By Jessica Ufuoma
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
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
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
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.
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.