When I was 19 and living in Vancouver, I was on a walk with my 90-pound brindle boxer Tyson and newborn baby Jazmyn, I met someone who changed my life.
I never got his name but he was an Indigenous man who used to work as an actor on North of 60. We ran into each other from time to time walking our dogs, talking about random things. He even gifted me a pair of moccasins for Jazmyn.
One day he said something which struck a chord with me – so many people visit places but never truly see where they’ve been.
A few months later, I left British Columbia for the GTA, a less lush land but closer to family. I went on to have four children and a life which revolved around their wants and needs.
Until winter 2017, when I had an Eat, Pray, Love moment and quit my job. I didn’t know exactly what the future would hold except I knew it was time to chase my dreams.
I decided to go back to college to study journalism, a childhood dream since my days as the child editor of my own publication, The Glorious Gossip. Who knew as a 35-year-old college student, I would finally get to expand my travel wings?
My best friend was getting married in Jamaica, my first experience as a maid of honour with the bonus of a destination wedding. The two-hour drive following the flight was on a winding road headed to Negril. I looked out the window like an eager and curious toddler, before DVD players tainted the driving experience.
I watched real life unfold: people at food stands, teenagers in school uniforms walking home, most with relaxed smiles on their faces. This was a way of life I had not yet experienced.
I made the conscious decision to see past surface level, remembering the advice of my Vancouver friend. I not only took photographs but made the time to see the island through my own eyes: connected to my experience and disconnected from the busy real world.
The resort was a picturesque paradise but I found my most fulfilling experiences happened outside the gates. Meeting locals and swapping real life stories with them was the best part of the trip.
I had the Oprah ah ha moment.
We are all human beings, more alike than we are different.
Once I started, I couldn’t stop. I headed to Mexico just six months later. Again, I thrived in the cultural and historical experiences more than the cookie cutter excursions. I soaked in conversations, even with fellow travellers, to learn their stories. I booked cultural tours to get a flavour of the land where I stood. The history was just as important to me as the present moment.
Days after arriving back from Mexico, still burnt to a crisp, I got ready for a trip of a lifetime. I joined a group of Durham College students and teachers, as part of a documentary team, headed for Kenya.
This trip was unlike any other. It felt like an entirely different planet. I learned how polite and kind-hearted Kenyans are, with every fiber of their being. Talking to Kenyans was always fun because we would always notice the differences and similarities between us.
It was fascinating to hear their questions about us and riveting to learn about their life journeys. From the bustling city of Nairobi, to the safari of wild animal paradise, I hung on to every vision, trying to internally capture it forever, like a polaroid camera.
A few months later, I booked tickets for my mother, kids and I to head back to Jamaica. This time, I wanted to experience somewhere I loved, but through the kids’ eyes.
One woman braided my hair on the beach. She shared with me the struggles she faced with her hair business. We had to walk about half an hour from the resort for her to freely do my hair, without getting fined. She was grateful I agreed to walk down the beach to get my hair done, saying many tourists wouldn’t. We chatted about kids, life and dreams, as she took pride weaving my hair into beautiful braids.
She told me her biggest challenge is buying hair supplies. So naturally, when we walked back to my hotel, I raided my room and gave her all the products I could get my hands on. She cried in appreciation and I smiled, just grateful to have gotten to know her.
The overwhelming feeling of appreciation washed over me, like an ocean wave hitting the shore. I valued the journey even more than the destination. It reminded me life is truly about human connection. People simply hope to be seen, heard and cared for – it really is that simple.
My most recent trip was to Punta Cana. The Dominican sun was as warm and bright as the people. It was another sweet escape which made my heart feel full. Yet another reminder the more I experience, the more I find pieces of myself I didn’t even know were missing … or perhaps those pieces weren’t found yet.
I fully embrace the idea you leave somewhere different – hopefully better – than when you started the journey.
So travel. Taste, touch, smell, listen and see all you can to make it a meaningful experience, forever etched in your mind and you heart.