This international traveler wants to see help black people going abroad. As Erykah Badu says “One day all them bags gon’ get in your way, so pack light on your travel journey.”
By Gerrard Roberts
Calling himself the backward nomad for his first name, Damon, spelled backward,Damon Chivers was born to be a free spirit drifting through time, touring this world that was created to be explored. As an international traveler, he spends his time absent from a schedule. He embarks on organic journeys that present themselves spontaneously. Different cultures welcome Damon abundantly during his travel excursions. With each destination he visits, his goal is to discover the pulse of the people that make up the environment and openly explore their cultural practices and principles. We sat down with Damon to learn more about his life as an international traveler.
Reviewing your art portfolio, social justice permeates as a theme. What inspiration are you drawing from that gives life to these messages?
“My family is from Selma, Alabama, and my grandmother, Joyce Jones, marched with Martin Luther King. So social justice has always been with me because of my family history and how I grew up.
As an artist, you always hope that what you create has an impact, but you don’t really know until you receive feedback. The art that I produce is abstract portrait art. I used to paint frequently when I was younger, and I would give my paintings away. It felt like my body of work was a snapshot of the period I was in at the time. I did not have any expectations of the art I was producing, allowing me to work in a free space.
I met Raoul Middleman when I was in South Carolina, attempting to sell my artwork in galleries as a teenager. He told me that “artists cannot contradict ourselves because we create from a place we don’t even understand. As time goes on, different people will develop different interpretations and understandings from a painting.”
Some of my art has worked its way across Los Angeles, and the feedback I’ve received is that my work is a conversation starter. Not only do they love it, but they are sharing this positive appreciation with the people of their tribe. It’s a rewarding feeling when someone shares their perspective on a piece I’ve created, which is completely different from my original intention. It opens me up to even more perspectives, like dang, you made sense of a painting that I painted; that’s wild.”
What inspired you to backpack around the world, and how did you prepare for this journey?
“I just started this journey in October 2022. I’ve been working remotely as a software engineer for a few years now; I’m too old to be a starving artist. One day it clicked to me that I’ve never lived in one place for more than 3 years as an adult. There’s so much of the world that I haven’t seen yet, so why not get up and do it.
To prepare myself for this journey, I sold and gave away just about everything. I sold my Tesla and donated everything from my apartment. I don’t really have a strong attachment to material things. This travel journey has put me on the path of minimalism. I wanted to see what life was like without always needing more. My goal was to experience more, but don’t hold on to more. My first stop on this journey was Madrid, then I went to Sicily. I grew up there from 8-12 years old. I wanted to see this as an adult, then I went to Portugal and Morocco.”
How has traveling internationally expanded your horizons, and what have you learned about yourself on this journey?
“I’ve learned that downsizing is essential. This experience has opened me up to an entire way of living that is so refreshing. However, there are some comforts that I miss. Most places don’t have washers or dryers. You don’t realize the difference until you don’t have them. You have to plan out the process of how you will wash your clothes. Sometimes you have to hang dry your clothes; this was very different for me. Madrid and Cicily have a siesta, which is a nap period where nothing is open around mid-day. I did not know what this meant. I was working in the US time zone, waking up mid-day, and couldn’t find anything to eat.
I’m a chameleon in social settings; I can be introverted or extroverted, depending on the vibe. I’ve been meeting people through my Airbnb host. I’ve had some crazy experiences that have fallen into my lap. My first host in Madrid was the Miss Dominican Republic. In Sicily, my host was a wonderful Italian family that offered me pizza and wine from a volcano. In Lisbon, I went on an African history tour run by my guy Naky. I had no idea one of the first slave ports was in Portugal. I’ve also learned just how much being raised in a military family has prepared me to be open-minded and willing to explore cultural traditions.”
What’s next in your travel journey, and what advice would you give to BIPOC individuals that want to be an international traveler?
“Maybe I’ve been lucky with the places I’ve chosen, but I’ve had really positive travel experiences as a Black American. I’ve been able to blend in because people of color are everywhere when you travel. I’ve been mistaken for Moroccan and Portuguese until I open my mouth and start talking.
I think more black people should travel, and you will be surprised how welcomed we are in places. I’ve been shocked in Portugal seeing so many people of color. I’ve seen black people in town braiding hair; I was shocked to see them doing kinky twists, it felt like home. My next destination is Thailand. I’m a huge elephant fan; it’s my favorite animal. There’s something intriguing about their stature, wisdom, and how they are respected in the Kingdom. I’m going to an elephant sanctuary and staying amongst the elephants in a bungalow. The elephants come by in the morning and roam free in the elements. I’ll also do a jungle trek that ends with me being able to swim with the elephants.
If you have fears of traveling, let it go. Back home, people will make discouraging comments. Most of the time, it’s from people who have yet to even travel to the destination you’re interested in. Think about it, how would they know anything about that culture? Your experience will be your unique experience. Release everything and expand your mind so you can be open to receiving the intended experience.
I’m learning that this is a beautiful world we live in, filled with beautiful people. If you don’t judge, you’ll be surprised by how welcoming some of these cultures can be and how much you can learn about yourself through these cultures. When you travel, eat the local food. Don’t go looking for chicken tenders and fries. Try octopus for the first time; eat a bug if you have to; it will authenticate your experience. And my last piece of advice is that Erykah Badu said it best, pack light. There are cobblestone roads all throughout Europe; the wheels on your rolling luggage will be going through it.”