Why You Should Travel Differently And How the American Culture Fails Americans
“You’re gonna die,” my brother Damon said.
“Maybe, maybe not…” I respond, thumbing through some paint cans. “But I’m done painting. I’m done with the real estate game for a while. I just need a change. I need to challenge myself in a new way.”
“You don’t even know how to sail.”
“No — but I’ll learn.”
My younger brother glanced at me and back to the glistening white wall he was rolling. He had white paint stains on his brown carpenter jeans and a black beanie. He kept his eyes staring forward. I could tell he wanted to say more.
Or talk me out of leaving for the Caribbean with no sailing experience.
But he had responsibilities.
“I’ll miss you.”
“I’ll miss you too. If I die, I die. Life is an adventure. I’m not made to not question my existence.”
“ I love you brother. Thank you for letting me stay with you.”
Regardless if it was safe or not, I knew it was time to leave America again — a place that had me feeling disconnected, lonely, and angry.
My sense of belonging to American society was deteriorating. I had never felt this disconnected. To my work. To painting. To my location. I had lived in Europe for 13 years playing pro basketball before retiring home to buy some rental houses and start my own thing.
You know, be an American entrepreneur, live the American Dream.
But something wasn’t right. The reverse culture shock of being American again and adapting to a society I didn’t understand anymore or feel connected to was overriding my physiology and mental health.
I was lonely. Depressed. Anxious. Looking for meds. Out of shape — like most Americans.
Where has the community mentality gone?
One for all, all for one?
Yeah, not in America.
We are too busy for that sh*t.
I believe there is nothing more important than your physical and mental health.
Not to sound dramatic, but I felt like the United States was slowly poisoning me — with its fast-paced, consume-first-ask-questions-later lifestyle. Everywhere I lived, looked, and interacted, our society was distracted, disconnected, and divided.
People are angry-- on both sides.
About minimum wage.
You are either on one side bitching about the other side and there is no dialogue.
So I packed my things and left for the Caribbean.
It was snowing hard on January, 3rd, 2016 in Flint, Michigan. I remember nostalgically packing my stuff in my brother’s house. My flight to San Pedro Sula left the next day.
I went over my sailing list, again.
Shark knife. Flippers. A sailing book, “How to Sail the Caribbean.” A pair of Brooks running shoes, iPhone chargers, iPhone battery packs, a 70-pound camping backpack, Sharkbandz (they are supposed to keep the sharks away), a golf ball distance thingy, eight pairs of pastel-colored swimming trunks, too many tank tops, long-sleeved dry-fit shirts, eight pairs of polarized sunglasses, a golf distance locator (for anchoring), and two pairs of Rasta-style Bob Marley flip flops.
I sat there questioning: was I running away from something or towards finding something better?
I knew my research had shown me what American society was becoming. The White leadership of our past was building a society of mindless workers, the haves and the have nots, and the majority and minority, and luckily, I was on the side of the haves.
But all around me, our society had the means to improve the lives of everyone. Every color. Every ethnicity. Every class and background.
But we didn't.
We chose to spend our money on useless things-- luxury, status, and things.
I missed being around a team of professional players from other countries with different ideologies, skin colors, and beliefs.
Americans were black or white — there was no acceptance of BLM, of equal access to resources, tax revenues, schools, education, healthcare, equality, minority rights, or life to work balance.
The American culture had become about valuing status, power, and greed — which was mostly a bunch of white dudes trying to win at all costs.
Don’t get me wrong, I think every society and culture is earmarked by its values.
What values to white culture have?
The real question is what values are serving us, and which aren’t?
And as a whole, our society is and was failing on a global scale for access to free education, low amounts of happiness, high amounts of obesity (top in the world), mental health, and depression (top three in the world) and self-medication (don’t get me started).
Why has America failed to reach accomplish greater heights, or achieve better marks compared to the rest of the world in mental and physical health?
When should we question our values-- the idea that taking more than we need or not using what we have efficiently and how it doesn't affect other parts of our society?
“Paul, you think we can do this?” I asked over the phone.
“Of course we can Trev. Don’t be silly.”
“I’ve always wanted to do something like this. It will be fun if we don’t die.”
"Yes," I laughed, "My brother said the same thing."
Paul and I arrived in Honduras but we arranged for a taxi to drive us to Guatemala. When you leave the comforts of your own home or culture, you immediately start to view the world with a new lens. I found people engaging with me. Smiling. And me them.
I grinned at the portly black-haired, brown-skinned women half my size working the espresso stands (who were angels).
“Gracias, muy bien, gracias,” I’d say, handing them a tip.
“De nada. De nada,” the women would nod back, smiling.
Paul and I slipped through the backdoor of Honduras, rolling past banana plantations and green mountains and blue sky for as far the eye could see. The heat was palpably sticky. The energy electric. I smiled the whole way there, a natural buzz and euphoria rushing through me. Our taxi driver drove a truck and we put our gear in the back. I remember vividly watching a seven-year-old boy perform juggling tricks with sticks at an intersection.
I remember how he reached his small, dirty hands towards the window and motioned for money.
The boy wasn't even a teenager.
I handed him some.
Our taxi driver smiled and said something in Spanish.
Paul handed him a small red can of Coke.
“Gracias,” the boy said, displaying a broken front tooth.
"Gracias," we said back.
I had never seen such poverty in my life and a pang of gratitude shot through me.
“Paul, how you feeling?” I asked, grabbing his shoulder.
“I feel so good. So good,” he said, his long, brown hair floating in the wind. “This is exactly where I want to be.”
We arrived in Rio Dulce a few hours later to find our boat waiting in the shipyard. The “Lady Slipper” was “on the hard” propped up by metal wedges that held her off the ground like a dirty ghost of the night. She was 39 feet long. A cutter. I remember walking up to her in the rain, mud smudges all over her. A roof attached to her deck — the aft and forward completely covered.
Paul and I looked at each other nervously, but we started working immediately.
It took us a month to prepare the Lady Slipper for battle with the Caribbean seas. We had to fix a through-hull. Learn how the house and engine batteries worked. Fill the water tanks. Splice lines. Caulk holes and then caulk them again. Hydraulic fluid. New batteries. New solar. Welding. Fix the bow pulpit. Paint the deck and sprinkle sand over it. Paint the entire boat.
I thought of the irony of me painting a boat in Guatemala versus Flint, Michigan.
What was different here?
Why was I happier?
Was it being with Paul or something else?
Would I be happy here forever?
We’d go for slow rambling jogs at night through the concrete barrios and neighborhoods of Rio Dulce. I’d see large families sitting down to eat at plastic tables, their TVs blaring, their salsa music playing. A sense of community was here. A sense of laughter and energy. They had little but celebrated a lot.
Slowly, I let go of my smartphone, of worrying about money or making more money, or getting to my American dream of retirement. I realized this culture didn't need much to be happy and connected to one another.
For the first time in a long time, I went for a long run on my own and stopped on a Rio Dulce bridge and looked over the small, bustling city that had become my new home. The pink sun was setting on a foreign world. There were motorized rickshaws and colorful taxis and old pastel cars buzzing past me.
At that moment, I looked down into the dockyard to where The Lady Slipper was and saw her bobbing at her spot in the Marina, and for the first time in a long time, I felt a sense of gratitude wash over me that only traveling to another culture could give me.