Talk Back

Why the Black Travel Movement is Necessary

Have you ever been in another country and thought, “Wow! This place is spectacular. It’d be so much more amazing with 200 more Black people though?”

As an avid traveler, I get giddy when I see a community of like-minded, Black people abroad.

Last summer, on my way to Cambodia, I met another Black woman on the bus and we both busted out laughing because it was ridiculous how excited we were to meet each other. I love the Black travel movement. In fact, I live it. I support all of the amazing efforts to promote people of color seeing the world. What I can’t support is travel being used as yet another divide in our community.

The other day I visited a Black travel site and just as I was getting ready to spend some money on merchandise, I saw a shirt that read, “I have more passport stamps than you.” Passport privilege is a thing now. More and more people in the Black travel movement are using their passport stamps as a bragging right, taking a movement that’s about empowerment and making it classist.

The quantity over quality approach to travel is wrong. If you decide to breeze through a handful of countries in Southeast Asia just to sit in Americanized resorts eating chicken fingers with sweet chili sauce, posting snaps at Tiger Temples, please hush up. By all means, do you, but don’t think you’re superior just because of your meaningless passport stamps.

When my mother was my age, she had traveled outside of the Caribbean one time: to come to America so she could build a better life for me. Her one passport stamp was more meaningful than the dozen I got this past year. Her fearlessness, her bravery, her journey is what I think about when I travel the world. This is what I consider when I go places where people don’t look like me and force myself into their narratives. This is what Black travel means. This is why it should be promoted.

The beauty of the Black travel movement is that it’s built on the idea that the world is ours, too—not for some of us, for all of us. We benefit as a community when our people get out and see the world. We should be uplifting and supporting each other so that more of us can indulge in travel. If we’re committed to Black travel—and we should be—then we need to consider how to help make it possible for more of us, rather than aiming to form elitist groups.

We have so much to gain as a community when we prioritize traveling. We can use this movement as an opportunity to better our people with confidence, self-love and global connections. I didn’t truly begin to learn who I was until I stepped out into worlds unknown. I learned what it meant to be a Black American woman only after I left the U.S. That’s the value of my passport stamps. There is so much more to travel than bragging rights.

Since I started sharing my experiences as a Black traveler, I’ve had several people reach out to me and say they wish they could travel, too. They think that travel isn’t for them. They’ve been discouraged by the passport privilege rhetoric. The truth is, unless you’re born with a silver spoon, traveling the world is not always feasible. At least, not without sacrifices.

I lived in my momma’s basement for months to save money, worked odd jobs abroad to pay for food and spent a night or two at dodgy hostels I’ll spend a lifetime trying to forget. It’s all worth it because traveling has resulted in some of my biggest blessings: amazing job opportunities, true friendships and love. This is what I tell people who think that traveling is just something glamorous for folks with idle time and endless funds.

Fronting on yacht trips you’ll spend the next two years paying off is not what Black travel is about. Black travel is about the opportunity to broaden your horizons, to step outside of your comfort zone and learn about yourself in ways you’re not afforded at home.

Let’s shift our focus from showing off to sharing our resources so that we can grow the community of Black travelers. Instead of bragging about our own passport stamps, let’s empower others to begin their own journeys. The world is ours—that’s what the Black travel movement is about. Let’s not lose sight of that.

Kyla McMillan is a freelance writer and editor who has contributed to numerous publications, covering arts, culture and lifestyle. She’s an American living in Vienna, Austria. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram @ms_kylaaaa.