December 15, 2012, Washington, DC: Booker Mitchell calls me shortly after he hops out of a cab on a busy Friday afternoon in New York City. He doesn’t always take a cab, but he had a lot to carry this afternoon leaving school. You see, Booker is not only a true city nomad and National Geographic Traveler‘s newly minted Traveler of the Year, he’s also a student in the 10th grade.
Incidentally, Booker is also a friend of my brother’s despite their age difference of more than 20 years, and that’s how I came to admire Booker’s work as both a traveler and a young journalist. I love watching his webisodes on Booker Travels as he skateboards and surfs throughout the world, and I relate completely to his mantra, “Live Life Outside.” In short, this insightful and worldy teenager exemplifies what it means to be a neighborhood nomad, and by the time he leaves school and begins the weekend, we have a lot to discuss.
Read on for an interview with Booker Mitchell.
Do you remember the first trip you took that made a serious impression?
Between my dad’s side and my mom’s side, we’re spread out — family is in California, Brazil, Hawaii… I got to see the world at an early age.
My mom would take the camera out wherever we were to document it. Then we realized we had a lot of special stuff that nobody had. In March 2011, we went to Barcelona and that was our first real trip. That was when it all started.
I think every trip really built up to make a big impression. I think the most influential trip was Barcelona. That was like, ‘Ok, we’re not just here to have fun. We’re here to do Booker Travels.’ It was still fun, obviously, but it was more.
How do you approach traveling? What’s your travel style? What makes places you visit feel like home even if they’re very different from what you’re used to?
I think it’s about trying to make myself as comfortable as possible wherever I am. We’ll stay at a hotel for like a night, but one thing we really like doing is to stay at an actual house. It’s easier to feel comfortable that way. And I like not doing the regular tourist things.
I hear you’re about to begin a new series on Booker Travels called NYC Sweet Home. How’d that come up?
I mean, I go to school so I’m not taking off to go travel. We needed something to fill those gaps between trips. I thought it would be cool to skate around like a five block area, to skate around and explore different neighborhoods.
Tell me what you like about the character of New York.
Everybody’s really, really, really different. From block to block, from person to person, there’s always something completely different going on and it’s all jammed into one little island, or into five boroughs. I like that I’ll go somewhere else and I’ll come back and I’ll recognize things from the place I just went to and that I experienced. I’ll see what it’s trying to imitate.
If someone you met abroad were to come visit you in New York, where would you take them? Any particular spots or restaurants you’d show them in your own neighborhood of Chelsea or throughout New York?
I don’t really consider my own area my own, I mean I still live with my parents so I don’t have much of a say as to where I live, but just a few blocks further downtown, they’re really small streets and it’s really nice there going from place to place that nobody’s heard of. There are little shops and amazing food. I’ll just be walking around with some friends or my parents and I’ll see something and say, Let’s try it. And Two Boots Pizza. It looks like a very regular pizza place — it’s pretty expensive, but it’s got the best food ever.
Chelsea, mostly besides 8th Ave., it’s really just townhouses and stuff. It’s nice to walk around, but I really like the feeling of the Village and the Lower East Side and where there are really little streets. Not many other cities in the United States have that.
I always take people to Chinatown. It’s touristic, but it’s not considered to be a nice place. I mean, the people are nice, but it’s dirty and stuff. Every time I go there, there’s always something that surprises me.
I think a lot about how my travels influence the way I see my home. Do you feel like you appreciate your home more after you’ve been traveling?
Completely. I’ll be really excited when I get somewhere, but I feel like one of the best parts of traveling is coming back home, seeing everyone you know and the feeling of being home. It also lets you take advantage of being wherever you are. Like, I only have two days left, let’s go surf a hidden spot that is three hours away.
Photo Credit: Tania Cypriano
Cover Photo Credit: Rob Langhammer
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