What could easily be a pickup line from the slightly above average man to the regular-degular woman, was a simple understanding on my part of the life Rachel Hill is currently conquering, and with a smile no less. “When was your last home-cooked meal? Let’s make that happen for you and let’s unpack some things.” After walking miles through Havana, Chengdu, Beijing, Sydney, Cusco, and Martha’s Vineyard, playing catch up with her Bucket List, she threw on her favorite pair of house shoes with the fluffy insides, skinny fit swear pants, a sweater, and a head scarf to protect her against whatever elements she’d hit between her home and where she agreed to meet me. We’ve known each other for years, mostly me low-key crushing on her and her laughing at my foolish Facebook posts, and for two weeks of the year leading up to the Florida Classic, we become sworn enemies, her being a Rattler from Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University, and me a Wildcat from The Great Bethune-Cookman University. We’re back to the love just days after the game, and we continue building vertically. We’re at a point in our friendship where we don’t believe in the smoke and mirrors, makeup and good shoes when we connect. We’re amazingly comfortable.
Dorian Hannah-Wynn, one of my dearest and dopest friends in Atlanta, agreed to pull out his pots and pans and finally bless me and my Plus One with one of his Instagram famous breakfasts. Even though we weren’t so pretty, me in mismatched socks and durag with a hole by the right temple, Dorian promised the food would look amazing and probably should only be eaten by folks in gowns and tuxedos or boat shoes and khakis:
Ricotta + Berry French Toast Casserole
Egg Stuffed Baked Tomatoes
Yogurt Biscuits With Honey + Apple Butter
Chocolate + Banana Quinoa
Kiwi + Apple + Mint + Cucumber Smoothie
Rachel and I, still wiping away sand from our crevices from our recently visited warm destinations, sat close, hoping the warmth would bounce off one another in the 65 degree day Atlanta was forcing us to endure. Her feet tucked deeply into the couch, she missed Cuba, and I, Costa Rica. The first started in the kitchen, Dorian shouted, “I’ll cook at quickly as I can,” and Rachel and I began our interview, or rather a cool ass conversation between hungry friends who kept looking out of the window, wondering where we’d go next.
DARNELL: You were in corporate America, you were 27 years old. What was that thing that caused you to wake up and say, “fuck it, I’m out” and start this adventure you’re on? How did RachelTravels begin?
RACHEL: While I was in a corporate America, I had the life that society and most of our family and friends tell us we should have. I was making six figures, living in amazing cities, traveling on my two weeks of vacation, and had a lively social life. However, also had anxiety disorder and depression, which I didn’t find out til a little later, well into this life I was building. Every Wednesday during my lunch break, I would go see my therapist. And I was really ashamed of this and no one close to me knew. Here I am with “The Life” and I am suffering from…gasp…mental illness. After seeing a therapist in silence for over a year, I made the decision to leave my “good job.” I promised myself that living a life I didn’t design for myself wasn’t for me, so I said, “fuck it, I’m out!”
D: What were your immediate regrets once you chose this life over the other, if any/?
R: My only immediate regret at the time was that I didn’t jump sooner!
D: What bucket list item made you look up and be extremely grateful for the life you’re living?
R: Merely the fact that I am able to travel the world for a living, see amazing places, and meet wonderful people. That in itself keeps me extremely grateful and humble. I don’t take it lightly that I’m able to live in and walk in Purpose. I literally have my dream job.
D: There are those people who look at you with such admiration then say, “I wish I could do it.” What do you tell them?
R: I always tell people that you can do anything that you want to do. We all have the power and ability to create or re-create what we desire in our lives. So if this…or that, really… is what you want to do, create a solid plan and do it! However, I will also say, do not look at my social media or “highlight reels” without understanding the amount of sacrifice I’ve made in order to get to this particular place on this journey.
D: Have you ever fallen in love with some dark stranger while traveling?
R: Unfortunately not. Hopefully, I will have one of those fairy tale travel romance stories soon. But for now is been pretty basic and dry. But I do tend to go on dates when I am traveling abroad. So it’s lit. Just not dreamy.
The smoothies came first. Because Dorian demanded that Rachel and I eat nothing before breakfast, this was the first thing we swallowed this morning other than a little toothpaste and spit. The look of replenishment was obvious on both our faces and we laughed hard and loud. My last home-cooked meal was no less than four months ago, and I can’t even remember the home in which it was served. I need to do better.
D: Do you think you are ever going to give in to what society tells you that you should be doing? Marriage, children, traveling only when your job allows, and all that stuff?
R: Hell no. I literally know that I can have everything that I want because I am seeing it manifest in my life now. So by navigating my journey based on what society says? Absolutely not! Having all the things that I desire when it’s best for me? Hell yes!
D: You’re an advocate for Black women traveling solo. How do you push them out there when many things are telling them they should be deathly afraid? What do you say to them or show them?
R: I truly believe it is the duty of Black women to change the perception of the way much of the world sees us. Most of the world sees Black women based on what the media shows us to be, propaganda, and popular culture. There is the spectrum of Michelle Obama and Beyoncé on one end and on the other end are “video girls” and sex symbols. As Black women, it’s really important that we take the opportunity to really expand and grow. And I believe that travel is an amazing way to do that. I know travel is a way to do that. Most of our lives we are taught to be everything to everybody, and leave the scraps for ourselves. Traveling solo really put a lot of things into perspective, from expanding your networks, facing fears and anxieties, and really just showing how fearless and badass I was and we are. About 90% of my travels have been solo, and I truly believe I wouldn’t have gotten this far in my journey without pushing my limits and expanding my comfort zones. It’s almost like, “If I can travel solo through XYZ, I can do any damn thing!” And I want all of my sisters to do and feel the same way.
D: Have you ever heard the wolf cry to the blue corn moon and can you paint with all the colors of the wind?
R: Yes! Through this journey of living, loving, and traveling, I’ve been able to take paint from the winds of many lands and spread it as far and wide as possible. Fortunately, I can do that through my influence and platform.
D: You can choose one person, living or dead, to take with you to your favorite place in the world. Where will you take them? What will you do while there?
R: I would choose Andre 3000 and we would go to Accra Ghana. I’m such a huge fan of his. Outside of the music he creates, he’s just so insightful and wise. I would love to get his perspective on the current state of Black America, the black diaspora, and eating plant-based meals and shit.
Rachel’s mission, desire, and purpose is to change the narrative and negative perception of Black Travelers around the world and helping people of color get past fears and excuses and travel the world. She’s just as wise and creative as 3000, but won’t admit to it so easily.
And then came the question I’ve been wanting to ask since Rachel stepped into the house, but waited til the end of the interview in case I needed to escort her from the grounds. I ask with a smirk, knowing damn well the Wildcats already have the trophy on the shelf. She ignores the smirk and waits for it.
D: Who’s going to win the Florida Classic this year?
R: Well…FAMU football team is crap this year. But our band always smokes yall’s. Duh.
And I let her end on a lie because Dorian was coming with the dishes and I was inhaling what could have been the French toast or the fragrance of god. My stomach screamed out for relief, I shot a side eye in Rachel’s direction, making sure she caught it, and made my move for a little bit of everything. Everything that happened while eating and laughing with Rachel and Dorian was in the name of self-care.
Darnell Lamont Walker, a self-professed traveling foodie, has been found sitting at tables eating baby goat sweetbreads, drinking tequila, and laughing loudly with strangers. The writer, filmmaker, artist, and sometimes photographer puts happiness above all.