Travel Bravely
Tiffany Alexandria

The camera follows her down a quiet alleyway at dawn as she navigates the streets toward a spot for traditional Tainan breakfast that has been around for generations. There’s an easy warmth as Tiffany Alexandria invites us, her viewers, into the intimate space of a zongzi vendor a little after 6 a.m. in Taiwan. She joins her camera-shy mom at a small street-side table. Her mom, a special guest, shares details about how the sticky rice dumplings are made. Alexandria’s husband, Sean, is behind the camera taking mouthwatering shots of the pyramid-shaped dumplings topped with a bright sprinkle of fresh cilantro. The video is part of Alexandria’s travel and food YouTube channel. “The goal is to help people step out of their comfort zone, learn and be willing to try something new,” she says. 

Alexandria, who is best known as the visionary and artist behind ChooChoo-ca-Chew, the Night Market and several vibrant murals, is the kind of traveler who understands the vulnerability, humility and courage it takes to step outside your comfort zone and remain radically open to the wide, wondrous world right in front of you.

At 18, Tiffany Alexandria landed in Bangkok from her home in Taiwan to take a solo trip backpacking through Thailand. Her parents may or may not have known what she was up to, and less than a day into her trip she ran into her first traveler’s crisis—she couldn’t get money out of the ATM due to transnational password quirks. Alone in a country she didn’t know, Alexandria made her way south to the beachy port city of Phuket with no real itinerary and her Lonely Planet book as her only guide. Along the way, she made friends and even found a travel buddy who backpacked most of the way through the country with her. Before this trip, Tiffany had already traveled across different parts of Asia, Australia, Canada and the United States with her parents, who valued travel and opportunities to see the world. “My mom got me a ticket to Hong Kong before I even turned 1, and I think that  probably planted the travel bug in me.” 

Tiffany Alexandria

Photography by AB-Photography.us LLC

For Alexandria, travel is not simply about going from one location to another. It is a practice of curiosity, humility and cultivating connection with people, communities and culture. A vital part of that, for anyone who knows Alexandria, is FOOD—all caps, emphasis very much intended. So much of Tiffany’s work and offering to the Rochester community and beyond is centered around food as a portal into engaging with and understanding culture—our own and that of others. Through her championing of local food businesses, as well as her food and travel videos, photography and workshops, Alexandria’s passion for the ability of food and culture to bring people together and to amplify often marginalized voices and traditions is powerful. 

She believes that travel doesn’t have to be about going somewhere completely different from what you know. Travel, instead, is an invitation to go deeper. Alexandria is committed to a depth of experiences and exploration that brings her closer to herself and others. Through trips back to Taiwan, Alexandria has learned so much about her own Taiwanese culture and food traditions and is fascinated by Minnesotan food traditions like lutefisk church basement dinners and the vast diversity of American food culture from New York to Kansas City to Arizona to Portland. Lately, she and her husband have been taking train trips from Minnesota to the West Coast, and she marvels at how much of the country you get to see through a train car window. “I’m still traveling,” she says, reflecting on the transition from her life in Taiwan to her new home in Minnesota. She jokes that her travel bug is what landed her in Rochester in the first place, and now, several years later, she’s made a life in this small city. When Alexandria first arrived in Rochester, she started visiting and working at the local farmer’s market, eventually spending time with the various farmers on their land and learning more about the region. She is still amazed by all the cultures and stories that make up Minnesota, the United States and the many parts of the world she’s been to.

Alexandria recognizes that sharing culture is a very vulnerable thing to do. It requires trust and mutual respect. “You can go to a place and never really open your eyes to see what’s around you,” she notes. It was this practice of openness and respect that shaped much of her experience in one of her favorite destinations, Sri Lanka. “I still dream about Sri Lanka,” she says wistfully, recalling the lush biodiverse island and the vibrant food culture. During her travels in Sri Lanka she befriended a group of local Sri Lankans and was able to experience the country well beyond the guidebook. “You have to be respectful and open-minded and show them that you are, so that they can show you their world.”

So what advice does such an experienced and intentional traveler like Alexandria have for us? 

• Pack light: Packing light might be easier said than done, but Alexandria insists you won’t regret it. Packing light means you can explore and navigate places with more ease and less literal and figurative “baggage.”

• Try solo travel: Alexandria prefers traveling alone to be able to follow her own instincts and agenda about where she wants to go and what she wants to explore. While she notes group travel has its benefits, if you are someone who usually travels with others, she encourages at least one solo trip to a new place. Solo travel also means you build a deeper connection to yourself. 

• Be present: Being present and aware of your surroundings is central to how Alexandria travels. “When you are present and aware of where you are and what’s going on around you, it’s easier to make connections and have a deeper experience while traveling. It also keeps you safe,” she says. 

Ultimately, Alexandria’s true travel advice is to stay open, curious and humble no matter where life takes you. In a world that can often feel so divided and at a time when our differences seem to be so polarizing, Alexandria’s invitation is rooted in finding compassionate connection wherever you go and exploring the beautiful, complex and diverse worlds and cultures already all around us. :: 

About Author

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Nicole "Cole" Nfonoyim-Hara is a writer, freelance journalist, and media host for PBS and Mayo Clinic Press. She is the founder of Griot Arts, an arts hub with an art gallery and bookstore in downtown Rochester.

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