“Travel isn’t always pretty. It isn’t always comfortable. Sometimes it hurts, it even breaks your heart. But that’s okay. The journey changes you; it should change you. It leaves marks on your memory, on your consciousness, on your heart, and on your body. You take something with you. Hopefully, you leave something good behind.” -Anthony Bourdain
Travel can be a number of things, it can be a quick escape, a full on excursion in a new land, or a trip back to someplace you’ve already been, but as Anthony Bourdain so eloquently put it, travel should leave marks on your heart and consciousness. But how many of us can realistically say that the last place we went changed us or that we left a little piece of ourselves behind for the existing community? As it is social media makes it easy to become a passive voyager in other people’s journeys but it can also become a model for what we do on our own trips. And while tourist traps and selfie stations are great for the gram they certainly don’t capture the soul of a city or its people. And they definitely don’t foster the cultural transmission that’s possible when people from different walks of life truly connect.
In a time when xenophobia, racism, and overall mistrust of people who are different than us is on the rise, it’s time for everyone to take it upon themselves to learn about people and places that are different. As someone who had the unique childhood experience of living in Tijuana, Mexico while she was going to school in San Diego, CA— Marcela Valladolid holds dear the idea that visiting should be deeper than sightseeing and that travel should be an exchange of cultures. It’s actually that duality of being from two places that has not only impacted her long and illustrious culinary career but has also made her a believer in the power of purposeful journeys. It’s also the reason behind why she’s chosen to partner with Capital One’s Purpose Project to highlight the importance of trips that foster empathy and understanding.
“People are people” she stated firmly “I’m not defined by which passport I have in my hand. Growing up on the border I don’t see it as two countries we’re a community, we are one. We’re constantly jumping back and forth, it gave me a unique perspective to everything and at the same time, there was only pride. There was no fear that I can’t be 100 percent Mexican and American at the same time, I am 100 percent certain I can live and breathe that pride of being bi-national” she said.
It’s that same pride and fervor that she’s putting behind her own meaningful trips. Her first stop was New Orleans a place known for jazz, nightclubs, food, and fun—but not necessarily as a place tourists give back to. Valladolid stopped by Cafe Reconcile, a non profit cafe that offers culinary training and mentorship for at risk youth. There she got to see their faces, hear their stories, and taste their food. It’s an experience she says more people need to build into their vacations. “When you decide on a trip, what motivates you to decide on that destination outside of tourist spots or routes? Is it understanding the culture and the people better? Reaching out to organizations that do something for the community? Our trips should have meaning besides getting on a plane or on a train, it’s not just the physicality, it’s the people, the culture, the tradition, the 360 immersions. When you make a personal connection to someone it’s so much harder to hate them.” Valladolid said.
And while not all of us have the time or the budget to travel, there are still plenty of things we can learn about locally. It’s incredibly simple to connect with the contributions, histories, and struggles of communities near our own. There is also something to be said about revisiting places we have personal connections to and learning new things about them.
“Meaningful travel means you can get in your car or on the train and go to the next town over. There are all these organizations you can definitely check out to understand these communities better, it’s not even necessarily about getting out of place it’s just about being motivated and digging deep into any geographical location you’re in,” she said.
Overall Valladolid is passionate about community but even more so about using her platform to inspire others to connect with each other. “[This partnership] is another opportunity to remind people just as a nation that we need to be more open minded. And that we need to walk into situations just knowing that we need to connect with people and be more loving, compassionate and empathetic.” Amen sister.