a person who travels on foot.
I don’t always travel by foot, although sometimes I do. But what I know about foot travel is that sometimes it sucks. Sometimes your feet get muddy, your shoes get ruined, and blisters, bruises, and sprained ankles make you want to give up and stay horizontal all day. But you also are forced to slow down, to observe, listen, notice things. You’re forced to embrace the messiness and discomfort and to let the pain make you stronger. That’s the kind of travel I want to do.
My love of travel probably began in the womb. By age eight, I insisted that I’d one day join the Peace Corps and live in Africa; I then learned French (rather than Spanish like all my peers which really would have been much more practical) to help make that dream a reality. Today, although still living stateside in Washington, D.C., my hunger to see more of the world has only increased and my bucket list only lengthened.
But what drives my worlderlust is not just the pretty scenery and the desire to check another country off my list – that was probably the last thing on my mind when eight-year-old Me told my parents I would go live in the bush and eat goats and bugs for the rest of my life, whether they liked it or not (unsurprisingly, they did not). That little girl saw the potential for more: she yearned to meet her global neighbors who ate different foods, spoke different languages, and saw the world through diverse lenses. She saw something transformative in stepping into the unknown and embracing the discomfort that comes when immersed in a foreign culture.
When I was 15, I moved to Paris for a summer to study French, fashion, and global issues, gain as much weight as humanly possible from a diet largely consisting of crêpes and Nutella, and make friends with locals who’d help me practice my language skills. I took classes alongside Parisians, lived in an apartment alongside Parisians, and ate like the Parisians (minus the Parisian metabolism, unfortunately). I did life as a Parisian.
Summer 2007 in Paris, France
Since that fated summer in Paris, I’ve done the same in places like Rwanda and Haiti, as well as shorter whirlwind backpacking trips and everything in between. And while these trips have varied, there is at least one common thread throughout all: a desire to slow down and observe all that life is to the people in these faraway places – to taste their food, to understand their art, their history, their music, their politics.
I want my adventures abroad to be real and raw, not merely a collection of picturesque squares capturing perfectly ordered itineraries. I’ve faced some of my worst traumas, made some of my biggest mistakes, and suffered some of my most bizarre injuries and illnesses while traveling. I’ve gotten horribly lost and been pickpocketed and stranded on the wrong side of a border and cried more than any self-respecting person would bother to count and share on the internet. My travels have held my hand through the loss of love and relationships and celebrated the spark of others.
But here’s what I know about My goal here is to challenge the “travel consumerism” mindset, where one visits a foreign country without any desire to get to know it. It’s like going on a date for the free dinner but not asking any questions (i.e., awkward for everyone and sort of sucks the fun out of that tiramisu). As The Wayfaress, my hope is to inspire fellow travelers to instead step out of the comfortable and get their feet a little dirty: to walk toward the cultural tension, embracing the discomfort and messiness and beauty that comes when one travels by foot. It’s here that one grows in self-awareness and empathy, combats the fear of differences that’s plagued all of human history, and discovers diverse beauty. It’s here that traveling has the power to change you.
Personally, I want my travels to change me. I want to learn something about myself and other cultures with each new passport stamp, and I want to encounter some discomfort and messiness along the way. I want to challenge my own ways of thinking and fight through trials that challenge me. I want my adventures to seep into and color every nook and cranny of my normal day-to-day existence. I want to walk through life with open eyes, taking the longer and slower and tougher road, and making room to notice beauty in the every-day, as any proper foot-traveling wayfarer would (even if there are sometimes planes, trains, and automobiles included, too). And I want to invite you to get your feet dirty and walk this journey with me.