How Travel Can Save your Mental Health, and Possibly, your Life 

by Michaela Stephens

I was sitting behind my desk, staring at the four grey walls of my office, piles of paperwork in front of me. My door was a rotating evolution of staff members running and out with a myriad of unending requests. I then realized… why on earth am I doing this? No… really, why am I here? 

It all started with Saudi Arabia, a beautiful intermission. Tired of the hamster wheel that was corporate life, I desired a huge change. So I moved to the land of mecca pilgrimages, camels, and where, as a woman, I couldn’t drive a car legally… and I LOVED it. It was 2014. I came back in 2015, New Mexico this time, and lasted all of 15 months before I was back on a flight to my beloved GCC. 

Being a Black American, living and existing in the states is HARD. At this point, self-care is almost a revolutionary act. What with people simply shooting, killing, and then being acquitted of killing us while jogging (Armaud Arbery), sleeping (Breonna Taylor) , driving to see family (Sandra Bland) , or simply walking down the street with candy. (Trayvon Martin. )

Marcus Garvey was way ahead of his time. The idea of leaving the States to return to a place where we are loved and celebrated is not new. The truth is, we have tried. We have tried to stick it out and fight. 

Racism is the currency on which the USA is based on. It is of my opinion that no amount of respectability, degrees and wearing suits to protest will ever be able to eradicate that we are still viewed as 3/5 human. To them, we are not their equals and will never be in their eyes.

Don’t believe me? Take a look at the Black maternal mortality rate. Serena Williams, despite being arguably one of the most decorated athletes in history,  was left almost on her death bed because a doctor did not take her pleas of pain seriously.   Because doctors still don’t believe that Black folk experience pain. 

The American dream is not designed with us in mind. Of course, there are so many success stories. Because Black folk are amazing like that. Our whole existence since we got dropped off at the shores, was to make lemonade out of shackles and cotton. But why fight? For what? Why not go to a place where you don’t need to prove your humanity constantly. To be at ease.

Let me be clear, there is not a single place on earth that is a utopia, but I can say from experience that there are places that are extremely close. 

I, like many other Black Americans, have found my version of utopia overseas. I currently live in a beautiful coastal middle eastern country by the name of Oman. In this country, I have walked outside on the beach by myself at 3 am, with not a single care in the world. As a woman who lived in Metro DC and NYC, this is laughable, at best. Most of my club nights were ended with me parking and almost sprinting to my apartment door, with my keys wielded like a weapon in case someone decided to try me out as target practice. 

Here in Oman, my blackness is celebrated. I wear colorful braids and instead of being derided for the colors and style, women stop in the streets, touch my hair lovingly and ask me where I get them done. I’m invited into local homes to sit on beautiful woven rugs barefoot and partake in a variety of meat and bread deliciousness. My skin is seen as beautiful and not a threat. My sassiness is not seen as angry, but intelligent. 

Do you know what it’s like to get pulled over by police and not fear for your life? I didn’t either until I was pulled over here in Oman. I immediately put both my hands on the steering wheel where they could be seen. Instead, the officer approached and greeted me with a smile while asking me how my family was doing. He wanted to talk about Obama and music. He let me off with just a warning. I imagine this is a normal occurrence for White people whenever they get pulled over. 

The thing is, if you don’t believe me if numbers are your thing, there are a million other articles out there with a column of statistics on improved mental health, quality of life, that can surely make a person feel more at ease. But I’m here with my anecdotal experience, and all I can say is how I FEEL every day and the happiness in my heart because this country I can live fully, and openly. 

The purpose of this travel column and series is not only about where to travel, but WHY you as a Black person can and should travel, and how attainable it is even though it may not seem like it. Everyone CAN travel.

Over the course of the next few articles, we will get into exactly how to move abroad, places to go and of course an abundance of pretty colorful pics for the gram thrown in for good measure. Looking forward to seeing you guys through this journey and process. 

See ya soon! 

—Mick

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