Diving Into the Unknown

Artist Lo Harris faces fears and reignites her creative fuel in Cancun.

As told to Julia Gómez Kramer


Meet Lo

Lo Harris never expected to be a full-time artist. With a background in video journalism and the desire to work in a newsroom, the Brooklyn-based creative’s love for visual arts was sidelined as a hobby — something to lean on outside of her nine-to-five job. She created an Instagram account for her art, designs highlighting social and racial justice, self-love, and her inspirations. During the summer of 2020, shortly after the death of George Floyd, her Instagram received an influx of followers, her work was being commissioned, and she began her path as a full-time artist in January 2021.

In October of 2021, feeling burnt out and in need of a vacation, Harris took a trip to Cancun, Mexico with her best friend. While there, she found herself inspired, invigorated, and rethinking her relationships with her art and herself. A trip intended for rest and relaxation provided a resurgence of self-love, acceptance, and creative fuel.

It’s not uncommon for travel to shake up our perspectives and encourage introspection or personal growth. Along with a general boost in mental and physical health, studies have shown that traveling could also be linked to an increase in creativity. 

Keep reading to hear how Lo’s trip to Cancun transformed her outlook on herself, her art, and her plans for the future.

“The sensation of being on the beachfront, it’s very freeing. The softness of the water, just pulsing, is meditative. I felt entirely at peace, like I was supposed to be there.”

My trip to Cancun was the first leg of an almost full month of travel. I’d never been to Mexico, so I was excited, but leading up to the trip, I was also very tired. Being a freelance artist, there are definitely ebbs and flows in terms of how work comes in. Some months are slower than others, and this is my very first year freelancing, so I feel a lot of anxiety month-to-month. My mind is constantly racing, trying to figure everything out: What are my hot months? What are my cold months? Am I even relevant anymore? What’s going to happen next year? And I was in one of those phases right before the trip, where I was spiraling about the future. As soon as I sat on the plane though, I felt a lot of my anxiety melt away. The further I got from New York City, the less I worried about who was going to email me, and the more I was hoping no one even would.

In my old jobs, I felt not entitled to my own time, so now my sense of time is much more precious. I spent my time in Cancun so well: relaxing. I’m not the kind of traveler who has to do everything and rush everywhere. I like to marinate and decompress. It was easy to marinate too, given the heat and the humidity. I felt like I had to allow myself to succumb to it. I almost kind of transcended the discomfort. At a certain point, I was like I can live with this. I can do this. The thickness and warmth of the air really just soaked into my natural hair and made me feel so healthy, too. I felt like my hair was in its element. It made me feel taken care of.

The sensation of being on the beachfront, it’s very freeing. The softness of the water, just pulsing, is meditative. I felt entirely at peace, like I was supposed to be there. I’d never seen such saturated color before, either. The blueness of the water and how liberally color exists in that space was amazing. In New York there can be such an aversion to color. You see everyone in black turtlenecks or muted neutrals, as if they’re afraid to use it or stand out. But it’s different in Mexico. Everything is so vibrant and you accept it. You embrace the color because you’re immersed in it. I dressed in it, too. I wanted to evoke a sense of ripeness, to literally look like a fruit on a tree, so I was wearing bright yellows, puffy sleeves, and these long, flowing dresses with accents of red and yellow. I reveled in sticking out a little bit among the other tourists.

A few days in, my friend and I took a tour to the Cenote Azul sinkhole. Not knowing how to swim, as soon as our tour guide mentioned how deep it was, I decided I wouldn’t do it. Everyone else was diving in but I was content just sitting, and staring for an hour. But soon enough, I began to feel like an old version of myself, the Lo who sometimes let fear guide her. When my friend Jenny came back up, she looked at me and encouraged me to take the plunge — “Lauren, you could stand. You don’t have to go in the deep part, come on, just experience it.” So I started down the slippery, kind of scary, stairs.

I was grasping the rail, pushing past my unease, until I was in the water. The water was cold, the kind of cold that requires you to sit with your discomfort until it passes. But then, there I was — feet on the ground, with Jenny, other people, and so many fish — and I was so proud of myself. I might have been in the shallow part, but I was still in. In that moment everything kind of clicked for me: the old version of myself, the one who kept her fear close, was becoming more of a stranger each day. I was getting more comfortable with the feeling of jumping into things — both literally and figuratively. I realized that it is always possible for me, even if I’m not jumping in head first or into the deepest part of a sinkhole, to still be fearless and not limit myself. There’s space for me to challenge my fears and to be brave within my own frame of reference. I don’t need to limit myself or wait for people to give me permission to pursue the things I want. With any situation, I can approach it like the sinkhole: in my own way.

Listen to the Waves

When I got back to New York, and started to think about my work, I realized how much I used to agonize about how to choose colors. I never wanted to do too much or come across as “tacky.” I would experiment with trying to mute my colors a bit by using pastels, or something similar, because I felt like that was more sophisticated, more palatable to men, less-hyper-feminine. I was limiting myself to the constraints of Eurocentric design and artists. And while I like a lot of them, I love art history, it kind of makes me wonder, at what point did people decide that having color was tacky? And is labeling vibrant colors as tacky a Eurocentric thing to do? Because color is color, it’s expression, and colors have different emotions in different contexts, in different places. It’s just very interesting to me. Why did I once feel ashamed to use color? Now with my work, I’m embracing it. I’m not trying to experiment muting my colors to fit an unspoken standard. And people love it.

I’m this girl from Alabama who didn’t grow up with a lot of money. I didn’t grow up with all the privileges of people that I met when I got to college. I was able to expand my horizons off of my own hard work, to just get out there, see the world, and be brave about it. And now, after Mexico, I have other international trips planned in 2022 that I’ve intentionally booked as solo trips because I’ve realized I don’t need anyone to push me to get out there. I can push myself. My time in Cancun made me feel free.

A Guide to Cancun

Inspired by Lo’s trip? Click through the map to see places to visit during your own vacation.

Looking for more beach escapes? Explore the Marriott Bonvoy portfolio of 30 extraordinary hotel brands and endless experiences.

Yucatan, Mexico

"We took a bus ride to see the observatory, El Castillo, the Temple of the Warriors, and the ball court." - Lo H.

*For her excursions, Lo used a local tourism agency, Best Day Travel.

Yucatan, Mexico

"After visiting Chichen Itza, stop in the nearby town of Valladolid for lunch."

Km 14.5, Blvd. Kukulcan Lote 40-A, Zona Hotelera, 77500 Cancún, Q.R., Mexico

This luxury beach resort and spa is perfect for anyone looking to unwind and experience Cancun.

Quintana Roo, Mexico

"We took a small yacht to this island for a day filled with snorkeling, drinks, and lunch. The sand was so white and the water was exceptionally blue. When we finished at the beach we ventured further into Isla Mujeres by renting golf carts and zipping around the area, stopping at shops and restaurants along the way." - Lo Harris

*For her excursions, Lo used a local tourism agency, Best Day Travel.

Feeling inspired?

Want more trip inspiration? Read more transformative travel stories.

Chasing the Coastline
Digging to the Roots
Your Brain on Travel
Unlock the Science Behind Your Next Vacation