amw (amw) wrote,

on ancestors and travel

In a follow-up to my post about family and heritage, i wanted to write about one of the influences on where i choose to go.

You see, when i travel, there are two main motivators for me - climate (which i will discuss in a future post) and connections.

By connections i don't necessarily mean family connections, not exactly... More like storytelling connections.

Sometimes people are surprised that i never traveled to South America, or that i have no interest in going there. It features some of the world's most popular travel destinations, especially for hippies/ravers like me, and for digital nomads too. And although i'm sure there are lots of interesting towns and sights, i never got the urge because i don't really have a connection. South Asia, same deal.

The thing is, the world is very big. Nobody will ever be able to see all the beautiful places in a single lifetime, so you need to find a way to narrow down your destinations. I mean... Yes, i have met people who are backpacking all over the world, diligently checking off every country they visited like it's a shopping list. People inside America do the same thing, counting up all the states they visited, as if the number makes a difference. I guess it does for some people, but it's not important to me.

For me the experiences are what matter. I prefer to go to a place and stay there a while. To try understand it, at least a little bit. I don't like to zoom in and out and call it "visited". I feel like unless i slept some nights there, visited a grocery store, read the newspaper, got recognized at a bar, or a coffee shop... If none of those things happened, well, then i was never really there.

But how to choose the place? One of the things that helps me decide is having a story that connects it to me.

It's not just the family story, though. As i mentioned on the last post, i have some family roots in Malta, Jamaica and Haiti. But those are not top of my list because Malta is too expensive, Jamaica is too full of homophobes and Haiti is one of the most broken-down countries in the world. Never say never, but if i die not having visited those places... it's fine.

But there are other built-in connections to places, connections my brain makes that attract me. Like, my father was born in Kenya (confirmed this week, when i had to complete the 2021 Census). My grandpa spent a significant amount of time working in Nigeria, Thailand and Hong Kong. He lived out his years with his second wife in the Philippines. My father also spent time in Thailand, a common site for British Army exercises. I think both nan and grandpa might have been New Zealanders by birth, but i'm not sure. My whole father's side is wrapped up in British colonialism. My mother's side is Dutch. But oma and opa owned their holiday home on the Côte d'Azur. Opa spent a lot of time with his second wife in Malta. Two of my mother's sisters married Americans. One of my mother's sisters became a Catholic nun in French-speaking Belgium. My mother had to visit China a fair bit for work. My father traveled through as a backpacker in his youth.

I think of the countries my family has lived, or the places they married into, or spent some amount of time in. And then i think about my culture as a Brit, and our colonial tendrils all over the world, or as a Dutch, and their capitalist reach that once spread from Java to Aruba via the Cape of Good Hope. I think about my step family, New Zealanders, one sibling married into a Māori family, another working yachts in the Caribbean, or their father who spent much of his life in Malaysia. And those places influence where i look to go. I don't know much of the actual stories of any of these people - i barely speak to my family - but i do remember the places where they went. So i go there too, to follow the steps of my ancestors, or see what they saw there, or maybe to atone for their sins. Or maybe not. Maybe it's just a starting point. When the whole world is out there, why not start with the places where you feel a connection, even if it's completely arbitrary?

I have been to other places, places where i didn't have a connection, and i have to admit it can take more effort for me to feel anything. Like, Austria, Czech, Slovenia, they're fine, but i don't really care. Hell, even Australia where i lived for over 10 years, i never gave much of a shit. I do still experience some base level of joy in travel no matter where i go, but there's something deeper that happens when i have a myth to connect me.

I have myths of North America. That's a culture that has had an outsized impact all over the world, thanks to its dominance in contemporary entertainment. I have myths of Africa and the Carribbean. I grew up with the usual suite of British classics featuring swashbuckling and probably racist adventurers exploring the tropics. I also grew up with Ancient Greek mythology, which is to say the stories of the Mediterranean. That sea holds a thousand tales, the ruins of civilizations that made up the only history i ever paid attention to as a child.

I like to visit a place and feel like i am part of a story there, that there is some continuity, from the people who lived there decades, centuries, millienia ago... and me. Even if the connection is just a shared story.

So, although i consider myself something of a world citizen, a cosmopolitan who refuses to be pinned down as any one nationality in particular (i listed "European" as the ethnic or cultural origins of my ancestors, on the census)... My heritage does still influence some of my life, around the places i go, and how i experience them when i get there.
Tags: family, travel

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