While going to Africa is on Imari K. Paris Jeffries’s bucket list, he has much more pressing travel plans at hand: a destination wedding next year on Isla Mujeres, an island off the coast of Cancun. “It’s very much Mexican, but it’s on the Mayan coast so it has a very strong indigenous feel to it. We love it there,” he said. “Both of us have the travel bug, so the idea of combining a wedding and a vacation feels compelling.” In addition to wedding plans, Paris Jeffries, executive director of King Boston, is busy leading the nonprofit’s efforts to install a memorial on Boston Common next year honoring Martin Luther King Jr., Coretta Scott King, and Boston civil rights leaders, as well as many other projects — including an annual music festival — that contribute, he said, “to being an active participant in the fight for Boston’s racial equity future.” Paris Jeffries, 47, was born in Fayetteville, N.C., and, since his dad was in the Army, moved often. He attended high school in Clarksville, Tenn., after which he joined the Army and was stationed at Fort Devens. When he left the military in 1996, he attended UMass Boston, where he is currently working on a doctorate. The father of three — daughters Imani, 25, and Mia, 17, and son Gael, 15 — lives in Hyde Park with his fiancee, Miriam Ortiz, who is head of programming at a community development corporation. We caught up with Paris Jeffries to talk about all things travel.
Favorite vacation destination?
I have had a few places that are seriously printed in my memory: Cuba, Korea, and New Orleans. Cuba, because it was/is this forbidden place that people always romanticized and a place that can only be experienced. [There’s] a combination of old world, new culture, and a Caribbean vibe outside of Havana. Korea, because it was a trip I took with my family — nine of us went. We got to experience culture, people, food, and nightlife. I cannot overstate how fun and amazing Seoul is as a city. A must visit place for everyone. New Orleans is hot — hot in all the ways that hot is good: the food, drinks, sites, and temperature. This is one of the most musical cities I have ever experienced in my life — from street bands to nightclubs and concerts. . . . This city has a soundtrack.
Favorite food or drink while vacationing?
While these are not necessarily my two favorite foods and drinks, one of my vacation traditions is to eat Chinese food and buy a cup of coffee from Starbucks. I have had Chinese food from Spain to Colombia, and in China. I try to eat the same few dishes. Believe me, they are indeed different and cater to the palate of the country. The best Chinese food I have had has been in Paris . . . amazing! Same can be said for Starbucks; there is a shop in almost every place. The most interesting has been in Malaysia. The coffee over there is known locally as Kopitiam and has a strong flavor while being aromatic.
Where would you like to travel to but haven’t?
2019 was the “year of return.” Many friends of mine had the opportunity to go to Africa. Many folks went to Ghana, or even Egypt, or South Africa in that year. I would have loved to go, but I am in a PhD program and have to limit the time that I am away on vacation so I could not get away to travel in 2019. It is on my agenda soon!
One item you can’t leave home without when traveling?
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I take a lot of things with me including medication [such as] aspirin, cough [reliever], etc. … my phone, and hand wipes.
Aisle or window?
Aisle. I think you can sneak some extra legroom when you are sitting there and can get up and walk around without disturbing your neighbors.
Favorite childhood travel memory?
When I was a kid my dad was in the Army and we moved to Germany when I was 5. … The airport, the ground transportation, the hotel, the snacks, and watching the plane pick up speed and taking off. … I remember the sites, smells, and vibrations in my bones. I think this first experience is where I caught the travel bug and lost any fear of the unknown. It is an unexplainable feeling as a child to get in a plane, have that plane drive fast, and five minutes later find yourself in the clouds. Anything seems possible after that.
Guilty pleasure when traveling?
I am already known for eating snacks, so when I go on vacation, it is like a new world of treats has just opened up. From the flight, to the hotel, to the little markets. … There isn’t a snack I won’t try at least once. The most crazy has been chapulines — grilled little grasshoppers you eat like popcorn — in Mexico.
Best travel tip?
Don’t plan everything out and try to do everything or see everything. It is OK if you don’t see all the museums or shops.