This past weekend I made my annual visit to Denver, Colorado, to visit friends who live in and around the capital of the Mile High City. There is something about Denver that automatically puts me at ease. Perhaps it is the friendly disposition of the locals or the scenic mountain landscapes that encompass the state. Coloradans are unique and Denver has become one the cities I love the most. Coming from New York, it is a much different lifestyle but one that I could easily get used to over time. If you have never visited Denver, I highly recommend it.
Prior to Denver, this year I visited a couple of American cities and three countries. I normally visit at least four countries but circumstances dictated otherwise. Looking back, I am profoundly grateful that I have had the means available to make each of those trips. However, there is an issue which continues to stay in the back of my mind that I will discuss here. I was once asked “why don’t more Black Americans travel?”. The question caught me off guard at first but the more I thought about it, the more I realized that it is a potent question that needs to be asked more. As I have traveled the world, I have noticed the lack of faces similar to mine on many flights, especially those bound for international destinations. I have always felt that Black Americans need to see more of the world and the world more of us. Travel opens the mind and helps emotional, psychological and even spiritual development. Additionally, it helps break down stereotypes and sometimes forces the traveler to step outside his/her comfort zone. If I had not traveled as I did, I am not sure I would be the person that I am today. But the question remains, why does there seem to be a lack of Black American travelers? The answer to the question is not a simple one. In fact, it has to be answered in several parts. But the key issues are finances, fear and culture. I point out that these are strictly my opinions an in no way the final word on the topic. Some may agree with me or vehemently disagree, but I will do my best to explain what I have seen and learned both here at home and abroad.
Any trip requires adequate finances, period. Without money, you will be hard pressed to travel anywhere. I have been extremely fortunate to be financially able to travel. Due in part to strong budgeting and in part to fortune, I have found myself in cities such as Dublin, Stuttgart, Buenos Aires and Port of Spain, to name a few. But there are many Black Americans who are not in the same situation and quite possibly have never been. You see, here in America, historically, Black Americans have had a hard struggle. And if you live in the ghetto or “low-income” areas, travel is a luxury that is the least of your concerns and fare beyond your reach. Rent and food are the top priorities and for families scraping to get by, a luxury vacation to Europe is out of the question. And until their situation changes, they make due with what they have. The cost of living around the world continues to increase, pushing families already on the brink even closer to destitution. The future is uncertain for them and they will have to do what they must in times of need. But what about people who do have the funds? What reasons exist for them?
Before actually planning a trip, there has to be a will to visit the destination. I personally know people who are afraid to travel outside of the country. Excuses are that it is too far, possibly too dangerous and frightening. I do not believe that any of those are valid reasons not to travel. In fact, I can tell you that at times I have felt safer in cities outside of the United States than right here in my hometown of New York City. When I told friends that I was going to visit Mexico for the first time, some replied “don’t get kidnapped”. Before I visited Argentina, some stated “the Argentines are racist”. And with Santo Domingo, “oh my God, you two are crazy walking the streets of the Dominican Republic”. It would take too much time to discuss each trip but I can tell you that the fears were overblown. Did I exercise caution when away from home? Absolutely, that is must no matter where you are at. But I also did not walk around afraid for my life. In Mexico, the local police patrolled the area with a 50-caliber automatic and needless to say, no one dared to issue a challenge. At night, all was quiet as I took in the view of the mountains that blanketed Metepec. Interesting Mexico City had a protest when I visited but if you are familiar with Latin American politics, then you will already know that protest are more common than Americans know. The Argentines will always be considered by some to arrogant and some certainly are. But they are no more arrogant than other nations and the hospitality I received rivaled anywhere I have ever been. As a result of my visits there, I gained an extended family and new friends. Admittedly, Buenos Aires certainly does have its share of crime, but nothing that caused me to question my own safety. And in Santo Domingo, it felt no different from being Uptown or in the Bronx. The key no matter where you visit, is to use common sense and always keep your guard up. I could become a robbery victim in London or right around the corner from my apartment in Brooklyn. Crime is present in every part of this world.
Incredibly, even with finances and no fear of personal safety, there’s still another reason why more Black Americans don’t travel. Culturally, travel changes from nation to nation. Anyone that is a traveler will tell you Australians go everywhere. They have no hesitation about boarding a plane and flying around the globe. I have always admire that about them and hope to see more of this planet. The Argentines carry their own weight well and for them, anything less than a month is not considered a vacation. New York City unquestionably is one of the most popular on earth and daily I encounter people from all over this world. They have endured long flights and worked hard to have the finances available to make the journey. For them, travel truly is priceless. What is needed for Black Americans is more incentive within our own culture to travel. Resort destinations have become too cliché and offer almost no opportunities to truly learn about the country that exist outside the walls of the guarded compound. Personally, I have no desire to go to Cancun, Tijuana or other resort destinations. I would much rather walk the streets of the city among the locals where I can actually learn about the people who live there. Further, the money would be much better spent on a trip that I will remember for a lifetime, not because of how good the party was or how drunk I was but because I met a native that introduced me to a native dish, taught me their history or went out of their way to ensure that I enjoyed every minute of my time in their country. So instead of buying endless pairs of Jordans, putting rims on my car, or buying clothing that costs as much as a month’s rent, I would rather save that money for a trip to yet a new destination for another learning experience that will stay with me for the rest of my days. I am often dismayed at the things that are given priority among Black Americans. At times our focus is completely off and we are distracted by nonsense. And as one friend told me quite bluntly, “we wear our assets”. The Hip-Hop culture continues to project false and degrading images that only serve to impede progress. The music industry creates a mirage at times that maintains a vice grip on the minds and consciousness of young Black youths. Instead of messages about drinking Hennessy or living like an outlaw, we need more messages of positive reinforcement shifting the focus from the nonsensical to subjects that should be intellectually desirable. Instead of a gun, let a book take its place. Instead of an arrest record, let a passport take it place. And instead of domestic violence, let a home full of love take its place. These are some of the ways in which we elevate our minds and let ourselves experience all that life has to offer. I always encourage every young person I meet to get their passport and go see the world. I am sometimes met with looks of puzzlement as if travel is something not meant for a person of color. In fact, I have heard on more than one occasion regarding various topics that “oh that’s for white people”. Miles Davis once stated that he never understood why Black people do not take advantage of all of the things are their disposal. I share his confusion and simply do not understand the mindset some have and will never accept it. My father once said to me that he wished he would have traveled like I have when he was younger. For his generation, America was a different place where civil rights were more important that where to see next. It is for that reason I travel as I do. I have the means and the freedom to do it. In the future, I will continue to push those I meet to travel and if I can get at least one person to change the way the view life, then I have done my part to change the lives of Black people.
In spite of everything I have said, I understand that traveling can be slightly daunting. You find yourself agonizing over booking the best flight and hotel. When you arrive at your destination, there is the challenge of finding the hotel which can be a struggle, especially if you do not speak the local language. Luggage can and does get lost adding another source of misery for the traveler. There is always the chance you can meet someone who doesn’t like Americans, Asians, Blacks, Whites, etc. But that is the world we live in where people find all sorts of reasons to dislike each other. And sadly sometimes travelers are victims of crime. However, if done right, a trip away from home can change your life in ways you never thought possible. I have always stated that I do some of my best thinking at 35,000 feet and have always been anxious when arriving in a new city or country. But in the end, I regret nothing and learned many valuable lessons about the world and myself. I have watched a live Tango as only the Argentines can do it, eaten Schnitzel at a gas station on the side of a highway near Frankfurt and had fried cactus for breakfast in Mexico. In Trinidad, I had the famous Bake n’ Shark at Maracas beach and the traditional Irish breakfast in Dublin. And if you like Guinness, you have not had one until you have visited the Guinness factory. One of my wishes in life is that more Black Americans are able to have the same experiences. On a positive note, things are slowly changing and I now see more faces of color as I travel. We must remember that Rome was not completed in a day but it began somewhere. To all of the people of color who may read this, do not over think, just go and embrace life. Be smart and vigilante but keep your mind as open as you can and learn about the place we call earth. And in time you will come to understand and appreciate the power of travel.
“The world is a book, those who do not travel read only a page” –St. Augustine