I spun the globe around as quickly as I could. With the confidence of a fourth grader, I pointed to each continent and said, “One day I am going there.” My teacher overheard me and reassuring replied, “I believe that you will, Tyra.”
My fascination and desire to travel actually began because of my introduction to foreign lands through my first love of reading. I would read a scene, imagine all of the details, and then envision myself there.
Once I linked my literary world to that of my geographic studies, I was determined to step foot on all 7 continents. Some 30 years later and 5 continents down, the quest still unfolds.
Traveling for me has always been about connecting with the strangely unfamiliar, yet familiar. Even in lands where I did not speak the language or where my religious beliefs or political ideologies were not the norm, there was, inevitably, something that I shared in common with the people who lived there.
It is through my international travels that I grew and learned quite a bit about what it means to belong, to be foreign, and to be misunderstood or embraced simply because of where I was from or what I looked like.
If I had to capture the three most powerful things that traveling taught me, they would be the following:
1) Black is and Black ain’t. “Where are you from?” It is often an innocuous question that we use to make a connection with someone else. Yet, in the context of foreign travel, it serves as a springboard to really reflect upon what it means to be a part of the African Diaspora.
My honey-caramel skin and kinky, curly tightly braided hair did not signify ‘she is one of us’ in certain parts of Cameroon. In fact, my Americanness trumped my Blackness. This was strangely at odds with my dominant worldview of the Motherland as my homeland.
Then there was the trip to Cape Town. While in South Africa, I was often mistaken for a Coloured woman (a category created during apartheid to classify mixed raced people) as people would casually and comfortably speak to me in Afrikaan.
When I explained that I was American, some people’s demeanors would shift and deferential treatment would ensue. There was no escaping that in some spaces, my Americanness Othered me and even in certain places in Africa, my Blackness could not protect me.
2)Black women are beautiful. I know and you know that we are beautiful, but every once in a while, wouldn’t it be nice to be in a space where your beauty is not challenged or minimized?
I used to tell my girlfriends that if they ever needed a self-esteem pick-me-upper than to go to Italy or Southern France. Black women of all hues, sizes, and shapes are considered “muy bella” (very pretty) in certain cultures.
Now, I don’t want this to become a digression into a conversation about interracial dating, but too often in the United States, Black women are the ones who are asked to capitulate to certain beauty standards in order to be deemed desirable and attractive.
So, I will be honest that it was refreshing to see men of various races who found Black women aesthetically appealing. Now, of course, one cannot gauge the deepest levels of love and care between two people, but from what I observed, there were numerous beautiful Black women gracefully walking through the streets in the arms or their admiring lovers. Muy bella indeed!
3)You are insignificant. There is a tendency in the United States to assume that our worth is dictated by our credentials, our status, and our material comforts. Yet, when you stand on a cliff overlooking the Mediterranean Sea in one direction and the French Alps in another one, you realize just how insignificant you are.
When you see a clam in the Great Barrier Reef that is older than most of the people who you know, then you begin to understand just how large and magnanimous the world is. There is so much more to living and breathing and existing than simply acquiring things and titles.
There is a majesty in knowing that there are billions of people on this earth, intricate dishes that are made from the most delicate of food staples, and languages that permeate your ears faster than you can comprehend them. This is the beauty of international travel; you are forced to lean into discomfort while glowing in the awe.
Of course, there are elements of world traveling that every person must be aware of, including physical danger, possible terrorists’ attacks, and navigating the nuances of any new and unfamiliar culture and typography.
But those potential red flags do not usurp the aspects of world travel that simply cannot be replicated by reading about them in a book, magazine, or even this blog.
There are certain things that you must live and traveling to distant lands is one of them. So, for everyone who is reading this who has never stepped foot on foreign soil, go find a globe, give it a spin, start dreaming, and most importantly, begin traveling.
Dr. Tyra Seldon is a professional writer, motivational speaker, and the Founder and CEO of
Seldon Writing Group, LLC. She has worked with a wide range of clients ranging from Dr. Boyce
Watkins, Damon Dash, and Kenyatta Griggs to Freelancers Union, National Geographic and
OpenEd. Her articles often explore the intersections of race, culture, gender, and identity. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org