Travel is my self-care. It does for me what meditation, a day at the spa, or journaling does for others. Travel puts me back together, and strengthens me to confront the realities of everyday life.
Update as of 10/30/17: All registrants to AfroBuenaventura trips will receive exclusive access to the #TravelAsSelfCare Tool worksheet and a 30-minute travel consultation with me!
Travel brings me toward the truest version of myself. When I travel, I experience freedom from the rat-race, freedom from competition with others, and freedom from incessant consumption of things and ideas that do not develop my sense of self. I feel whole. And I feel love. When I travel, I feel in control, and in power over my life and destiny. My travel experiences replenish my hope in humanity and give me confidence that my future will be filled with beauty. It is more than a hobby. It is my self-care. It is a deliberate act that I prioritize, allocate my resources toward, and one which requires that I have clear intentions about what I want to get out of each trip.
Travel Puts Me Back Together Again
I was extremely active in extracurricular activities on my college campus; and specifically, in leadership roles of several organizations. Combined with the priority of earning good grades and managing adult responsibilities, my physical, emotional, and spiritual energy was depleted. My mental health was constantly under attack. My interpersonal relationships suffered. And my relationship with myself was non-existent. After a bout with migraines and stomach aches--physical manifestations of the negative stress associated with being so busy on campus, I had a chat with the university chaplain. She asked me a question for which I had no answer in that moment. She asked me, “What do you do at the end of the day that puts you back together?” Like Humpty Dumpty, I had no fix--no method of putting myself back together again.
It took me some years to figure out the answer. I enjoyed reading, but it wasn’t my go-to when I needed healing. I liked working out, but I was inconsistent and often did it for the wrong reasons. After a trip to East Africa --my first trip abroad that was not related to academic study--I realized how free, whole, loving, powerful, and well I felt when I engaged in travel. Travel was the thing that put me back together again.
The feeling that comes over me when I travel greater than just excitement about going somewhere new, or being “booked”, or having a new stream of pics to post on social media as I proclaim myself a jet-setter. The positive effects that I get from engaging in travel experiences is wholly centered on me, my feelings, my perception of self, and my well-being. Even if no one ever knew that I packed up and flew thousands of miles and stayed in a remote place, or that I were able to speak the local language, the travel that I engage in would still have its replenishing effect. In other words, I do not "do it for the 'Gram".
To be clear, using travel as self-care is not escapism. It is an intential act of exploring my passion for movement through physical space with the objective of engaging with other cultures and environments to reflect, find freedom from the societal constraints of my home-place, increase self-awareness, and prepare to re-engage with the environment of my home-place in a better state than when I’d left.
I started traveling internationally when I was a pre-teen. My first trip was to Toronto, Canada with a bunch of other rambunctious black pre-teens. I seriously thought that someone was fooling us--that the places we were seeing from the large windows of our tour bus were just huge cardboard cutouts of landscapes and buildings. And that the folks on the other side of our windows were just actors--like something you’d see at Universal Studios or Warner Brothers in L.A. We were so far removed from the South-side of Chicago and our own neighborhoods. Our sole responsibility on this trip was to learn and grow as global citizens. Early on, traveling represented not only freedom from familiar or stressful environments, but also an opportunity for self-expansion.
The Care Outcome
Through engaging in activities on my trips that reflect and reach toward my intention, I experience outcomes that provide the effects of care. For instance, my intention to engagge and share with Afro-descendant communities in Latin America provides value to me when I increase interpersonal connections and enhance my understanding of the common beauty and strength that I share with other black people in the Americas. The care outcome of this is that I can then better see and acknowledge my (our) importance as a human that is able to give and receive love, and moreover, I have a clearer view of the relevance of African cultural heritage around the globe. And I am also emboldened by witnessing the resilience of Afro-descendant communities throughout the Diaspora through their resistance against global white supremacy. The confidence gained from this awareness helps me to feel empowered in a world that does not wish to understand or acknowledge my value (as evident in historical and contemporary genocide of black people globally), and it re-energizes me to reassert my place in the world.
I encounter my truest self when I travel. This version of myself is liberated, curious, and fearless. On a trip to Colombia in November 2016, I read about a port city named Buenaventura on the Pacific coast. I hadn’t planned on visiting--and I was almost deterred due to a guidebook’s description of the Afro-Colombian city as dangerous, militarized, and lacking value for tourists. But I hopped on a bus headed there anyway, resisting the negative narrative in order to spend time in fishing communities reachable only by boat. After a 4-hour bus ride, I hurried to catch the last boat from Buenaventura's docks. On that 2-hour boat ride I literally thought I might lose my life: the monstrous waves threw our 15-foot motor boat around like a hot potato. I arrived to the seaside community of Juanchaco soaking wet, cold, and very thankful that we had not capsized. I got off the boat to search for lodging, and unintentionally walked into a community fair. One of the vendor tables displayed tourism information, so I approached to ask about local hotels. Turns out that the guy on the other side of the table owned a hotel that he led me to about 20 yards away. After drying off , I wandered over to a stage set up on the shore to find a group of school children from the area giving a performance in celebration of their Afro-Colombian heritage.
Through uncertainty, risk-taking, and perseverance, I was literally pushed into an environment that put me in direct contact with black communities in Colombia--which is the very reason that I decided to go to Colombia. Despite being physically shaken and exhausted, the care outcome of that experience is that I came closer to understanding my physical and spiritual resilience, and a higher calling to learn, explore, and love my people. This experience replenished my energy toward pursuing my passions--those activities that enable me to be my truest self. The experience was the catalyst for me to start AfroBuenaventura (this blog is named after the port city mentioned above) as a portal to showcase Afro-Latin communities and help others engage in great travel.
After a trip my body craves rest, but I feel spiritually and emotionally renewed. After decompressing the experiences of a journey, I find that I have been made more resilient to negative forces that I encounter in the rat-race of life at home. And I am more in touch with the things that bring me pleasure, and increasingly grateful for the opportunities to have great travel experiences, and an intentional practice that puts me back together again.
3 Questions to Ask Yourself While Planning #TravelAsSelfCare
Planning a self-care trip is much more than reserving a few hours at the spa. When planning a trip, I ask myself specific questions to help me understand how I will spiritually and emotionally benefit. Regardless of whether you travel for adventure or to just get away, here are three questions that you can ask yourself if you aim to encounter self-care outcomes as a result of your travel:
What is my intention?
What care outcomes do I want to experience?
Are the activities on my trip deliberately bringing me closer to my desired care outcomes?
After you have answered these questions, build your itinerary around the intention that you identified. Be aware and open to new experiences and pay attention to how you feel physically, emotionally, and spiritually throughout the experience. When you are wrapping up your trip, revisit the experiences in your mind (or journal) and analyze how the actual outcomes compare to the desired outcomes and intentions you'd written down before the trip.