Black Families Travel, Too!

An interview with Kerna-Leigh Mason on the importance of traveling.

US Navy Commander Cornelius Mason, wife, Mrs. Kerna-Leigh Mason, and their two daughters at the Sticky Waterfalls in Thailand.

This article almost didn’t happen. Twice. One week earlier, my travel companions ventured off to Chiang Mai Thailand’s Bua Tong “Sticky” Waterfalls (do yourself a favor and Google it ) on a day when “I just didn’t feel like it”. However, as the days passed, and my time in Chiang Mai dwindled to days on the order of single digits, I started to feel like I might regret my decision. So I booked a private Sticky Waterfalls Airbnb excursion, packed my swimsuit, slathered on some SPF 50 and embarked on another adventure.

As I was nearing the end of the waterfall, I noticed a beautiful black family — mom, dad and two adorable school-aged girls. I greeted them with the suppressed excitement and “play it cool” demeanor many black travelers practice when we encounter one another abroad. On the inside, though, my heart was full and physically pounding with excitement! This was the FIRST black family I’d seen traveling together since I’d left the States in July 2019! What was their story? How long had they been in Thailand? How old were their girls? Dare I go up and introduce myself?

I thought about it for a while and ultimately decided not to bother them. I’d let them enjoy their vacation. Simply say “hello” and move along. Play it cool. And that’s what I did.

I reached the end of the hike, took the obligatory shots for the ‘Gram and began to ascend. When I made my way back up, the family was still there! I knew it was a sign. We were destined to be in that place at that time. So I stepped out of my comfort zone, introduced myself to the husband and wife and shared that I’m a travel blogger. (I can’t believe I can now say that! But I digress!). I shared my excitement at seeing all this melanin in one place! I asked if the family would be willing to do an interview for my blog. The dad was all in — and then he looked at mom and said, “I mean…if it’s ok with you.” I chuckled a little on the inside and assured them there was no pressure. We’d exchange emails, I’d send some samples of my writing and the questions I’d like to ask and we’d go from there.

Indeed, from there we went! My interview with Mrs. Kerna-Leigh Mason regarding her family and their international travels was more than I could have ever hoped for! Thank goodness I decided to go to the waterfalls. Thank goodness I built up the nerve to introduce myself. Thank goodness for the obedience that led to this not so random encounter. Hope you enjoy!

Chiang Mai Thailand’s Bua Tong (“Sticky”) Waterfalls

Kerna-Leigh, it was so nice meeting you at the Sticky Waterfalls! Would you please tell us a little bit about your family?

An Oklahoman gentleman, stationed in Maryland, pursues a young lady from the Caribbean island of Trinidad & Tobago who was in Washington DC acquiring her Master’s Degree. They date. They meet each other’s family. A few years later, they get married and their family is established.

We are a military family so “home” has been Florida, Maryland, California, and Nebraska. We currently reside in Zushi City, Japan. Every 2–3 years, a new location becomes “home”. We are a family of five. However, our eldest does not live at home with us. Our two youngest are 5 and 7 years old. They attend a Japanese kindergarten and an American elementary school, respectively.

We serve the Lord, the country, and enjoy traveling, cooking (at least 2 family members do), eating, shopping and spending time together.

How important is travel to your family? And why?

Travel is important to us because we are a military family. We are stationed in a new location, nationally or internationally, every 2–3 years. While it can be challenging, it is also exciting to venture to a new place and have somewhat of a new life ever so often. Travel is also essential to us because the majority of my family resides in Trinidad & Tobago — my country of birth.

Travel has always been fascinating to me as someone coming from a small country in the Caribbean. In college, my best friend and I went to England, worked for three months, accumulated funds and did a backpacking trip via train to France, Germany, Italy, and Switzerland. What an experience that was! Some years later, my mother, my sister and I visited the Netherlands, England, and France.

As a family, we’ve done a lot of road trips in the US and it’s always amazed me that there were so many differences from state to state — different terrains, different accents, different cultures, and different lifestyles. In my ‘small island eyes’, the United States almost seemed like a large group of countries within a continent. I enjoyed seeing different perspectives and different ways of living. To me, travel experiences are more gratifying when shared with loved ones. Since travel has been important to me, by extension, it is important to us as a family.

You have two young children. How old were they when they took their first international trip?

My 7-year-old went on her first international trip at 6 months of age. It was a trip to Trinidad & Tobago, my country of birth.

My 5 year old experienced her first international trip at 2 years old. We visited both Trinidad & Tobago and the island of St. Lucia.

Why was it important for you to expose your daughters to travel at such a young age?

Initially, it was not an intentional decision to expose my kids to travel as much as the nature of our family necessitated it. We are a military family so we travel. I am an immigrant with family members residing in a different country so we have to travel to visit them.

However, as current residents of Japan, we have intentionally decided to use this opportunity to visit as many Asian countries as possible so the kids can experience different lifestyles and different cultures. Hopefully, they will remember these experiences and share them with others and instill a love and appreciation for travel to their peers and eventually to their kids.

Do you find it difficult to travel with young children?

It has not been difficult traveling with our young kids. It does help that both my husband and I have been present for the majority of our travels; so between the two of us, we can each manage a kid. Also, our two young children are pretty close in age so they entertain each other. The ease of traveling with them could also likely be attributed to their early exposure to travel.

“Travel is an educational experience that will also develop tolerance, empathy and appreciation for something that is unfamiliar.”

Do you encounter many families from the African diaspora (Carribean, African, African American, Afro-Colombian, etc.) during your travels?

During our travels in Asia, particularly, we have not encountered many families from the African Diaspora.

What do you think are the reasons that contribute to fewer families from the African diaspora traveling in Asia?

I have encountered many such families traveling in North America, Europe, and the Caribbean. However, I believe they are not traveling in and to Asia because of its distance and the high cost involved in flying to an Asian country. Additionally, Asian countries are predominantly developing countries so I think it is not likely that a family from the African Diaspora will incur high costs to travel a great distance to visit a country that is less developed, or as developed, as other destinations which are closer. Lastly, I believe the lack of exposure to and marketing of Asian countries (probably with the exception of Bali and the Maldives) as viable tourist destinations also affects this. If my family was not stationed in Japan, I cannot say with confidence that we would have readily visited Thailand, Okinawa or Singapore. So I think costs, accessibility, exposure, and marketing are all contributing factors to the lack of such families traveling to Asia.

Do you think international travel, or any travel for that matter, is important for families of the African Diaspora?

Yes, of course! Travel is very important for families of the African Diaspora! Travel is considered a luxury and a leisure activity but I believe travel is:

*Education
*Socialization
*Exposure
*Experiencing life in a different environment

If more families of the African Diaspora engaged in travel, particularly international travel, they would gain a whole new perspective on life in terms of seeing a different way of living and also in terms of how they view themselves. For example, here in Japan, at least from my experience, everyone is treated with respect and given exceptional service regardless of color, social standing, or economic standing.

What would you like our readers to gain from this interview?

I would like to communicate that travel is essential to experiencing life fully. Dismiss the idea that travel is a luxury. Get out of your immediate environment. Visit another state, another region, a neighboring country, and just experience or just observe another culture — another way of life, in real-time. So often, our opinions of certain destinations are formed from a TV show or magazine. Go visit! Taste it and try it for yourself. Travel is an educational experience that will also develop tolerance, empathy, and appreciation for something that is unfamiliar. Opt to visit places that are different from what you are used to. Hearing someone’s account, browsing a brochure or even watching a travel show will never convey the intrinsic benefits of travel and experiencing life in a different environment.

Kerna-Leigh, thank you so much for sharing with us your insights on travel and your family’s travel story! It was so wonderful to chat with you and I’m sure this conversation will inspire families to start planning their next trip! Maybe even to Asia! Safe travels!

World Traveler. Peds Rheumie doc. Lover of life & its lessons. I write to inspire, entertain, and educate! Follow on IG: @docwash11

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