By Beyazmin Jimenez. Photography By Deun Ivory.
When you grow up poor, every day offers a lesson in survival. Whether it’s stretching every last dollar, negotiating with your landlord for an extra day or two, or gaining the courage to ask for one more credit run from your local bodega - survival is the way of the land.
So how can travel fit in that survival mode mentality? When I decided to take my first trip abroad, I was riddled with guilt with what my family would think. Travel seemed like a far-off luxury, reserved only for those with means. I thought of the many utility bills my flight could pay for, or the hours my mother would have to work at her job to make half of what the travel costs would be. Travel was only seen as a necessity when there was a family funeral or wedding to attend, and even then it was rushed and strictly business. Travel for pleasure did not exist in my family’s purview. I did not have the privilege of childhood trips to Disneyland, although I know my immigrant parents would’ve offered me the world if they had the resources to do it. It just was not our life - our daily task was survival, at all costs.
The sad truth of living in constant survival mode is that you never have a moment to breathe. This form of thinking and acting was draining me. Even after starting college, I couldn’t shake the feeling that everything would go wrong at some point. I was so busy questioning my blessings that I left little time to celebrate any of them. I yearned for a change of pace. I didn’t realize it at the time, but the need was for a shift in consciousness, a shift in my worldview. I was no longer surviving- I was starving: spiritually and emotionally.
I had been feeling down for awhile now, and had tried every method I knew to feel better: lost weight, cut my hair, cut ties with a toxic boyfriend. A few years before Solange’s known hit “Cranes in the Sky”, I had tried it all to wish the sadness away. This trip abroad would be my last attempt at finding balance, finding happiness once again. The destination didn’t matter as much as the distance - I wanted to go far, far, far, away. I located Thailand on a map and made it my goal.
Following my intuition for the first time in my life was terrifying. It was a risk I wasn’t used to making. I could not express into words why I needed this time away, but I felt an ache for it. I arrived to Thailand with my heart in my throat, and naive optimism. It had taken me a while to convince my family this was the right move, and ultimately I decided to do what I felt was best for my well-being. I took a leap of faith with my first solo trip abroad and the experience enriched my life in more ways than I could’ve ever predicted.
Getting lost in a new city was exciting. I would venture out with new friends and explore every corner of Bangkok. Each day felt more refreshing than the last. The food tested my palette in a way I had never experienced with an array of spices and unlimited options. Meeting travelers from different parts of the world provided me with a fresh outlook, as we chatted about topics around art, politics, and our lives back home. I felt brand new, like I was shedding my old skin. Each day abroad allowed me to feel lighter as if the boulder of worry and doubt was lifting tentatively off my shoulders. At night, I was confronted by all my fears as I laid in solitude with just my inner thoughts and feelings. I finally had the space to process how my life was evolving. I had never had the luxury to sit back and examine my world. For the first time, I felt in control of what was coming next. I felt empowered to ask the Universe for more. I wanted to carry this energy of goodwill and happiness back to my family and my immediate surroundings. I mapped out the next six months of my life: What did I want to see change? Was I happy with the direction my life was taking? What was I willing to sacrifice for my happiness?
The places I saw and experienced during this trip enriched my life for years to come. The time spent abroad allowed me space to think, to process, to heal - lessons I incorporated into my daily living once I returned. I had finally taken a deep breath and put myself first. I was no longer an apologist for my needs. My mind expanded with a curiosity I had not experienced since childhood. For the first time in a long time, I was speaking the life I wanted into existence. I had been living in fear and in survival mode for too long. The time away helped me break out of my shell. It showed me that my happiness was something worth fighting for. I was challenged into adapting to my new surroundings, and to shed the burden of doubt that had plagued me for so long. Travel was now a possibility and an attainable goal. We, people and women of color, deserve to be in these spaces, too. I felt proud to be the first in my family to reach Southeast Asia. I knew I would not be the last.