The historical backdrop of America was built on limiting the movement and freedom of Black people, especially Black women. Today, this continues to limit the ways Black people are willing and able to travel—from limited disposable income, to fear of cultural misunderstanding and the known histories of geographic or spatial racism involved when contemplating whether or not to travel to a certain part of the world—traveling while Black is not always easy. For those navigating this world in a Black body, travel remains an exclusive terrain where we are often ignored in marketing efforts and marginalized in the areas we want to visit. And despite all of these traumas, hesitations, and complexities, still I travel. And now, I am doing it with my 9.5 month-old Black daughter in tow.
“And despite all of these traumas, hesitations, and complexities, still I travel.”
I began exploring the world on my own at 18 years old when I went to South Africa and Lesotho for a winter-term research project. My parents emigrated to the U.S. in their 20s from Sierra Leone, West Africa so when deciding to travel, I relied on their experiences, and my understanding of those memories to navigate my first big trip. Just before leaving, my two professors (both Black women) made a point to explain how we should conduct ourselves as representatives of the United States, the University of Maryland, most poignantly, as Black women. The conversation felt heavy, but I will always be grateful for their precaution. Over a decade later, I better understand the responsibility they must have felt as Black women to protect us as we traveled. I have experienced first-hand the tensions and discomfort that travel can bring when you are in a racialized and gendered society, but equally, I have experienced the liberation and joy travel can bring.
Since my trip to South Africa, I have continued to board flights, take trains and traverse in my Jeep to explore the world, knowing that despite residual traumas or historical barriers, travel is where I feel most free.
“I have experienced first-hand the tensions and discomfort that travel can bring when you are in a racialized and gendered society, but equally, I have experienced the liberation and joy travel can bring.”
Traveling while Black challenges the industry to see us and encourages a future where our movement is unrestricted and without surveillance. That’s why my partnership with TurnKey and their commitment to amplifying Black voices in travel, as well as matching a donation to For Your Birth and Chocolate Milk Cafe – Harlem are important. When brands see us, hire us and represent us, the world does too. Funding Black led organizations is more important than ever. For Your Birth and Chocolate Milk Cafe helped me when I needed it the most. Both organizations were able to support me as I began my journey as a new mother. Together, the directors of these organizations ensured I had birthing support, postpartum care and breastfeeding coaching. TurnKey’s donation will help more Black birthing people get the care and support they need, which will consequently help people to break barriers and create a more equitable future for us all.
1. Sometimes, as soon as I enter a new place it’s as if the record comes to a screeching halt and I am confronted with the awkward reality of people staring. People will stare. In 2019 I decided to spend the summer in Marfa, Texas, a small West Texas town that is easy on the eyes with a population of only 2,000. While there, I felt confident I was maybe one of hmmm five Black people there (at most). Every time I walked into a local place or setting, time stopped as I forced myself to keep walking and not be struck or frightened by the awkwardness. Every step I took I kept saying, “I belong here. I belong here. I belong here. I belong here?!?”
This happened recently again in January of 2021 when visiting Lancaster, PA, a town known mostly made up of the Amish and Dutch community. My family and I set out for yummy pastries and a place to rest our feet for a while. As we drove through the town the lawns were littered with Trump signs. One of the places we visited in Lancaster was a dairy shop known for its variety of fresh ice cream. Upon entering the tiny store that looked as if it never moved past the ’60s, everyone stopped and stared and stared. And I said to myself, “this was to be expected, but still I belong here.” As I ordered my cookie dough and cookie monster ice creams, to the left of me were white locals unmasked and to the right of me were more white locals unmasked. And in this moment I still knew I belonged in this space and that I deserved my ice cream but I did not deserve to feel trapped and unsafe. The beauty and pain of Black travel is knowing that even the space you take up will push societal limits in many areas. I know my presence created agitations in these towns that will better welcome Black people one day, somehow.
2. Find community. Each time I travel somewhere new I know to research and find where the Black community goes to feel safe. Finding community is always integral to elevating my travel experience. And while not always an easy task, when I do make it a priority I have found that the community can offer me insight off the beaten path, provide a sense of identity in an unknown space and encourage my radical journey of self-love through travel. Even when at home, I need validation and affirmation from the people I love and I’ve realized this is even more important while away. The intention was never to make forever friends, just people to enjoy the experience with, but many have turned into lifelong friends.
3. Recruit people to share the memory with. I have lived in Tanzania on two separate occasions. The first time was for 2.5 years and the Facebook posts and emails sent to family and friends back home were not doing the experience justice. I was able to convince several people to fly out and celebrate the joy of East Africa with me. Having loved ones with me to experience being in a space that is homogeneously Black and witness Black people living freely was liberating — it was like my soul waking up over and over again and having a circle of people to be hopeful about our humanity and our history with.
4. You define what travel is to you and how you want it to exist in your life. Many brands and companies have specific visuals and narratives connected to bodies and travel that perpetuate an exclusive and deceptive idea of what it means to travel. Because of this, for the longest time, I thought I was doing travel wrong. I was never comfortable with the glamorized, expensive resort trips. What I do like is to be as close to the community as possible, to infiltrate into a space at my own pace with my own curiosities, and to do it all on a personalized budget. Some of the places I look to for safe, modern and convenient rentals when I travel are Listings Project, Airbnb, and TurnKey. For me, traveling as a Black woman is steeped in self-love and being confident that not only do I deserve to be here but also that my presence is revolutionary. I believe that the people I connect with when I travel and my travel experiences have the ability to transform the world, shatter glass ceilings and change the very fiber of what it means to travel.
In my body as a Black woman who is curvy, natural and queer, travel can be isolating, scary, traumatic, and challenging. It would be neglectful for me not to say this. I have doubted myself on every trip since my very first. In 2017, my family and I went to Sierra Leone for the summer. It was the first time my parents had been back home in 30 years and together we were exploring our home. My family and I did a hike up to a peak that looked out over the whole capital city. My dad said to me and my two sisters, “This is all ours. This is your home. I will never forget where I came from and you all should not either. Go anywhere but this is your home.”
“I remind myself that when I travel I shake the world“
Whenever I begin to feel uncomfortable in a new space, I think about this trip and what my dad said to us. I remind myself that every place I visit is someone else’s home and that as long as I treat each destination with respect, I deserve it back. I remind myself that when I travel I shake the world, because my presence has the power to confront the limitations placed on Black people going back generations, and make room for a new generation where travel looks and feels more like home.
TurnKey is matching our payment to Maureen between two organizations of her choice:
Chocolate Milk Cafe provides lactation support, resources and community for families of the African Diaspora. The disparities that impact Black families in terms of reproductive justice, including breastfeeding are large. Chocolate milk cafe ensures families have peer to peer support and the guidance of a certified lactation counselor.
For Your Birth ensures low-income birthing people have quality support in the form of a doula, childbirth classes, and support groups before, during and after they give birth.
More about Maureen:
Maureen Nicol (@williethewayfarer) is a creative storyteller and content creator currently based in Washington D.C. Maureen enjoys sharing and storying her motherhood journey, personal pursuits, travel adventures, style and lifestyle. Currently, Maureen is a PhD student studying early childhood education at Columbia University. When she is not in school or doing research or chasing her daughter, she is a model with We Speak Agency and also enjoys doing work in the community. Through her honest posts, collaborations and resource sharing, Maureen enjoys engaging with her community and with brands digitally and IRL in order to create ruptures for change and new possibilities because this is how she expresses her commitment to equity, living joyfully and defining her life on her terms.