How many countries had you visited by your 18th birthday? Check out the Travel Ninja of the week, Derek who by 18 (he’s now 26) has done more than most people do in a lifetime!
1. Before your 18th birthday you traveled to more than 18 countries. How did you do that at such a young age?
I received my first Passport and first international trip (Bermuda) when I was 7 years old. At the time, my Mother was highly involved in the Travel & Hospitality industry as a Corporate Travel Agent with a Consultant company, owner of a (now defunct) CruiseOne franchise, and a Timeshare owner as well. I guess I was just lucky she liked me enough or could find a sitter to take me on her business and vacation trips (haha), nationally & abroad. I also found out that my Grandmother was a Group Organizor for a international dance group she was apart of in her young adult years. She use to tell me stories of her traveling when she was younger. Other than that I have been involved in many student travel programs, nationally & internationally, most notably People to People program where I was selected as a Student Ambassador to London, England & Paris, France in ’06 and a Sports Ambassador (Baseball) to Amsterdam, The Netherlands in ’07.
National programs included Presidential Classroom in Washington, DC (’05) and LEAD Program in Business at the University of Minnesota (’06). However, my 1st trip to the African continent, Ghana & Ethiopia, in my early 20s (starting in ’09) is where I first exposed to idea of cultural heritage tourism especially from lectures and books I had read leading up to it.
2. How did traveling at such a young age affect you growing up?
Traveling helped me develop my character, personality, and perspective on life and culture through firsthand experiences, not just pictures. I traveled a lot between family trips & my Mother’s career, training & playing for HS Track Club and my Baseball career from Little League to the Perfect Game World High School showcase to Single A (Minor Leagues), to student travel programs. Each experience taught me invaluable lessons about people and situations I encountered.
On a more personal note, I grew up with Clincial Major Depression and Social Aniexy Disorder. I wholeheartedly believe that traveling (especially traveling for sports) became so therapuertic for me that it stopped me from being too socially isolated and possibly committing suicide or simply hurting myself because I felt my environment (now understanding it was my Mind) was hurting me back. I’m most definitely an advocate for “Mental Health” trips. But I digress, you get the point.
3. You currently live in Philadelphia and have an interesting job, can you explain what it is you do?
Like my Mother and Grandmother, I’m in the Travel & Hospitality industry, an international Certified Travel Consultant with Paycation/X-Stream Travel, Inc. to be specific. I am CLIA & IATAN certified too. I am also Founder & Tourism Director of Ma’at International Travel Network, a cultural tourism & trade organization specifically designed to teach the history, heritage, & culture of the African Diaspora & Aboriginal nationality via the Travel & Hospitality industry with career & entrepreneurship opportunities.
Among many things, we train to certify Travel Agents, Tours Guides, Tour Operators, Group Organizors, Travel Media personnel, Brand Ambassadors, Destination Specialists, Event Planners, etc who want to promote and travel throughout the Diaspora (meaning the world and local communities) on a larger platform. We also assist with getting Passports, Visas, & Global Entry Cards, Fundraising, Destination Marketing, setting up Travel Accounts, Events & Lectures and leading local city tours based on African/Black-American history, culture, and nightlife. I also will be doing more direct work with Tourism Boards, Embassies, CVBs, local Hospitality Schools, and culturally centered orgs & business (I.e. museums, schools, bookstores, historical sites, etc) to help with our membership drive and various tours & projects this year and beyond in many different countries and U.S. cities.
4. How does travel fit into your life now?
Traveling IS my life right now!!! Wonderfully Wanderlusting!! I’m in a social, networking business (model) so I have clients all over the city as well abroad. Although I mostly only travel for my city client as a Travel Agent right now, everything I do is focused on traveling and/or promoting tourism…..especially to Philadelphia!
5. Do you have any trips coming up domestic or international?
My only planned trip this year is to Cuba in October, Colombia and Brasil in November and Ethiopia again around Christmas. Other than that, I personally travel too sporadically to plan my own trips in advance (ironically). Have been working on doing more inbound as oppose to outbound tourism to Philly for this year to launch our tour/travel guide services as well.
6. Why is African tourism important to you?
Even before I visited or before I became a student delegate (member) with the Africa Travel Assoc (ATA), I understood the importance of it by simply understanding all the negative stereotypes that are thrown on all of us and the misconceptions created by us and the media. Also, im an avid reader & life-long learner so certain books, scholars, lectures, and networking experiences just being on my city made me conscious of a lot of things. While traveling to several countries and talking with the people and Tourism officials, is when I was able to experience many things I had read firsthand and study source materials as well outside of local museum exhibits in the U.S.A. 95% has been nothing more than positive!
7. What are some of the stereotypes you see out of Africa that you’d like to help change?
Africa is NOT a country! It is a glorious continent (Motherland) that has the oldest civilizations and most diverse cultures and languages. Africa is anything but poor because the vast majority of world resources like coffee, oil, coltan, diamonds, gold, chocolate, etc come from a particular country or region in Africa. Most importantly, Africa does NOT hate African-Americans (yeah, some do, granted). They like us do not like arrogant, sterotypicial, and/or “uppity” Americans (or people in general) who think they (locals) need to cater to you (visitor) in every moment, outside of general hospitality.
But if anything, many African countries have followed after the plans of the Hon. Marcus Mosiah Garvey, to offer us inexpensive land, resources, business opportunities, rites of passage programs, cultural exchanges and wealth-building as long as we can respect and/or “re-Africanized” our minds to understand we are the same people. All of this is what I teach and promote through my organization.
8. What advice would you give to parents who may think their kids are too young to travel internationally?
Stop self-projecting your own fear of traveling (Hodophobia) onto your children….just stop it! Get them a passport as soon as they seem interested in traveling. To peak that interest, buy an Atlas, Travel Guide books, World History books (especially African world history), a Compass or portable GPS device, enroll them in language classes, and simply find them a mentor or program that has a lot of field trips and travel opportunities. To paraphase a good quote, you can move when you want to, you are not a tree.