As the plane ascended, the tears streamed down my face uncontrollably. It’s was if my eyes contained all the water from every ocean, river, and lake in the world. I was mortified as I headed to Thailand for my first solo adventure, unsure of my choice–but there was no turning back as the plane lifted off the ground.
There’s usually a reason people take this leap to travel. Sometimes it’s to find oneself or the need for a change. Or, to “see all the things” as I wrote in an Instagram post right before leaving.
Most people who know me would be surprised to know my writing journey began with climate activism three years ago. I spent late nights watching documentaries on climate change and reading books in an attempt to learn about the communities and endangered animals that were being destroyed as a result.
Climate change was was one of main the reasons I booked and boarded that flight in January 2017, tears and all, for a two-and-half month journey through Southeast Asia. I figured if environments were being destroyed and people were being displaced, I wanted to see it with my own eyes and bring attention to it through my writing.
When I ventured off for my second solo trip in January 2018, the time was indefinite, I was sure I would continue writing about climate activism and endangered animals…and I tried. However, the experiences I was having as a Black woman traveling solo were so evident I couldn’t ignore them.
During my first solo trip, I found myself experiencing uncomfortable situations in some hostel settings around other travelers, who were mostly white. I was being ignored, treated as if I was invisible, and sat through a lot of racist jokes. The microaggressions and blatant aggressions were so real that I knew I had to share my experiences in some way.
Family, friends, and strangers often asked why I continue to travel after experiencing some uncomfortable, and sometimes scary, situations. The uncomfortable situations were being followed in and around supermarkets in Vietnam or having my picture taken without permission. The scary times were being the only passenger aggressively searched by police officers without cause on a night bus in the north of India in the middle of nowhere. India isn’t a country where most women feel safe, but it is especially difficult for Black women since racism and discrimination are more blatant.
It was from my travel experiences in India as a Black woman that I knew my travel purpose was shifting, evolving. There was a reason, I, someone who is deeply passionate about social and racial injustice, was having these particular experiences. Experiences that can be deemed difficult, and oftentimes are, but also necessary to my evolution as a Black woman, traveler, and writer.
In 1937, Victor H. Green, a postal carrier from Harlem, New York, published the first edition of “The Negro Motorist Green-Book,” which was a guidebook for African Americans road tripping the United States during Jim Crow segregation. The guide book detailed restaurants, hair salons, barbers, restrooms, hotels, and nightclubs that were safe spaces for Black people traveling at a time when it was unsafe and institutionalized racism affected every facet of their lives. The guidebook even included modern-day, Airbnb-styled listings where locals of a particular city would host Black travelers in their homes.
Travel by car for Black people during that time was a gift of freedom. Owning a car and taking road trips around the country allowed for control. If Black people took trains or buses, they were subjected to the watchful eyes of white conductors and would have to defer to white passengers even if they were seated in “colored carts.”
In cars, they were safe, but of course, there were still rules. Greens’ book outlined “sundown towns”–towns that were white only and if Black people or any person of color was seen on highways or driving in and around neighborhoods, they were sure to be punished with violence.
From the first release of “The Negro Motorist Green-Book” which was 15 pages long, to the last edition in 1966 that ran 99 pages long, Mr. Green was confident a day would come when the “Green Book” would not be necessary. His dream was actualized after the passing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
When I was growing up, history books often talked about the history of Black people in America beginning with slavery. That we were simply labor. The truth is, those human beings that were stolen and put on ships were people with dreams. Those enslaved Africans were my ancestors. They held hopes and wishes in their hearts and in their bones. They were doctors, lawyers, writers, poets, and artists.
Travel was my dream, but it is the dream realized of my ancestors. Escapism in a Black body for many years used to be dangerous, and it still is in many ways that we see today. But escapism in a Black body is also an act of defiance. It is resistance to the many institutionalized powers that aim to diminish my personhood and those that look like me.
My travel purpose has become very clear: to show up and take up space as a Black woman. To be seen in spaces that are not frequented by Black travelers and to speak up when situations are indeed uncomfortable and hurtful. I am free in ways that my ancestors could not even dream of because they were placed into circumstances beyond their control. I owe them.
I am my ancestors’ wildest dream.
Header photo by Kevin Noble.