Being a black traveler

Being a black traveler

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.

First-class

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.

Travel lounges

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.

Hotels

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.

Travel and culture.

Travel and culture.

Travel and culture do not necessarily go hand in hand. They are many people who have traveled extensively but are still culturally unaware due to their unconscious biases. When thinking about traveling, travelers must always be aware that they will experience cultural differences and be respectful of the culture they choose to place themselves in, even if they don’t accept it. Here are five ways to become a more culturally sensitive traveler.

1. Know that culture is not limited by race or ethnicity. People have different cultures based on their upbringings, language, gender, religion, or sex, to name a few. As a traveler, expect to see people who have different experiences, backgrounds, or viewpoints.

2. Know that you will see, hear and possibly feel things that will be different from what you are accustomed to. For example, queuing or standing in line is common when traveling through airports in the boarding process. However, in some cultures, the boarding process can be chaotic as some cultures are accustomed to a “me first” mentality.

3. Know that even though you might recognize your destination for a particular culture, this does not mean that you have to abandon your own culture. Be culturally sensitive as many places are multi-cultural, and you can add value to your destination with your own culture.

4. Know that culture influences people’s attitudes, beliefs, values, and behavior. Try not to judge a person based on what you presume to be their culture; oftentimes, your judgment is based on your own unrecognized bias.

5. Know that travel becomes a much more pleasant experience when you have learned to accept and respect people and their differences. You will become much more open to new knowledge and experiences and add value by sharing your own culture with others.

It has pained me to see the new wave of Asian racism as much as it has been to experience it as a person of color. What I do know, however, is that traveling has opened my eyes to see people as they are and not what I think they are. Has traveling opened your eyes culturally? I’d like to know.

Your choice to travel is yours alone.

Your choice to travel is yours alone.

For years I have had to battle the question of my travel experiences. When it was professional, it was “how can you leave your kids?” When it was personal it was again about the kids and whether I should put their needs first. Recently the question was “what about Covid?”

There will always be questions no matter your choice. The only right choice is the inner choice you make and life is too short not to put yourself first.

I always choose me! This might seem selfish, but I cannot be a good mother, wife, or friend if I am stressed out and unhappy. I have learned that more now since becoming an empty nester than ever before. My kids are grown, and I honestly believe that they would not have me make any different choices than the ones I made. Of course, they have not always been happy with my choices, but at the end of the day, I have.

You can be replaced easily at work, marriages fail, children grow up, and tomorrow is never promised. Life is too short not to travel, not to take a vacation, not to get a massage, not to put yourself first. Choosing to travel is a gift to yourself that you can open as many times as you desire. My choice is to travel, it’s the gift I give to myself.

Have you ever been judged for your choice to travel? Let me know in the comments. I bet I’m not alone.

Travel envy.

Travel envy.

Having traveled both professionally and personally, I can certainly attest to the travel envy often directed to me even though unheard and unseen but very present.

As an international flight attendant, my job took me all over the world. It was not uncommon for me to fly to unique destinations such as Paris, London, Buenos Aires, Bermuda, or Madrid within the same month. At the same time, I was still a mother and a wife and had to contend with all that those roles entailed. I quickly learned when trying to establish a relationship in the community, to gloss over my job. Mentioning destinations seem to bring on the envy of travel and I would quickly say “I’m a flight attendant” and change the subject as many seemed to hear my destinations as a brag. I would get responses along the direction of “oh how nice” or “that’s wonderful.”

It was not unheard of to get responses like “what about your kids?” or “how does that work with your husband and kids?” With my explanation that it was just a job like any other, I would inevitably get the response “it must be nice!” To me, that was the code for travel envy. I quickly learned in conversations to say that I was “going to work” or “going on a work trip.” Always conscious to never say a destination.

As an ex-pat in Europe and Asia, there were plenty of opportunities to travel in those areas. Thankfully I had learned from my professional travel experience to not discuss my travel plans in depth when having conversations with family and friends. Here too, the refrain “it must be nice” was also heard.

It was an honor and privilege to be a flight attendant for over twenty years and to fly to so many unique destinations. However, it was also a job and many times after long haul flights, the only part of the city seen was the hotel room. My personal travel was quite different as destinations such as Bali or Bangkok were planned with itineraries and time to complete them all.

I can certainly empathize with the travel envy now that Covid has canceled so many travel plans for me. But I know as long as I travel, there are many others whose dream of travel is unmet. So, I am very careful in discussing my travel plans and limiting or tailoring those discussions to the audience.

Have you ever experienced travel envy? How do you handle it? Does my story strike a chord? I’d love to hear your take.

Assumptions, travel bias, and micro-aggression.

Assumptions, travel bias, and micro-aggression.

I spent twenty-three years in the airline industry as a flight attendant. 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.

My career started in the late ’80s and people of color travelers were not as prevalent as they now are. As a flight attendant, I had the privilege of standby travel, which meant I flew somewhat free, but that meant I got any seat not taken by a paying passenger (more on another blog post). Often it was the dreaded middle seat, the least desired seat near the restroom, or even on a flight attendant jumpseat, which is often right next to the restroom. I traveled plenty but not often comfortably.

As I began to travel more for pleasure than work, I often chose to fly in premium cabins. I had often heard the refrain “you get there at the same time so why does it matter?” My choice had a lot to do with the fact that in a premium cabin I could expect the type of service I paid for, or in some cases demand it. I say demand because often while traveling as a person of color, there appear to be assumptions that people of color don’t deserve service, much less premium service.

There were many times when the announcement was made for premium cabin boarding, and I would be almost pushed out of the way or looked over by others who did not expect me to be in a premium cabin. Gate agents would often look at me and reiterate the boarding announcement as if I was hard of hearing. Flight attendants would demand to see my boarding card if I paused in the premium cabin to put my bags away. The many acts of travel bias and microaggression often left me with a less than pleasant travel experience.

Have you had similar experiences? If not a person of color, have you ever noticed it? I’d love to hear about your experiences and your thoughts.

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