black lives matter


By Jessica Anyan- Brown

Jessica Anyan-Brown, author of this Passport Privileges article
Guest writer, Jessica Anyan-Brown, is a part-time travel blogger dedicated to inspiring people to discover culture everywhere. She is the founder of the Road2Culturedom brand.

In the wake of the recent Black Lives Matter movement and protests, each aspect of our modern lives has been examined to assess how we can create a more even playing field. The travel industry is important because the spending power of black travellers is huge, yet our representation and experiences aren’t reflected.

Travel is a privilege not only economically but also socially. I’ve travelled to 35 countries so far and 99% have been amazing.

But my experiences aren’t shared by other black travellers who are navigating the world on different passports.

It’s an important part of travel to reflect on and think about what part we play in this narrative. So this is my take on the power of passport privilege as a black traveller. 

What is passport privilege? 

Copyright: Jessica Anyan-Brown / @road2culturedom

For black travellers specifically, passport privilege is how your passport allows or impacts your ability to travel to – and enjoy being in – many places. It is recognised that those of us with “stronger” passports will navigate the travel industry easier in some aspects compared to others. Trying to get a visa for some places can be a lengthy and expensive process – which is a deterrent. 

It also makes you think about where you might feel welcome as a black traveller and what misconceptions people might have because of the passport you carry. All of this leads to the underrepresentation of black travellers from certain countries in some areas.

Now you’ve arrived, what next?

Copyright: Jessica Anyan-Brown / @road2culturedom

If your passport allows you to enter into a country easily, you’ll more likely (but not always) have a better experience at border control. For those who have already gone through a difficult visa process, the waiting and questioning in the airport is another challenge. I’ve seen friends travelling on non-British passports being held up at border control for a long time despite us all flying from London together with the same itineraries!

Even something as simple as booking accommodation can be problematic. Questions to be considered: Will the Airbnb owner accept my ID to confirm the booking? Do the conditions of my visa allow me to be spontaneous about booking? What will the hostel owners think if I just show up instead of booking ahead? On certain trips, myself or other group members with British passports have been put in charge of booking for these reasons.

Does passport privilege affect how I might be treated abroad?

Jessica sits abroad next to clear water with her passport privilege
Copyright: Jessica Anyan-Brown / @road2culturedom

In my experience, absolutely yes! I’ve been called Africa many times by locals in the street. I am proudly of Ghanaian origin so they’re not wrong, but it feels weird. Once they hear me speak, they quickly apologise or attempt to have a normal conversation. Often staff in restaurants or tourist attractions will ask tentatively where I’m from. I usually say the UK and they visibly relax. It’s as if there’s suddenly more confidence in my spending power.

Would this differ in some settings if I was travelling with my Ghanaian passport? Or if I spoke with another accent, I wonder!

Are there any drawbacks with assuming passport privilege?

There definitely are.

After all, it doesn’t stop the stares or wandering hands reaching for my hair when abroad! I have also been grilled about my intentions when visiting a handful of countries despite presenting return tickets and my British passport.

My assumed privilege made me surprised by this questioning, but I know fellow black travellers with different passports experience this more routinely.

How do we address the differences associated with our passports?

Jessica, with self-claimed passport privilege, stands before a monument abroad
Copyright: Jessica Anyan-Brown / @road2culturedom

Whilst we can’t change the power of passports individually, we can reflect on our thoughts and attitudes towards all black travellers. Regardless of the passport, we have travelled to your beautiful country to enjoy your culture and contribute to your economy! In return, we would love to share information about ourselves and our home countries to encourage you to visit or simply learn more. 

For those of us black travellers who benefit from passport privilege, it’s important to recognise this. We inadvertently are representatives for all black travellers in some parts of the world which can’t be helped, but this is okay.

Your experiences and feedback will help the next person decide to visit a place which they would never have considered before – a win-win for all involved!

About the author

Jessica Anyan-Brown is a part-time travel and culture blogger, with plenty of travel experiences in the 35 countries she’s visited to date.

Her favourite part of the world (so far) has been Central America due to its vibrancy and richness in culture. Her home country Ghana is a close second.

Jessica started her blog Road2culturedom to inspire people to find culture wherever they travel, not only abroad but also closer to home. She uses her social media and her website to encourage her followers to share her passion for purposeful travel! 

This post concludes our guest post series (but definitely NOT the conversation) If you’re interested in learning more about racism in the travel industry and how to be a better ally or conspirator, then dive into this series’ insightful posts below!

A big thank you to Pelumi from @Black.Kintsugi, Jessica from @TheUfuoma, Efia from @EffyTalksLife, Fisayo from @TheFisayo and of course to this week’s author, Jessica from @Road2Culturedom. <3

By Jessica Ufuoma

Jessica poses in an orange dress for her article about traveling while black
Guest writer, Jessica Ufuoma is the founder of @theufuoma brand and a world traveler.

Everyone deserves a chance at traveling the world – from learning about new cultures to discovering unfamiliar landscapes and ultimately learning about ourselves. Travel is like a crash course in history, culture, and the world.    

However, for people like me traveling isn’t that simple – it can be a much more complex ordeal to navigate. Traveling while black is a much more complex ordeal to navigate.  

After visiting over 40 countries and 100 cities, the complexities haven’t suddenly gone away, because each experience is unique and unpredictable. Here are some peculiarities involved with traveling while black.  

 The Peculiarities of Traveling While Black

Jessica dances under an arch with a palace behind

1. My google searches are a little bizarre

Every traveler needs to do a fair bit of research before hitting the road. Not only because it’s the wise thing to do, but also to stay safe, knowledgeable, and have an enjoyable time. For black travelers like myself, a “top 10 places to visit in Italy” google search is barely enough. We must also google things like, “is it safe to travel to Italy as a black person?”, “Places to avoid as a black person in Italy”, “Black community in Italy”, “Are Italians racist?” etc.    

Our Google searches don’t stop at the surface, they dive even deeper because of the peculiarities of our skin color. And what’s even worse – this information we seek isn’t all that readily available – so many times we visit anyway and hope for the best.

Or we don’t visit at all.   

2. I have to put extra effort into how I look

Jessica stands before an impressive building while traveling black
Copyright: Jessica Ufuoma / @theufuoma

Apart from being a fashion enthusiast who likes to look and feel good, I know that being a black traveler also means I need to put more thought into the way I am dressed to be treated fairly. You know what they say – “the way you are dressed is the way you are addressed” but being black takes this statement up a notch.

Because of my skin color, I am automatically judged, or even worse, suspect. It’s sometimes not enough to wear a white shirt and shorts and sandals like my white counterparts get away with. My skin color means I have to put in the extra effort to at least look “well to do” so I am treated with more respect when I attempt to check-in at my hotel.    

3. The stares just don’t stop – ever!   

I get it – when you look different from other people in a new place, the stares are normal. But for those of us traveling – while black – it gets incredibly out of hand. The feeling of being stared at and many times objectified is never pleasant.

When I visit a new country and go to a popular site, it’s not unheard of that I become the tourist attraction with many locals flocking my way to ask for a picture of me. Many times, I decline and sometimes I agree to take a harmless picture but I can’t help but wonder, “what are these pictures being used for and where will they end up?”. Nobody knows!   

4. I have to mentally prepare for longer wait times   

Don’t quote me on this number, but if the average person spends one hour at the airport going through immigration and security, a black person may spend two hours doing the same thing.

While traveling in Bermuda with my best friend, we were stopped by immigration and taken to another room where they searched us like criminals. As a blogger, I had two cameras, and they questioned me on why this was the case. It took me pulling up my work ID to be free from that situation.

At a momentary glance around the room, I saw only people who looked like me and thought, “ah – this is why!”.    

5. There’s a very minimal representation of black people traveling in the media   

Jessica is in front of a colorful set of buildings as she travels while black

It took me traveling extensively and starting my travel blog to realize there is a thriving black community of people that are unrepresented by the media. A glance at travel magazines and even travel Instagram pages show only a certain group of people in foreign lands. This doesn’t tell the full story at all because black travelers spent close to $63 billion in 2018.

We are a big contributor to the travel industry and we spend big. We can’t afford to backpack or stay in a hostel – not for price but for safety reasons. So we’d typically opt for a hotel; comfort and luxury where we can feel both safe and be treated fairly. 

Not being represented is not only discriminatory but also very dangerous! Travel media has the power to influence the way black people are treated by airlines, hotels, and even locals in the places we travel to. When they do not see people who look like us, they run with the stereotypes they have, putting us into more dangerous and uncomfortable situations.   

How can travel media help black people who travel?

1. Representing black people

Showing us more in campaigns, brochures, and more. People warm up to things they see regularly. The more you expose us to other people, the more they can accept people who look different from them.   

2. Amplifying black experiences

Post more travel stories from people traveling while black. Again, our opinion matters, our preferences matter, our journeys matter too. We have stories to tell and fresh perspectives to offer. We see destinations uniquely – tell our stories.   

3. Diversifying work relationships

Work with black people. Whether as members of your workforce or influencers on your campaign. Diversity is important and can lead to the growth of your business. Include us in conversations – we deserve it.    

4. Calling out racism

Don’t look the other way when you see oppression or discrimination. Speak up. Otherwise, you are a part of the problem.   

5. Becoming an ally

Finally, it’s not enough to be aesthetically pleasing. Diversity and inclusion are far more important than a well-curated feed or an on-brand website. Be an ally!   

Final thoughts on traveling while black

Regardless of how tough travel while black can be for people, I continue to travel because the benefits make up for the struggles in the journey. But I can’t help but wonder how much more enjoyable travel would be if I didn’t have to constantly watch my back or worry about being accepted or treated fairly. If all I had to do was worry about, “the best place to eat in Italy”. I can’t help but wonder…

About the author

Jessica Ufuoma is an experienced traveler who has visited over 40 countries and lived on four continents.

She’s passionate about people, travel, and culture and inspires millennials to get out of their comfort zone and chase new experiences. She believes in the power of authentic travel and provides helpful tools, resources, and advice to help her audience reach their travel goals and travel better, smarter, and more sustainably. 

Read more of Jessica’s articles on her blog or follow her on Instagram.

Check back on the blog next week to discover the next guest post by amazing travel blogger, Efia Sulter talking about what you can do to make the travel industry more inclusive.

Or check out our last guest article by travel blogger, Pelumi Nubi offering 7 Ways to Become Anti-Racist here.