We've Been Out Here: Travel Resources and Tips for the Black Girl Adventurer

by Nneka M. Okona

There's a lot of hype recently about Black women wanting to venture out and see the world. This is great… except we’ve been here, there, and everywhere in-between. We’re artists, entrepreneurs, mothers, teachers, lawyers, and doctors with a passion for life and experiencing different locales and cultures around the globe. A 2011 report issued by Mandala Research overwhelmingly supports this notion, as well. According to their findings, 59 percent of African American travelers are Black women. Couple that fact with 13 percent of us (Black men included) take six or more trips a year and we know it’s a viable conclusion we’re seeing the world one flight, one trip, one vacay at a time.

Has a strong bout of wanderlust hit you with this new calendar year? Want to plan some amazing trips this year but don’t know where to start? Use these tips to get you started on what could be the trip (and journey) of a lifetime.

Discover your traveling style.
The easiest way to discover your travel style is to determine what you want your experience traveling to be centered around. Is your goal to relax in the lap of luxury? Do you want to tap into the gastronomy of where you are visiting or indulge in the finest wines? Or are you more on the side of experiencing the culture and intermingling with locals? Figuring this out while planning will help guide you.

Research and plan, but also be open and spontaneous.

This is perhaps my biggest travel rule. I research thoroughly where I am going, including a few sights and things I want to do, but I also leave room to stumble into things while out and about. Going with the flow has often led me to some amazing travel experiences that I wouldn’t have had otherwise.

Choose locations off the beaten path. 

Yes, London, Paris and Tokyo are must see locations, but why not try a not so popular city with its own charm? For instance, when I was planning a trip to Portugal, many people raved about Lisbon, the country’s biggest (beach) city. I opted for sleepy, smaller Porto in the north, the birthplace of port wine. Airfare and the luxury hostel I stayed at were much cheaper than anything I saw in Lisbon; I had a great time and walked away with stunning pictures, especially from my leisure stroll along the Douro River. For more inspiration on locations and to read first-hand experiences, visit Travel Noire, a website that specifically publishing travel resources, tools, and blogs from a Black perspective.

Start a travel fund and stash away for trips.

Ah, saving. Once you have an inkling of what you are budgeting for the trip, work backwards. Split the total you want to have saved before your trip into weekly or monthly increments and enlist the help of Smarty Pig, an app and website that helps you save for specific things, to keep you on track.

Budget for accommodation and transportation, but splurge on food and experiences.

Cushy hotel stays can take a huge chunk out of what you’ve intended to allocate for a trip, along with paying taxi fare and public transportation. Choosing to instead rent an entire home, flat or just a room on sites like Airbnb or HomeAway , as well as staying at hostels or cutesy, small, usually family owned B&B’s, you can slash those costs in half or more. If staying in anything outside of a hotel is unimaginable, however, there are resources for a great deal, too. Luxury Link, for example, gives great discounts to stunning hotels and Hotel Tonight features discounts on last minute hotel bookings.

Monitor cheap flights with deal sites.

Sometimes getting a great travel deal is one that happens rather organically and unexpectedly. The really low fares to Kenya and Abu Dhabi of last year are prime examples. The easiest way to stay abreast of flash deals or the momentary airline glitches is to either have a friend who knows and has you on speed dial or keep track of it yourself. Airfarewatchdog tweets deals as soon as they find them. You can also sign up for a fare alert via email if you’re waiting for a low(er) fare for your destination than what you found when you preliminarily searched.

Call your bank and cell phone company before you leave for an international trip.

Let your bank know you’re traveling internationally so they don’t freeze or put a hold on your account, that is if you plan to use it. If you want to use your cell phone, it might be a good idea to purchase an international data plan or you could buy an unlocked phone and SIM card once you’re at your destination. Another really valuable tip: never, ever, ever exchange your currency at the airport. Get money through an ATM only; you’ll get the best conversion rate.

Travel solo, or find a group to travel with.

Nearly three years ago, I took my first solo trip to Madrid, Spain. I was in Madrid for almost two weeks and my fondest memories are of strolling the Spanish streets, confused and lost, but in awe of how confident and in my zone I felt. Taking that leap and traveling alone thousands of miles away from home unearthed a deep sense of courage and bravery. I grew a lot from that trip which is why I encourage every Black woman to travel alone at least once. If you’re like me, you’ll end up loving it so much you can’t imagine traveling anywhere with other people! If you’re seeking camaraderie, there are groups of like-minded souls who want to share their travels and adventures together. Nomadness Travel Tribe and  one such group.

Pack more than one location or destination into your trip. 

In the fall 2013, I moved to Madrid. I lived there for a total of nine months. One of the most amazing things I learned about travel is that within Europe, for example, there are many ways to pack in more than one city, cheaply. Within Europe there are several budget airlines — Ryan Air, Vueling, Easy Jet to name a few. I booked my trip to Porto, Portugal (from Madrid) for 50€ through Ryan Air; quite a steal.

The train (like Spain's Renfe or the continental Eurostar) is always an option, too, but can get costly unless you book well in advance. Last ditch efforts are buses — which I only did once because as a tall woman the cheap cost didn’t outweigh lack of legroom — and rental cars. Most rental car companies in Europe will let you rent a car with just your drivers license but check with them beforehand. Also, find out if there are any other unique options for moving from one city to the next at your destination. Within Europe, they also have car sharing service called Bla Bla Car. The idea is you search for where you want to go along with a date and time and can find people who are willing to spare a seat in their car at a minimal cost.

Understand that traveling as a Black woman might render different experiences traveling, especially abroad.

Being treated differently hasn’t been much of an issue for domestic travel but for international it surely has been. I’ve been stared at like I had three heads, repeatedly “randomly selected” for extra, unnecessary screening at airports, asked if my passport photo was actually me and other intrusive questions at passport control, and tons of crazy other things I know had to do with the combined color of my skin and my ethnic name. This may not ever be something you experience, but I think being aware that it happens is important.

Let travel change your life.

Travel saved my life. I learned to trust myself more as a result of the solo adventures I’ve taken. I learned to see myself as an indomitable source of moxie. And I credit these lessons with the incredible inward journey that seeing the world has taken me on. I encourage you to let travel inspire and grow you in unimaginable ways too.

Photo: Shutterstock

Nneka M. Okona is a writer based in Washington, DC and a former expat who lived in Madrid, Spain. Follow her musings on travel at her blog, www.afrosypaella.com or her thoughts 140 characters at time on Twitter, @NisforNneka.

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