Darnell Lamont Walker has made quite a name for himself, documenting his travels internationally and making it look so easy. He is the founder of the website, “Passport Required,” which gives you all of the knowledge on how you can see the world in a way that you can afford and get the most out of your experience. I sat down with Darnell to get some more insight into his journeys.
You’re known to travel the world at the drop of a dime. That’s a luxury a lot of people watching your journey would love to be able to do. What inspires you to travel as much as you do?
From birth, or at least since my earliest memory at two years old, I’ve been a curious kid; I’m still a kid at heart and imagination. I couldn’t imagine sitting still while knowing there’s a full world out there waiting to be eaten, loved, explored, touched, and fed. My curiosity won’t let that happen.
I travel because I don’t know how not to. When I was a kid, my mom would throw me on a plane and send me to spend my summers with my Grandma and Detroit family. That first trip beyond the edge of my town in Virginia was all I needed to know there was more out there for me to see.
Have you found it difficult to travel internationally?
I haven’t found it difficult at all to travel internationally. I’m that guy who spent his life learning how to move in all the spaces I’ll likely ever encounter. I spent time shaking hands and making friends with everyone I met with dope energy because I love people, and because I knew it would make the world smaller.
Because I’ve done these things, everywhere I go feels like home. I’ve never felt like a visitor or stranger in a foreign land and adopted by so many grandmothers, Abuelas, Nanis, and Gogos.
What has been your most inspiring experience while traveling?
The most inspiring experience I’ve had as a traveler was connecting a family separated for over 50 years. While in Amsterdam for King’s Day and shooting my first documentary, Seeking Asylum, I ran into a man called JJ. He was a Black man, an American, and a vet, and asked for a few euro. I tossed him a couple of Euro and asked him if he’d talk about why he left America and if he’d ever return.
After the interview, he asked if I could somehow use the film to locate his sister and niece in Philadelphia. For months, I searched and searched with no luck. One day, I received a message from his niece, Monica, with old photos of JJ, asking if there was a way to find him again. His sister died a few years ago, and she was now the only living relative he’d know. I then went on a mission to find JJ again. After searching for 4.5 years, I had no luck and feared the worst. I kept in touch with his niece for updates all the while.
Then one night, I received an email from a man, Andre, who said he’d been searching for his family for decades with no luck, but thanks to the Internet, he found Monica, his first cousin. She put him in touch with me because I was still searching for him. He told me JJ was his father and it’d been 50 years since he’s seen him.
It was terrific how pieces were coming together, but sadly I had no happy news to share with him about locating his father again. Nine months passed, and I got a letter from Andre saying he took a leap of faith and bought a ticket to Amsterdam and walked the street for days looking for JJ. With the hello of local police, he was able to get a possible address after several days. He knocked, and his father answered. Beautiful!
He thanked me for the film and the fantastic work done behind the scenes. Weeks after, I took a flight to Amsterdam to have a 3-hour conversation with JJ about life, love, and how it felt to reunite with his sons. This was the most incredible thing.
A common misconception is that people feel like you need to travel outside of the United States to see beautiful sights. What is your favorite place to travel domestically?
You don’t have to travel abroad to see some of the most beautiful things in the world. I love so many national beauties, it’s ridiculous. One of the most incredible things I’ve seen was the moon shining on the other side of the highway between Albuquerque and Santa Fe. Sadly, the moon hates showing up for photos, so I can only tell people how incredible and beautiful it was. It looked as though I could reach out and touch it. Full and bright.
Driving through Colorado at night, seeing the lights of small towns glimmer as you’re doing 80mph down a mountain, will energize you.
Joshua Tree National Park for stargazing, The Redwoods, San Francisco; Burlington, VT in summers; all these things are an absolute must do’s!
One thing that I’ve noticed about you is you are very vocal about mental health and experiences with it. Can you expand on that and have your journey’s helped you with that?
I am pretty loud in these streets when it comes to mental health. I’ve lost too many friends and fear losing more to the dark spaces in which they find themselves. I’m loud because it’s vital that they know I am someone they can always come to, and I will help them fight; if that’s what they want, or I will run their heads or feet or hands or whatever it is they need me to do.
A lot of my travel is self-care. The more I travel, the more I’m able to connect with others, and I do talk with many of them about how they’ve found happiness, how they’ve overcome their darkest moments, how they hold space for others.
I’m able to bring those things home to anyone open to listening to me. We have to be safe spaces for each other. There are many ways to do that and many ways to learn what works best for us – our people.
What is one pet peeve you have while traveling?
My pet peeve when traveling is the suave-like consistency of most non-USA locations and the fact that no one uses washcloths except Black folk in the US. Well, a few other places do, but it’s often hard to find. These are hilarious to me but so true.
Do you have any “cheat codes” to give to people who want to travel but can’t afford it?
Travel is affordable for almost everyone. When I started “Passport Required,” I wanted to prove to folks they could travel far for close to nothing. I’m aware that’s a very privileged thing to think because, for so many, finding $1 can be impossible, but when we’re talking about something that can help shape our thoughts and whole being, we have to find ways to make ways!
For the last 4.5 years, we’ve offered all-inclusive adventures for $1025 or less, and we’ve ventured to over 50 countries with hundreds of people who thought they’d have to spend at least five times that amount to do the things we’ve done.
In 2018, I started offering free trips to get people out there. This year, I’ve given away several passports to folks who thought they’d never have the chance. There is a way to make it happen. Some organizations will pay for the entire trip, farms around the world that need help, schools looking to hire teachers, and so many other ways to see the world. There is always away.
What would you say your favorite airline is? Also, your preferred airport?
I’ll know I’ve made it when I’m sitting in that amazing section on Emirates! Have you ever seen the flight attendants walking through the airport together? It’s a scene out of a Tom Ford movie or a dream. Amazing!
Airports are lawless lands where lettuce sandwiches are $20, but if I must choose a favorite, I’d say the Dubai airport. Showers, sleeper beds, good food, and fantastic customer service.
Finish the sentence: “One place that you need to visit that you may have never considered is: _______.”
One place I need to visit that I’ve never considered is…hmmm: Poland! So many of the photos I’ve seen are beautiful. It looks like a beautiful place to take my journals, a few books, and some writing assignments during the winter and just BE. Yeah, Poland.
What is one piece of advice that you would give to those looking to take that leap into traveling more?
Leave your fears behind, leave yourself behind, stay open to people, food, places, and the world will open itself to you.