t.r.a.v.e.l

20151115_042559t is for Transformation

This year, I was blessed with the privilege of traveling to two countries. Neither country was on my top list of destinations dreamed and lusted over. The first came by way of work, the second was motivated by a daughter’s desire to make a mother’s life long dream manifest.

On the first trip, I ventured out on my own, traveling without my family for the first time since my international maiden voyage to The City of Light and Romance, my  beloved Paris. I was in my twenties and the first in my immediate family to travel abroad simply for pleasure and adventure.

Some two decades later, again, I am alone in another European city. This time around, there was a little more angst and insecurity as I ventured about – age, post-9/11, I could not discern. At first, I stayed close to my hotel – my safety blanket, representing home and the Known. Within just a few days, something happened: an internal shift, a transformation. I recognized the shift that occurred quickly, almost instantaneously in Paris. Travel changes your perspective, the lens through which and by which one sees one’s world. Because you are in the unfamiliar, the unknown, you are forced to open your eyes, mind and heart in order to pivot and reorient. This is the process by which the unknown soon becomes less so, when discomfort begins to melt, where angst gives way to courage. Soon, like a baby, you go from crawling to tentatively standing up (with the help of a very detailed City map) to walking on your very own relying less on said map. I began to venture farther from my hotel, allowing myself to get lost, confident that I would find my way and bearings. For me, there is no greater freedom or sense of aliveness than that transformation, that transcendence that travel elicits from the place of fear to courage and confidence in self that one sometimes forgets that one contains.

Months later, I travel farther East. This time, I am not alone. I am with my mother and forty other souls on our guided tour. We will be together constantly for nine days. Still, I am in the Middle East. It is here that I learned the power of travel to transform by way of jarring humility. I have only known and seen the world through the seemingly less complicated lens of the West. Yet, I’d always believed myself to be open-minded and broad in perspective where the world is concerned. Not so much, I soon learned, as I found myself judging based on that Western lens. It was so stunningly subconscious, like breathing, my judgement, until I heard another Westerner voice what I dared not. Hearing judgement that lived in my head from another was akin to a violet splash of frozen water, a stark mirror placed in front of me revealing all that dwells inside. I could finally see The Judgement clearly as it had been brought to the fore with nowhere to hide. Once exposed, once humbled, I could see anew with slightly different, less biased lens. This is the point and privilege and importance of travel: transformation.

r is for Reflection

I have been journaling essentially my entire life. Ask my siblings what they recall about me as we grew up and they will say categorically my writing – notebook and pencil always in hand.

I never travel without a journal – often one purchased specifically for that trip.There is so much to absorb during travel – to see, to hear, to taste, to experience. In order to be truly transformed by travel, to truly integrate it and have it inform how one lives moving forward, it is necessary to reflect. For me, this can only be done through a journal. Writing allows me to go very deep, to truly understand what is happening to and within me while I travel. It helps me to make sense of it all. As an introvert, the seemingly continuous stimulation of travel can be jarring and leave me utterly overwhelmed and exhausted. To refuel, to calm down, I must be still and write. I must hear my head and my heart. I must reflect.

Traveling to a big European City earlier this year, I recall the taxi ride to my hotel. I had splurged and chosen a fancy hotel in a chic location. Right across the street from my hotel, I noticed a stunningly sexy lounge – candles, books and couches everywhere, filled with the “beautiful” people. “I’ll be going there before I leave,” a voice within me declared. That voice was the part of me hoping to find the love, romance and passion that, alas, seemed so elusive to me back home in America. I yearned for a fling {so European} for the first time in my life. I’d come prepared with clothing a little more on the risque side – at least for me! So, my last night in the City, feeling good, confident and a tad horny, I get dressed and saunter to the sexy lounge. It is empty. I am the only guest in this gorgeous lounge with its candles and intoxicating house music. I am early, I think. So, let me get this party started and enjoy a glass of bubbly so as to be truly ready for love! I sip the wine slowly, savoring its intense flavors and aromas. Closing my eyes, I allow the pulsating and erotic music to merge with the champagne and take me on a ride of sheer pleasure and decadence. Like that, an hour passes! I open my eyes, slightly intoxicated and with great anticipation: I am still the only Soul in attendance. I laugh to stave off the tears and self-recrimination. Where are all those beautiful people who were in here just a few days ago? Did I scare them away? I considered another glass of champagne as I did not wish to leave and wanted to numb the pain of disappointment and yet another dream deferred. In lieu of wine, I turned to what had always sustained me and kept me afloat in moments like this: writing and reflection. I am never without pen and paper – even when venturing out to a trendy lounge! I pulled out my little journal from my sexy little purse and spent the next two hours writing, letting all my emotions flow out onto the paper carried along my the heady music, the candles and the breathtaking beauty of my surroundings. No dirty dancing with an English cutie followed by extraordinarily hot sex in my delicious hotel room as I’d hoped. It was an unforgettable evening nonetheless with just {as always} me, myself and I.

a is for Adventure

My dictionary defines adventure as “an exciting and unusual experience” or “an uncertain and risky undertaking.” All of this is true of travel.

I’d like to focus here on the risk involved. Before heading to the Middle East, everyone asked that question: is this a good time to go over there? Family and friends worried about our safety in a part of the world often marred by violence, instability and turbulence. I had the same thoughts when just days before our trip there were reports of disturbances. Still, my mother and I were determined. There would never likely be a “good” time to travel to the Middle East. If we were meant to go Home to God while traveling, such was the Plan and His Will.

Indeed, where in the world was anyone perfectly safe these days? Every morning when I enter the Port Authority in New York City on my way to work, I am met with members of the military in full army gear with huge guns on their shoulders. Bomb sniffing dogs are a common sight in the City. This is post-9/11 New York City.

So, how utterly ironic and surreal to be in the Middle East when terrorist attacks occur in Paris. Fear and chaos over there {where no one ever questions is it safe to travel} and utter peace and tranquility and quiet in this Middle Eastern country where such attacks  occur seemingly everyday.

v is for Veracity

Travel reveals the Truth of who you really are and what you are really made of. The truth of you that gets lost and buried in the everyday, the routine, the mundane and the familiar. Immersed in the unknown and the uncomfortable, one is forced to call upon deep resources – especially that of courage needed to go well beyond one’s comfort zone.

It was in the Middle East that I consciously chose to don a bathing suit for only the second time in my entire life! And, to take that farther than I ever had by going out in public! Ask anyone close to me and they will say to the person that they have never seen me in shorts let alone a bathing suit! Such a person was simply not what I perceived myself to be and what I believed was within the realm of possibility given the view I had of my body and worthiness. But, here I was, visiting for the first time the Earth’s lowest point: the Dead Sea. So serene, so utterly beautiful and beckoning me with its healing powers. Who knew if and when I’d be back. I did not want to wait for that elusive “better body.” I did not wish to have fear of judgement and self-consciousness get in my way – no more and not today! So, I tentatively put on that bathing suit a good friend had persuaded me to purchase for the trip. A few minutes later, I found myself floating on my belly in the Dead Sea, my eyes on the same level as that beautiful azure water with the morning sunlight twinkling with glee on the surface! Yes, it seemed to scream at me. Yes, you did it! I emerged from the Sea without a hint of self-consciousness, feeling a level freedom and body confidence I do not recall ever having felt before. That experience I shall never forget in my entire life. Never! It reminded me of a truth about me I often forget that is the courage and resolve that lurks within; that I can, with clear intention, relatively easily overcome judgement I perceive in others and within myself to venture forth toward a fuller life, a life well-lived.

e is for Enjoyment

It was through travel that I first understood – on a deep and experiential level – the meaning of joie de vivre! Such a concept is not steeped in American culture and certainly not in the West Indian culture of my parents. I was taught and saw that life was about hard work, sacrifice and responsibility, not joy. I remember my younger depressed self risking vulnerability to share with my mother how profoundly unhappy I was. Her response: Life is not about happiness. Something deep inside of me just did not believe that to be true.

It was travel to Paris that first made the concept of pure and unadulterated  joy real for me. There I learned how crucial joy is to a full life. It was not simply a luxury reserved for others. Joy was a right and – most importantly – a choice available to all. This notion seeped into my skin and never left! Since then, I look for and deliberately cultivate joy. I feel especially free to do so while traveling as there is a sense of urgency that is often absent at home within the realm of the familiar and comfortable.

That mandate for joy led me to indulge in a spa treatment in the Middle East. I’d never before had a spa treatment outside of the United States – ever! Would the exacting standards I am accustomed to in New York City spas be on par here? How would a woman of color in a country with not many women of color who look like me be received in a spa where one is buck naked and at the mercy of another? So, I venture into the spa, nervous and doubting. My angst grows in the waiting room (not nearly as serene and beautiful as I am used to in NYC) and then my masseuse blithely shares that she is running behind by 15 minutes (never had that happen to me before!) I am about to cancel the treatment, but my aching, travel weary muscles protest. Finally, I am in the treatment room in the hands of an unassuming petite woman who could barely speak English. For the next hour and a half she would take my body on an experience of joy the likes it has never been on before – a whole body massage with warm stones executed by expert and confident hands followed by coffee scrub, then slathered in pure chocolate before being swathed like a newborn baby. Joy incarnate!

l is for Luxury

Travel is indeed a luxury, far from the basic necessities of food, clothing and shelter. An inveterate idealist, my choice of career in the nonprofit sector left very little in the form of disposable income that is needed for travel. Still, I found a way. I had to as there seemed to be no other choice for an adventurer at heart. For me, travel is a necessary luxury. I’d rather be in debt and go without than not engage up close with the world. Not the most prudent choice, this is I know very well. Alas, passion is not driven by prudence. Love indeed makes no sense. Such it is.

To marry some financial responsibility with my need for travel, I am learning to broaden what it means to venture abroad. While visiting Europe earlier this year, I came to realize that quite a bit of the “hot” spots I wanted to visit there had their flagship or a outlet in New York City. I could frequent these places in New York at literally a third of the price! Further, millions of people every year spent a small fortune traveling to New York City to do the things I tend to take for granted and make little time to experience. Tourists to NYC likely knew more about the City than me, a native! The luxury that is travel helped me to better appreciate the bounty I have at home, right at my fingertips. I now make it a point to “travel” to new and unfamiliar environs in New York City. I have only really touched the tip of the proverbial iceberg of this ever evolving and fast changing City.

Still, the more I “travel” within the confines of New York, the hungrier I am to go farther, to spread my winds and fly. Travel is indeed a luxury and, for me, a need as essential as the air is to breathe.

 

 

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