On Being Carmen Jones Sandiego


I’m not adventurous. I’m pretty darn risk averse to be quite honest. And every time I get ready to leave for a new place I feel an intense sense of anxiety. Traveling for most is a scary endeavor, and I’m no different. Depending on where and how you travel there can be so many unknown variables, especially if you aren’t traveling on corporate dollars, if you have to carefully calculate everything. What’s it like getting from the airport to wherever I’m staying? How do I avoid getting taken advantage of when exchanging my currency for some that I can actually use? There are so many things that can make one overwhelmed. But more and more, folks are venturing out into the unknown. There’s something about crossing borders that makes you realize that everything you are going to encounter, on some level, is new. And that can be as exhilarating as it is nerve-wracking.

I think I travel so that I don’t feel like I’m standing still. I'm often plagued by this sense of inertia and one of the best and easiest ways to break out of it is through travel.  I’m writing from Cusco, Peru, a place that until I was invited by a friend I met during my travels in Colombia last year, I knew absolutely nothing about. Last week I was in La Paz, Bolivia and for the first time in my life was around a population that was truly Indigena, and before I knew it I was being invited to a reggae-trono party by a couple of Brazilians. Two weeks ago I was in Santiago, Chile, where I will be returning to at that the end of the month, and got my first taste of “The Southern Cone” of South America. Before leaving for this latest adventure someone asked me when I was going to join “the real world.” Clearly he missed the fact that this is the reality I’ve created for myself.

Contrary to what many believe, save for two plane tickets to Colombia, all my trips have come out of my own pocket. I absolutely recognize that many folks do not financially or circumstantially have the luxury of jet setting so this is not a message to people at-large. But even those of us who can be considered "comfortably middle-class" haven’t Kim Kardashianed our way up so we still have to make choices about where we spend our money. Some would rather put it into red bottoms, purses, depreciating vehicles, etc. and by all means, if that's what gives you pleasure, mo' power to ya. But don't turn around talk about how you don’t have money for passport stamps and invaluable experiences abroad. And I'm sorry, this does not mean going to a resort in the Dominincan Republic. You will learn little to nothing about a country and it's people by spending time at resorts. I'm not talking about the relaxing vacations that I'm sure we all very-well need. I'm talking about the experiences that could change the way you see yourself and the world. We often make it about the money, or child care, or time, but in reality it's quite often about fear and a lack of knowledge about where to even start if we want to travel. 

My trips have never been organized by any institution or travel agent. I get on the internet, figure it out and travel solo. Or, sometimes, you know when people make an open invitation in a group setting to visit their countries and don’t expect people to jump on it? Well I’ll be the first one like “Word? I’m looking up tix.” I've been amazed at how hospitable folks can be when you visit them.

I didn’t wait until I was more established to travel. My 1st big trip was to Brasil, by myself, a few weeks after HU graduation and two weeks after my 22nd birthday through a program I found on the web and paid for with my Bison Yearbook savings. Nor has traveling been a product of being footloose and fancy free in my 20s. I’m going harder in my 30s than I ever did. 

The last thing I want to be is preachy (because I really do hate that shit) but I say all this to say that we will make 1000 excuses (yes, some of which are super valid) for why someone else is able to go to a place we’ve longed to see. But if we want to experience the world beyond our immediate surroundings I want to share that you can find a way to make it happen.  I understand that when it comes to traveling  often times baby steps are necessary. It ain't for the faint of heart.  But once you get beyond your comfort zone something that can enliven you awaits. I have been enriched by my travels, by the different characters I've met, the stories I've heard, the nature I've seen. And now I'm thinking more about how to encourage and support others to take their Carmen San Diego voyages.