Credit: Brittany Jones Cooper
I hope that everyone has the chance to travel abroad at least once. The experience is sure to change you. For Black travelers, I have a few tips from personal experiences. But I’m hoping that all readers will find some inspiration in the following words as well.
Prepare for stares
As the youngest child in my family, I’ve never had an issue with being the center of attention. That is, until I started traveling to different countries. When I went to Vienna, I saw maybe three other Black people the entire time I was there. When I attended a fancy event I could feel eyes on me as I navigated the room. After visiting China, I wrote this. Over and over again, I hear that Black people don’t do adventurous things. They don’t skydive, they don’t hike, they don’t snorkel or scuba dive. Nowhere in my “Black Manual” does it say that I can’t live a life filled with thrilling experiences and adventures. If you’re a person who doesn’t like to push the limits by swimming with whale sharks or surfing in Hawaii, then by all means don’t do it. But if you want to have unique experiences, never let your race be the thing that holds you back.
Don’t take it personally
I’ve definitely been asked personal questions about my hair and skin at home and abroad that can catch me off-guard. I’ve even heard stories from Black travelers about other people touching their curly hair without asking (my blond friends have the same problem when traveling to Asia or Africa). Obviously, no one likes having strangers in their business, but you can use these interactions as teachable moments. The only way to end ignorance is to talk openly about the things that strike anxiety, fear, or curiosity in others.
Bring your own conditioner
You may have noticed that a lot of the activities I mentioned above involve water. Now, the stereotype that black women don’t like to get their hair wet is true, real, and the secret behind a billion-dollar industry. And I’ll admit that the stress of taming my hair after a day in the ocean is not something I look forward to. Nevertheless, I promised myself a long time ago that I would never be a woman who didn’t do something because of my hair. So, braid it (I’ve done it), wrap it (I’ve done it), or get a keratin treatment (my current method), and get on your way. Oh, and bring your own shampoo and conditioner. That stuff in the hotel is not even close to strong enough.
Do it for yourself
You’re going to experience culture shock. You might feel out of place. I guarantee that there will be a time when you survey your surroundings without seeing another face that looks like yours. Embrace it. You’re not traveling to break or fit into any stereotype. The beauty of traveling is realizing the growth and knowledge you gain from trying new experiences and exposing yourself to different cultures. I can say that at the end of each trip, I feel a greater understanding of the world I live in and where I fit in.
I can assure you, feeling the community that comes along with traveling is something that easily transcends race.
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