by Kat Calvin
Traveling alone has never been easier (or safer) for black women. With the aid of technology, globalism and a more open-minded global society, we can travel (almost) anywhere without the fears and worries of the past. And with a new president and first lady, the old perceptions about black Americans are fading away and the negative feelings of the last eight years are giving way to a renewed love and respect for Americans. There is so much to see and experience outside of your front door, and you can do most of it so inexpensively, it would be a shame to allow your passport to have any blank pages just because of a few niggling doubts. Now is the perfect time to explore and here are just a few ways to make your voyage the trip of a lifetime.
1) Research, Research, Research. I’m sure you hear this all of the time but it’s not just because I’m a lawyer that I believe in research. Know about the geography of the region you are visiting, learn a few words in the native tongue and have at least a bare-bones itinerary. Find black-owned businesses, hotels, and B&Bs before you go as they can be difficult to track down when you’re in a new place. Blogs and websites that are geared towards the diaspora in the area you are visiting are often a good place to start. A little knowledge goes a long way and making an attempt to speak the native tongue will go far toward endearing you to people whom may not be otherwise inclined to adore you.
Kat at Urquhart Castle ruins on Loch Ness
2) Pay for the tours! The best tour of my life was a three and a half hour tour of the Sistine Chapel and Vatican museums that cost me 13 Euros (about $16 depending on the exchange rate). I was in Rome by myself and had the second best tour of my life, an educational, if expensive, tour of the Colosseum the previous afternoon. With this on my mind, I begrudgingly paid the fee, cheap as I am, and learned more about the art, history and people of Rome then I ever thought I could. Even if you’re not a geeky history buff like me, take the tours–you never know who you might meet. A Canadian I met during the Colosseum tour ended up giving me a ride all the way to Florence! Taking a tour with a group of people is also a good way to ensure that you are treated better by the locals than you may be while flying solo.
3) Dress like a Parisian and they won’t mistake you for a prostitute. Paris, like many parts of Europe, still has its problems with race and immigrants. Parisian men are apt to think that any black woman they see is a prostitute and many of my friends have been unceremoniously propositioned whilst touring the City of Lights. Foreign perceptions of race are often different – or less well hidden – than those in America and making a good impression from the start will help you avoid trouble. Not to mention that dressing well sometimes gets you invited to fabulous parties, and besides, isn’t it more fun when you look great?
4) Never wear a short skirt in Rome. See above post.*
*Italian men are more persistent than the French!
5) Eat. A lot. Just like most cities in the U.S., immigrant communities in major European cities often have the best food. It’s worth it to go off the beaten path to find a delicious meal. Start by researching the guidebooks (see tip #1) and then find your own way to the most interesting locations.
6) Hostels are a great way to make friends. Traveling alone can be lonely. It can also prohibit you from doing certain things that you don’t think are safe (i.e. I don’t go to nightclubs by myself). Staying in hostels is a great way to save money but they can also be a fun place to meet other solo or group travelers. This is especially true if you’re willing to put up with less-than-five star accommodations! I know black women are often afraid to stay in a hostel but when you’re traveling on a dime it can be a great alternative to pricey hotels. Not all hostels are created equal and a little bit of research will go a long way.
7) Toni & Guy gives great blow drys. One of the most prohibitive aspects of international travel for BAPs is, of course, our hair. Unless you get it braided or go au naturale, extended travel can be a nightmare. This is why I love globalization. There are a few salons that have the same training internationally and these usually have at least one person who can give you a good blowout. My personal favorite is Toni & Guy, some of my best hair days have been after blow out sessions in Paris and Milan. Vidal Sassoon and Aveda are good ones too. But be sure to make your appointment in person, not only do they usually take walk-ins, but when they see your hair they’ll pair you with someone who can do it. And remember, hair is the international language. I don’t speak Italian but hand gestures and smiles were more than enough for a designer do!
8) Talk to strangers. Often when I am on the road by myself I will strike up a conversation with a pair of black women or family whether they are tourists or knowledgeable locals. Just like seeing someone wearing a shirt from your alma mater, being a member of the club has its advantages and people can give you good tips on where to eat, stay or sight-see, as well as a head’s up on places not to go. And who knows, you might even find a dinner partner or travel buddies!
There are few things in the world as incredible as world travel, and after January 20th, a whole new world will open up for BAPs on the road. With a few of these tips and a little planning, you can discover everything that’s out there to enjoy. Go, see and travel well!
Woman in hat: Elvert Barnes
All others: Kat Calvin
Kat Calvin is a law student and BAP traveler extraordinaire from mostly Seattle and Arizona. As an Army brat she has lived in all five regions of the country and Europe. She plans to spend the rest of her life after law school traveling, writing, working towards equal voting rights, and obsessing over the Obamas.