The first time I visited San Francisco I was a senior in high school. I stopped through on my way to Stanford, readying myself for what would be my new home for the next four years of my life. It was the furthest I had been from Brooklyn. As diverse as New York is, San Francisco taught me a thing or two about travel and diversity.
The first thing it taught me was that travel is a lot about the people. Some would argue it’s more about the people than the place. I think it depends on where you travel. Believe me, I’ve been places where I wouldn’t mind if the people would’ve stayed indoors, but that’s a conversation for another day.
Although Queens is the most ethnically diverse city in the country, I find the people in San Francisco to be friendlier. I’m not sure what that’s all about. Maybe it’s just my perception. Maybe it’s the California sun. I have this theory that due to San Fran’s history of attracting entrepreneurs of all backgrounds dating back to the Gold Rush and now in the new Startup Rush, people there are more willing to play nice with each other no matter what your ethnic background.
I’ve never met anyone from San Francisco I didn’t like. (Watch me meet someone tomorrow that makes me retract this statement!) Case in point: on a recent trip to Costa Rica, three of the six people in our tour van were from S.F. They were young, lively and fun. All of Asian decent, they exuded that friendly bubbly San Francisco nature that I’ve come to love.
Chatty and vibrant, they were unfettered by the fog and hills we encountered on our walk to the nearby volcano. Fog and hills are a part of their daily breakfast. They joyously shared about themselves and their adventures, and were visibly ecstatic to be traveling in Costa Rica. They didn’t care that their Spanish was poor; they tried their best to communicate in the local language anyway.
Travel to San Francisco and you’ll meet a million more people like them. You’ll also get a lesson or two about being open. San Fran has a minority-majority population, which means minority ethnic groups make up the majority of the city’s population. In other words, whites make up less than half of the population. This is the way of the world. When you travel extensively, you learn that. Places like San Francisco and Queens are just microcosms of the global population. With more than a dozen ethnic groups in these densely populated cities, you can enjoy a truly diverse travel experience without ever leaving the United States.
To experience something new, different. To explore. Granted, travel means something different for all of us but the truth of the matter is that diversity often gets lost in the “why we travel” formula as many of us stick to who or what makes us comfortable. It’s easier to deal with what we already know. I get it.
Let me challenge you. When you plan your trip to a city like San Francisco, be different. Take your time to do the research. Find a restaurant or shop owned by an ethnic group with which you’re not familiar. Engage.