My love of travel was instilled by my mother who, as a child, often envisioned living and working in Africa when she grew up. She shared those dreams with me, and even though she never made it across the great waters, she traveled throughout the U.S., many times with me in tow.
It wasn't until I was 38 that I realized I could do more than take vacations; I could be a traveler. While visiting Paris that year, I met a fascinating man at a dinner party who had made international travel a way of life. He was a fashion and travel photographer as well as a photojournalist. Looking at his passport was orgasmic! I counted 43 stamps to Africa alone! He had arranged his life so that he spent on average two months working and two months traveling. That encounter ultimately transformed me.
Shortly after returning home, I started a travel fund. I knew I would have to be creative and persistent (since I wasn't particularly lucky or rich). I converted my two-car garage into a one-bedroom apartment and faithfully deposited the rent I received into a special account. And I consulted a financial planner who helped me rethink my attitudes about saving, spending andinvesting. Eventually I was able to semi-retire for two years. During that time, I took a seven-month solo adventure through eight countries in Central and Southern Europe, Africa, and Southeast Asia. I returned with my spirit rejuvenated and the borders of my inner and outer world greatly expanded.
Perhaps the biggest surprise about traveling internationally was to discover that in many parts of the world it is an asset to be a black woman, unlike in North America, where it is often a liability. When I am abroad, I am usually afforded a level of respect and appreciation that I do not get in my own country. It's when I travel that I am told I'm attractive, courageous and smart. So often, when women hear that I have taken a trip around the world by myself, they tell that me they could never do it....... because it would cost too much, be too complicated to figure out, too scary. It's not any of those things, especially if you plan and prioritize appropriately. Here's how I did it....
Elaine Lee is the editor of "Go Girl!
The Black Woman's Book of Travel & Adventure."
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