What My Trip To Amsterdam Taught Me About Traveling While Black

Originally posted 6/15/2020

Believe it or not, Black people travel. A lot.

[caption id="attachment_4023" align="aligncenter" width="1024"] Feeding the giraffes in Kenya[/caption]

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?

[caption id="attachment_3999" align="aligncenter" width="1024"] Chillin' in the Southern Cape[/caption]

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?