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For us, by us: 5 black-owned travel groups you should know about

Five groups shaping the Black Travel Movement.

I’ve been very vocal about the lack of diverse faces and voices in the travel industry as a whole (see this post for one of my more detailed rants on the issue). Western travel media in particular is rife with tourism campaigns and travel shows that are practically devoid of people of colour.

Sad as this is to witness, it’s not altogether surprising: the quintessential globetrotter has long been depicted as white.  I mean, when a simple Google search for the term “traveler” yields these images what can you really expect?
Screen Shot 2016-03-09 at 11.37.32 am

But despite not being considered or targeted in mainstream travel marketing, people of colour *are* travelling– for fun, work, education, and spiritual growth– more than ever before.

Especially African-Americans. According to the New York Times, the Mandala Research firm found that nearly one-fifth of African-Americans take one or more international trips per year, and they spend $48 billion on travel within the United States *alone*.

And with the explosion of black travel (often referred to as the “black travel movement”) has come the much-needed creation of black-owned travel startups that provide resources and support for melanin-rich voyageurs.

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With this in mind, I’d like to feature five of my favourites. These companies work hard to provide experiences that are tailored to a more diverse set of travellers; they change the narrative about what travellers look like and how they travel.

These companies go further than just featuring brown skin on marketing materials– they travel to lesser known “brown” destinations, and offer itineraries designed to foster integration and appreciation (rather than just observation and appropriation).

And if that weren’t exciting enough, these five companies are all led by fierce, fearless sistas, who are as well-versed in how to run a successful business as they are in navigating foreign territory. I’m deeply honoured to know them all personally and have gleefully watched their ventures flourish over the years.

So, without any further ado, here are five black-owned travel startups you should know about:

 Nomadness Travel Tribe & TV (for the budget-conscious travel junkie)

The brand: One part web-series, one part online travel community, the Nomadness umbrella was one of the first of its kind. Over 11,000 members strong and anchored by a popping Facebook group, Nomadness is a one-stop shop for the urban traveller looking to see the world by any means necessary. Members can chat travel and trade tips on the forum, arrange international meetups, participate in group trips, and rock branded merchandise that identify them as part of what is affectionally known as “Tribe”. While adherents may be hardcore in their pursuit of passport stamps, they are also so close-knit that the unofficial tagline of the group has become “Family by Choice”.

EvitaR

The leader: Plucky Evita Turquoise Robinson is as vibrant as her middle name suggests. A native of New York, she’s a born hustler and innovator– she initially started NomadnessTV as a way to record her experiences living in Japan, France, and Thailand and show other black people that they could travel too. She is also the brainchild behind NMDN ALTERnative Travel Conference, the first ever travel conference geared towards urban travellers. (Shameless plug: I spoke at a panel about travel blogging there!)

How to join: Tribe hopefuls can apply to join the group on Facebook by searching for Nomadness Travel Tribe on the site.

Up in the Air Life (for the traveller who enjoys the finer things in life)

The brand: A self-proclaimed “upscale travel company dedicated to social adventures”,  Up in the Air Life specializes in creating lifestyle experiences for working professionals who enjoy the finer things in life. While this travel tour company’s online forum explicitly states that it’s open to all travellers, its owners and employees are all people of colour, and its tour offerings (which boast jaunts to places like Haiti, Brazil, and Colombia) are skewed toward locations that comprise the African diaspora. Members (known as Lifers) are wanderers who not only explore the world in style but live life to the fullest.

ClaireS

The leader: Software sales rep and travel enthusiast Claire Soares is an adventurer at heart: I first met her in London (where she flew, on a whim, for 48 hours from the U.S.) then in Madrid, Spain (the day before she ran with the bulls in nearby Pamplona).  Affable and fun, Claire’s zeal for life and knack for planning group trips for family and friends prompted her to found UITAL.

How to join: Sign up for UITAL’s tours on their website and join their Facebook group for updates and travel advice.

Bucket List Beasts (for the adrenaline junkie)

The brand: Bucket List Beasts is the startup that takes adventure travel to another level.  Offering adrenaline- filled experiences that push the envelope (and the limits of your sanity), the emphasis is on living each day as if it were your last. Members post pictures of themselves bungee jumping, shark diving, and drinking shots of cobra blood to the group’s online forum, and go on hosted trips to extreme destinations as far flung as Antarctica. Like surprises? Last year the enterprise hosted a mystery trip to Easter Island where attendees had no clue where they were going until they got to the airport. If you’re looking for a group that will excite you and challenge you to break out of your comfort zone, this is it.

SonjiaM

The leader: It’s not hard to see why Sonjia Mackey is known as “Lioness” to her friends and acquaintances.  After all, she embodies her feline counterpart in every sense of the word: she’s a fearless bosslady with a competitive streak. Carpe diem personified, Sonjia has travelled to all 7 continents, done the world’s highest bungee jump in Macau, and swum with crocodiles. If it’s extreme, Sonjia has done it, and would like to inspire you to do it, too.

How to join: Search for the Bucket Lists Beasts group on Facebook.

Travel Noire (for the savvy, ultra-hip traveller)

The brand: With features in major media outlets like CBS, The New York Times, and TIME Magazine, Travel Noire is the little startup that could. Now a huge digital platform dedicated to making travel more inclusive, Travel Noire’s slick Instagram feed (which has amassed an impressive 200,000 followers) was one of the first to share a steady stream of real travellers of colour interacting with jawdropping foreign backdrops.  The message is loud and clear: not only do we travel, but we look darn good doing it. Artisanally crafted group experiences and travel education are at the core of the company’s mission– group trips to places like Bali are offered alongside online seminars teaching newbies the art of travel hacking.

ZimU

The leader: Zim Ugochukwu is a visionary, wise beyond her years, and used to thinking outside the box. At 19, she cloned a gene and was the youngest precinct judge for the state of North Carolina, and this year she was included in Forbes’ prestigious 30 under 30 list.  Despite these heady accolades, she radiates light and humility– something I couldn’t fail to notice when we both served as travel experts on Toyota’s digital campaign for the 2016 Avalon.

How to join: Go to Travel Noire’s website to find information for upcoming excursions as well as details for how to join their online community #TNDistrict.

Tastemakers (for the traveller who has Africa on their mind)

The brand: This company’s slogan is bold but sets the tone for its mission: jetsetters are encouraged to “Travel Africa, Skip Mediocre”. With bespoke itineraries promoting immersive experiences in less-touristed places like Senegal, Rwanda, and Ghana, Tastemakers Africa is changing global perceptions about travel to the continent. It also has a mobile app that links curious travellers to unique cultural experiences from Cairo to Cape Town and Addis Ababa to Accra. At the forefront of the movement to use technology to empower people of colour to see more of the world, this insider’s guide to experiences in the Motherland is perfect for the traveller who wants to scratch beneath the surface.

CheraeR

The leader: Cherae Robinson has gone where few (wo)men have gone before in her quest to encourage more millenials to travel to Africa. This tenacious entrepreneur has worn many hats in her professional tenure (she has expertise in fundraising, media, and international development) and her work with humanitarian and public health agencies like the CDC, WHO, and CARE means that her resume reads a bit like an ad for alphabet soup. This superwoman, cited as one of the 10 Women to Watch by the United Nations, responds to the demands of a rapidly growing startup with aplomb.

The Takeaway

Bottom line: The Black Travel Movement is growing at a spectacular rate and being shaped by groups like the ones highlighted above. Spread the word!

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27 Comments

  • Reply
    Dafina Good
    March 9, 2016 at 4:12 am

    Brilliant write up Oneika! I couldn’t agree more! Amazing Black female Entrepreneurs!

  • Reply
    Adrienne Lee
    March 9, 2016 at 4:56 am

    Thanks for the info, I’ve connected with most of the groups via social media, but always like to connect with more. I’d also like to add my own group, Black Folks Travel Too. My husband and I have traveled for 30 years and have always been concerned about the lack of diversity in the media when it comes to travel. We started the group last year and have more than 2400 members. I also write a weekly blog at http://www.blackfolkstraveltoo.net.

  • Reply
    Ashley
    March 9, 2016 at 6:38 am

    I’ve had no luck with Nomadness and find them to be a little elitist which had me very discouraged for a while. The same with Travel Noire – I feel like their posts are for those who have so much money to blow on luxury all around the world. I very much agreed with your post about how travel isn’t for everyone and we need to stop making it seem like it is.

    I’ve been trying to find a black family travel group/site. We would like to start a family soon but I don’t want the fun to stop there!

    Thanks, Oneika! Love your blog 🙂

    • Reply
      JR
      March 9, 2016 at 4:41 pm

      Most of the TN members (including myself) are working class people. The only “elite” aspect of the group is the knowledge. That’s where the magic is. It sounds like you may not be aware of all the tricks available so it could easily appear that there is a lot of money involved in the illustrious travel photos. If they did spend a lot of money, they’re doing something wrong. As an example, you can very easily find ways to go to say, Thailand round trip for about $700 with little effort. If you actually apply yourself you could definitely go for less.

      • Reply
        Ashley
        March 11, 2016 at 5:13 pm

        When I say that I was disappointed in Travel Noire, I’m actually ONLY referring to the hotel reviews that they would post for beautiful resorts/accommodations in Thailand. I’ve been to Thailand and definitely went for less, on points and miles too. I know the game pretty well which is why I was discouraged to get really into TN last year and see that these were the kind of places they were reviewing for “working class people”. That’s why I love Oneika. She finds affordable and comfortable accommodations that don’t break the bank.

        Like this link right here in Phuket found on TN’s website: http://travelnoire.com/phukets-hidden-oasis/?hvid=3nUVcC

        Who can pay $6,000USD for a 4 night stay? Who and better yet, HOW? I work. I’m not there yet. I spent less than $6000 for two people in Thailand for 11 days. I’m sorry if I offended you but to me, that’s not encouraging “working class people” to see the world. And if they do, it will be once every few years with those prices/resorts.

        • Reply
          Soroya
          June 2, 2016 at 2:57 pm

          Ashley,

          I had the same experience with Nomadess and Travel Noire despite the fact that I’ve traveled to more than 16 countries (countless repeat visits to my favs) in less than 10 years. However, I joined UITAL and they are very welcoming and a fun group. I consider myself a Lifer.

          • Oneika
            June 7, 2016 at 11:53 pm

            Sorry to hear that but glad you are enjoying UITAL!

    • Reply
      Fabienne Bruno
      April 24, 2017 at 1:23 am

      Askley don’t be discourage. I feel the same way, but the good news is there’s more people out there who would like to do same, with a bit of a budget. I would love to find traveling buddy, I speak fluent French & Créole. I have another friend with the same idea, who also been in quite a few places. We can start traveling together and start our own group. 😊👭👭

  • Reply
    Patricia Clay
    March 9, 2016 at 12:10 pm

    Other than following you, I’m a member of Bucket List Beasts and I follow Travel Noire on Instagram. Such a great article, Oneika!!! All you ladies are an inspiration!

  • Reply
    Leah
    March 9, 2016 at 6:04 pm

    Thank you for this! As a soon-to-be traveler who has also noticed the stark void of travelers of color (I gleefully sent a girlfriend of mine your blog link recently in hopes to share a “rare black female traveler”!) this list excites me. I love our people, always seeking a void and filling it – POWERFULLY. I will look into some of these groups for possible membership. Thank you!

  • Reply
    C. Walker
    March 10, 2016 at 3:14 am

    Sigh – tried for years and gave up on Nomadness. We love the pictures of Travel Noir . Our new favorite is Tastemakers and we would love to join them on a trip one day!

  • Reply
    Adrina
    March 10, 2016 at 3:16 am

    Great list! I had no luck getting in Nomad even though my friend tried to get me in….but it’s all good. I’m blessed to have a group of friends who like to travel. We’ll be Nairobi & Dubai bound in June!!!!!!

  • Reply
    Tiffany
    March 10, 2016 at 2:13 pm

    Great list Oneika. I love Travel Noire! Interested in Tastemakers so I’ll be checking that out too.

  • Reply
    Nevile George
    March 10, 2016 at 4:21 pm

    We. Do. River tubing, hiking, horse back riding, nature tour, cultural package. Private corner, and lots more

  • Reply
    Arika W
    March 11, 2016 at 10:03 pm

    Bucket List Beasts sounds right up my alley! So does Taste Makers. Now if only my bank account would agree with me.

  • Reply
    rosemaryreed
    March 12, 2016 at 3:34 pm

    Her comments remind me that in 1960s..there few Blacks skiing.

    NOw there are all sorts of Black skiers,etc.

  • Reply
    Ava
    March 13, 2016 at 8:06 pm

    I can’t seen to find nomadness travel tribe

  • Reply
    NT
    March 28, 2016 at 7:59 am

    Where are the black male entrepreneurs these day? 🙂

    Great list nevertheless. I’m aware of most if not all. I believe what these wonderful creatives, including yourselves, Oneika, are doing goes beyond traveling to seek pleasure. The greatest change one can bring about is one that impacts on peoples’ attitudes and minds. As I travel and see so many caucasians and increasingly Chinese touring the world, I know they are all taking back invaluable and priceless knowledge back home. No country has ever become great by isolating it’s people from the rest of the world. Travel broadens the mind and shows people what unlimited possibilities is all about. I was amazed to see how the common corn on the cob was seen as such an important street food inIstanbul. Seriously, there were queues to get the stuff – either roasted or boiled with a sprinkling of another common ingredient – salt. How I wish I could make my own people see how others, on the other side of the world, are making a fortune from the common corn on the cob, a product that is so abundant and cheap in my little corner of the world – Ghana.

  • Reply
    Charles Mcfadden
    May 17, 2016 at 11:40 pm

    I love your posting. It’s encouraging to see your travels around the world. I have travelled to Southeast Asia,Vietnam, Thailand and Taiwan. I have also been to Germany, France and the Netherlands. I have yearned to see west Africa. Keep the posting

  • Reply
    Terri Boysaw
    June 4, 2016 at 1:54 am

    I couldn’t read the entire article because of my hurriedness to tell those who have read this article that it misrepresents the facts that there are a plethora of Black owned female travel agent entretravelnuers. I’m just in shock that this type of rhetoric is being printed without obvious basic journalistic research; and, I’m not just talking about on the internet. OMG! Please please don’t believe everything you read. For those who want to investigate the THOUSANDS of Black owned travel agencies all over this world, you can for one start with Mytyme2travel.paycation.com. I wish these beautiful ladies well and mucho success, but do your research people. WE ARE out here in the travel world and we are customer service friendly and definitely, not elitist!

    • Reply
      Oneika
      June 7, 2016 at 11:51 pm

      Hi Terri! I never said female travel entrepreneurs don’t exist- quite the contrary! My point is that we often aren’t highlighted in the mainstream. As for the post itself, I’ve chosen to feature 5 of my favourites. 🙂

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    gsutiger
    August 31, 2016 at 1:27 pm

    Tastemakers is exactly what I have been looking for all of these years!! I was giving up on finding tours in Africa that was non-safari (as if there are only animals in Africa), culture, art, etc….. I hope they respond to my e-mails. I would love to support them.

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    gsutiger
    September 1, 2016 at 7:13 pm

    After 3 days of no response . .. .Is Tastemakers Africa still in business?!?!?!

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    Tawanda Thomas
    January 6, 2017 at 9:38 am

    Nice read. Thanks for the write up

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