“To travel, above all, is to change one’s skin.” – Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
These words by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry are the embodiment of my travel experience. I always find myself wanting to move with and through new people and places as if I was one of them. I seek to let them in and hope that they stay with me, change me.
In all of my solo travels, I’ve always made a point to avoid other Western travelers, and almost all the friends I’ve made along the way are either locals or non-Western. I never gave this preference much thought, until a recent moment revealed a profound realization.
The moment: I’m a passenger on a small shuttle in Kathmandu airport taking a group of travelers from the gate to the aircraft. There are about 10 of us, several are white Westerners (that includes me) and the rest are Nepalese guides. Two white solo travelers across from me start chatting and within seconds their discussion turns to a dynamic back-and-forth of their worldly conquests.
"The beauty of traveling is to encounter known in the unknown, not in the obvious."
As I listened to their conversation, I became stunned by its juxtaposition against the context: two Europeans measuring each other’s privilege on a bus full of people who never stepped foot outside their country…. At that moment I realized that I avoid other Western travelers because I am just like them: privileged enough to be where they are and to go places they’ve been. Their life and conquests are so familiar that they are completely uninteresting.
To my further astonishment, it occurred to me that if I witnessed this conversation at a party in San Francisco, it wouldn’t seem out of the ordinary because the people in my world are also more or less the same as me. The realization is that we can’t expect to trace our mutuality and our humanity, to be humbled, to be grateful, if we travel across the globe to deeply interact with people just like us.
This moment also made me understand why I find VAWAA experiences so sweet and humbling. Firstly, although I’m still a visitor during my experience, the persona of a student takes precedent while the traveler fades into the background. In that space I can be what I am learning from another human as they are. I am a guest in their life experience. Through their craft, I have the opportunity to imagine a life lived as another person. And perhaps most importantly, I also learn how places they visited have changed them: Gigio’s improv in Madagascar, Joanne’s busy life in Mumbai, and Nazlina’s culinary exploration in London.
"I am a guest in their life experience. Through their craft, I have the opportunity to imagine a life lived as another person."
Secondly, because VAWAA artists are natives of their country, I am reminded of all that it took for me to be there. This precious travel enabling trifecta that is nothing other than privilege is incredibly humbling to feel. The essence of this trifecta and the things that I am grateful for are: passport, money, and time.
Passport: access to the vast majority of countries granted by Western passports, is a luxury that majority of countries simply don’t have. My old Ukrainian passport is probably worth less than the paper it’s printed on, while my U.S. passport is what I call my golden ticket.
Money: to have enough money to go somewhere or anywhere is a gift, as it too is not common for a lot of people everywhere, even Westerners.
Time: time to break away and leave something temporarily behind without a peace of mind, means having no restrictive obligations and perhaps enabling work conditions. In an ever changing world, this precious alignment can vanish in an instant.
And so, when I travel I’m not looking to meet other privilege and to normalize it, I’m looking to meet something other than, in order to be reminded that it’s not common just because it’s common in my world. I want to be acutely aware of all the things I have to be grateful for, because only then I can imagine a life that’s not mine. The beauty of traveling is to encounter known in the unknown, not in the obvious.
"Traveling encourages the revision of received wisdoms and the shedding of prejudices. It turns the mind toward a consideration of context and releases it from the dictatorship of absolute truths about humanity. It helps one understand that all people do not want to be on the same road. They prefer to be on their own road.” – Barry Lopez
Written by Lina Fedirko
For more stories and new artist updates, subscribe here.