I never intended on becoming a solo traveler. But after a four-day trip to the South of France ended up lasting ten, it was safe to say that I developed an interest in exploring the world on my own. I fell in love with how free I felt whenever I was abroad, doing everything and anything on my own terms, meeting new people and creating new memories that I could cherish just for myself.
So when I began to take this love interest further, I suppose it’s only natural that I had no negative expectations — solo travel had swept me off my feet, and in this oblivious bliss I failed to consider the one factor that might change the way in which I travel: the color of my skin. I hadn’t thought previously of how much of an impact that has when Black women travel, but the more I exposed myself to new places, the more I became aware of the changes I would have to make when on my adventures.
Both good and bad experiences have caused me to think twice about a destination before jetting off. At times, this would include researching the crime rates of a place and even looking at how much of that crime involved attacks towards Black people and women. I felt a need to be more mindful of my body language, the way I dressed and how I spoke in order to avoid being taken less seriously or portrayed as an “angry Black female.” Overall, I feel I generally have to be one step ahead of any other traveller by acquiring more knowledge of a place and plan that little bit extra to avoid any issues regarding my color.
There is certainly a degree of fear that comes with traveling while Black, because you know that something may happen to you solely on account of your color. Luckily, there haven’t been any trips or destinations that I have regretted or that left a bad taste in my mouth, but there have been a few moments that have made me become more aware of the ignorance my color can attract. For example…
People wanting to take photos of or with me because I stood out of the crowd.
People making comparisons to celebrities with whom I share no similarities apart from being Black.
People “othering” me by asking where I am “really from,” after telling them I’m from Britain, or asking why my Nigerian father travelled to Moscow and how he met my mother.
People making ignorant comments, disguised as compliments, such as asking for an opportunity to guess which “exotic” country I’m from.
Staff ignoring me in restaurants or displaying a hostile attitude towards serving me.
There are a number of places that have converted some of that fear into confidence; places where I have felt safe, welcomed and pretty much at home when visiting, reminded of the beauty of solo travel. India is one such place. In fact, it is the one place where locals spoke to me with genuine care and attention, and where I felt most complimented for who I am as an individual, with no comparison to others. Respect was consistent, from the hotel I stayed in to the locals I met at markets and stores. Many meaningful conversations left me feeling like I was taking away a little part of each person I met.
Italy was another. From Venice to Rome or from Milan to Livorno, the charm within the people I came across here always made me feel special and at home. Whether I was eating alone, lost in a town or my car wouldn’t start, there was always someone who displayed compassion, kindness and interest regardless of my color.
Different countries create individual experiences for different travelers, some better or worse than mine. There is no universal experience, which just goes to show why stigmas about certain countries and people are not helpful. Despite whatever unfortunate encounters I’ve had due to my color, I still remain grateful and humbled by my experience of being a Black female solo traveler. The more I push the boundaries and the more I challenge the negatives, the stronger I become. I do however long for the day when being Black and traveling solo isn’t something out of the ordinary and any fear attached due to color is no longer a factor that stands in the way of anyone exploring all of the beauty that this world has to offer.
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