This story originally appeared in the November 2019 issue of ESSENCE.
Whether we’re flossing in first-class or chilling in coach, heading to sun-soaked beaches, dynamic cities or far-flung forests, we are out here. A recent study reported that 16 percent of African-Americans travel for pleasure at least six times a year and at least one of those trips is international. But, until recently, it seemed that nobody else knew or cared.
With brown faces largely absent from advertising, you’d never guess that the African-American travel business was valued at more than $63 billion in 2018, or that there are 5 million Black millennial travelers.
All that’s changing. Instagram feeds show sister squads posing in matching swimsuits everywhere from Santorini to Senegal. Facebook friends are humblebragging about weekends in Paris and private-island honeymoons. The Black travel movement has taken off. At its forefront are folks like these, escape artists who, undeterred by borders and budgets, are making cultural connections all over the globe.
The Party of Five
Boarding From: LAX (Orange County, CA)
Occupation: Founders of play-by-ear music system Hear and Play
Flight Plan: We had honeymooned in Fiji and knew we had to make international travel part of our lives. As our business flourished and our family grew, we bought a house, enrolled our three kids in private school and lived the American Dream. Just after the election in 2016, an act of racist vandalism in our gated community made us realize it was time for a change. In 2018 we sold our house, packed our stuff into five suitcases and headed to Hawaii.
We stayed for six weeks before moving on. Our planned ten-country tour turned into a year traveling the globe, spending about a week and a half in each place. We took 60 flights, visited 36 countries and six continents, saw five wonders of the world and made countless memories. Now we’re back to a normal life; we travel four or five times a year.
Black and Abroad: People are fascinated by a Black family of five walking through a city, and we felt welcome in most places, particularly in Asia. In India folks lined up to take photos with us. But in the Czech Republic and Slovakia, we faced racism many times. However, those situations were rare, and we generally felt safer and more accepted around the world than we sometimes do in America.
Departing Words: Travel showed us how courageous, self-sufficient and resilient our kids are. They’ve zip-lined in New Zealand, caravaned on camels in the Sahara and poured libations to their ancestors at the Door of No Return in Ghana. Travel is the best gift we could have given them.
The Man on the Move
Boarding From: MKE (Milwaukee)
Occupation: Basketball coach, host of Matador Network’s Phil Good Travel
Flight Plan: Basketball is the reason I got my first passport. I started playing in Europe, and in my spare time I’d travel the continent. I began posting videos on social media and eventually worked with travel companies. I’ve seen 73 countries, and the last two years I’ve only been home a total of four months. I “Phil the culture” wherever I go, experiencing the places with an open mind. My mission through the nonprofit I’m setting up, Attitude Changes Everything, is to put passports in the hands of kids who haven’t had an opportunity to travel.
Black and Abroad: I like breaking down stereotypes. I might be the first Black person people have ever met, so I frame that encounter in a positive way. Thanks to President Obama, it seems the world has a crush on Black men these days, so I feel welcome abroad.
Departing Words: We have no control over where we’re born, and people of color in places of conflict can’t just get up and go. Being born in America, I won the travel lottery. My passport can take me almost anywhere. Where you come from doesn’t define where you’re going. Spin that globe.
The Amateur Adventurer
Boarding From: LGA (Freeport, NY)
Occupation: Marketing coordinator
Flight Plan: I had just turned 24 and was unemployed, 20 pounds heavier than I wanted to be and totally depressed. I was uncertain about many aspects of my life and began to consider what I could control amid the uncontrollable. I decided two things: that I would spend every birthday on the beach, and that I’d spend my twenty-fifth in Jamaica. This seemingly small decision gave me a goal to pursue and something to look forward to.
I struggled with planning my trip because there was so much information and so many moving parts, and I was never sure whether I was getting a good deal. But it all worked out, and my boyfriend, Rocky, and I were so geeked when we hopped on our first international flight, got our passports stamped and checked into a resort we had paid for ourselves. The sense of accomplishment that came with actually traveling and not just talking about it was real. If I could bottle and sell it, I’d be a billionaire.
And then I could afford all the trips. Turning 25 in paradise really was a critical point for me, as it was concrete evidence that my dreams and efforts had manifested. Now I’m making it my mission to expose myself to other environments, mind-sets, traditions, fashions and food. I want to devour it all.
Black and Abroad: I feel more comfortable taking a trip overseas than in the United States. That’s a crazy thought but telling of our environment. There are places in America you will never catch me visiting. But if it’s out of the country, my curiosity knows no bounds.
Departing Words: Travel has taught me that I can do anything and that I need to be grateful. And it has shown me that I’m blessed. If you’re thinking about seeing other places, do it as soon as you can. Save your coins, do the research, forgo the fear of the unknown and go wander.
The Island Hoppers
Boarding From: FLL (Fort Lauderdale, FL) and LGA (Brooklyn)
Occupation: PR agency head and creative marketing consultant, respectively
Flight Plan: We were born and raised on St. Croix in the U.S. Virgin Islands and our parents are from Trinidad, so we traveled to see family early on. We were members of a swim team, competing in meets on many islands. We always stayed with local families of kids on opposing teams, so we experienced what it was like to be a kid in other countries. Much of what we do with our website, uncommoncaribbean.com, is based on extending that expertise—how to live like a local in the Caribbean—to curious travelers. We’re putting the spotlight on the region’s authenticity and unique culture.
Black and Abroad: When you’re deciding where to visit, consider going where the majority of people look like you. That said, places such as Kyoto, Japan, and Guangzhou, China—where no one looks anything like us for miles— have also yielded special memories.
Departing Words: Every day there are 7 billion people in the world creating experiences that can change your life. All you have to do is seek them out. Travel helps us see how similar we really are, dispelling fears and promoting love and unity. What’s more important than that?