Zephyr: Lessons From My Antigua Trip
This was my first adult trip. A trip I did not have to worry about anyone but myself. A trip, I did not have to be considerate of the needs of whomever I was traveling with because I was on a solo Black girl vacation as a 32-year-old Ghanaian in a country I absolutely could not communicate in. The exciting possibility of the trip going in a totally different direction was welcomed and expected. I was open to opportunities, differences, loss, and surprises. Not only was that trip my first adult trip, but it was also what I call my Experience Trip. It was my “yes” trip where I shook my head from north to south versus east to west.
This trip was my Zephyr.
I did not expect to come away with lessons from this trip. In fact, I was allowing myself to take things at surface level and not dive deep like I usually do. Although I paid for every tour and experience my soul wanted, I did not check in with my heart and spirit to see what they were coming away with. But oh, did other humans I found myself around check me on that forgetfulness!
Let me preface this by saying humans and human relations are not always dandy. Human relations are complex by nature and more complex when you add privilege, closed experiences, different upbringings, and specific scopes to what life is and what they are entitled to (and how they should be treated) because they spent their money on something or someone.
Without taking too much of your attention, let me share a few things I learned and was reminded of from my travel to Antigua, Guatemala.
Honor up, honor down, honor all the way around. Generosity should not come with prerequisites. It should not be an if-then situation nor be subjected to any conditional circumstance. It should flow freely like a gentle breeze that catches you unaware yet intentional and rewarding to the receiver and the giver.
On two of my tours in Antigua, two White people reminded me of the lesson of generosity, privilege, and gratitude. In each story, they refused to tip and pay our local guides because, according to the White Irish man, our guide did not speak English (in a Spanish-speaking country). Although he acknowledged that it was not the guide’s fault, he still blamed him for his inability to speak English. A little context here: this was an overnight hike to Acatenango Volcano, where no one needed to converse or learn about how wonderful the intense hike was and the benefits of the five and half hour steep incline will be on your bodies. There was no tour to be given but to follow the clear path, enjoy the beautiful scenery, conserve energy, and hike at your own pace. So to say at the end that he would not tip only because the local guide (who made $30 for the overnight hike) should have spoken English was painful and unfair to hear.
The point I am making here is this: know you can always afford to be generous. Penalizing someone in a lesser position than you because of something out of their control is not particularly warm. At the same time, if you feel forced or upset to give, pause and reevaluate what is making you feel that way. If that emotional block is worth setting aside in that moment to allow a blessing to happen, give way to that. Blessings are protectors, way-makers, and healers in many ways we will never fully know and understand. So honor up, honor down, honor all the way around.
Pay to learn. Vacations and trips of any kind are expensive, especially post-pandemic. In the culture of DIY (do it yourself) and being “an expert,” we have lost the other culture of learning from locals and paying for that knowledge. In many Western countries, we will not argue with the money charged for a tour or a photo with something or someone. We are quick to pay for such services and experience in fear of missing out or facing repercussions should we mistakenly violate a rule or two.
My trip to Antigua taught me that paying to learn, especially in a foreign country, is more worth it and should equally put the fear of repercussion in us just as it would in America or other Western countries. There is a sense of ego and privilege attached to it that I can’t articulate well. Still, I sensed(d) it lingering as I watched a White woman from New York refuse to pay the tour guide $18 for a five-hour market tour because the guide did not say he charged for his time when he introduced himself as a tour guide. Although I understood her frustration and was caught off guard when the guide softly said his tour was $18 per person to me, as I gave him a tip mid-tour, I did not argue with him. Instead, I took the opportunity to educate him on business and the importance of speaking up to get paid. I told him, “stop playing with your money, my friend.” He thanked me and politely asked me to advocate for him with the other tourists as he genuinely thought the travel agency and driver did their part and informed us about the market tour being separate from the shuttle fee. It was an honest miscommunication on his part, our part, the driver’s part, and that of the travel agency we booked through.
The White New Yorker’s “this is about the principle and not the money” rhetoric after I relayed the message was challenged when she said she did not want to go on a tour anyway. She became angry with me for helping the tour guide ask for his pay even after he apologized for his meekness and assumption that the travel agency and driver relayed the market tour and cost to us. The New Yorker excluded me socially from group conversations and isolated me by talking only to the other two tourists. There were four of us on the trip, so the intention to isolate me was clear, but I have tougher skin than that. The other two tourists, Australians, echoed her sentiments and paid the tour guide a small fraction of the total, with the excuse: “well, we wanted a private tour anyway. We are also traveling for the next five weeks, and every money saved counts.” It was more painful to tell the local guide, Richard, who came to me asking if they understood and would pay him. I told him no, they might not, and if they did, it would not be a full amount. I encouraged him and told him always get him money before he started a tour, gave him a hug, and I tipped him in addition to his pay. I did not say a word from that moment to anyone till the end of the trip and drive back home. I was deeply troubled by that experience.
Recognize hospitality, reciprocate in real-time, or pay it forward. I look forward to learning new ways to be hospitable when I travel. I love seeing different ways others serve, welcome visitors, show love and attention, and care for strangers and each other. It is very telling of the culture and sets a tone for the entire trip. Kindness is inexpensive but can cost something. In fact, I think showing compassion and empathy is a form of sacrifice. Unfortunately, some people are uncomfortable sacrificing because they feel they will lose something (even if it can and will be replaced).
In my travel, I was reminded not to delay reciprocating kindness, showing affection and gratitude, or making someone’s day a little less difficult. Some examples are tipping, paying full price, not bargaining to the death, paying more because the value of the experience or items surpasses the value of the paper money, and knowing that an entire family depends on that price tag.
Property is king, so own property. The era of Airbnb continues to rise. I am always impressed by how much passive income can be made in renting out just about anything — a room, a house, a tool, a space, an item, etc. My love to host again, acquire a duplex, or rent out part of my future home was revived and confirmed. It is not an easy process; without the luxury of capital or knowing the system. It can be demotivating and daunting; however, if you can push through that bleakness, the reward is great when you dare.
Speak less, listen more, and observe even more. Communication with words has always been the primary mode of interacting, connecting, and feeling. Silence is revered and always filled with sound as if void is not a space to be occupied, appreciated, and equally interactive. The Antigua trip was one of the many trips that made me slightly uncomfortable because I did not speak Spanish in any capacity. What this barrier elucidated were the skills to listen more and talk less, so I could observe enough to understand and stay safe. It’s okay to not understand or speak the same language; language can be learned. While it will take a while, or your trip might be too short to become a novice speaker, you still have translation devices, silence, and observation to make the trip memorable.
Keep traveling if you want to grow deeper. This reminds me of a quote from Norse Life Rules (lessons from the Vikings) which says: “Be a person of worldly intelligence if you desire to sit with Kings [and Queens].” Traveling is one of the best teachers life has to offer. It can be expensive, but it also brings invaluable lessons, exposure, and growth that never loses fragrance. You can’t beat the mental and emotional polish you walk away with and the humility and memories that stay with you forever.
Exposure to a different culture, people, and religions has the power to reaffirm your beliefs, add more value to you, help shape or reshape your perceptions and make quagmires easy to tackle and even appreciated. Give it a shot; you won’t regret it.