The beginning of James Baldwin’s love affair with Paris goes like this: In 1948 he bought a one-way ticket to the French capital, and only had $40 in his pocket. That’s how badly he needed to get out of the United States and get away from racism.
Fast forward to 2023, Ron DeSantis’ Stop W.O.K.E. campaign was part of efforts to create a hostile environment for Black people in Florida, and the NAACP ended up issuing a travel advisory in the state due to racism.
So even though travel has been proven to relieve stress, enhance creativity, and boost happiness — barriers to access often leave Black folks missing out on the benefits.
Travel is often seen “as quite inaccessible,” says Anita Francois, founder of Black Travel Summit, an organization dedicated to fostering opportunities within the Black travel community. It “has always been seen as a luxury that Black people were just not allowed to enjoy.”
Less Than Half of Black Folks Have Traveled Internationally
According to data released in 2021 by Pew Research Center, “Black Americans are much less likely to have ever traveled abroad.” Only 49% have done so compared to 73% of Hispanic Americans and 75% of white people. Pew also found only 13% of Black adults had been to five or more countries compared to 15% of Hispanic and 30% of white adults.
Pew’s data revealed having a college degree makes Americans more likely to travel internationally. But even in college, it turns out only 5% of students who study abroad are Black.
Francois took her first international trip from London to Miami at age 7. Since then, she developed a strong passion for traveling and working to ensure that all Black folks get the opportunity to explore the world we live in.
“My love for traveling and my love for highlighting the cultural contributions of the African diaspora are what led me ultimately to creating the Black Travel Summit,” she says.
While travel costs are part of the problem — and the racial wealth gap doesn’t help in that regard — Francois says a lack of Black representation in the travel space keeps many Black folks from believing that travel is possible.
“When you look at marketing campaigns, when you see billboards of these amazing holiday experiences on a cruise line or in another country on the beach, oftentimes, who do you see? You don’t see people who look like you, so automatically, your mind makes it up for you that traveling is not for you,” she says.
The Historical Impact of Overt Racism on Black Travel
There’s also the historical context of Black travel — Black people were not welcome in many places across the United States. There were only “certain hotels that Black people could enjoy, or clubs, or lounges,” Francois says.
As journalist Farai Chideya wrote in The New York Times in 2014, racial “segregation meant substandard seats and service on public transportation; and finding lodging on the road if you were black, in particular, was a challenge, especially in the South.”
That led to the creation of The Negro Traveler’s Green Book, which was published in 1964. Francois says that racism’s lasting impact leaves many Black travelers still wondering where they can travel safely.
How to Get More Black People Traveling
What’s the key to getting more Black people traveling? Francois says connecting the community to other Black folks who are making their travel dreams a reality can make all the difference. She also urges to build community online with brands that are focused on the Black travel experience. She recommends checking out Black Travel Club, Black Travel Alliance, and Traveling Black Women’s Network.
“One of the most important things, especially within the Black community, is community building, Francois says. “We can connect with other people who have experienced a particular destination or hotel themselves and can advise us.”
And, with the climate crisis threatening to erase natural wonders across the globe, there has never been a more important time to travel and see the world. If you’ve been thinking of becoming a Black traveler, Francois says to take the leap of faith because you won’t be disappointed.
“I believe that traveling is extremely important, not only for Black travelers but for the soul. It’s nourishment. It’s food. It’s education. It’s experience.” she says. “It’s life’s greatest teacher, and it’s something we can use as a tool to know more about the world and our place in it.”
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