→ Buy now: You Are a Global Citizen (Hachette 2023), bookshop.org
I came across the travel YouTuber Damon Dominique years ago. I was immediately charmed by his style and persona; he clearly puts a lot of research into his videos, but he also keeps it real. One minute, he is laughing at the absurdity of navigating French bureaucracy, and another, he is talking to Dutch people about their attitudes toward psychedelic drugs. In a single breath, he will quote a dead philosopher about the value of physical possessions and tell a story about hooking up with someone he met in an underground rave in a new city. He is endlessly fascinated by this world and the huge variety of people who populate it.
Over the past few weeks, I’ve been reading his new book, You Are a Global Citizen (Hachette 2023). It is structured as a guided journal more than a traditional book; even its physical size and shape encourage readers to pick up a pen and reflect on their lives.
It’s divided into 18 chapters on topics ranging from “Hometown” to “Love and Relationships” to “Politics”—in other words, the building blocks that form our identities. Each chapter includes personal stories from Damon and his reflections on that topic in general. It concludes with questions for the reader to ask themselves, with space to write.
For example, in the “Family” chapter, he asks, “If you and your parents were the same age, would you be friends? What do you like and dislike about your parents? What are your shared values?” In the “Politics” chapter, he asks, “You’re starting to date someone and realize you have opposing political ideologies. How important is this detail in the future of your relationship? Are you able to get along in other ways, or is this difference too large to be overlooked?”
These questions, Damon says, are intended to help the reader contextualize their place in the world, and imagine how different those answers could be if they were from another part of the world.
I enjoyed speaking with Damon Dominique a few weeks ago about his book, his own journey to become a traveler, and how his identity affects how he moves about the world. Here is an excerpt from our conversation.
I’d love for you to introduce yourself for people who don’t know you.
I’m a travel YouTuber. I make videos of my ridiculous travel adventures around the world, and I try to make them as goofy and eccentric as possible. Mainly because it’s what’s lacking in the travel industry in general: the sense of humility, the sense of humor. We can find accessible travel, sustainable travel, but I don’t feel like travel is particularly funny. I wanted to make a YouTube channel all about my travels around the world—the dates I go on, the raves I go to, the side of the travel industry that I’d never read about or watched. Basically, I’m trying to represent the part of the travel industry that I never saw.
How did you decide to write a book?
Social media—and I say this as an influencer—becomes such a hamster wheel of video, video, video. Once you post one video, you’re onto the next, because that’s how the system works. In a way, while it’s great to have the freedom, and while it can be lucrative, it sometimes feels like there isn’t an end to it. That’s why I’ve created projects here and there. I took some time to make a French language course, a Spanish language course, a TV show pilot, and now the book.
A book was always one of the things that I saw for myself, and especially a book that I would have wanted when I was first studying abroad. There was never a guidebook for myself as the traveler. It contains all of the questions I would have wanted to ask myself, just to help me open my mind more as a traveler.
How do you hope people will interact with the book?
My hope is that everyone would do the book and realize all the ways they’re already representative of their cultures. And then we’d all come together and ask, “How did somebody from Kenya answer this question?” versus “How did I answer this question?” And then you realize that other countries may be doing things differently, and that you don’t have to cling to an idea just because of your country of origin.
Just to give a tangible example: There are things I love around the world that I want to implement in my life. I love how in Mexico, they have the holiday the Day of the Dead. That’s not something I knew about until I went to Mexico and started learning Spanish. I love that every year, they celebrate the people who have passed on. Stuff like that; I vibe with it, I agree with it, but I wouldn’t have known about it if I hadn’t come in touch with people from other cultures.
I’m curious to know about the title of your book. What does “global citizen” mean to you?
This is my philosophical side coming out. I just find it intriguing that we’ve all kind of accepted these systems in place. Like, we are all humans and we’ve categorized ourselves into labels. On one hand that’s great, because we can find our people more easily. But on the other hand, it’s just a label.
We’re all just humans and then we place labels on top of it. So yes, sure, for paper I’m American. But deep down now, I know American is just another label, like gay, male, YouTuber.
When I was born, I was literally just a creature that adopts the human way. But I’m not just adopting the human way, I’m adopting one lane of the human way—which is my nationality. I adopt the American way, I look up to certain idols in pop culture, my fellow Americans will know who Oprah is, they’ll know that Nicki Minaj and Cardi B had beef. We kind of adopt these things in our nationality, when really, deep down, we all are just creatures. The book should really be called, “You Are a Global Creature.”
The book isn’t about becoming a global citizen but about realizing that you already are and always have been. It’s just that with these systems in place now—governments, visas, passports—lives have been complicated. And that’s kind of the point I’m trying to push toward.
There’s this one line that you wrote, in the chapter on Gender: “In this pursuit of becoming global citizens, we have to continuously remind ourselves where our current thought processes stem from.” What’s your thinking around that?
When I travel with people who aren’t from my country, it’s the little things that I never realize when I’m back home, because I share these same qualities with everybody else. Like, when I went to Tunisia with my ex. When we’re in a taxi or a restaurant, my mind goes to, “Do you tip here? How much do I have to tip?” I’m coming from this American mindset that is about tipping everybody all the time. And he’s a French guy who doesn’t tip. Already, our brains are in two different places when we’re traveling. Our anxieties are different.
Who do you hope reads this book? You said you wrote it for yourself when you were younger and just starting your travel journey. Is that the type of person that you’re hoping reads it?
I’m from the “country” of Indiana where people have a one-dimensional way of life, and they defend their way of life without having seen that much else. So it’s more written for people like that. Though of course that’s a very niche answer.
I would say that the book is for anyone who is interested in travel, period. Because I think the book is, part one, it’s helping you discover all the ways you are representative of your culture. Part two is maybe take the book and go travel, and realize that you swap out the ideas that you don’t vibe with, and maybe swap them for another country’s ways of doing things.
For example, the French are very critical. They’re very eloquent, articulate, well-versed in the arts and cuisine. I started asking myself, “Why would that be? Why aren’t Americans well-versed in all of these things?” And then I started looking at their educational system, and I realized that philosophy—which is really deep critical thinking—is a required subject in their school. Meanwhile, in the US, you go to school, and by 2:30 p.m., you go play sports. And then you look at the Superbowl, and we are fanatical about sports and entertainment.
Half of this, maybe it’s just a stretch. But it has an impact at some point.
I want to hear a little bit more about your own journey of becoming a traveler. How did it start for you? Was there a moment that made you feel, “OK, this is the life for me”?
I was always interested in languages. Always, always. When I was in eighth grade, we had to choose between French and Spanish. And I remember that was my first time that I was actually interested in school.
When I was 16, I studied abroad in Barcelona. I worked in a coffee shop and I saved up all my money, worked as much as I could, and then of course, my parents helped me out. I went abroad for two months by myself, lived with a host family, and went to Spanish school five days a week.
While I was staying with the family, I had two French roommates, and I was blown away that my life could turn out that way. Here I was as an American in Spain, wearing my plaid Bermuda shorts, looking so Indiana. But I was in Spain, speaking Spanish, there were two French girls, there were just languages everywhere. There was just languages and travel and freedom. Maybe freedom is the word. Maybe that’s why I love to travel today because it represents freedom to me.
One theme I noticed through the book was you talk a lot about identity and travel. And I’m curious to know how your various identities have they affected how you travel the world, and also how people perceive you?
Well, my identities, I guess, would be white, gay, American, male, YouTuber. If you could put me into categories, those would be them.
To go off on the gay part, I feel like it’s really important for me to travel and show that 90 percent of the time, people don’t care. And I think what we see so often are the stories is where people are having horrible experiences. And of course, I can only speak to my experience, but I want to show that most countries have been, it’s been fine.
I feel like it’s important to highlight the good experiences around the world, and not just the bad ones.
And then also, this is controversial—a hot take, if you will—but some people don’t want to go to countries because they don’t want to spend their money in oppressive regimes. I totally get that. I am coming at it from a different way, where I’m like, there are more people than the government. I want to go to show up for the people, not necessarily to please or displease the government.
I noticed, not just in the book but also your videos, that you quote a lot of philosophers and you talk about a lot about philosophy. How do you think about philosophy? How does it fit into travel for you?
I didn’t get into philosophy until I was 27; I didn’t even know what it was before then. So that’s a new revelation in my life. Travel is exploration, philosophy is exploration of thought. I absolutely love exploring the outside world; now I want to look at the inside world.