Time To Go: Why is Travel So IMPORTANT for Black Men?

As founder of the VOYADE, I am grateful to have been mentioned alongside amazing people making strides in the travel space. Strangely, the narrative around Black travel is most times reflective of female leaders, which would cause someone to believe that social media-based Black travel platforms are single-handedly run by women. And to be fair, many of the most notable Black travel platforms are.

But women aren’t the only ones going global and running the show. Black men are just as passionate about travel as women are. Here are a couple of dynamic black men spearheading phenomenal travel platforms and businesses that are pushing travel among black men to the forefront of the industry.

Kent Johnson & Eric Martin: Black & Abroad—Atlanta, GA

Why did they start?:

Kent: When I realized that traveling the world didn’t necessarily mean I’d be emptying my bank account, I wanted to go everywhere. Once I started getting up and going everywhere, I wanted to see people who looked like me there, too. In prior conversations where Eric and I compared our experiences with traveling the world, several things became clear to us: We wanted to see more of our community exploring the world with us, and we wanted to tap into a sense of pride when doing so. We agreed that there was a severe lack of representation within the industry, although plenty of our community’s dollars went into it.

Eric: The low-cost fares are what allowed me to travel regularly. I would scour the net, and luck up on round trip fares to remote destinations for $200–$300. In some cases, I’d pay more for a weekend in Miami than I would a week in . . . let’s say Sydney, Australia. After around my eighth country, travel started to become a need. I learned so much from conversing with the natives of the respective regions that many of my inherent perspectives on world issues began to take a back seat to the actual experiences of those living them. I decided at that point to keep sending myself on these international field trips to expand my four corners of insight. From there, the desire to build a platform was born.

Favorite destinations:

Eric: Johannesburg, South Africa. it’s my favorite because of the people. It’s a bustling, cosmopolitan city full of beautiful Black people. Definitely feels like home away from home.

Kent: Havana, Cuba. It’s one of the few places that feels like you are in a completely different world.

The downside of traveling as a Black man:

Eric: We hear about how traveling allows you to visit places where your Black skin isn’t the first thing people judge about you and in many places, that can be true, but a moment I often encounter when out of the U.S. is when the locals from another country assume that you are African before they realize you are American. Then when they hear your American accent, they completely change their demeanor and approach. It makes you wonder what kind of treatment you would have received had you been from Johannesburg or Accra instead of Atlanta or D.C. It’s frustrating because it’s so blatant, but moreso because you know your brothers and sisters are being treated this way regularly in that country. I hate these moments and make an effort to point out the ignorance to people when I’m traveling.

The beauty of being Black & Abroad:

Eric: It’s bold. It’s simple. It’s proud. We wanted to be intentional and unapologetic about just who we are. I’ve had a few people tell me that travel outside the U.S. was the furthest thing from their minds until they got their hands on one of our items. It’s really a great feeling.

Here’s some reasons why you’re in need of a solo trip abroad.

1. Because it will build your confidence.

Few things test your confidence like being in a place where you barely speak the language, have limited access to the internet, and no one to rely upon but yourself.  Traveling alone forces you to tap into these abilities and actually use skills you rarely get to flex when at home, such as being a social being and talking to strangers, accepting the challenge of critical thinking and problem solving to get where you want to go.

More importantly, it gives you the chance to be a carefree black man. Do things you wouldn’t think of doing with your crew around because your boys might look at you funny.  The only person you have to worry about making a fool of yourself in front of, is people you’re likely to never see again, and if you do, they’ll know you as that ridiculously confident guy who didn’t care about what others thought.  These are the kind of moments you need to realize that being you is the most lit thing you can do, a direct hit to the notion that being you is reason enough for death.

There’s also the opportunities for these really dope moments of clarity that you just can’t get while being surrounded by your normal atmosphere. Some of my best moments of reflection and healing (because yes, we as black men need space to heal from the litany of attacks upon our being) came from being away from all of the static of my day-to-day.  You’d be surprised by how clear the mind becomes when it’s away from home.

2. Because you need to stop waiting on someone to validate your decision to travel somewhere.

Bruh, just go.  Stop waiting on your frat brothers to find the time off, stop waiting on someone to say your dream trip to Antartica is a dope idea, stop waiting for others to validate your decision to go somewhere.  Just go.  I’ve missed out on really great trips waiting for others to come to their senses.  I decided that “they,” whoever “they” may be, won’t prevent me from seeing the world.  If I want to see the pyramids, I’m going, with or without you. Be your own man and see the world.

Break barriers for others by going it alone. Someone’s solo trip is waiting on yours to inspire them. So do it. 

The other great part to a solo trip is creating a part of your life that is closed off to your friends, family, and colleagues.  We as black men often keep the things to ourselves that we need to share most; our pain, our cries for help. Very rarely do we get to make and maintain positive moments that are ours, and ours only.  That’s exactly what these kinds of trips are for.

3. Because frankly, you deserve it.

Your current space in the world can kill you, in more ways than one.  The 24 hour news cycle constantly plastering images of men who look like you being killed simply. for. being. The reminders that no matter how successful you are, a substantial portion of the “fellow” countrymen still look at you as less than. The space in your brain occupied by constant rage, fear, confusion, and racial fatigue, it’s all slowly stealing your life.  Brother, you need a moment away.  This is not to say that everywhere outside of the United States is a black man’s paradise, that’s far from the truth, but there is an opportunity to turn the volume down on the negativity, if only for a few days.

4. Because you need to realize that some of your “Western” sensibilities, make no sense at all.

America often becomes the default answer for “all things great,” but you, as a black man, are one of the first to know it’s not always true. Yet somehow, we still cling onto these westernized ideas as gospel.  Remember, these same “western” ideals are often used as confirmation to view and treat you in a certain way. 

Taking a chance to see how other cultures view the world, experience life, and view manhood is key to understanding that most of what you thought you knew, was BS. Especially when it comes to how we as Americans view the safety of the rest of the world.  I’ve had friends and family tell me, “I want to travel, but the lack of safety in some of these countries concerns me…” I can’t subscribe to that way of thinking, especially when my safety in my own country is questionable at best. 

I challenge those concerned about their safety to really compare your fears of making it home without a police encounter to the “safety” concerns you have about visiting other countries.  And honestly, most of the people telling you a place isn’t safe, haven't been anywhere near the place in question.  Ask somebody how safe they think Cuba is, and it’s likely they won’t tell you it's labeled one of the safest countries in Latin America, let alone the world.  What they will tell you is “Be safe,” implying some notion that your life is more at risk there than where you currently are. You also can’t rely upon online reviews from others to gauge how safe YOU will feel in another country. 

Because of our daily interactions as black men, our thresholds of fear, for better or worse, usually rest higher on the scale than others, since we live with a daily cloud of threat over our heads on our home turf.

5. Because it may be your last time to do it.

Before you get married, before the kids, before you take that new job, before the ills of old age or those student loan payments kick in, and before you can make excuses for yourself, go. 

Life comes at you fast, and you don’t want to be in a position where you long for moments you missed out on.  And because it’s just you, it doesn’t have to be this grand, luxurious getaway (unless that’s your thing, then by all means…).

The beauty of traveling alone, is that the only person you’re accountable for, is you.  If you’re a morning person, you’re not waiting for the rest of your crew to get up to enjoy a day in a new place.  If you want to come back to the hotel in the middle of the day to catch a nap, do it. If you want to go to that spot in the seedy part of Shanghai, do it….just don’t get arrested.

Stop waiting for #yourname to happen.

Get out of here and live for the brothers and sisters who didn’t get a chance to. I know what you’re thinking, and no, this isn’t selfish. You are not abandoning your community by taking time for you to rebuild. The salve of self-care is more important than ever, and getting away, alone, gives you the opportunity to just be, an identity we tend to lose.  Your greatest asset in this fight to stay alive is your black joy.

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