12 Ways to Support Black Travelers While on the Road

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travel community member Kathryn Sullivan
Photo by Aarón Blanco Tejedor on Unsplash

Today, our guest post is from Kathryn Sullivan, a solo travel advocate, mentor, and founder of Vivien Travel, which encourages women to embark on heart-led global exploration. She also hosts There She Goes, a podcast sharing the inspiring stories of women who’ve taken the leap into solo travel.

(Note from Kathryn: As a non-BIPOC still doing the work and learning how to fully embody allyship, I recognize this set of recommendations is incomplete. Please don’t hesitate to get in touch with your comments and suggestions to improve upon this list. Thank you!)

Race and racism is a reality that so many of us grow up learning to just deal with. But if we ever hope to move past it, it can’t just be on people of color to deal with it. It’s up to all of us — Black, white, everyone — no matter how well-meaning we think we might be, to do the honest, uncomfortable work of rooting it out. Michelle Obama

Nearly three months have passed since the death of George Floyd in police custody, a tragedy that has sparked a historic global civil rights movement to end systemic racism. While there are myriad ways to contribute to Black Lives Matter as an ally, below are highlighted just a few directly related to travel.

As a white American, I am so grateful to the Black travelers and teachers who have imparted their wisdom and shared their stories with patience and generosity. Each has greatly enhanced my evolution as a human and a traveler. I’ve sought to include the most significant points here; I’ve surely missed others. Please do comment with edits and suggestions!

I truly believe travel plays an important role in creating a more just world for all, so let’s jump in.

1. Understand true allyship

To be an ally is not a declaration. It’s a lifelong dedication to action and simply the right thing to do, undeserving of praise or recognition (so we shouldn’t expect any pats on the back).

As stated in the Airbnb Activism & Allyship Guide:

Being an ally does not start and stop during moments of convenience and inconvenience. Being an ally is a journey of commitment to understanding the dynamic realities marginalized people face while confronting the role the privileges you enjoy have played in creating those realities. 

As we recognize our privileges, think beyond skin tone as well. What doors have been opened — no questions asked — based on our passport, or socioeconomic status, or natural abilities? How can we best put those privileges to work? As allies, we will get it wrong sometimes, and that’s okay, as long as our intentions are pure and our minds are open.

2. Change your perspective

Travel can place us in the often uncomfortable position of being an outsider. Seek out that discomfort; learn how it feels to be the only person who looks like you. From that viewpoint, we can question stereotypes and see our own stories in a different light. We may disagree or struggle to comprehend certain elements of another culture, but travel gives us the chance to suspend judgment and seek to understand from another perspective.

We’re left with an appreciation for other ways of life and an understanding that deep down, we’re united by more similarities than differences. Travel, especially solo travel, can help to heal us, strengthen us, and reconnect us with our true selves. The broadened perspective, confidence, and self-awareness earned empowers us to pursue truth and justice wherever we go.

3. Enrich your feeds and bookshelves

Forget the stereotypes you’ve been fed by the media, Hollywood, and homogenous travel brochures — Black people travel, everywhere! As you seek inspiration to plan your next trip, consult Black travel experts (if you haven’t already). While you’re at it, support them on social media, share their content, and tell travel publications how much you appreciate a diverse set of voices. Start here:

travel community member Kathryn Sullivan
Follow Gloria Atanmo (@glographics and The Blog Abroad) for gorgeous shots and inspiring content

4. Add Africa to your bucket list

“If you’re not considering travel to Africa, you’re missing out on the history of the world. That’s where it all started,” said Tayo Rockson, a diversity and inclusion expert, on a recent podcast. After all, Africa is the cradle of humanity; the continent nurtured not only the ancestors of its current population and the Black diaspora but all of us.

And just as the Black race cannot be considered a monolithic entity, neither can Africa. From vibrant cities to untouched beaches, the 54 African countries offer so much more than wildlife safaris (though those are incredible too).

Ooooota Adepo, a Nigerian-born entrepreneur, extended this invitation in a thought-provoking essay:

In the spirit of Ubuntu, an African philosophy that hinges on our collective existence and compassion towards others, I invite you to come and discover Africa, one of the most majestic continents. I only ask that you come willing to see beyond the pyramids, the mountains, the rapturous waterfalls, and the often-oblivious cocoon of resorts. If you do this, you will leave with a richer understanding of humanity, and your state of equilibrium permanently offset — as it should be.

A note on destinations: I’ve heard horror stories of Black travelers facing racism in a variety of countries, which led me to wonder whether certain places were more welcoming than others. During a recent webinar hosted by The Nomadic Network, I had an opportunity to ask two Black women about this, Gabby Beckford and Sojourner White. In a word: no.

They stressed that travel is a personal experience, and a single interaction between two individuals should not be used to judge an entire nation. They were also quick to point out that within the Black community, members may be received differently depending on a multitude of factors, including skin tone, nationality, and language.

5. Know when to speak up

Regardless of where you are and who else is around, to be an ally means to sound the alarm whenever you witness racism. This could be overhearing a comment between two locals or observing a negative interaction between a Black traveler and a non-Black traveler. Use your privilege to educate and support, regardless of how uncomfortable you may feel. A recent conversation between Gloria Atanmo and Paul Scanlon, author, and speaker, covers this topic and much more.

6. And know when to stay quiet

On that note, if you’re with a Black person in the aftermath of a racist incident, Sojourner shared the following recommendation: don’t try to relate to the situation by sharing a personal story. Instead, simply hold space for them. To find out how you can best support the person in that moment, consider asking, What do you need from me?”

7. Support Black-owned businesses

In a nutshell, supporting Black people uplifts everyone. Entrepreneurship is difficult, risky, and exhausting, especially when trying to overcome centuries of racism and oppression at the same time. Spend your hard-earned travel funds with businesses that will most benefit from the economic support, both before you leave and on the ground. And then leave reviews and tell other travelers!

This goes for restaurants and bars, hotels and Airbnbs, tour guides, and travel agencies. I’m particularly intrigued by The Wind Collective, “a global travel community expressing freedom through adventure and creativity.” You can find a few more tour companies here. You’ll notice some tours are designed specifically for Black travelers, but many others are open to all. Book a stay at a Black-owned hotel (also here and here), and if you’re traveling in the US, check out this app for Black-owned restaurants.

travel community member Kathryn Sullivan
The Wind Collective is a team of creative explorers hosting trips around the world.

8. And support businesses that welcome Black patrons

When buying directly from a Black-owned business isn’t an option, turn to those that clearly serve Black patrons (both travelers and locals). How to know? If you’re walking by, check out the clientele inside. From afar, you can review the marketing materials; for example, are Black people featured in their photos? The Black Travel Alliance is a newly formed coalition of Black creators and travel lovers, determined to hold the industry responsible for inclusion once and for all. When in doubt, consult their list of brands that have pledged support.

And if it seems to you that a business is not welcoming to Blacks, start a conversation with them. They may not yet realize the importance of inclusive marketing.

9. Immerse yourself in Black history

Black history is global history, but unfortunately, a lot of it has been erased from the textbooks. Research your destination before you go and then seek out (preferably Black-operated) tours and museums once you arrive, for a unique perspective on African heritage.

I first heard this recommendation from Martinique Lewis and was reminded of a fascinating tour I took last year to San Basilio de Palenque, one of the first free slave towns in the Americas, located outside Cartagena, Colombia. Perhaps best known as the hometown of the colorfully dressed fruit vendors in the Walled City (Las Palenqueras), the settlement is full of rich cultural history and should be on any visitor’s must-see list. Regretfully, it took me six visits to Cartagena before I got there. (Yes, I really love that city.)

Gabby echoed Martinique’s advice with an important add-on: don’t go into a Black history tour with a pity mindset. “Black history is a story of resilience and survival, community, and perseverance.” Beautifully put.

If you’re in the market for a US road trip this summer, check out the Civil Rights Trail and other historical sites.

travel community member Kathryn Sullivan
The author learning to prepare a traditional fish stew in San Basilio de Palenque

10. Stop photographing Black children 

Perhaps you’re guilty, as I am, of photographing Black children while traveling, without explicit permission. A statement from beGirl.world (see #11 below) urged an end to this insensitive and harmful practice. “This needs to stop. Black kids are not props to showcase. Not only is this an invasion of privacy but this also continues to feed a savior complex.”

Beyond children, the “othering” of Black bodies around the world through photography — no matter how stunning the shot — detracts from the experience of future BIPOC travelers, as shared by Lee Litumbe in this article by Nneya Richards, “Black Travelers Are Always Depicted as Locals, Never the Explorers.”

11. But do encourage the next generation of Black travelers

Several organizations sponsor Black youth populations who otherwise may not have the resources to travel abroad. One such nonprofit is Philadelphia-based beGirl.world (bGw), founded by Deesha Dyer, empowering teenage girls through global education and travel. bGw challenges girls to dream bigger than their city limits and instills independence, strength, courage, inquisitiveness, and a sense of positive adventure. (You may have seen them in the Netflix special Becoming with Michelle Obama.) Other groups doing this important work around the world include Atlantic Impact, Beyond BMore, iFly, and FLYTE. Check them out and donate!

12. Keep it up at home 

Though I’ve focused on travel, the job of an ally is never done. Once you’re back, continue to educate yourself, uncover your biases, talk to your family. Don’t only support but really get to know Black businesses and entrepreneurs in your hometown (EatOkra, Black Wallet, and Black Nation). Share your experiences with your friends and inspire others to travel as allies as well.

And then, of course, start planning your next trip!

Note: Once again, as a non-BIPOC still doing the work and learning how to fully embody allyship, I recognize this set of recommendations is incomplete. Please don’t hesitate to get in touch with your comments and suggestions to improve upon this list. Thank you!

Kathryn Sullivan is a solo travel advocate and mentor, and she founded Vivien Travel to encourage women to embark on heart-led global exploration. She also hosts There She Goes, a podcast sharing the inspiring stories of women who’ve taken the leap into solo travel. A nomadic Californian currently based in London, Kathryn is currently pursuing a master’s degree in hospitality and actively scouting locations to open a boutique hotel designed for solo travelers. Contact Kathryn at [email protected], and hang out with the Vivien community on Instagram (@vivien.travel) and Facebook (Vivien Travelers).

Note: We love featuring our travel-loving members. If you’d like to write a guest post for this blog, send us an email at info @ thenomadicnetwork . com with the subject line “TNN Blog Guest Post.”

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