People & Stories

'My ancestral journey was a spiritual delight' – Trafalgar Unlocked Award winner Lawrence's story

Recently updated on July 4th, 2023 at 04:08 pm

Our Trafalgar Unlocked Awards has now closed and after combing through over 10,000 incredible entries, the lucky winners have been announced. Each of these winners will be joining us with their travel companion on a 12-day trip to the Balkans this June. 

One of the lucky winners was Lawrence, who shared this story as part of his entry in the Trafalgar Unlocked Awards: 

Back in September, 2022, I had the good fortune to take Trafalgar’s Highlights of Spain and Portugal tour. Since this was my second tour with Trafalgar, I already knew going in that every aspect of my adventure would be taken care of; from first rate lodging, excellent tour guides, good transportation, fine dining , and an outstanding itinerary that would not only quench my thirst for seeing major iconic sights, but would also give me an immersive experience into the culture and vibrancy of the Iberian peninsula. However, this trip was extremely special to me for reasons even beyond the above. For back in 2019, I like so many other people around the world submitted my DNA for genealogical mapping in order to discover my ancestral makeup. To my surprise and utter delight, my results certified that I shared paternal genetic ancestry with people living in both Spain and Portugal. As a result, Trafalgar’s Highlights of Spain and Portugal tour turned into not only an adventure that I will cherish for the rest of my life, but in fact, became a tour of my ancestral journey through time. For me, as we walked through the fabled walls of The Alhambra Palace in Granada, the last European stronghold of the Moors, the Mezquita Mosque in Cordoba, now officially known as Catedral de Nuestra Señora de la Asunción, and the famous Alcazar in Seville, my imagination took flight and I was transported back in time to my ancestral beginnings. Of course, I can go on and on because this was, in fact, a fourteen day tour through two beautiful countries whereby every day, and every city and/or town we visited, presented me with one cultural revelation after another. Therefore, to say that this trip was special, would be a tremendous understatement. It was life changing.

We sat down with Lawrence to find out more about his fascinating story and how it feels to be a Trafalgar Unlocked Award winner – and who he’s taking with him! Lawrence also shares why traveling is so special to him and why he loves traveling with Trafalgar.

GET INSPIRED BY: Balkan Delight

Image of Lawrence sitting on a sea wall with a Mediterranean city skyline in the background

1. How did it feel to be one of the lucky Trafalgar Unlocked Award winners?

Actually, I was flabbergasted. When I first entered the contest I thought “Well, how many entries could there possibly be?” I was assuming a low number, so I figured that my chances were pretty good. However, when I rechecked the website about a month later and read that over ten thousand entries had been submitted, my heart sank. At that point, I basically thought “Oh well, at least you tried,” and attempted to put any thought of winning totally out of my mind. As a result, when I did, in fact, receive the “Congratulations Lawrence! You’re going to the Balkans” email message, I was beyond ecstatic. The proverbial kid in the candy store.

RELATED CONTENT: Beyond Dubrovnik and Sarajevo: 10 off-the-radar Balkan towns to explore with Trafalgar

Portrait of Lawrence with a castle in the background

2. Have you ever been to the Balkans?

No, and to be honest, the Balkans weren’t even on my bucket list of must-see destinations. However, now that I’m researching Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, and Montenegro, I am definitely questioning that list.

GET INSPIRED BY: Balkan Adventure

3. Who will you take with you on your Trafalgar trip to the Balkans?

This is the really exciting part of the trip for me because I’ve asked my grand-niece, Avery, to join me on this very exciting adventure. Avery will have just graduated high school when we depart, and it’s my hope and desire that this European experience will ultimately ignite a lifelong thirst for travel within her soul. Frankly, a thirst that I wish I would have developed at her age. And I have to admit, experiencing this trip through her young eyes will be an added pleasure for me as well.  

RELATED CONTENT: Experts tells us why the Balkans should be on your list of places to visit

Lawrence Trafalgar traveller

4. What are you most excited to see and do during the 12-day Balkan Delight Trafalgar trip?

I’m a culture nerd at heart. As a result, I’m extremely interested in the cultural makeup of any destination I’ve been blessed to visit. Therefore, I want to see it all, taste it all, and visit anything and everything that makes up the ethnic flavor of that particular region and/or location. So, in Zagreb I’m looking forward to seeing its Cathedral, St. Mark’s Church, the Stone Gate, people-watching in Ban Jelacic Square, strolling down the Strossmayer Promenade and browsing through the Dolac Market. 

Sarajevo is known as the “Jerusalem of Europe”. So I’m definitely looking forward to seeing all of its beautiful synagogues, mosques, and Orthodox and Catholic churches. In addition, Sarajevo carries the recent scars of war. So with heartfelt humility, I hope to see the Tunnel Museum, the mortar shell impressions known as the “Sarajevo Roses”, and the many building facades that are still riddled with bullet holes decades later from the Bosnian war.

And lastly, I have to admit that I’m definitely a Game of Thrones fan. And as such, I’m seriously excited about touring the Croatian city of Dubrovnik, or should I say King’s Landing.

Lawrence in Valencia

5. You talked about your Spain and Portugal trip in your Trafalgar Unlocked Awards entry. Why did you choose the Highlights of Spain and Portugal tour?

Both Spain and Portugal became extremely important to me because my paternal genetic ancestry closely matched the people currently living in both countries today. Thus, I wanted to participate in a Trafalgar tour that would expose me to as much as possible in both countries, within a two-week period of time, and within my limited travel budget. Luckily for me, the Highlights of Spain and Portugal tour fit that bill precisely.

RELATED CONTENT: Sunshine, seaside and spices: 8 highlights from our Spain, Morocco & Portugal trip

Selfie image of Lawrence with Valencia's Serranos Towers in the background, illuminated from below

6. What was it like to trace your ancestry through Spain and Portugal?

Since I’m an African American, I figured that my ancestral ties to both Spain and Portugal stemmed directly from the region being ruled by the Moors between the 8th and 15th centuries. Therefore, I became uniquely appreciative of all the Moorish architecture that had been preserved in basically every city we visited in both countries. I especially took pride in the fact that although the Moors were considered foreign conquerors, both Spain and Portugal took pride in preserving the architectural achievements that the Moors had brought to their lands – the ultimate sign of respect.

RELATED CONTENT: Discover the best of Spain and Portugal

Image of Lawrence in a courtyard gardens in Cordoba

7. How did this trip change your life? What are the most memorable things you learned on this trip?

As I stated in my contest entry, this was my second tour with Trafalgar. The first was a tour of Italy along with my daughter, Jasmine, back in 2021. However, for reasons beyond my control, I was forced to travel solo on the Highlights of Spain and Portugal tour. As a consequence, one of the most memorable things I learned during that tour was that I didn’t need a travel companion in order to thoroughly enjoy a Trafalgar tour experience. In fact, I found it invigorating to be totally on my own, of course, within a guided experience. So, not only was my ancestral journey a spiritual delight, but the recognition of my own exploratory independence was just as valuable.

RELATED CONTENT: Why you shouldn’t put off a solo travel adventure

In addition, I found out that even though you may start off the tour as a solo traveler, that situation doesn’t last long on a Trafalgar tour.  On day one Trafalgar provides a welcome dinner for all of its participants, and it was during that welcome dinner that I met and became steadfast friends with five other fellow travelers. In fact, we called ourselves “The Gang” and we were pretty much inseparable during the rest of the tour. We still keep in contact via social media to this day.

RELATED CONTENT: Why friends you make on a Trafalgar tour last a lifetime

Image of Lawrence with fellow Trafalgar guests

8. What are some of your favorite memories from this trip?

For me, one of the significant differences between European and American cities is that most European cities are all designed around a central Plaza whereby their citizens can congregate and socialize together. That’s such a beautiful concept to me, and it’s one of the first locations I seek out when traveling abroad. There is no better way to understand a culture than by watching its members congregate and socialize together. It’s truly a beautiful experience to see life lived in such a different way. It can’t help but make you reevaluate the way you approach life.

Another significant feature I absolutely adore is the fact that European cities take considerable effort to preserve their historical heritage while simultaneously modernizing all around their historical structures. As a result, you’ll see a 12th-century church next to a modern office or apartment building. Ancient ruins next to a charming restaurant or a city park. It’s that mix of the old and new world that I believe captivates us Americans most of all.

RELATED CONTENT: 9 UNESCO World Heritage Sites to see in Spain

Selfie image of Lawrence with Granada's Alhambra gardens in the background

9. Why is it so important to travel and experience new places and cultures?

Traveling frees your mind from the psychological confines of the world where you happen to have grown up. It teaches you that there’s always another way to approach and live this thing we call life. You gain an appreciation for different cultures, different people, different beliefs, and different societal norms, and you gain a reverence for certain aspects of life that you may never have considered had you not visited that particular country and/or location.

RELATED CONTENT: The top 10 ‘travelling solo’ myths debunked

10. What is your all-time favorite travel destination or Trafalgar trip?

I’m just getting started in my fledgling attempt to see the rest of the world. So, I can honestly tell you that I do not yet have a favorite. Every city I’ve visited thus far has overwhelmed me in some particular way, regardless of its size. Italy, Spain, and Portugal are all beautiful and vibrant countries in their own unique way. In fact, I’m sure I’ll feel that way about every tour that I take with Trafalgar, because Trafalgar doesn’t just have you see iconic sights, but also attempts to introduce you to the cultural aspects of the region you’re touring. In essence, a Trafalgar tour is several tours all in one, one of sight, one of sound, one of taste, and one of culture. So it becomes an immersive experience that one cannot help but enjoy, relish, and long for more when sadly the tour ends. 

RELATED CONTENT: 11 things travel can help teach you about yourself in 2022

Selfie image of Lawrence at the Padrão dos Descobrimentos monument in Lisbon

11. How many Trafalgar trips have you taken?

Unfortunately, the Balkan Delight tour will be only my third tour with Trafalgar thus far, but I have created a lengthy bucket list of Trafalgar tours that I plan on taking, so please ask me that same question in a decade from now.

(Note from the editor: We’d love to ask Lawrence the same question in a decade!)

12. What is your favorite thing about traveling with Trafalgar?

Once you arrive at your destination, your travel experience becomes stress-free from that moment until the end of your tour. Trafalgar’s team takes care of all of your logistical issues. Where you stay, and what you see, hear, taste, smell, and experience, have all been carefully mapped out and fine-tuned to the degree that all you’ll need to do is sit back and embrace the moments.

RELATED CONTENT: 5 reasons to travel solo, told by Trafalgar guests

13. Where else is on your bucket list? Where are you traveling to next (besides the Balkans!)?

That’s an easy question to answer. Even before entering the contest, I had already put together a list of 12 separate Trafalgar tours that I wanted to take over the next 12 years. In fact, my initial plan this year was to take the Best of Egypt tour in early October. Of course, the Balkan Delight tour has replaced it as this year’s adventure. 

However, since you asked here’s my bucket list of Trafalgar tours that I hope to take over the next decade: 

That’s an incredible bucket list! Congratulations to Lawrence on being a lucky Trafalgar Unlocked Award winner and thank you for sharing your story. You can read more stories from our Trafalgar Unlocked Awards winners on The Real Word blog.

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