Readers reach out to me with questions, praise, and sometimes hate. I’m always happy to read mail from people of color that want to travel. Especially women. Although few and far between, It’s encouraging to know i’m achieving what I set out to do. This particular reader, Ronisha, reached out to me for blogging advice. I asked her to write this guest post outlining her fears. The fears that she points out are things that many other minority readers have shared. Some I also had when I first started this journey. I offer her, and you, some advice on how to overcome and deal with these fears.
No community support
Traveling the world has been my passion for a long time. What scares me about my passion is the lack of support from family and friends. Traveling the world means quitting the job I prayed for. Traveling the world means starting over once I have decided I’ve had my fulfillment of exploring the world. “You should just enjoy your new job and relax…maybe save up so that you can travel comfortably and live in nice hotels,” is the response I received from my father the day I shared my dream with him. My friends aren’t much different. With friends, I’ve shared my passion to travel through Africa and possibly living there for a year. “Why in the world would you want to live in Africa? I’d prefer living somewhere fun like New York.” (Sigh). In my experience of wanting to travel the world as a black woman, I have yet to meet, in my personal life, other black people who don’t feel traveling the world is….what’s the words, irresponsible and risky. I want this so bad but I will be naïve to believe that there isn’t any risk in traveling solo, especially as a woman traveling solo while black. I just fear that the lack of support will prevent me from calling home during lonely times or days when I need a little encouragement to keep following my dream. I don’t want to call home during a hard time and get the “I told you so” or “You should just come home and stop living in this fantasy world at your age” response. Yes, I know there’s a community of solo travelers who I can reach out to but it’s nothing like calling home and hearing words of encouragement from family.
As African Americans, we come from a largely marginalized and victimized community. With that victimization comes fear. Fear of the unknown. Fear of anything that’s not familiar. Family and friends generally want what’s best for you. But unfortunately, ignorance and fear are things you’ll have to deal with if you choose to keep them in your life. If I’ve never eaten cake, would you listen to my opinion on cakes? If I’ve never gone running, would you listen to my advice on running? Then why do we listen to family and friends opinions on where to go or not when they haven’t gone themselves? Here’s some harsh truth. ANYONE in your life that isn’t making you better and encouraging you to follow your dreams shouldn’t be involved in your decision making process. Personally, I cut these people out of my life entirely. That’s not an option for some. Striving for the approval of others is a path to mediocrity and repetition. One such “support” group is the Nomadness tribe. Although not always my cup of tea, they have a community of a few thousand black men and women who travel the world. Nomad•ness Travel Tribe
Taking the road less traveled
I’ve been taught to go the safe route my whole life. Anything outside the norm, whatever that means, was deemed unsafe. Being content with having a degree, good job, and nice apartment is all someone my age could ask for. When I confide in others about my passion to travel, I either get a negative response or no response at all. It’s hard not to instill these negative thoughts, but there’s always that “what if they were right” factor. People are so content in their everyday lives when it comes to working and living comfortably. Traveling the world, especially with little money and no plan isn’t what black folk do, right? Well I want to be the first person in my family to break out of the normal way of living. I want to see the world up close and personal without worrying about who thinks it’s ridiculous and irresponsible. A co-worker told me today that his friend’s parents gave her money to backpack around the world after she graduated college for two years because they wanted her to experience different cultures. I was amazed. Intrigued. Of course, she was not African American. If only I had that type of support system (not the financial support but the mental support at least) I wouldn’t feel this fear of being alone during my future travels. I fear that I will want this so bad to be a success that I will miss out on the thrill of the unknown by dwelling on little things that may not go as planned along the way.
Unfortunately I’ve heard this story all too often. In my charity work I’ve seen the stats of students that travel abroad from the U.S. Of all the American students that study abroad, only 5.3% are African American while 76% are white. Now this can be contributed to several factors but i’ll point out one community based one. Studying Abroad is “White people shit”. Essentially something blacks don’t do. This idea is not only perpetuated by the media, with its white washed representation of travel, but our community as well. Black travel just isn’t popular, yet. Our community has a strong familiarity structure. Do what’s familiar and that you know. Anything that threatens that “structure” is perceived as bad or wrong. And that’s understandable given the racial landscape in the U.S. But times are changing. It’s paramount that our community understands the benefits of International Travel. Not only will these travelers become better educated but they can expose the world to our culture as well. African-Americans are distinctly different from anyone else in the world, including Africans. You have to decide to blaze a trail. To create that path others can follow. The fact that so many people are against your travels as something “strange” and out of the norm should push you even more.
Racism or Ignorance
I feel that traveling the world alone as a woman is risky to a certain extent, but I know traveling as a black woman may bring about certain hardships that Caucasian women may not have to deal with. Are racism and prejudice to be expected abroad? As most of us know, some foreigners may think of American women as blue eyed and blonde haired. Wrong! One of the ways I would like to fund my travels is by teaching English abroad. Besides loving children, I feel that this would be a good start to my adventures. Teaching English would surely have a positive impact on myself. My resume has received several responses from recruiters around China and Korea. But when they ask to send a photo, it always makes me feel like, darn! Are they going to reject me once they find out I’m African American, not the stereotypical “American” image? I start to wonder how people would respond to me during my travels. When I ask for help finding a specific destination…or during the attempt to wave down a taxi. Would these people fear me because of my skin color? I’ve read a couple of blogs that described the experience of being black abroad. They were very similar experiences, not negative. Black women were assumed to be from Africa. That’s not a bad thing but in some countries African women are prostitutes (I got this info from a Vlog I listened to earlier this month, not a personal experience) and being seen as African carries that stigma. With that being said, certain areas I will definitely have to be careful traveling to being a woman in general.
Oh here we go. Now this is a big one. And a question i’m asked CONSTANTLY as a black traveler. Are people racist? Well i’m sure some are but a vast majority of people aren’t. After doing this for almost three years I can count THREE blatantly racist situations. None that even come close to comparing with what I’ve experience living in the southern U.S. states. Not even close. Honestly, being black while traveling is a HUGE asset. In Asia you’re treated like a rockstar. People want to take pictures with you and have you hold their baby. It’s bizarre at first but you get used to it. Dating in some places is easier than you’ll ever imagine. Remember, you’re different. In some places you’re like a Unicorn. My time in Eastern Europe was amazing simply because I stood out. I don’t want to entirely discount the experiences of other black travelers. I’m sure some have experienced terrible racism. But that sure hasn’t been a majority nor my experience at all. Racism is the last thing a black traveler should worry about. Actually being a woman or gay are far more problematic overall. I promise you that YOU WILL NOT experience any racism worse than what exist in the southern United States.
Fear is such an infectious emotion. One person’s fear, convincingly explained, can easily become the next persons fear. For example, I fear my travels will not be a successful because of a debilitating fear of failing at my journey. This fear came from being told I would fail. After realizing that those closest to me will never understand or support my passion to travel, I now fear that I will be in this alone. Despite these fears, as a single woman traveling while black, I hope to inspire other black women, of all ages, to follow their dream. Regardless of what that is. I hope to encourage women of color to travel and see the world for themselves. Not only what they see on television or read in books. Often we fear things simply because we are unaware of the outcome. Fear of the unknown. As I look over the words I’ve just written, I guess it’s safe to say that I fear “fear” itself. And fear, being such a strong emotion, is just an illusion.
THERE IS NO FAILURE IN TRAVEL. It just doesn’t exist. “Travel is the only thing you can buy that makes you richer”. Cheesy I know but all too true. Fear is a choice. Allowing other people to dictate your life is a choice. And you have control. Although fear is a choice, there are ways to prevent yourself from falling in that trap. This trap is why black travel is so rare. Surround yourself with likeminded people. People who support you and understand your desires. How do sheep know the trials of a lion? Breakaway from the pack and CHOOSE life. Choose adventure. Choose black travel.
I want to wish Ronisha all the best on her journey. She’s in the process of decising when and where to travel. And how to pay for it. Follow her progress and her new blog http://suchawanderlust.com/. I’m sure it will become something truly special.