First Time Backpacking Advice For The Black Explorer

Before I began my first solo journey overseas, I was told by friends and family that travelling was dangerous.

Well meaning family members told me that as a young, black woman travelling overseas for 8 months, not only would I face the same risk of attack as other women, but I would likely face heavy discrimination as well.

not true gif, first time backpacking advice

Indeed, one of the things my family asked me to do was to get travel insurance – not to protect against sickness or trip cancellation but so that they could fly my body home when I inevitably got slain by all those bad boys abroad.

They meant well of course, but according to their old-fashioned ways of thinking, black travellers simply wouldn’t be welcomed overseas. Their opinions came mainly from ignorance, fear and the horror stories that they had read about backpackers abroad. Their opinions were…ignored. Except for the travel insurance – that actually was a good idea. Kind of a mandatory idea actually.

You see because, while it is true that backpacking is not as popular in the black community as it is with other races, this is changing. And although it is not totally infeasible that some black travellers will face discrimination when they venture abroad, I think you’ll find that most of the people you are likely to meet will be a mixture of friendly and curious.

Sure there are bad apples, but you’re likely to find these in your home country too.

It is true that you will encounter a high level of curiosity in some cases simply because black people are not as prevalent in many countries across the world, so naturally people are more curious.

For example, when I travelled to Tibet, I was constantly surrounded by friendly, curious locals who wanted to take pictures of me, whereas they rarely took an interest in the white travellers that were on the tour with me. Read more about my experiences here.

tibet, first time backpacking advice

I never took offence at this – it’s all part of the package, and many of my white friends experienced something similar when they travelled to other places.

So I wrote this blog because while I occasionally came across other black travellers during my 8 month trip to Asia, I spoke to a great number of black people in the UK who said they’d love to travel but they are fearful of discrimination or attacks.

Well, I think it’s time to put that myth to bed once and for all.

My other reason for writing this blog is I made so many financial mistakes when I travelled abroad. I don’t come from a culture or a background that is accustomed to backpacking or travelling as a rite of passage, so there was nobody there to teach me the tricks of the trade.

I learned the hard way – by wasting money, missing flights and missing out on potentially awesome experiences. I’ve made all of these dumb mistakes, so you don’t have to.

This blog is primarily aimed at those who always dreamed of travelling the world but were held back by family, monetary or cultural concerns. I hope by the end of it you’ll understand why travel has been such a memorable, important and lifechanging adventure for me, and I hope that it will be for you as well.

Further advice can be found in Part 1 of my first time backpacking advice series, which you can read here.

This blog is focussed more on the cultural considerations and unique experiences of black backpackers, although there is some crossover with the first article I mentioned above.

Future blogs in the first time backpacking series will focus on other groups such as families, older travellers and LGBT backpackers – all of which have their own unique challenges to overcome when travelling.

I’ve tried to condense all of the relevant tips and information within this blog, so feel free to skip to the sections that interest you the most.

So let’s begin with some suggestions on some of the most popular backpacking destinations for black backpackers to give you some hints and tips on where to start your journey.

Popular destinations for black travellers

first time backpacking advice, black travel

The list below is based not only on my experiences but also the experiences of other black backpackers that I’ve met or heard from. I’ve read many blogs that recommend awesome countries in Africa or the Caribbean, which you should definitely visit whenever you get the chance.

However, many of those places are countries where the majority of people are black so they are already on the radar of many black travellers.

Instead, my focus in this particular blog is to highlight 6 of the most popular destinations that you may not have thought about.

The recommendations below are far from exhaustive – but they are designed to give you a few ideas to start off with.

So without further ado, let’s deep dive into some of the hotspots that I suggest everyone should visit at least once.

Thailand

I’ve travelled across the north and south of Thailand and I’ve had nothing but a warm or at the very, very, “worst”, neutral reception when I travelled the country.

It isn’t exactly off-the-beaten-track, but it’s literally got hundreds of spectacular beaches, islands and resorts to explore. Some of these are popular, tourist islands such as Koh Phangan – home of the infamous Full Moon Party, while others are not as well-known.

Anyway, if you’re worried about widespread racism or hostility – don’t be. Like I said, I’ve explored the country widely and I had no problems at all.

Oh and I’ve mentioned this in a few other blogs but if you like cheap – you’ll be right at home in Thailand. I’m talking $5 hostels, and sleeper trains only costing between $10-$20, depending on how far in advance you book.

Read about some of my more unusual adventures in Thailand here.

Japan

Japanese garden

I nearly didn’t go to Japan. I’d booked all of my flights in advance and I thought that Japan would be an expensive detour on my journey. It kind of was but I’m so glad I went. Japan has got everything from peaceful temples, robot cafes, fish markets, geisha shows and ancient castles. I also went on plenty of random boat rides and shopping expeditions.

During my time in Japan, I encountered plenty of friendly faces and extremely polite hospitality staff. I even stayed at a random little hostel where the owner gave me a beautiful tea towel as a leaving present. I never once encountered an unfriendly reception. So if you want to visit the tech capital of the world, I heartily recommend it.

Read more about Japan here and here.

Scotland

Scotland is on my doorstep and I love going there. I went on a birthday side-trip to Scotland during the Edinburgh Festival, where I saw a number of different films, plays and street performances. I’ve also been with my family to some of the more remote parts of Scotland – such as the Highlands.

If you love natural scenery and ancient history, then Scotland is perfect. The Highlands are some of the most dramatic and picturesque mountains in the UK and there are plenty of remote cottages, Airbnb accommodation and hotels nearby.

If you’re into the art scene – then head down to Glasgow – it’s got some of the best art shows, galleries and museums in the country.

South Korea

I was met with a combination of curiosity, smiles and neutrality in South Korea. Many people were curious about my hair and complimented me on it, but it wasn’t frequent or super-intense.

When I was in South Korea, I visited many of the majestic palaces in Seoul, ate delicious Korean cuisine such as bibimbap and bulgogi and then took a side-trip to Jeju Island which had everything from waterfalls, beaches, temples and parks. Hostels come pretty cheap too and you can find plenty of decent accommodation for between $7-$10, sometimes even less.

Here’s something that surprised me about South Korea and I guess it shouldn’t have done – there were plenty of African-American tourists and African immigrants there – especially in the Itaewon district of Seoul and I saw many African restaurants.

The other thing about South Korea was the sheer number of South Korean people that freely came up to me and voluntarily offered their assistance whenever they thought I looked a little lost.

I was just surprised by how popular South Korea was among black people, but I should not have been. I guess that was my own ignorance ingrained from years of family conditioning.

Read more about South Korea here and here.

Italy

Italy was the first stop in my 8 month backpacking adventure. I always knew I wanted to go to Italy but I never knew what to expect. My first stop in Italy was Rome, and I then went onto travel to Pompeii, Naples, Capri Island and Sorrento.

You may have guessed by now that I’m a huge fan of ancient history, which is why I visited the historical ruins of Pompeii. Pompeii is a vast archaeological site and city that was buried under meters of ash and pumice after the catastrophic eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 A.D.

Italy was another place where many people approached me and offered their assistance if I looked a little lost. I found people to be friendly and helpful. A cheap hostel in many of the tourist hotspots will set you back between $17-$20.

There is something for everyone in Italy – awesome shopping cities such as Milan, fashion, natural scenery, ancient history, river boat tours along the waterways of Venice and fine dining.

Read more about Italy here.

Do black people travel?

There’s a myth both inside and outside the black community that black people don’t travel. It’s easy to see where that stereotype came from.

For example, whenever you see travel ads, backpacker websites or magazines, or documentaries about people volunteering abroad, you will very rarely see anybody of Afro-Caribbean descent.

Even the media promotion of volunteers in Africa, will typically show kind-hearted white travellers assisting black children or impoverished black tribes people.

Yet, I’ve worked with black organizations that sent their members over to Africa or Asia to volunteer or explore.

Then there are the hundreds of black people who volunteer autonomously by themselves to teach English overseas or look after children but this is almost never represented in the media.

I volunteered many times when I was travelling and I saw many other black people doing the same.

But “why does it matter?” you may ask. Because our perceptions are partly shaped by the media, so if we just don’t see ourselves, then it gives the impression – to everyone – that it’s just not something we do.

backpacker jobs, teach english abroad,

I saw volunteers of all races when I was overseas in different types of occupations. But black backpackers, volunteers and other ethnic minority volunteers are largely forgotten or overlooked by both the mainstream and alternative media.

backpackers jobs,

Unfortunately, it has become something of a self-fulfilling prophecy whereby many black people have internalized the perception that travel is either not for them or not desirable. That ignorance turns into fear, and so the cycle continues.

And so there are fewer black travellers than white travellers as a consequence.

But guess what?

All of that is changing.

Consider the following research by DigitasLBi. Its research revealed that more than 70 percent of black millennial travelers (black people between the ages of 20-36 who consider travel a priority and who are involved in booking their own travel) would pay more to travel with a brand that understands them and their identity.

According to the research, black millennials make up a pretty large segment of the travel industry. There are nearly 5 million black millennial travelers in the U.S. alone — which is approximately 43 percent of the U.S. black millennial population as a whole.

The majority (94 percent) have taken a personal trip in the past two years, while 76 percent have travelled in the past six months. But they would travel even more and spend more money doing so if marketing and experiences were more targeted toward their identity, according to the findings.

Ronnie Dickerson, VP/Group Director at DigitasLBi, said: “Black millennial travelers are a significant and influential segment of the travel industry, who for some time have been underserved.

“For the last several years, we’ve witnessed the emergence and growth of black travel communities who have effectively reshaped the image of black millennial travel and travelers alike. The impact of black millennials, through buying power and social currency, in an industry rapidly being reshaped by tech disruption and changing travel behaviors, cannot be understated.”

According to Dickerson, the travel industry as a whole has an opportunity to learn, focus, align and help fuel positive travel experiences for black millennials.

first time backpacking advice, black tourists

But here’s my first time backpacking advice to any black traveller that wants to see the world: don’t wait for the world to catch up. Don’t wait for the path to be created for you. If you don’t see a trail created by those who have gone before you, then pack your bags, book your ticket and create your own path. The world is very rarely as bad as what you see in the media.

Our ancestors and forefathers made great strides and unimaginable sacrifices that blazed a trail for the rest of us. So don’t let fear or ignorance hold you back. A path has already been carved for us by the ancient Pharaohs, freedom fighters, politicians and our grandmothers and grandfathers.

All of this has given us the opportunities we have today. Don’t let anyone stop you from learning more about the world. You only have one life and now is the time to live it.

Why aren’t there as many black travellers?

So this leads me nicely onto my next point: why don’t black people travel as much?

While the figures show that there is certainly an appetite for travel among black people, it is also true that there are still fewer black backpackers in many countries across the world, compared to any other race.

Furthermore, there are still far too many black people who believe they will be discriminated against if they go to a country outside of their home country or family background.

For example, some black people are accustomed to going on domestic holidays or vacations to the Caribbean but are uncomfortable with taking trips to Asia or the Middle East.

Actually that is one of the reasons there aren’t as many black backpackers – fear of discrimination and discouragement from people they know.

Other reasons include poverty. For example, figures published by the UK government showed that the largest rates of employment were found in the white British and other white ethnic groups.

Furthermore, 77% of white people of working age were employed in 2017, compared with 65% of people from all other ethnic groups combined.

That was in the UK. Now let’s look at America. According to the Bureau for Labor Statistics, although the black unemployment rate fell to 6.6% in America, it is still an anomalously high unemployment rate compared to every other major racial and ethnic group in the U.S. The rate in April was 4.8 percent for Hispanics, 3.6 percent for whites and 2.7 percent for Asian-Americans.

So clearly if black people are not earning as much as other groups, it makes sense that luxuries such as travel have been put on the back-burner.

However, it is also worth noting that you can also find employment abroad, and if you can do this, then travelling can help you to earn money, rather than lose it. Check out my blog about backpacker jobs here.

backpackers jobs, freelance travel writing jobs

You can also check out my tips about how you can either make money abroad or cut down the costs of travel here.

This website will be updated with regular blogs about budgeting, making money abroad, finding travel deals or cutting the costs of a trip while you are travelling.

While travelling does cost money, it shouldn’t be a luxury reserved only for the rich or privileged and it isn’t – if you have the right tools and knowledge. So keep your eyes peeled for that on this website! You’ll find most of these helpful tips and advice under the ‘Travel Advice’ section.

Finally, and this really applies to black people in the US – it was only a few decades ago that barriers were actively put in place to make it harder for black people to travel. For example, in the Jim Crow era, many airports and hotels were segregated and some hotels didn’t allow black people in at all. This affected any black person that visited the US also.

This led to the publication of the famous book called ‘The Negro Motorist’ by postal service worker ‘Victor Hugo’.

The book contained advice for black people on which hotels, cities, and businesses would be more accommodating to black travellers.

As for black people that lived in the UK during that same time period, it is worth noting that at that time, it was legal for some businesses to put up signs which said: “No Irish, No Blacks, No Dogs” (White Irish people were also discriminated against in the 1960s.)

Now you can argue that those times are long gone, which they are for the most part (although there are still some places in the American deep south that I’d probably avoid for now). However, it’s easy to see how the fear of travel and discrimination became deeply embedded in the psyche of some black people and was then passed down to the subsequent generations.

But now we have a new generation of millennials and Generation X’ers such as myself that have not experienced the same kind of historical barriers to travelling and so have an insatiable curiosity for exploring the world.

The good news for anyone interested in travel is it is now easier than it ever was – even if you don’t have a large budget.

Safety/racism

But racism is a very real issue for many black people. For example, there are parts of Eastern Europe, Ukraine (which has currently got a far-right government in power), Russia, the remote parts of the American South and other countries were racial discrimination may be a possibility.

It would be disingenuous to pretend otherwise. However, if you are concerned about travelling to any country, I’d do your own research first before simply believing media horror stories and reports. Look out for any travel advisory warnings by your government.

The countries I’d be most wary of are countries like the Ukraine where the skinheads have taken over the asylum. I’d also actively avoid countries where there are fairly regular and consistent reports of far-right activity which are not openly condemned, and are instead encouraged, by government officials. I’m not necessarily saying don’t go to those countries, but certainly exercise caution if you are a black backpacker.

Ukraine

Most countries you go to will be relatively safe with no significant increase in the likelihood of racial prejudice. In other words, most people are not a bunch of skinheads or Klan members that will physically attack you or prevent you from travelling freely. It’s always possible that you may be unlucky enough to come across the few bad apples who make nasty comments or try to make things difficult for you for no apparent reason or because of your skin colour.

However, the chances are you’ve probably come across idiots like this in your own country too. You are also unlikely to experience this significantly more abroad than you would in your own country.

first time backpacking advice,

In any case, whatever country you are thinking of going to, the key to remaining safe is to be aware of your own surroundings and take the common sense approach to safety. These include things such as not walking alone in unfamiliar places, being wary of food and drink that comes from strangers you don’t know, avoiding drugs and having a plan of action when it comes to travelling from one place to the other.

I go into this in greater detail in Part 1 of my first time backpacking advice series, which you can read here.

Budgeting

Unless you already have lots of money at your disposal, you will need to budget to save for your trip.

I saved up thousands for my very first backpacking journey overseas. By the time I left after 8 months, I had £3,000 left. But don’t let this scare you into thinking you need several thousand to do any kind of travelling abroad. If I had been a little more prudent, I could have saved up much less money for my trip and still had the same great experiences.

Indeed, some travellers I met were globetrotting for a year and only had £2,000 when they initially left for their trip.

One of the ways I saved money is automating my savings so that a small percentage of my paycheck was immediately diverted to my savings account. I also used budget apps to help me track my spending. Other ways I saved money include: reducing my spending and saving money on currency exchanges by using a prepaid card.

I go into all of these tips in more detail in Part 1 of my first time backpacking advice series, which you can read here. You’ll also find useful information about visas and permits too.

Travel Insurance

Some tourists believe that travel insurance is optional at best, or an expensive hassle at worst. Although it is unlikely that you will face any major catastrophes or medical emergencies overseas, the truth is you can never rule it out completely.

The real benefit of travel insurance is the protection that it also provides against more mundane or more common occurrences – such as flight cancellation, transport delays, minor injuries, tour cancellations, malaria, animal bites.

Let’s face it, you never know what is around the corner.

You’ll find many blogs recommending World Nomads. Many of these bloggers have affiliate deals with World Nomads. They seemed good several years back, but to find out why I don’t recommend them now, I suggest you have a look at the consumer reviews online.

I always recommend reading consumer reviews. And when you do,  – pay attention to the reviews which specifically mention the payouts, because that is what will count when you need it the most.

The company I went with (and am *not* affiliated with) is HolidaySafe.

They protect against most major and minor travel calamities and currently have good reviews. The moment that changes, you can be sure I’ll immediately hunt for greener grass.

How easy is it to find a hostel?

Finding a hostel is as easy as visiting websites like hostelworld.com, Booking.com and Air BNB, which can all help you to find suitable hostels and hotels. For information about finding a good hostel, click here.

What to pack

Don’t you just hate it when you travel halfway across the world and realise you’ve forgotten a whole bunch of things? Or what about when you drive all the way to the airport without your passport?

Fun isn’t it?

I don’t know one person on the planet that has fun with that.

So avoid the hassle and take a look at my packing checklist instead.

Conclusion

If I could emphasise one single point for black backpackers – or indeed anyone – to take from this blog it is this: do not let fear hold you back from pursuing your dreams – especially if that dream includes travel.

I’d never pretend that there are zero barriers for black people wanting to travel anywhere in the world. Instead my first time backpacking advice would be to not let those barriers stand in the way of you seeing the world.

Oh and another thing – as an ex-journalist, I know more than anyone how the media prioritizes horror stories and negative news. Why do you think that watching the news is so depressing?

There’s an old media saying that bad news is good news – because it sells papers.

So just keep that in mind next time you read about black backpackers getting harassed by a group of racists or turned away from a bar.

Of course, that’s not to say that such things never happen. Hell, I’ve had that experience myself in my own city. I’m just not convinced that it’s as prevalent across much of the world as most people imagine.

You were put on this planet for a purpose. So never let other people’s perception of you hold you back from your dreams.

The other thing that holds people back is money. Travel is a luxury so I get why this would be a barrier for some people. All I would say is that if you really do want to go and you have always wanted to travel, then there’s always a way. I’ve referenced plenty of resources and ideas about how to save up and budget throughout this blog and in other blogs.

Another way to save money is to simply shorten the duration of your trip. I saved £12,000 simply because I went travelling for 8 months. But if you simply don’t have that much (most people don’t) then why not go for a month or failing that – a week or two?

If you know how to save cash, then you can buy tickets and shack up in a cheap country for just a few dollars per day minus flight and transport costs.

Or you could earn money either by getting a job or volunteering in exchange for accommodation and food like I did. You’d be downright shocked at how easy it is to do this – even if you have zero relevant qualifications.

There are so many options out there and you’re bound to find something that suits you.

I strongly believe that travel is one of the best things you can ever do.

Remember this: you only have one life.

Ask yourself one question: if you got to the end of your life and you never travelled beyond the place you are now, would you regret it?

If the answer is yes, then now is the time to put a plan in place to go after your dreams!

This blog is designed to inspire you and build an online community where you can get all the resources you need to travel. The Backpackers Travel Hub was created to make travelling accessible to everyone - not just the posh people! So drop by and visit the Facebook Group Backpackers Travel Hub. The group contains exclusive tips, and content designed to inspire, motivate and empower you. No sales or annoying gimmicks - just good, solid content. You can also take a peek at the JaninesJourneys Facebook page here. Happy travels!

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