My fascination with travel started at a young age. I still remember the first time my mom deposited us “down south” for the summer. Of all the unanticipated elements of culture shock, the one I truly was not prepared for was foreign language. The first time my cousin declared that she was “finna” go to the pool, I honestly thought she had a stutter of some sort and politely ignored it. Upon realizing that this term preceded all verbs, I had to acknowledge that I was a stranger in a strange place. A place where people weren’t “about to”, they were “fixin’ to”. A place where the bike path never stopped and the street lights didn’t call you home.
Looking back, this early experience was formative. I’ve heard it said that “black Americans don’t travel”. Recent marketing campaigns even invite us to disprove this by hopping on a plane. However, in a world filled with pockets of variety in every square mile, one has to seriously ask what counts? Almost every child in my neighborhood went South at some point in summer. (I’m pretty sure most of us had a brief period of thinking that “down south” was an actual place.) Although these excursions to Virginia, the Carolinas, Georgia, Florida, etc, were not spoken of with the esteem of the “gap year” of more privileged groups, I’m convinced they taught comparable lessons. The backpack through Europe, the summer on safari, or the meditation retreat in South Asia are seen as worth writing home about, ostensibly because of their exotic nature, but I’d argue that one can circumnavigate the globe without truly leaving the comfort zone. The critical aspects of travel - immersion in unfamiliarity, disorientation, deep listening and deep looking, shifting perspectives - might be just as easily experienced on a trip to the other side of town. My travels below the Mason-Dixon Line as a kid from northeastern surburbia widened my perspective more than standing atop the Eiffel Tower or snapping photos in front of the Colosseum.
How far does one have to travel to see the world?
- amelia simone