When I was 4 years old, I moved to the Englewood community in Chicago. Englewood is a working-class African-American community with issues common to many underserved areas around the world, including poverty. Naturally, the cycle of poverty restricts many individuals from traveling outside of their immediate cities and neighborhoods. Although I was exposed to some travel through my parents, many of my friends and neighbors did not have such an opportunity. Even today, there are many Chicago natives who have never been to the downtown area, outside of their own communities, or (in some situations) more than five miles away from their home.

Although I did not grow up with the means to travel extensively, I was blessed with unique opportunities to explore the world around me.  In high school, I joined an amazing non-profit organization, Target H.O.P.E. (Healing, Opportunity, Pride and Empowerment) that organized college tours in the spring and summer. When it was time to attend my first college tour, I didn’t have the money to go. When I informed the executive director of the organization of my dilemma, we made a deal that the organization would sponsor my trip if I repaid my debt by volunteering in the Target H.O.P.E. office for a specified period of time. I agreed, and I embarked upon my first independent journey as a traveler.

I traveled on two college tours with Target H.O.P.E., visited seven states, and over ten different cities. I had never traveled so extensively in my life. I boarded the Target H.O.P.E. tour bus and embarked on an up-close and personal tour of America’s beautiful landscape. I returned to Chicago with a host of new experiences and opportunities that I would have never known of if I hadn’t traveled. I chose my undergraduate alma mater (Washington University in St. Louis) because I visited on a Target H.O.P.E. tour.

I didn’t know back then, but the program furthered my desire to see and experience things unknown, to keep an open mind, and to expose myself to the world.

This lesson has been imperative to my growth as an adult. When I graduated from Washington University in 2009, I promised myself that I would leave the country for the first time within the next three years. By May 2011, after my first year of law school, I enrolled in an eight-week study abroad program in Sydney, Australia. I learned life-changing lessons about self-care and faith in those eight weeks that I will carry with me for the rest of my life.  When I returned to the States in August, I made a promise to myself to improve my diet, take care of my body, and travel internationally at least once a year. I’ve wavered (as we humans tend to do), but as of today, I’ve kept all of those promises to myself.

Since my journey to Australia, I’ve traveled to several cities in Africa, Europe, Canada and the Caribbean. In hindsight, I see how great of an influence travel had on both my personal and professional trajectories. I’ve learned that travel is a necessary component to unlocking one’s full potential. Through exposure to new places, ideas and communities, one’s perspective on life changes dramatically. Travel affords unique opportunities to meet new people, embark on new challenges, and face inner issues in an entirely new way.

As black people, we need exposure to other environments, people and cultures. This exposure is vital to our success as a community. I think part of the reason why we see such a vicious cycle in our communities (this is, of course, among other institutional and social factors) is the lack of exposure to better situations. As humans, we cannot replicate what we have not been exposed to. Travel opens the mind and heart to experience new, exciting things and lights a fire in one’s soul that is contagious upon a traveler’s return. Travel gives people the opportunity to look past what they’ve seen and the courage to reach for what they know is possible.

Traveling doesn’t have to start with an elaborate, expensive trip around the world. Even a bus ride to a new place in your own city is enough. From personal experience, I understand that a part of you changes every time you travel. Now that I’ve traveled around the world, it’s my dream to help others in my community do the same, no matter where they go.

My life has been shaped through and changed by the gift of travel. I encourage all of us to get out there and see the world. Whether it’s to a new side of town or out of the country for the first time, travel can and will change your life. Become a citizen of different environments. Try a new dish or learn something new about a different culture. Be open to experiencing something new, no matter how small the distance.

 The results will surely amaze you.

What have you learned from travel? Let us know in the comments below!

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