Senitra, a solo black female traveler posing near a canal in Europe
Posted: 8/13/2020 | August 13th, 2020

Today, we have a visitor post from Senitra Horbrook. She’s a regular solo tourist who utilizes points and miles to experience champagne travel on a budget plan. She has actually been to 6 continents and is dealing with her next objective of going to 100 nations. In this post, she’s going to speak about Black American ladies and solo take a trip.

Sometimes when I travel beyond the United States, I have a look around at the faces of other individuals. I don’t typically see any else who appears like me, a Black American female. On the events when I do see another Black individual, they’re regularly not an American however somebody from an African nation, normally living because area for work or school.

Closer to house, like in the United States, Mexico, or the Caribbean, I might be most likely to see other Black American tourists at resorts or traveler destinations, however hardly ever do I stumble upon another Black female taking a trip solo like me.

Why is that?

It’s something I’ve constantly thought of. Now, I don’t declare to promote all Black American ladies, however, after talking with others and assessing my own experience, I believe it pertains to the following factors:

We Probably Don’t Have Passports

According to data from the US Department of State, less than half of Americans have a passport. It’s unidentified precisely the number of Black American ladies have a passport, as the data do not break down passport issuance by race or gender. However, in my experience, the value of having a passport was not something that was interacted to me maturing.

In my youth and even into early their adult years, getting a passport wasn’t something that I or my moms and dads deemed being necessary to daily life. Why would we invest nearly $150 USD on something that we had no strategies of utilizing? And getting a passport for the very first time needs using personally, which might indicate taking some time off work to do so.

I got a passport for the very first time at age 28 to go on a household trip to Mexico. After my very first see out of the nation, I wished to fill that passport up with stamps and see every nation I could, even if that implied I needed to go solo. Why was I recently finding the appeal of worldwide travel, I questioned?

We Think Travel is Too Expensive

This line of thinking is not always restricted to Black American ladies. Nevertheless, it is absolutely something that can hold us back.

There’s the concept that taking a trip expenses a lot more if you’re alone since you have nobody to divide lodging expenses with. Or there’s the fact that single travelers on cruises or group tours are charged more.

But in reality, if you plan ahead you can end up spending less because you can better control the costs as a solo traveler.

We See a Lack of Representation and Role Models to Emulate

Think of the travel magazines, guidebooks, or destination advertisements you’ve seen. How often are Black travelers featured? How often is a Black woman’s solo travel experience highlighted?

When we don’t see others who look like us taking a trip to fantastic destinations, we start to wonder if maybe it can’t be done or that maybe it’s not for us. You all need role models that look like us.

This has been a historic problem in the travel space.

Thankfully, it’s changing.

In “Tweeting the Black Travel Experience,” a 2018 study published in the Journal of Travel Research, researchers analyzed the hashtag “#TravelingWhileBlack” and concluded that the lack of representation of Black travelers in the tourism industry helped Black travelers create communities on social media to share their travel experiences. Moreover, groups like the Black Travel Alliance are fighting for more representation in the industry.

Thanks to those social media communities, I’ve been able to read about the experiences of other Black American women solo travelers. They have inspired me – and I am sure they have inspired others.
Senitra, a solo black female traveler posing by a huge tree

We Think Black People Don’t Travel Internationally

A 2018 survey of African-American travelers found that more than half of the respondents said they traveled only between 100 and 500 miles from home on their most recent leisure trip. Top US destinations included Florida, New York City, and Atlanta.

When I think of my summers or family vacations while growing up, they didn’t involve leaving the country. Some years it was a trip to Disney or more local amusement parks. Other years a “vacation” was a road trip to visit family in other states. And I didn’t know anyone whose vacations encompassed a trip abroad. The only Black people I observed traveling to other countries — on television or in the news — were famous or in the military.

Our Families May Pressure Us Not to Travel Alone

Family pressure to avoid solo travel can be a common issue for all types of travelers. For Black American women, we may hear our families tell us the world is too scary for us to be out there alone. They warn us about all of the “what ifs?” They worry about us flying across oceans — despite the truth that car accidents are more common than plane crashes.

Historically, Black Americans have been more likely to travel in groups, say Gloria and Solomon Herbert, publishers of Black Meetings & Tourism magazine and one of the sponsors of the aforementioned 2018 travel study. Traveling in groups offers camaraderie and protection, they explain.

When I see Black travel — in Black-centric magazines, movies, or TV shows — it is most commonly girls’ getaways, family reunions, or cruise ship vacations with friends or family. So those of us who grab our passports and board that airplane alone seem to be trailblazers.

We’re Waiting on Friends

Movies like Girls Trip idealize fun times away with our girlfriends at big events. Unfortunately, flaky and noncommittal friends are a real impediment to having those types of travel experiences. I’ve been there!

Let’s say you’ve planned a wonderful getaway with a group of friends, but when it comes time to buy the flights, all of a sudden, they have umpteen excuses why they can’t go. Or they just keep putting you off, never saying they can’t go, but never committing to actually going.

Maybe they weren’t able to save up enough money. Maybe they’d just rather stay home. What helped me was the realization that if I was waiting for flaky friends to travel with me, I may be waiting for a long time.

While Black women aren’t the only types of people with flaky friends, this is something I’ve observed as keeping us from traveling solo. It’s time for us to embrace the unknown and travel solo, because, as the saying I’ve seen on social media goes: “They ain’t comin’, sis.”

We’re Concerned About Racism in the Destination

All travelers have some sort of safety concerns. For some, their biggest fears may be getting pickpocketed or walking down the wrong street in a bad neighborhood. Female solo tourists may fear sexual harassment or assault. For Black travelers, it goes even further: we’re often afraid of being physically targeted since of the color of our skin.

I typically do Google searches for trip reports, looking for experiences from Black women as tourists in countries I am thinking of visiting, since part of my decision-making process in determining where to travel is how the locals of that country view Black people and if that country has a history of racism. While some trip reports I find give me pause, more typically than not, there’s no reason to be concerned because, in many countries, we’re just as warmly welcomed as our white counterparts.

We Want to Avoid Casual Racism

It’s not just racist-based physical assault we may fear, though. Casual racism and prolonged stares can be uncomfortable and unsettling, like being followed around in stores, being refused service in a restaurant, or being refused help from a stranger when you ask for directions.

People who stare may have never seen a Black person in real life before. A smile, nod, and “hello” can go a long way in showing friendliness and approachability. And generally, being an American with money to spend can positively influence a local’s perspective, even if their first instinct may have been to eye us suspiciously.

I’ve been approached by strangers wanting to take pictures of me because I’m “exotic.” Depending on how someone does this, I don’t necessarily view it as a bad thing. If I’m someone’s first or limited interaction with a Black American woman, I want it to be a positive experience.

Senitra, a solo black female traveler posing while on safari in Africa

We Don’t Want to Face the Stereotypes

Americans are often subject to the “ugly, loud, unruly” stereotype when traveling, especially young twentysomething tourists. But Black Americans can face additional stereotypes.

Some people’s only exposure to Black America is through television and other media, so they only know of the athletes, rappers, singers, or movie stars. So they may shout at us in passing, comparing us to people like Beyoncé, Serena Williams, or even Oprah. Annoying, yes. But no real hazard.

What’s worse are the people whose exposure to Blacks is through negative news and other media that portray us as criminals. Those people may display signs of overt or casual racism, like clutching their purse when you approach or crossing the street as you’re about to walk by.

Even when traveling in the United States, Black female travelers may be more likely to experience poor customer service due to stereotypes, one example being that Black people don’t tip. You could be a great tipper, but that stereotype can potentially set you up for defeat as soon as you enter an establishment.

We have to work to prove we’re different from the stereotypes others may have prejudged us by. My first instinct is to make eye contact and give someone a friendly smile and nod, even if they don’t smile back. It’s great to get a friendly smile in return, but if I feel I’m experiencing hostile behavior, I’ll leave and remove myself from that situation.

We Don’t Know How to Swim

Many of the best vacations involve water activities: going out on a boat, jet skiing, scuba diving, snorkeling, or a refreshing swim in a cool hotel pool on a hot day. But what if you don’t know how to swim?

According to a 2017 study from the USA Swimming Foundation, 64% of African-American children have no or low swimming ability. By comparison, 40% of Caucasian children are nonswimmers.

We may grow up in a city or neighborhood without access to a community pool. Our parents and family members don’t know how to swim, so they can’t teach us. Lessons are expensive. And there’s the not-so-distant history of racial discrimination and segregation at private pools and athletic clubs. Black people simply weren’t allowed in.

I grew up afraid of the water and did not know how to swim until I enrolled in lessons at age 26. Knowing how to swim has greatly enhanced the types of travel experiences I have.

We Worry About What to Do with Our Hair

For many Black women, our hair is not just “wash and go.” Styling our hair can be an extensive process. Sometimes we’ve paid a good sum of money to get our hair styled at the salon before a trip. We don’t want to get sweaty or get our hair wet (if straightened, wetting our hair can cause it to revert back to its natural texture). Or it can get tangled or matted.

And if trying to pack light and carry-on only, travel-size hair products just aren’t going to do the job, especially for more than a few days. We want to be cute when we’re “flexin’ for the ‘gram”, that is, posing for our Instagram pictures.

All of these can be reasons why Black women are hesitant to travel.

I have dealt with the “hair issue” in a variety of ways. Earlier in my travels, I’d get my hair weaved or have extensions added, so I could “wake up and go.” And since my real hair was protected underneath the weave, I could go swimming or get my hair wet without worrying about damaging my real hair.

More recently, I’ve worn my hair styled very simply, typically in a bun or pulled back. And since I wear my natural texture instead of straightened, I don’t worry about getting it wet.

***

For Black American women who want to travel solo, there are obstacles and fears to overcome, but it can be done. Like many things worth doing, I find that the rewarding feeling of traveling solo outweighs the fears I may have.

Even though I may not often see other travelers, especially Americans, who appear like me, I’m hopeful to see more ladies like myself having wonderful solo adventures as more Black travel experiences are highlighted.

Senitra Horbrook has actually spoken at numerous travel conferences in the US and enjoys sharing her tips on solo travel and strategies to earn many frequent flyer miles and hotel points through credit card rewards. A journalist, you can connect with her online on Instagram or Twitter.


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