Believe it or not, Black people travel. A lot.
I’d consider myself well-traveled. As a child, my mother felt it was important to visit different parts of the world. Over the years, I incorporated the concept of world-travel into my life. No matter the destination, I developed strategies to help me explore different countries and all they have to offer. Beyond exploration, traveling strengthens my spiritual connection with the universe. There is nothing like seeing the sun set against a foreign backdrop.
In September 2017, during an impromptu trip to London, I made an attempt to travel to Amsterdam for a day trip. Amsterdam has an alluring reputation for openness and adventure, so I figured it’d be the perfect opportunity to take advantage of a free day. Lack of planning made it impossible to get away for the day but I returned to the states determined to extend the idea of a day trip to a week-long vacation. I enrolled my then girlfriend in the idea of visiting Amsterdam and a week later, our tickets were booked for March 2018.
My ex-girlfriend is a world traveler as well. Together, we’ve gone to South Africa, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Jamaica, among other places. We were excited to experience Amsterdam together and even booked a day trip to Belgium to maximize what we could see while in Europe.
Once we arrived, we hit the ground running with activities and excursions to keep us occupied. Mid-week, we decided to rent bicycles and use that as our primary mode of transportation. Our hotel partnered with a local shop that was able to give us a discounted rate on bikes. At the bike shop, we engaged in small talk with the attendant as he educated us on how to navigate the busy city on a bike. John, an American man from Ohio, moved to Florida before relocating to Amsterdam to be with his girlfriend. He had been here for about a year and worked in the bike shop as a way to get by. After establishing a comfortable rapport, John began to talk about traveling.
“I must say, I rarely ever see any brown Americans here,” he stated.
“Really?” I responded a bit surprised.
“Yes. I see people of color from all over the world come in here. Unfortunately, I rarely ever see brown people from America,” he continued.
He went on to tell us about his family. His parents are from Puerto Rico but eventually settled in Ohio. Some of his family moved to Florida while his cousins have never left the city of Ohio. “They won’t even get on a plane,” he said. It made him question why people of color don’t explore more of what the world has to offer. This reminded me of a conversation I had in South Africa. While chatting with the owner of a local gift shop, he asked me why more black Americans don’t visit the country.
This was a complex question and I wasn’t too sure I could provide an adequate answer. There I was, an African American from the United States, visiting the Motherland for the first time. I had friends who went to South Africa before. In fact, a friend recommended I visit that specific gift shop. But outside of my circle of people, were people of color traveling? Of course they were. I mean, have you checked the brown girls travel hashtag on Instagram? There are enough photos to inspire you to pack a bag and get a few passport stamps. Travel blogs, ambassador programs and group-travel sites have become a thing in recent years. Solo, squad and bae travel is widely promoted on social media so why wasn’t this translating to other countries?
There is a huge stigma around African Americans and traveling. It’s like the stereotype of black people not knowing how to swim. The truth is we are a diverse race that varies in interests, hobbies and abilities. Can I swim? No. Do I travel? Absolutely. I can’t explain why our presence isn’t felt in other parts of the world but what I learned is that it is needed. People want us to experience their culture. More importantly, they want to experience us.
We are changing the narrative. Although John’s statement was general, it was based on what he observed during his time in Amsterdam. Just like the store owner in South Africa. When presented with these statements I can choose to explain that African Americans travel all over the world, or I can allow my presence to contradict their opinion. Here I am, a woman of color, traveling to other countries.
Once the COVID-19 pandemic is over, I plan on booking a trip to another part of the world. What about you?