Travel comes with some inequities in the travel and tourism industry for people of color. Often that impact is also affected by race and nationality. The reality is that traveling while black comes with some individual challenges. In my travels as a black woman, I have experienced being denied certain privileges because of my race by non-blacks and other people of color. With non-blacks, I have encountered people thinking I am not good enough or entitled to enjoy the same travel experiences. With some people of color, there is sometimes a judgment or derision that I think I am better because I am experiencing certain travel opportunities. Race, nationality, and ethnicity are the realities of traveling while black. Here are my thoughts.
I define EbonyTravelers, as any traveler of color. As someone who has experienced the travel space professionally and personally, I am confident that travelers of color are identified primarily by their race. If someone were to ask me, I would say we are all one race, the human race. However, the reality is that at first sight, I am recognizably a part of what many define as the black race. That racial identity is a part of my reality when I travel because, in many countries, my race often defines me as a minority. Usually, I travel and go into quaint little stores in the tourist areas. Because of my race, I prepare myself to encounter issues from those who may not see me as simply a tourist. I am careful not to put my hands in my pockets or go into my purse, as someone may assume I have taken something. Unfortunately, this experience is a common one for many travelers of color.
With travel, race and nationality are two distinct constructs. Travel identification first comes from one’s passport, which automatically defines nationality. When traveling internationally, one’s identity is often determined by the passport one carries. I travel under an American passport, so my travel identification is based on that nationality. I’ve found that when I identify as an American, even though my black race is apparent, my travel experiences are more favorable.
Ethnicity and nationality are different constructs but sometimes just as important as race and nationality. Ethnicity is related to race and culture. I was born in Barbados, even though I travel under an American passport. The ethnicity of Barbados also includes race, but ethnicity does not seem to be a factor in travel as much as race and nationality. When I travel, it is not until I have conversations with people that my ethnicity is recognized, so I find that it does not often affect my black travel experience.
Regardless of race, nationality, or ethnicity, there is racism in the travel industry, and it affects the experiences of EbonyTravelers. There is often a need to produce more identification and a justification of reason for traveling than other travelers experience. Additionally, people of color are subject to more random searches and checks while traveling than non-blacks.
Despite the realities of traveling while black, I believe there is a need to show the experiences to black travelers more than ever. While there has been a surge in black travelers, there is still a lack of inclusion in mainstream travel advertising. As a result, many people of color are unaware of the many travel experiences they can experience. A more diverse travel perspective needs to be shared so more travelers of color can enjoy the travel experience. Travel makes us better, and the more black people are exposed to travel, the more race, nationality, and ethnicity mean less.
It’s 2021, and it still amazes me to see the reactions of people I assume think I don’t belong in a particular space. Stereotypes are well established, and I still get the microaggressive questions like, where are you from? What do you do? What does your husband do? Sometimes I also get blunt questions like What brings you here? I remember the famous Oprah Winfrey shopping experience quite well, and I realize that no matter the status, being a black traveler comes with some unique experiences. Here are a few recollections from my experiences.
I’m a luxury traveler, and whenever possible, I indulge myself with that experience. I can’t count the number of times I have queued for the first /business class travel lane and had fellow passengers step around me like I was invisible. I often also get the automatic direction to the right from a flight attendant when boarding a plane. It amuses me to go left, and then I get asked again for my boarding pass for a second verification as if somehow there was a mistake.
Entering a travel lounge is no different. I often see people flash their boarding passes and walk into the lounge. However, I am frequently asked not only for my boarding pass but for identification. When in the lounge, I see other passengers being asked if they would like a refill or a request if service is needed. Frequently I am overlooked and must request service.
Customs and immigration
Customs and immigration are no different. I realize that some questions are valid, but I sometimes feel a sense of invasiveness when asked, what brings you here? Where are you staying? How long are you staying? Although these might be valid questions, I’ve stood in line long enough to see that not everyone is questioned in the same way. My history of microaggressive behavior makes me question the questioner.
As a frequent traveler, I often stay at the same hotel chain for loyalty points. As a loyal customer and quite knowledgeable about hotel services, I am rarely recognized as a loyal customer. I know my wants are documented in the system, yet my room is often not as requested. Again, this may be just assuming the worst, but historical experience tells me I’m not off the mark.
This article is by no means meant to be a complaint. It is simply a sharing of my lived experiences. Have you noticed or experienced similar experiences? If you haven’t, I invite you to take notice and claim your validity of space. It’s incredible that even now, in 2021, the spaces I enter question my presence simply because of my hue.
I spent twenty-three years in the airline industry as a flight attendant. In many of those first years, I was often the only person of color on the crew. Therefore, my experiences in being looked at differently have been more than eye-opening. Being back here in Singapore has once again opened my eyes to the possibilities of a multicultural society.
Singapore is a multicultural society. Chinese, Malay, Indian, and others (CMIO). Here in Singapore, I am other, and my color is not as noticeable as in the US. Here I am simply different. Different in the kind of way that’s the same but different. Here the racial harmony that’s supposed to exist is reflected in the many cultures that co-exist.
Singapore became a sovereign nation in 1965. The following year the four racial groups CMIO were expected to be treated separately but equally, and there was to be no discrimination or favoritism of any race. In Singapore, all races, religious practices, customs, and traditions are accepted. As I came to understand it, the Singaporean way is reflected in the appearance of social harmony.
In Singapore, I see co-existence but not people that intermix with each other. Here race is downplayed yet elevated at the same time. As a black ex-pat, I often get mistaken for African descent, and the distinction is a relatively common occurrence here. When I go into public spaces, I’m seen as other. When I speak, the recognition of my racial identity becomes apparent in the subsequent interactions I have.
I have experienced many acts of travel bias and microaggression. My experience here in Singapore is much the same but different. Often, my experiences have left me with a less than pleasant travel experience. Multiculturalism is embraced here in Singapore, and the diversity I see here tends to be an aspect of Singapore I simply love about Singapore.
My first excursion in Singapore to end my quarantine was with a taxi driver. A typical Singaporean whose first attempt at conversation is not unlike many I experience. “Where are you from” I’m often asked? As an immigrant, my answer can be as deep or varied as I decide. I’m from an island like this. I’m from the Caribbean. I’m an American. All are true, just as with the many aspects of Singaporean culture I experience— Chinese, Malay, Indian, Singaporean, ex-pat. My story is unique and varied.
We’re all different, yet the same. A friend once told me to see the human race, not black people, not old people, not Asians, not fat people, not old people. I choose to do that, and here in Singapore, that is ok.
Recently a friend traveled from Washington DC to Egypt. She discussed with me the harrowing experience of trying to get a required Covid test for travel. With recent federal guidelines, the need for Covid testing has increased, and availability has decreased. As the holidays are a busy travel season, it stands to reason travelers needing testing during the holidays will also surge. Here are a few things to think about regarding Covid testing and the holidays.
A surge in Covid testing
Many of the issues involved with the current availability of Covid testing affect the recent executive order requiring Covid vaccination for federal employees. Companies with over 100 employees will be required to comply with the order or face significant fines. As expected, there are many questions regarding the order and implementation that need an answer. However, the demand for Covid testing has risen, and so travelers need to prepare.
Thanksgiving is just around the corner, and it’s usually one of the busiest times for people to travel. In 2020, many suggested curtailing travel during the Thanksgiving holiday, and many ignored that suggestion. In preparation for the upcoming busy Thanksgiving travel season, the U.S. Air Travel Public Safety Act may require all passengers on domestic airlines to either be fully vaccinated, tested negative, or fully recovered from Covid.
Preparing for holiday travel
In essence, travelers should be aware of travel restrictions and Covid guidelines. They should know where their Covid testing sites are. Find out if they need to have Covid symptoms or can test as a precaution. Research the timing of their test before seeing friends and family as exposure varies. It’s also good to know the different Covid test options, PCR or antigen.
As with any travel experience, preparation is critical. Stay safe this holiday season and if you choose to travel, do it safely.
There are places and destinations that travelers have dreamed about experiencing. Many times, the expectation may not fit the reality. In the case of my stay at the Elewana Tarangire Treetops in Tanzania, it was beyond expectations.
The property is remote and is located just outside the Tarangire National Park. It makes up for all you could want in expectations from property within a city proper. The greeting not only includes the staff from the Treetops but local Maasai warriors in traditional tribal outfits. Smiles and genuine happiness are evident from everyone was so heartwarming. The experience here truly depicts an example of sustainable tourism.
The Tarangire Treetops reception area is designed around an enormous baobab tree in Tanzania. It foretold the actual treetop room I would eventually stay in and is an excellent site in terms of design and style. In the reception tree, which must be hundreds of years old, live a colony of bats. Yes, bats! At first, I was skeptical, but as we sat down to dinner, bats flew around us, and there was no hint of mosquitos, no doubt due to the bats. Another excellent example of the beauty of living within and with nature.
Dinner was on the patio with a nearby watering hole, where several animals visited throughout the day. We saw zebras, impalas, elephants come right up to the property. The animals were so protected and respected that we could not walk to our rooms since they roamed the property freely. Going back and forth to our room, the Maasai tribesmen often escorted us, a surreal experience. There was also a sundown cocktail experience on a hill with a beautiful sunset and snacks served by our personal butler and staff.
The property itself is in southern Maasailand. We got to visit a local Maasai village which was yet another unbelievable experience. The Maasai elder of this village had more than 70 children and countless wives who all lived in harmony. We got to see their homes which are incredibly simplistic and functional. The warm-hearted reception from the Maasai people is a memory I will never forget. Even with the different cultures, I left feeling that the Maasai were more blessed than I would ever be.
My treetop room was a treasure and truly exemplified my childhood dream of living in a treehouse. The room was large with a practical open design. It included a large wrap patio from which we had excellent views of the sunset and treetops. A wrap-around deck was attached so you could sit out and commune with nature.
Our final night included an outdoor dinner in a traditional Boma with a giant bonfire, dancing and chants from the Maasai people, and an incredible menu. We also got to enjoy a walking safari, night game drive, sundown cocktails, and have a fantastic safari experience.
If you are considering an African safari, you will not be disappointed with the Elewana safari experience. Have the Elewana Treetops inspired you? I’d like to know.
Happy Pride month! The LGBTQIA+ community makes up a large percentage of the travel population but can face singular challenges when traveling. For example, many countries do not recognize same-sex unions, and in some countries, same-sex relationships are considered a crime with significant or severe punishment. Here are a few things to consider for LGBTQIA+ travel.
History suggests that members of the LGBTQIA+ community are some of the people most willing to travel. In addition, the LGBTQIA+ community tends to travel more than their non-LGBTQIA+ counterparts. This reality is partly because the LGBTQIA+ community is often dual income, with no children, and having more discretionary money and time to travel.
With the prevalence of travel in the LGBTQIA+ community, however, there are significant considerations to be made for travel. As recently as 2019, the country of Brunei enacted an Islamic law that makes it legal to flog and stone LGBTQIA+ people to death. It’s not the only country where LGBTQIA+ individuals can face the death penalty for the simple act of loving someone of the same sex. Therefore, for members of the LGBTQIA+ community, travel to top destinations is not a simple decision of when and if they have the resources to travel.
Many of the top destinations, such as the Maldives and Dubai, are primarily Muslim countries. In addition, top Caribbean destinations like Jamaica or Dominica have laws and attitudes quite contrary to the LGBTQIA+ community. Therefore, travelers need to be aware of these laws and attitudes before planning their trips.
Simple gestures like hand-holding that heterosexual couples take for granted are not a given for members of the LGBTQIA+ community. Along with other travel issues, members of this community must consider when or if to show public displays of affection. Even sharing a bed or using a dating app can be a hazard for members of the LGBTQIA+ community.
Therefore, while many may want to travel as we all do, traveling to certain countries for LGBTQIA+ members can lead to the possibility of death for many. As we wrap up Gay Pride month, I want my readers to be aware that many of the things non-LGBTQIA+ travelers take for granted are not a given for the LGBTQIA+ community.
Have you ever had issues when traveling as a member of the LGBTQIA+ community? Were you aware of the risks many people unwittingly take when traveling? I’d like to know.