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A letter to a young explorer -- a year into the pandemic

By: Amanda E. Machado + Save to a List

Dear Young Explorer,

When I was a teenager, whenever I’d get home from a hard day at school, I’d rush to my piano, sit on the wooden bench, place my right foot on the pedal, and begin to play “Moon River.”

“Moon River, wider than a mile

I’m crossing you in style someday…”

At that age, I hadn’t traveled hardly anywhere, and every day I felt lonely and restless in my hometown. The melody hit my heart, and the lyrics made it easier to dream of the day, someday, I’d travel the world, like the woman in the song.

But as I write this, the world is closed. A virus has wreaked havoc on our community, and harmed communities of color in ways far more deadly than everyone else. We spend our days apart from each other, forbidden from leaving the confines of whatever building we currently call home. During this moment, sometimes it’s hard for me to remember the last time I ever felt free.

But every time I am close to forgetting for good, what always saves me are the memories I have from traveling. Ten years after those afternoons playing Moon River on my piano, I had enough savings to spend a year traveling the world. I hiked among mountain peaks as sharp as shark teeth, feeling wild stomping across the snow. I spent days covered in dust as I hitchhiked across Patagonia, taking rides in the back of pick-up trucks. I woke up at dawn to watch the sunrise over the Varanasi river, and for perhaps the first time in my life, I understood what it felt to be alone and powerful.

During a speech last year, writer and facilitator adrienne maree brown asked an audience of people of color: “What pre-existed our collective trauma?” Who are we at our most untarnished state -- happy and free? To me, the answer is always how I feel when I am traveling. Those moments were so joyful they felt impenetrable; any other trauma or sadness from the outside world simply could not get in, not now, not when things were this beautiful.

I don’t know what it must feel like to be young right now, ready to experience the world, and then have the world close. I don’t know what it must feel like to yearn as deeply as I did at your age to travel, and yet be ordered now not to move.

But then I think of this poem by Nayyirah Waheed: 


"be insecure

in peace

allow yourself


know that it is





the way to who you are.


And then I remember that a life devoted to travel does not only mean a life of constant movement. It also means welcoming -- and exploring -- whatever terrain you find yourself suddenly stuck in, regardless if you planned to end up there or not. It means accepting getting lost and stalled and derailed as part of the journey. It means allowing everything to happen to you -- the transcendently gorgeous and the inexplicably tragic -- knowing that whatever happens will not last; it is only another country on the way to who you are.

So live in this country for now. Respect these moments that we must be in solidarity with our collective trauma. But still, never stop asking who you are outside of it. Keep seeking moments that trauma cannot access, moments that remind us something beyond it exists. There is real power in that. I spent every day of my travels slowly finding it.

What I know for now: sometimes, when all we have is a song, that is still enough to believe in. The songs we sing ourselves in our lowest moments will come true. Someday soon, I have no doubt, you will skip in an empty meadow among shark-teeth mountain peaks, watch too many sunsets over a foreign ocean, press your cheeks against the dirt of your ancestor’s land, and you’ll feel the freest you have ever been.

I promise: you’re going to cross your moon river in style, someday, soon.

With love,


"This post was originally featured in Teens of Color Abroad’s “Dear Young Explorer” blog series. Teens of Color Abroad (TOCA) is a small, Black-led social impact organization that provides high school students of color with global language learning experiences. Read more about TOCA’s mission at www.teensofcolorabroad.org."

We want to acknowledge and thank the past, present, and future generations of all Native Nations and Indigenous Peoples whose ancestral lands we travel, explore, and play on. Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures and follow local regulations. Please explore responsibly!

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