A #nofilter look at traveling while black
“Italian men love black women,” I remember being told. We quickly found this to be true. But it wasn’t just Italian men. Women and even tourists from other countries seemed to not stop staring. It was a group of 10 of us – all black women, all touring Italy for the first time.
At first we didn’t quite mind the attention we received (not a single one of us were playing around when it came to our hair, makeup and outfits for that trip, so we expected some looks). But by the end of our 10-day stint in Italy of being stared at, pointed at and inquired for photos, we definitely started to feel less like tourists and more like the attraction.
Our experience in Italy was not unique. Travel writer Rick Steves explored the topic on his website.
“Travelers of color and mixed-race couples tell me that their most common source of discomfort in Europe is being stared at,” he writes. “While this might seem to indicate disapproval, it’s more likely a combination of curiosity and impoliteness. Put simply, for some Europeans, you’re just not who they’re used to seeing.”
Despite being a spectacle in most countries, black international travelers are more visible than ever, thanks to social media. If you search the hashtag #blacktravel on Instagram, it’ll turn up over 78,000 photos of black people everywhere from Buenos Aires to Santorini, where just a few years ago you wouldn’t have seen a fraction of those posts.
The Facebook group Black Travel Movement boasts over 246,000 members who post travel photos, experiences from their travels, some of which echoing experiences similar to the mine in Italy.
With over 14,500 followers on Instagram, Detroit native Jessica Nabongo, travel blogger and owner of travel firm Jet Black, has heavy influence among black international travelers. She says her Instagram is often flooded with DMs of people asking where black people should feel comfortable traveling.
“I tell people, ‘Go wherever you want to go,’” Nabongo says. “America is rough. If you can survive everyday living in America as a black person, you can survive a lot of other places in the world.”
Nabongo has seen her fair share of the world. So far she’s been to 90 countries and territories across every continent. She says it’s a misconception that black people won’t be welcomed abroad in majority white places.
“I think a lot of that comes from thinking in the American context,” Nabongo says. “The problem is we’re taking our experience from our home country and we’re trying to project that onto the rest of the world, and that’s not the case.”
That’s not to say that all of her travel experiences as a black woman have been smooth sailing. She can recall a handful of experiences where people have reacted negatively to her because of her race, but a vast majority of the time she’s experienced more curiosity than racism.
“I have very dark skin and no hair. People have chased me down for pictures before,” Nabongo says. “Yes, it’s frustrating, but I’m not going to let that dictate where I travel to, and I’m not going to let it ruin my trip. If I got on a flight and flew 10-plus hours to get someplace, I’m not going to allow someone staring at me to disrupt my flow.”
ALANA WALKER IS BLAC DETROIT'S WEB EDITOR.
Travel the World – with a Little Help
Visit these resources before setting out on your next vacation adventure.
This locally run online travel company swaps out all the work of planning a trip with the element of surprise. They’ll plan your entire trip for you, but the catch is you won’t know where your destination is – until right beforehand. They’ll plan all the details around your budget from answers you supply in a questionnaire. “Throughout the process we keep you updated as far as what to pack and what the weather will be,” founder Chelcea Stowers says. “We then send out a packet before your trip letting you know where your destination will be.”
Founded in 2015, Jet Black is a boutique travel firm that specializes in planning trips to the African diaspora. “I want to help expose people to countries where there’s a large black or African population. I wanted to expose people to places that people don’t normally visit,” Jet Black founder and CEO Jessica Nabongo says. Her company plans both private curated trips and group trips to destinations like Senegal, Grenada and Haiti.
Nomadness Travel Tribe
With a group of over 13,000 travelers, Nomadness Travel Tribe is an online community offering group trips and meetups. To gain access to its private Facebook group, you have to have at least one passport stamp already before you’re able to take and pass a quiz to receive an invite. If you haven’t yet traveled abroad, you can also take the six-month online course in order to gain entry. To say this group is exclusive is an understatement.