8 Tips for Safe Traveling While Black, According to Black Jetsetters
Whether you prefer the surf and sand of a far-flung island getaway or the big skies and starry nights of a cross-country road trip, traveling is invigorating to the body and soul. But the attention, discrimination and obvious differences for being the only Black or brown person in a location are not the checked baggage we wanted to bring along our destinations. Whether it’s blatant staring and pointing, having pictures taken without consent (because “Are you Beyoncé? Barack Obama? Rihanna?”) or being followed around shops, certain experiences can affect your mood and heighten your fears around venturing into unknown territory. And it’s exactly why we have to do more work to stay safe traveling while Black.
“I believe we have to do extra work [to stay safe],” Mirissa Jackson, an independent travel agent and Inteletravel ambassador tells us. Just as there’s racism and prejudice in the States, there are countries and regions around the world where people are still persecuted for their skin color. For example, as Thailand has become such a popular tourist destination, it’s especially important for Black tourists to be aware of the country’s complex relationship with skin color prior to landing in Bangkok. Says Jackson, “That distorted image or thought of Black and brown individuals, which could be positive or negative, can interfere with the way they engage with you when you come to their country.”
So, to make traveling safe, we tapped a few experienced sightseers to provide tips and tricks to travel safely while BIPOC.
1. Use Voice Assistance for Directions
Always keep your eyes up so you can “be cognizant of who you are around when you’re traveling,” says Alexa Moore, a travel content creator. “As a Black woman traveling in a non-Black place, you’re going to stick out just because you’re a bit out of the norm. Pair that with looking lost, and you could potentially attract the wrong kind of people your way.” Moore recommends trying voice assistance to guide you through a new place. It’ll keep you less on your phone and more aware of your surroundings. Plus, if you get lost, voice assistance has a way of leading you to an alternative route to get you to your next destination. Thanks, Siri!
2. Pin the Essential Spots Before You Hit the Road
Speaking of directions, Moore also suggests pinning all your locations already onto your phone (using apps like Google Maps and Mapstr) before leaving your hotel because there’s no guarantee—especially abroad—that you’ll have a good connection to your network. Downloading these prime spots (think: your hotel, your embassy, the hospital, your friend’s apartment, etc.) beforehand can prevent you from getting lost in a new city. And FYI, make sure your phone is fully charged and maybe invest in a portable charger to keep your digital map with you all day long.
3. Enroll in the STEP Program
STEP (aka Smart Traveler Enrollment Program) lets you connect your trip with the nearest United States Embassy or Consulate while traveling abroad. This program provides safety updates from your destination country, a chance to contact the embassy in case of an emergency and people back at home another way to get in touch with you. “This is important for travelers in general, but especially for BIPOC travelers because if there are acts of violence or discrimination that target travelers in this demographic, it could be a good opportunity to rethink your trip or at least be prepared for the situation in the destination,” says Amina Dearmon, owner and luxury travel advisor at Perspectives Travel.
4. Join a travel group
We love a good solo moment, but sometimes it’s easier to navigate a new place in groups. Joining a travel group for and by the Black community that can give you the opportunity to share common experiences and keep your worries at ease knowing you’re not alone. “You’ll see a plethora of folks sharing their experiences (good and bad) about where you plan on visiting. It can also be possible that you may be visiting a place the same exact time as someone in one of those groups,” adds Dev Walker, travel blogger and content creator. To get started, check out groups like Nomadness Travel Tribe, Urban Events Global, Travel Noire and Black Girls Travel Too.
5. Never Let People Know You’re Traveling Alone
But if are traveling alone, know that solo travelers are more likely to be targeted, so making those around you “think” you are traveling with others can reduce the chances of being followed or harassed. “If you are a solo traveler and you’re in a taxi or at a resort, make references out loud that someone is about to meet you or will be checking into the resort,” explains Jackson. “This allows people to assume that you are not alone.”
6. Have a Check-In Person Back Home
Find that one reliable person back at home that you can keep updated on what’s going on during your travels. Whether that’s sharing a live location, starting a group chat or sending them a daily text at a certain time, have a game plan. “My friends and family know that if they don’t hear from me for a couple of hours, they should check in on my location or send me a quick message,” adds Moore.
7. Plan with a BIPOC Travel Advisor
“Black travel advisors understand what it is to be a Black traveler in the world and can often provide personal insights about their experiences,” explains Dearmon. It can be helpful to have someone that understands the struggles and benefits of traveling while a person of color beyond helping you book a flight or hotel. They may provide insights that non-Black advisors might not understand. These advisors can prepare you for what to expect depending on your destination. For example, it can be a cultural shock for locals especially if it's rare for them to see or interact with Black travelers. For some, it can be the first time being in front of a Black person and only knowing about the community based on pop culture. So companies like Black Cultural Heritage Tours, Local Guest, Henderson Travel Service and Passports & Grub and Travel Noire can help you by connect with advisor that can book the accommodations while have a Black traveler's wellbeing in mind.
8. Take Your Research with a Grain of Salt
It’s a no-brainer that you should do some research before booking your trip. But the truth is that your experience might be drastically different from someone else’s. “Before I went to India, I did so much research about traveling to India as a Black person, and I was frightened. I read stories about how people get stones thrown at them or were accused of crimes they didn’t commit,” Moore shared. “But then when I got to India, I had a great experience. Take your research with a grain of salt. It’s important to know what you can expect out of a place, but know your own experience will be unique.”