Traveling can cause serious anxiety if you’re not comfortable with it. There are endless questions. I’ve had tons of conversations with people from very different backgrounds, and many of their questions revolve around how they’ll be received in new countries, as people. “Is it safe for women to travel there?” “Were you treated differently as a … you know, brother/person of colour or chocolate heritage/Afro-Canadian?”
The truth is, I can’t travel as anyone but me, nor would I want to. I can’t tell you what it’s like to travel as a “visible majority” in countries that don’t have many people that look like me. What I can do, is share my experiences and answer some questions that I’m often asked in hopes that my experiences and answers will ease your mind.
Here’s what it’s like to travel the world, from a person of colour’s perspective.
Note: The term “visible minority” is ridiculous. The number of people who are considered to be minorities is in the billions while the number of people (white/Caucasian) considered to be the majority is in the millions. I think we have our definition backwards.
Meet Kyle: How I got started
My first true opportunity to travel was at the age of 5 when my family and I moved from Trinidad & Tobago where I was born, to Montreal, Canada, where I was raised. Growing up, I traveled through the USA quite often to visit family and to compete in basketball tournaments. As an adult, I really began traveling 3 years ago after being convinced that I “needed a vacation.” It’s not that I wasn’t interested in travel before, I always was, but I figured it was an activity that was reserved for the rich, which I most certainly was not.
I went to Cancun, Mexico and absolutely loved it. Eventually, I started traveling whenever I had time off work: Cuba, France, and then Italy. Shortly after returning from Italy, I quit my job as an insurance broker and moved to China to teach English. I’ve been traveling ever since.
You can get the uncut version of the story above by reading this post: Montreal to China—How I started traveling.
So What Are You, Some Kind Of Travel Blogger Now?
Blame it on Facebook. And by Facebook I mean, my friends and family seemed to get a kick out of the little travel anecdotes I posted as well as the photography and video footage. Many of them messaged me personally to tell me “keep the posts coming” and some suggested I start a travel blog. I was already an avid reader of a few travel blogs so I gave this whole blogging thing a shot.
I realized there was a huge shortage of travel bloggers that looked like me (young men of African descent). I figured it would be a unique opportunity to share my perspective with the world.
Rolling With The Punches: Challenges And Awkwardness
While in Asia, I was approached for photographs and autographs by complete strangers on a daily basis. I’ve had men, women, and children look at me in utter fear. People have run their fingers along my skin and have attempted to touch my hair to feel its texture. These were challenging moments for me because of how different interactions are in Canada. It took a little while to get used to.
Being the centre of attention everywhere you go can be exhausting at times. Once in a while, I felt like a bit of a spectacle or unwelcomed, but those are the challenges that made me grow as a person and traveler.
Being The Perpetual Guest Of Honor
I’ve been in hundreds, if not thousands of cool and unique situations because of the way I look! I’ve had people marvel at my height skin tone and features. I’ve also been given free food, drinks and VIP seating at restaurants. It’s always pleasant to encounter other colorful travelers in a setting that neither of us are familiar with. It makes it very easy to form bonds with other “outsiders.” All of these experiences were positive in nature, even comical.
I often felt privileged, welcomed and special.
It’s All About Perspective
The biggest takeaway from my travels so far is that most people are kind-hearted and curious about other cultures and as a result that has made me more open-minded towards others. I’m also far more flexible in my approach to life. Plans change on the road and I’ve found that the key to successful travel is adaptability.
I know a lot of people (westerners in particular) feel that when they’re looked at it’s because they’re being ridiculed or discriminated against. I’ve learned from firsthand experience, that is rarely the case. Smile, wave, wink, laugh and you’ll usually find a reflection of yourself in another person. Secondly, even when someone does look at you or approach with some hostility, treat them with warmth. You don’t know what that person’s been through or what they’re going through.
Birds Of A Feather Travel Together: Practical Advice For Future Travels
Take time to put yourself in another person’s shoes. Assume the best of people before you assume the worst. We, especially coco travelers, are very distinct and easy to notice. We garner a lot of attention because of our complexion, hair, style of dress, way of speech and mannerisms. People will be taken aback by you at times, but this isn’t a bad thing. Many people will simply be intrigued by the differences between you and them. Keep an open mind and pleasant disposition. Use these opportunities to enlighten others about our people and culture.
Black (Colorful) Travel Is Here To Stay
Don’t be last to board. This young colorful travel movement is a real thing, and it’s sensational. Go see the world, then encourage others to travel by traveling and sharing our experiences with them and the world at large. Show them there are more people of good will in the world than there are evil ones. Give people of color the tools to make traveling easy: city guides, flight and accommodation resources, apps and easy to understand practical advice. Show them that travel isn’t only for the rich, it’s for everyone who wants to see the world. This should be the collective mission in the current travel movement.
Travel is important because it helps break down negative perspectives of how the world works. And it also helps travelers become more in touch with themselves and find their purpose in the world.
The world is a big and beautiful place. Pack light. Travel often. And do it with grace, humility and style. In other words, own that sh*t.
Have you had any discussion worthy travel experiences as a person of color? Leave an intelligent piece of commentary below. Let’s talk.
Until Next Time,