be afraid from terrorism when we leave the country. You’re telling us to be scared of enemies that are faraway, 6 hour plane rides away. What about the neighbors we have who hate us and are being propped up and given positive reinforcement that they can harm us without consequence?
Every time I’m traveling somewhere out of the country, folks tell me to “be safe.” Countries I’ve been to this year where people told me I’d feel unsafe: Mexico, Morocco, Haiti, UAE, Egypt. I was fine in all of them.
Of course, some places are safer than others but there isn’t a boogieman lurking at every corner waiting to get you when you leave the United States. People are actively not traveling the world because they feel like a bomb is going to drop on their head in those places at any moment. Most places in the world are not that acutely unsafe. Most places in the world are not Syria. Do not let these warnings keep you in your bubbles.
Solo travel is scary but necessary.
I travel for work domestically a lot, so I’m used to being in hotel rooms by myself. However, this year, I decided to vacation by myself a couple of times. My first ever solo vacation was for my 30th birthday, and it was January 2015. I went to the Dominican Republic for 3 days. All I had booked was my hotel and flight. Nothing else. I figured I’d find something to do, and I was also prepared to do nothing but spend 3 days by my resort pool.
What I ended up doing was a lot of sitting by myself, writing, reading and just enjoying silence. I also went zip-lining in the forests outside of Punta Cana. On the night of my 30th birthday itself, I sat under the stars with my journal and wrote a vision statement for myself, for 5 years in the future. In that moment, I was perfectly content and I was happy where I was doing exactly what I was doing. I traveled back home feeling refreshed, recharged and ready to work.
I booked a weeklong trip to Dubai for September 2015 with one of my girlfriends. Two weeks before our trip, she had to pull out and I wondered if I should cancel too. One of my friends was like “why don’t you make it an Eat Pray Love type trip? Go to Thailand too!” And that’s exactly what I did. I landed in Dubai, spent 2 really good days there, and then flew 8 hours away to spend 3.5 days in Thailand.
It was exactly what I needed. I explored Bangkok by myself, got massages twice, visited the Temples of the Buddha and again, enjoyed silence.
At no times during my solo trips did I feel unsafe. With anything, you stay vigilant about your surroundings, you don’t walk in deserted areas by yourself at night, and you keep your belongings with you or in a safe deposit box.
Solo travel does scare some people because they do not know how to be by themselves. But waking up and knowing you get to do whatever the hell you want to do that day is freeing. Also, you might go alone but you don’t have to be by yourself the entire time. You can strike up conversations with the person next to you and make a friend. You can do group activities and meet people that way. Solo travel is not isolating unless you isolate yourself from others.
DO IT! At least once.
Packing light is a skill you need to learn.
I am a former packrat, having learned my packrat ways from my Mom, who is still an active packrat. I think I need to have everything in my suitcase because: options. 1 week trip? Of course I need 10 pairs of shoes, 15 pairs of pants and 20 tops. I need this giant suitcase. NEED.
Yeah, no. Taking a huge suitcase on every trip is a hassle and it is never a convenience. I am now Team Carryon, unless I’m on a trip that is longer than 10 days. Why? Because checking in your luggage, especially when you travel internationally is a risk. If you show up at your destination and your suitcase doesn’t make the flight, what do you do for two days? Sure, you can have extra clothes in a carryon but all the things you insisted you needed are delayed.
When we landed in Marrakesh and had to drag our luggage through the maze of the media before we reached our hotel, me and my girl E had backpacks and our carryons. If we had huge suitcases, I might have just given up the ghost and slept in an alley.
Also, it feels good to land somewhere after a day of travel and not have to wait by baggage claim. It really does. You get off the plane and keep on rolling to your destination.
When I travel now, I have certain pieces of clothing and shoes that come with me on every trip. I always pack a pair of Sperry Topsider boat shoes (all leather, light, easy to wear/pack, and good for all weather). I pack a denim long-sleeve because it goes with anything I want to wear and if I get cold, I throw it on. I take a pashmina to use on the plane for it if gets cold and I wrap myself in it. These come with me EVERYWHERE. So they’re part of my arsenal. Makes packing easier.
Being outside your comfort zone gets more comfortable.
The more your travel, the more you get used to being in strange places. That might sound weird but it makes sense to me. When you go to places you’ve never been, you stop being so freaked out by change. It isn’t as jarring to look around and know you might need Google Maps to find your hotel because you are definitely lost.
It makes you a bit more ready to face fears, and it makes you just a tad bit more brave.
Like my girl, Demetria Lucas D’oyley says: SEE SOME WORLD. Get out and explore. Use those passports.
If you don’t currently have people to travel with, roll with folks like Up in the Air Life, which coordinates group trips. You might go by yourself but by the time the trip ends, you would have made new friends (and travel buddies). For 2016, they have trips to the Virgin Islands, Cuba, Colombia, Egypt, Mexico and Croatia. So if you wanna travel but don’t wanna choose your own adventure, they got you covered. All you gotta do is show up and have a good time because everything has been arranged for you. One of my friends, Claire Bear, is behind the company and I’m so proud of what she’s built.
I look forward to doing more world exploring in 2016. I just got pages added to my passport (because I was down to 5) so I’m ready for more adventures. Solo, with bae, with my girls. I’m just down for jaunting. So keep up with me by following my @Luvvie account on Instagram. I use #TravelLuvv hashtag to track my trips.
Places that are high on my list that I haven’t visited yet: Italy, Greece, Japan, Tanzania, Ethiopia, Ghana, Indonesia, Australia, Brazil.
I’ll be back with more posts on travel in the new year on how I make it happen. And yes, I still owe that part 2 of the guide to traveling to Morocco. Also check out Oneika the Traveller’s blog. She’s a wealth of information.
Feel free to comment with any travel questions you want me to answer. I might answer them in a future post.