How many times have you read the words “Black women shouldn’t travel solo”? Coleitha Banks only had to read them once to decide that she was going to change that narrative. As a woman who frequently travels solo, Banks knew she was not alone, and wanted to make sure other Black women knew they weren’t alone either. Banks knew that Black women needed a safe place to explore the world of solo travel, and in 2016 Sisters Traveling Solo (STS) was born.
With the goal of fostering a positive online community and encouraging women to step outside of their comfort zone to explore the world, STS boldly dares to be different, impactful and refreshing by offering support and encouragement to Black women looking to travel the world on their terms. STS also seeks to help eliminate obstacles that may prevent women from embarking on their travel journeys with their monthly passport giveaway program that allows members facing financial hardships to obtain a passport free and 100% funded by Sisters Traveling Solo.
From photos of Black women doing the things they’ve always dreamed of, to promoting a safe place to receive encouragement, and creating opportunities for strangers to become sisters and life long friends, Sisters Traveling Solo is more than just your typical travel group. It’s a place of inspiration and empowerment shattering stereotypes of Black women with every new adventure. ESSENCE caught up with the Head Sister in Charge to find out why Banks feels it’s important for Black women especially to explore solo, and how she describes the experience of a lifetime.
What led you to start Sisters Traveling Solo?
Cole Banks: Sisters Traveling Solo Facebook group was started in December 2015 after I read a comment on a solo travel blog that said, “Black women shouldn’t travel solo.” Not any woman, “Black women.” Being a Black woman who traveled solo, I wasn’t sure why as a Black woman I shouldn’t travel solo. I wanted to create a space for Black women who traveled solo. This space would allow us to share stories, tips and any other information. It was important that this space be encouraging, inspiring and most importantly positive.
Why do you feel it is so important for Black women to explore the world alone?
I feel it’s important for Black women to travel alone because we need that mental break from our everyday routine; putting others’ needs before ours, compromising on things we truly want, and escaping that weight that society puts on us just as Black women. We have to take time to ourselves for mental breaks that allow us to sit in our own thoughts, to reflect, destress, and just enjoy our own company. Also, you don’t have to travel out the country or even your own state to do this, solo travel can be done in your own city.
What are the benefits for a person’s mind and spirit when they travel solo?
There are so many benefits when you travel solo:
– Solo travel provides a renewed sense of self. When you solo travel the journey is about you and you only.
– Time to Reflect. Having time to reflect to reflect on your life and what’s important to you.
– Solo travel builds confidence! Those things that you were fearful of or thought you could not do, you find yourself doing and overcoming while traveling solo.
– Traveling solo can help reduce stress, which in turn provides peace of mind
Photo Credit: Sisters Traveling Solo
You also offer group trips, how does STS promote sisterhood and community through travel?
What I love about our trips is the sisterhood amongst our members. On our trips it is pretty amazing to see these sisters form a bond and sisterhood that takes many years to find. It is the common bond of travel that connects them, and that creates an environment of comfort and trust on day one of our trips. In addition, outside of our STS community, we promote sisterhood by intentionally partnering with women owned businesses where we travel. In 2017 we launched our cultural experience trips throughout Africa in which we intentionally partnered with women owned tour companies.
What misconceptions about solo travel do you hear often?
The biggest misconception is definitely safety. People (a lot of whom have never traveled, or traveled solo) think that it is unsafe to travel alone. What we do within our group to fight that misconception is to show real life women traveling alone and coming home with nothing but great memories. In addition, within our community we provide not only provide safety tips, but words of encouragement.
Which destinations are perfect for a first-time solo traveler and why?
Some of my recommended places to travel solo are London, New York, Bali, Paris, Tokyo, Rome, Cape Town, Amsterdam and Phuket. There are several others I can mention, but these are some of the ones I have traveled to and enjoyed my time in.
Photo Credit: Sisters Traveling Solo
What tips do you have for staying safe as a woman traveling solo?
• Always follow your instincts. If it feels wrong trust that feeling and take any necessary steps to remain safe.
• Research your destination so you have a good understanding on local customs or laws.
• Walk with confidence even if you are lost. If you are lost, stop at the nearest store or police station for directions or to call a taxi.
• Register with STEP (Smart Traveler Enrollment Program) on the US State Department website.
• Check in with loved ones or family while on the trip, and share your trip itinerary.
• Blend in as best you can. When traveling solo I do not wear flashy clothes or wear jewelry.
• Wear a cross body purchase that cannot be slashed by thieves
• Go to an atm in populated / safe area. I tend to stick with atms at or near banks when traveling.
• Do not carry all your credit/debt cards or passport on you. Just in case you get pickpocketed, not having all your credit/debt cards or travel documents on you gives you some piece of mind. I recommend carrying small amounts of cash and one debt card, and not carrying your actual passport on you.
What has been your most memorable solo experience as a Black woman abroad?
My most memorable solo experience to date was my solo trip to Cape Town, South Africa. What made it memorable was just the small thing of being greeted with “welcome home my sister” at the airport from everyone I encountered. I just felt at home in Cape Town. Before that trip I never really felt that before. Since that 1st trip in 2016, I have been back three times.
Describe solo travel in three words.
Freedom. Reflection. Self love