Facing My Travel Fears: 40, Fat, Black & Vegan

Contributed by Nicole Vick of Style Vicksen

Last year I turned 40 and took my first international trip to Thailand. For most of my life travel was the farthest thing from my mind. At the age of 18, during my first semester in college, I became a mother. I was more concerned about trying to finish school, working, and raising my daughter. I didn’t realize it then, but there is privilege in being able to travel, to see how others live, and to marvel at the beauty of the world outside of your immediate community. It all felt so foreign — unattainable both financially and socially for a young black girl from South Los Angeles in the late 1990’s. As a child, the furthest my family traveled was Lake Mead just outside of Las Vegas. A four-hour drive from our home. I have fond memories of our old wood-paneled station wagon packed with a cooler full of snacks and the radio on full blast. 

As a college student I’d eavesdrop on my classmates who talked about trips taken to far-off places over break and how much fun they’d had. The places they described were so different from my gritty little corner of the world. I could never relate to their experiences. My family was lower middle class; there simply wasn’t enough money for my parents to send me anywhere. 

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If I were to be completely honest, my daughter and money weren’t the only reasons that I stayed so close to home. There was always a lingering doubt in the back of my mind, a feeling of uncertainty and outright fear that overwhelmed me about the idea of going too far afield. I got anxious on short flights and wasn’t sure how I would fare on an international flight, flying for a dozen hours or more. As a fat, black, vegan, I had lots of other things to ponder. Would I fit comfortably in an airplane seat? Would I be able to eat the food on the flight? Would I be stared at like some sort of sideshow curiosity by the locals? What if there was nothing to eat when I got there? Even the idea of being outside of the United States worried me a bit. I’m normally rational and grounded but I couldn’t seem to stop thinking of worst-case scenarios. I had a hard time wrapping my head around the idea of my life post-travel, not quite convinced I’d make it back. 

All these fears gave me the opportunity to reflect. I realized that many of them were inherited from my mother. Although I had managed to avoid internalizing most of the worries she’d projected onto me over the years, I could not shake the feeling that something really terrible could happen to my if I flew too far from home. At the core of my stress was the loss of control that this trip would force me to face. Unlike so much of my life up until then, I would be flung into totally unfamiliar territory. For many this is what makes travel exciting, and for some this is what makes travel debilitating. I had to grapple with the fact that I was experiencing the latter. 

Beyond fear, there were no real barriers to making my travel dream a reality. My daughter was now an adult, my income had significantly increased over the years, and I had time to do the things I wanted. This felt like an important benchmark. This was something that mattered to me.  

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So, even though I neither knew the first thing about planning a trip out of the country nor did I even really know where I wanted to go, I got a passport. Luckily, I have a group of sister friends and colleagues who are avid travelers. They offered their advice and suggestions: first, pack noise cancelling headphones, a tablet full of downloaded movies and music, and travel pillow. Second, don’t fall sleep right away because it will make the flight seem longer. Third, watch two or three moves, sleep for several hours, and then watch two more movies to help the time pass quickly. And fourth, get anti-anxiety meds from my doctor. 

One friend had just returned from a girl’s trip to Greece organized by a black-owned travel agency called PushPin Adventures. She shared how incredible the experience had been and mentioned they were planning a trip to Thailand. She encouraged me to sign up. 

64674020_10156473389799607_7769067385687900160_oBefore I could talk myself out of it I set up my payment plan. 

My friends were ecstatic when I told them I was going. Inevitably they’d ask if I was excited as well. The answer, for a very long time, was “no.” My fears blocked my excitement. I didn’t even share my news with anyone in my family other than my daughter. As the trip grew closer, the fear grew ever more present. I had gotten all the comforting words I was going to get from others. I had to give myself the rest. I realized that the only way to get over it, was to go through it. I had to do it for myself, even if I honestly thought I wouldn’t make it back home. 

Finally, the time arrived for me to head to the airport. My bags were packed and ready to go. I had my passport in hand. My daughter came by to wish me safe travels. My boyfriend chatted me up as we headed off to the airport, his way of helping me take my mind off the trip (and I was grateful for it!). We only had a few moments to exchange hugs before I jumped out of the car, grabbed my suitcase, and ran into the terminal. Once inside I took everything in. There  was no time to be scared or anxious because there was so much to see, so many instructions to follow, so many lines to stand in.

Before I knew it, I was on the plane. I fit into my seat and felt entirely comfortable asking for a seat belt extender. I heeded every tip I’d been given and was able to manage the 13-hour flight from Los Angeles to Xiamen, and then onto Bangkok with no problems. 

The trip was life-changing. I got to take in intricate artwork in Bangkok and Phuket, tried durian for the first time, and even got to feel like a queen for a day when we went to a tailor to have some things made to fit our bodies perfectly. Some of my fears did materialize. There was an incident in Phuket where other tourists tried to take pictures of us without permission, but we handled it swiftly. Vegan options were scarce, but I made it work with rice and vegetable dishes. And I seriously wondered if I would survive the rocky boat ride to the Phi Phi Islands, but I did.  

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To my fellow fearful travelers, I hope my story shows you that not everyone who goes abroad is the stereotype of the intrepid globetrotter. Sometimes the fear of the unknown can hold us captive to what’s familiar and safe. I faced my fears and in return I got the chance to see how other people live, experience a new culture, and make 22 new friends in the process. This trip pushed me see what I am capable of. It taught me that I can both be afraid of an experience and move forward with making it happen. And the trip reminded me that I can still surprise myself – even at 40. 

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