Wish You Were Here
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TRAVEL IS GOOD FOR MY HEALTH
BY CAROLYN ASH


I’m the founder and CEO of #afreeblackgirl, a new Denver-based company dedicated to inspiring women to get free, using travel as their/our motivation. It took traveling internationally by myself in 2016 (after essentially not traveling outside the U.S. since a high school trip nearly 30 years ago) to help me step outside my comfort zone and start living as my freest – and healthiest – self. Since 2016, I have traveled solo to: London (twice); Paris (twice); Amsterdam; Lisbon (twice) and Porto, Portugal; Kuala Lumpur and Malacca, Malaysia; Singapore; and Sevilla, Córdoba, Granada and Cádiz, Spain. I also made my first trip to Africa last summer where I traveled with a group of about 25 Black adults and youth from the U.S. to Accra, Kumasi, Cape Coast, Elmina and Agona Duakwa, Ghana.

 

Each trip has brought with it a lot of deep self-reflection (with the help of journaling), shedding of thoughts that no longer serve me, and a commitment to living life without self-imposed boundaries or limitations. To celebrate the newfound me, I started calling myself #afreeblackgirl in 2016, and the name stuck! Friends and family even started calling me #afreeblackgirl, and countless people sent me messages asking how they, too, can get free. Women asked if they could start traveling with me. One friend went as far as to say that she wanted to join the #afreeblackgirl “movement.” Wow.

 

So, here we are. I want to build a movement made up of women – particularly Black women – journeying towards their inner freedom, using travel as their/our inspiration. Through deeply self-reflective international and domestic travel opportunities with me, education and conversations online, and an upcoming #afreeblackgirl product line, we are going to get and stay free. Our mental and physical health is at stake.

 

During and immediately after the trips I’ve taken these past three years, I’ve noticed some things:

 

My whole body relaxes when I travel

It starts when I’ve gotten all buckled in and settled on the airplane. I literally feel my entire body relax. It’s amazing how quickly it happens. Just the mere act of getting on a plane, in anticipation of a safe flight and a new travel experience, allows me to exhale more deeply than I do on a regular basis. Then, when I land at my destination (especially when it’s an international flight) until the time I return home again, there is a calm that washes over me like none other.

 

My sleep is real sleep

I have sometimes heard people say that they really don’t sleep well when they’re not in their bed at home. Clearly, I am not one of those people. Perhaps because my body is so relaxed when I travel, I sleep more deeply when I’m away from home, especially outside the U.S. I wake up feeling refreshed, as if I’ve gotten some real sleep during the night void of worry and stress.

 

I’ve had aches and pains mysteriously disappear when I travel

I was scheduled to travel to Malaysia and Singapore for the first time in early 2018. A couple months before I was scheduled to travel, I started having this persistent lower back pain, out of the blue. Doctors couldn’t figure out what was going on with me, I wore pain relief patches for weeks and tried all kinds of natural remedies. I thought about cancelling my trip several times, but I was nervously excited about traveling to a new part of the world and I didn’t want to miss the opportunity.

 

Interestingly enough, not only did I have an amazing time during my solo trip to Malaysia and Singapore, but I also had absolutely no back pain while I was there. That’s when I came to the conclusion that I must have been carrying a lot of stress and that stress manifested as lower back pain. After my Southeast Asia trip, I never had the back pain again.

 

I am my happiest, most free and creative self

I am a genuinely happy person, but I am hands down my happiest self when I’m traveling. On the inside, I feel free and that leads to a sense of unbridled creativity. I do my best writing and thinking when I travel, take my best photos and discover new parts of my personality that I never knew existed. Mentally and emotionally, I am healthiest when I travel.

 

The food is fresher, I enjoy it more and I lose weight when I travel abroad

I say this every time I travel internationally, “The food tastes so much fresher here!” Even though I try to eat as healthy as possible at home in the U.S., the exact same foods have tasted so different to me outside this country. I’m a pescatarian and I’ve now eaten seafood in numerous countries. Fish in Ghana and Portugal, for example, tastes so unbelievably delicious and fresher than any fish I’ve had at home. Fruits and vegetables also taste fresher in my travels to date (the pineapple in Ghana was out of this world), and I’ve actually lost weight during my trips, despite all of my eating. I think a lot about the connection between fresh food and health when I travel.

 

My mind and body immediately feel the impact of returning home

I’m often a little out of sorts those first few days when I get home from a long trip, particularly an international one. It takes me a few days to get re-acclimated to my environment. Truth be told, what helps me to settle in again are two things: 1) reflecting on and trying to embody again the calm and freedom that I felt when I was traveling and 2) starting the planning process for my next trip!

 

A final, quick story: On the day last summer that we visited the slave castle/dungeons in Cape Coast, Ghana, it hit me (I think all of us) like a ton of bricks the power and significance of our presence in Ghana as descendants of Africans who were captured and transported to the Americas as slaves. There is a “Door of No Return” on the seaboard side of the Cape Coast Castle, which was the door that led enslaved Africans to awaiting slave ships. It is powerful, surreal and heartbreaking all at once to go through that door, especially as a member of the African Diaspora. However, it was equally powerful and emotional to then walk back through that same door at the end of the tour and discover a sign that says, “Akwaaba” (“Welcome”).

 

I will never forget walking back through that Door of No Return and realizing that we, the descendants of the millions of Africans who were captured, transported to and enslaved in the Americas, survived. And we returned. I want to keep surviving and thriving. I want to be well.
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