Travel. Everyone talks about traveling; where to go, what to do, and why you should travel, but everyone doesn’t know HOW to travel. I’m not saying I’m a travel expert, not at all, but after visiting about twenty or more different cities and countries, I hope I can share some lessons learned. My opinion isn’t textbook, so I’ll share the emotional, spiritual, holistic aspects of travel that are more important than just visiting a country. I’m talking about embracing another culture, changing who you are on the inside.
“A mind that is stretched by a new experience can never go back to its old dimensions.” – Oliver Wendell Holmes
The easy part of travel is preparation. When you plan a trip what do you do first?…think about what to pack, well, that’s not wrong but I first always check the weather where I’m visiting. I like to know if I need a long sleeve or short sleeve shirt, jacket vs light sweater, flip-flops vs covered shoes vs water shoes. Do NOT bring the most expensive Jordans you own! Depending on where you go, they will get dirty or stolen. Our American culture, in all representations, fetches a lot of money when you travel internationally. You really don’t want to bring or wear anything that’s a high dollar item in another country. You’ll quickly make yourself a target and possibly bring unwanted attention to yourself. Also, check the currency rates for example if a United States Dollar (USD) = $1, What is the conversion rate to the Mexican Peso(MXN)=15.13, or Euro(EUR) = .89, South African Rand(ZAR)= 11.86Brazil Real(BRL)= 3.01.
“You don’t have to be rich to travel well.” – Eugene Fodor
I say that because when you tip someone in USD, be mindful that you may be giving them to much money. You may appear to be a wealthy American, and I’m not sure you want that image in a poor country.
Work on being humble, you’ll be welcomed into more homes.
Regarding tips…I tip everyone. I keep my tip money in a separate back pocket, usually a bunch of $1 and $5 dollar bills. I keep my important id and dollars in my front pockets. I separate all my money for haggling with the vendors and appearing not to have money. I’ll say, “Sir I want to buy that $100 necklace for your sale price of $70 but all I have on me is this $40 and the, (recently counted) tip money of about $12. I may even show him my empty wallet with id in it to appear to prove all I have is $52, when I have a couple hundred in my sock…sold! Don’t get me wrong, I haggle on price but I don’t take advantage, everyone has to eat and sometimes you come across a piece of art that you can’t get anywhere else in the world, buy it! If it’s a sculptor or a painter, this is what they do for a living and they take pride in it. You won’t see “Made in China” on their works of art. Don’t lessen their value being cheap, and don’t be a sucker either. Spend the money, make a friend and go from there.
Getting into the important lessons…
For example on my Mozambique Africa trip last year I packed a bunch of t-shirts that I don’t wear anymore and some “Old Navy” and “Rugged Wearhouse” shirts that are really inexpensive but have American brands on them. I gave shirts, flip-flops, and clothes to the vendors kids on the beach. Later on my last day of the Mozambique leg of the Africa trip, this artist, Tawanda, showed me this soapstone piece that I loved and had to have.
After agreeing on a price that we both were comfortable with, I paid him. Then I saw this soapstone/jade turtle that I really wanted but I was out of money, really
out of money this time. At or around that moment this kid, wearing a shirt that I’d given him 3 days before, started talking to Tawanda. He was pointing at me and nodding his head approving.
Tawanda reached over and grabbed the turtle, wrapped in up and paper, putting the turtle in his fist, placing his fist over his heart and handing it to me saying, “You have good spirit, please have it.” I was blown away.
Later in Soweto, I helped this guy fix his yard for about 30 minutes while I was waiting for the bus to leave. Without me asking he gave me this copper bracelet that he had since he was a child, just gave it to me, I didn’t ask for it, talk about it or even look at it, he just gave it to me, saying, “Take it to the states” with a big smile on his face. Only because we talked and I helped him finish his gardening. Again, I was blown away.
You can meet new life long friends and create memories that you will never forget.
I had a GREAT time in Africa with many memories, but the impact of those moments were the most significant. The actions of these two guys humbled me. It challenged me to be just as giving and selfless in my actions.
People always ask me, “How was Africa?” I would assume everyone has a different interpretation of Africa. I respond, “You can’t explain Africa, it reminded me of our basic identity, where we started, and at our core, who we are. Africa gives back what you give it.”
Also, remember when buying unique pieces of art, etc, be mindful of the size and more importantly the weight. You have to carry that thing all the way back to the states. Your bags may be overweight!
“The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only one page.” – Saint Augustine
There’s something else I notice outside of the states, in other cultures that I appreciate. The male / female roles are still present. As a male you have an inherent responsibility to take lead when you and your friends embark out in the new country. American women are very independent but when you’re traveling, it’s good to take the lead role in your group. That same independent woman will look at you like a lazy waste of space when you don’t help her hoist that bag of shoes into her overhead compartment on the plane. I’m not saying that American women can’t look out for themselves, I’m NOT saying that. It’s just a natural role for the man to take certain actions, so get out of your seat and grab that bag so we can get this plane off the ground. Oh…especially when it’s an older woman, GET YOUR BUTT UP and GRAB THAT BAG. Don’t wait for her to ask, just get it. I believe it’s a way of respecting the women. Let your actions speak for themselves. Make reservations, plans, engage the personnel. Men from other countries may not speak to the women if you are with them, they’ll assume that they are “your women” and it could be viewed as disrespectful if they speak or approach “your women”. I don’t know, it may even be a safety issue. When I was in Africa, I jokingly referred to my friend Janis as my “second wife”. It’s hilarious, people always look at us like “What?!” As long as I was paying, she played along…figures. When eating out, pay for the dinner, get your money back from your friends later. Don’t sit there at the table arguing about who ordered the extra cheese. If someone is penny-pinching, then they shouldn’t have come on the trip. Look out for your party, take care of your female friends, protect them, pay for the taxi and sit up front, joke, learn the language, watch out for anything that seems off and make sure everyone gets home and safe. You left together, you arrive together.
“To travel is to discover that everyone is wrong about other countries.” – Aldous Huxley
Another thing that’s probably most important, people in your party can be rude, ignorant, they can embarrass you, and make you regret you chose to travel with them. I don’t know what it is, immaturity or arrogance but some people, once they leave the states, act a complete fool. My rule is…once someone displays this negative, embarrassing, rude person, get away from them. Rent your own car, do your own thing, don’t allow this person another day of your vacation. Don’t make excuses, don’t sympathize or waste your time, just go!
I was on a trip where there was a language barrier and the very polite waiters were not sure of how to scramble eggs, well, medium or light. People in the group complained about the eggs! This is what people call a “First world
problem”. When you are complaining about the preparation of food, when people of the country can’t even afford to eat all their meals. I’m sure that the waiters didn’t know exactly what well, medium or light meant.
The group I was with just annoyed me so much that I couldn’t eat with them anymore. I was just disgusted and I just got up and sat by myself. So don’t be surprised if people behave totally differently when you’re out of the country. It’s just one of those things you can never prepare yourself for.
I’ve had experiences while traveling that helped me appreciate who I am and the quality of life. I’ve participated in activities that make me smile every time I think of them; reading the “Middle Passage” exhibit in the Dockyards of
Bermuda, listening to a history lesson from Christian Rameshwar a St. Kitts master tour guide, (If you EVER go to St. Kitts, find Christian!), playing soccer with African kids on Tofo beach, learning to samba on a rooftop in the favelas of Brazil, these experiences and shared wisdom amongst strangers and now friends, places I’ve been, people I’ve met, dinner and taxi conversations, all helped shaped me as a person. Traveling humbled me, to what I didn’t appreciate as an American. When you travel OUTSIDE of the United States, you will appreciate who you are, not just as a man, but a black man. I’ve gained an appreciation of being a black man that I would NEVER realize if I had stayed in the United States and NOT traveled.
“When overseas you learn more about your own country, than you do the place you’re visiting.” – Clint Borgen
My Amsterdam experience; I was walking with a female friend in the Netherlands, and getting pretty annoyed that I was being stared at. My female friend said, “They are looking at your face, your skin.” I immediately thought it was racial, she said, “No…your skin tone is different from the black Africans here, they’re dark.” Soon after this woman stopped us and spoke to me in Dutch saying, “De tint is prachtig.” Puzzled, I looked at my friend she said, “Your hue is beautiful. I told you, your skin is copper brown, they don’t see that often.” I was like, “Oooohh, wow…thanks!” I was strolling the rest of the day like I was a celebrity. It was cool. Later that day or a couple of days later, I was partying with my friends Kyr and Doug, we went outside to talk. Five minutes later the cops came, “Oh boy”, I was telling Kyr, “I’m out man I don’t want no trouble.” He said, “Nah man, it’s cool.” The cops walked up and asked what was going on. Kyr, who lived in Amsterdam, told the cops that it was a friend’s birthday party. The cops were like, “Ok, please (Yes they said please) keep the door closed because the music comes out and disturbs the neighbors. You guys take it easy.” WHAT?!?! No beat down, no guns in my face, no move NOW!…none of that! Kyr said, “Yeah man it’s totally different over here.”
The cops actually treated us like human beings, it was incredible. These are the experiences that give value to traveling. I just love it, and it’s not something that you can explain.
“If you reject the food, ignore the customs, fear the religion and avoid the people, you might better stay at home.” – James Michener
My “brother” Omar left the United States to live in Amsterdam for about the last decade. Through his Facebook posts and pages, I’ve lived through his triumphs and struggles. I’ve felt his hunger at times when I could only sustain him with positive words. I asked him his opinion of life outside of the US as a black male. Without knowing what to expect or filtering his words, this is his statement;
“I have been blessed to be able to travel to many beautiful places in Europe while living in Amsterdam for ten years. And, I think the main thing to keep in mind traveling to foreign countries as a Black male is to keep an open mind about the country you are traveling to. Be open to new experiences. Live in the moment. Don’t let preconceived notions about how you are perceived by people of other ethnicity have an impact on your cultural experience. I was really surprised that, in some places, I was considered an “American” and not a “Black American”. But be sure to learn about your destination. Study about the do’s and dont’s of the local culture, and how to interact with its people. And, remember that wherever you travel, you are representing the United States in one way or another. Be better than the bad stereotype put upon Americans. Represent yourself and your country with pride, but above all, be yourself and enjoy the experience. Keeping these things in mind will help to build great memories for a lifetime.”
Like I said earlier, being American makes us unaware of how privileged we are most times, we take for granted the freedoms we have. We Americans have so much but when you travel, you’ll come across people who have 5% of what you have but their life is so much richer in quality that you’ll start to learn what’s really important. Luxury cars, huge houses, tvs, etc, yes we have quantity but we don’t have quality. The luxury is not important, it really is not. Wait…it’s nice though, don’t get it twisted. It’s just that one’s focus should be friendships, family, relationships and love as the nucleus. I don’t know what to tell you but the sooner you get away from the hood, the sooner your life will change.
“The more I traveled the more I realized that fear makes strangers of people who should be friends.” – Shirley MacLaine
If you have the money to pay for an experience, do it. You will never remember how much you spent, but you’ll never forget the experience.
Last word…airplane orange juice is the best!