Entering the world of black female solo travel? Prep for your adventure with all my tips and advice from 4 years of life abroad. Enjoy!
Over the course of 4 years abroad, I’ve met more black women than I can count — living a life of adventure and travel, on their terms.
But when I talk to friends and family in the states, the idea of solo travel is still a taboo…
“You’re going where by yourself??”
“Aren’t you afraid to be alone?”
“Good for you girl… but I could never.”
Because the truth is, in addition to the everyday apprehensions of taking your first solo trip, we all know being a black woman brings an added layer of concerns to navigate, especially when it comes to travel.
Between living in London, traveling around Europe, teaching in Shanghai, and digital nomading it in Thailand (sans partner) I’ve gained a lot of perspective on what it means to travel solo as a black woman. And today, I want to share it with you.
Although I obviously can’t share every black woman’s views, experiences, or opinions, here are all the tips and advice I wish I knew before seeing the world on my own.
1. Don’t Let Fear Deter Your Trip
As a black travel blogger one the first questions in my DM’s from other black women is about fear of a negative experience.
Fear to travel to a certain country because of racism. Fear to adventure to somewhere they haven’t seen black faces in the past. Or fear to take the leap to somewhere new without any friends or family to back them.
First off I’ve been there. Which is why I know all the feels that come with traveling to places you don’t usually see yourself. But think about when you leave a review. If you have a good meal, do you usually write about it?
Probably not. But what if the food is terrible? I can guarantee Trip Advisor will know who you are by the end of the night.
The point is when you’re reading about negative travel experiences from black female solo travelers, there are probably thousands of great experiences to match. But they’re never written about (at least on the internet) skewing your perception of what it means to travel solo, especially as a black woman.
Now, I personally see nothing wrong with talking about bad experiences, in fact, I think this kind of honesty is very needed in the travel space, especially now. But whether it’s my blog or anyone else’s, just keep in mind you’re not going to find all of the overwhelmingly positive experiences of black female solo travelers (and there are many).
So don’t let fear deter you from living your best life.
2. Be Aware of Your Passport Privilege
Being American it’s easy to forget the many privileges that come from what I can only coin as winning the geographic lottery.
Regardless of race, age or gender, being from a Western country comes with cultural privileges and freedoms that are disproportionately unequal.
So if you’re a black female solo traveling from the US, keep in mind you may see a difference in interaction once they see or hear you’re American. I’ll admit, it’s still strange to experience American privilege through travel but not necessarily at home.
But definitely, something to keep in mind before your trip.
3. Be Prepared for the Stares
In the realm of black female solo travel, it’s not uncommon to be in a room of one. Something I hope to see change within the next years, but depending on the destination this could mean ending up in spaces where all eyes are on you.
Again, this definitely doesn’t happen everywhere. But for example, when I was living in the Isle of Wight (a small island off the coast of the UK) there wasn’t a pub I could walk into without at least a few eyeballs curious about my arrival.
Thankfully this usually led to nothing more than a sparked conversation. But if you’re being made to feel uncomfortable with unwanted eyeballs never stay in a space to prove a point. At least for most Western countries, there’s obviously a black population somewhere, i.e they know better.
But when I was living in China and Thailand for example, the stares seemed more of a genuine curiosity than anything — considering the majority of the population is from the same place. In these times, I may choose to make it a travel moment or a cultural exchange (and maybe allow a picture or two).
Overall, choose how you want to respond to it. And try not to let it take away from your travels.
4. And Possible Pictures
Back to the pictures. Before I moved to Shanghai I had heard of the picture phenomenon. When locals (usually in East and Southeast Asia) come up to you and ask you for a picture — or in some cases, take it without asking. But we’ll get to that in a minute.
Now, I’ll admit I didn’t fully believe this would happen to me (for whatever reason). But low and behold at Yu Garden it took all of 5 minutes for me to hear the clicks and snaps.
At first, I didn’t know how to respond. But over time I found if I’m approached nicely I’m usually happy to do it. But if someone is simply trying to snap away without me knowing, I’ll usually approach them and say something…or start taking pictures right back (that usually ends it).
Overall, it’s important to think about intent here. Was it a friendly gesture or did they make you feel like some exotic zoo animal?
Regardless remember whilst you travel it’s not your responsibility to be anyone’s model or camera subject unless you choose.
5. Try to Learn the Language
Now, of course, this is a tip I’d give to anyone traveling abroad. But as a black woman, knowing the language of the country you’re visiting (or at least a few phrases) can work wonders for your travel experience.
Coming from London I had never experienced life in a country where I don’t speak the language. However, it didn’t take me long to realize that if I truly wanted to make the most of my experience in Shanghai, I needed to learn Mandarin.
The truth is, many tourists don’t take the time to even learn basic phrases. So going the extra mile is highly appreciated. In addition, it grants you access to relationships and experiences unattainable to the average traveler, regardless of race.
It’s the reason I was able to spend half my time in Chiang Mai poolside with a lovely grandma from Beijing.
Travel half of Thailand with a woman I met speaking Mandarin.
And discover a new part of myself, one that uses languages to connect to the world around her.
6. Beware of Buying Skin Products
Focusing on Asia here again. But if you’re traveling East-side the beauty standards still heavily revolve around the notion of the whiter the better. Given the millions of dollars Westerners spend in tanning products a year, I definitely wasn’t prepared for this experience.
But when I first went to the 7/11 in Chiang Mai you can imagine my horror when every lotion, cream, and face wash under the sun was promoting skin bleaching.
Needless to say, I needed to find my products elsewhere.
Although the yearn for whiteness is embedded within many societal norms I still never miss an occasion where my skin is called beautiful. Which makes it a really weird space to navigate.
With that said while you’re traveling, be sure to check the skin products you’re buying. And steer clear of anything that contains these ingredients.
7. Bring Hair Products BEFORE
One of the struggles of traveling as a black woman is knowing what to do with your hair. But over the years I’ve learned it’s always better to bring your own products before you travel.
If you’re traveling anywhere within Europe for example, you may be able to find an African hair shop or two. In Asia, forget about it.
Either way, frantically searching for moisturizer or edge cream will definitely take out of your travel time. So be sure to stock up on all your products and pack them in your check-in bag before your trip.
8. Find Other Black Female Solo Travelers
Wherever you go, it’s important to find a community. If you’re traveling solo for an extended amount of time it may be worth it to connect with other black female solo travelers on your journey.
For example, joining a black expat group for Shanghai I connected with Shamira, another teacher living in China who became my travel buddy in Phuket!
But not only that. In a time where I was still experiencing massive culture shock — seeing a familiar face and getting to talk about life back home was heavenly.
From finding hairdressers to celebrating Juneteenth, connecting with other black women through travel has made my journey so much richer.
9. Seek Out Diverse Travel Experiences Before You Go (i.e Black Female Solo Travel Blogs)
Which is why before I visit a place, I like to make sure the content (i.e travel blogs) I’m consuming is diverse. And it doesn’t just mean reading black female solo travel blogs.
Whether it’s from another black woman’s perspective or simply another woman of color, seeing multiple views on travel from people that do and don’t look like me always helps you have a better experience.
10. Share Your Travel Experience
We all know black women are disproportionately left out of travel narratives.
But thanks to social media, we can see these stories! And you can be that story! So share your journey, your experience as a solo traveler, and all the adventures along the way. You truly have no idea what girl or woman you’re inspiring to take their next trip.
In the world of black female solo travel, there can never be enough representation. So take your first adventure and live life on your terms. You deserve it.