I’m not sure what I expected when I landed in Minneapolis, at the tail end of a reporting trip that had taken me to Tennessee and Wyoming before it. My friend Sobia had joined me for the first two parts of the journey, but she had flown back to New York while I carried on northward. I think she, perhaps like me, had assumed Minneapolis would be an anticlimactic end to a two-week adventure filled with line dancing and rodeos.
But as I dove into exploring the city on my own, every stop was a revelation.
The places I went on my own were also so off the tourist map that many friends might have balked at the idea. Unencumbered by anyone’s expectations of the trip but my own, I visited a Bosnian mosque where I observed a moving memorial service for the Srebrenica massacre. I discovered a shopping mall that felt more African than the ones I’d shopped at in South Africa, the unmistakably familiar sound of the adhaan, or call to prayer, reverberating through the halls and lingering sonorously in the air above shops brimming with colorful dresses, suitcases stacked to the ceiling, and all manner of cell phone accessories.
I also ate some of the most delicious meals of all my travels, redolent with a diversity of ingredients and influences that I’ve come to expect from New York and LA but hadn’t anticipated in the depths of flyover country. Whether I was downing sweet Somali tea with malawax crepes at a low-key café or trying sambusas at a Chipotle-style fast-casual eatery brimming with college students and office workers near the University of Minnesota, the flavors never disappointed.
If Sobia had stayed with me, I likely wouldn’t have met young Somali-American activists, artists, influencers, and playwrights. My flexible schedule and lack of company meant short interviews for work spilled over into dinners and lunches, and when people invited me to tag along to meet other friends or join them for events, I jumped at the offers. By the third day, I’d met so many different people that even the friendly Uber drivers I chatted with were surprised to discover how much I’d gotten around.
The result was that I fell in love with the dynamic, diverse, creative city.
I even fleetingly considered moving there—but then I remembered the fact that it was July and I might not be quite as enamored come winter.
While my brief flirtation with Minneapolis may not have resulted in a life-changing move, it did revamp how I travel around the U.S. For years, I’ve prioritized international travel over domestic; when I travel solo in Europe, Asia, South America, or Africa, where the terrain and languages can be unfamiliar, I’m usually on high alert and readying myself for sensory overload at all times. But when I travel around the States by myself, I’m usually so firmly entrenched in my comfort zone that it can sometimes not feel like travel at all.
It took a four-day stint scratching beneath the surface in Minneapolis to completely change how I look at domestic travel. Now I’m more committed than ever to explore my own backyard more—and keep an open mind as to what I might find here.