Lessons I’ve learned as a Black traveler
(CNN) – Traveling has given me a solid sense of identity. It is a form of escape where I feel more confident, peaceful and like myself.
I started traveling solo in the early 20’s and, of course, I had some expectations for what I could gain and learn.
I imagined learning about new cultures and traditions, the history of different cities, its people and its architecture. I was hoping to gain a better understanding of religions besides my own and maybe gain some new skills along the way.
And while these expectations have certainly been met, I have realized how the color of my skin can shape my time abroad. These are some of the lessons I learned from my personal experiences.
Ignorance and racism can occur anywhere
There were times when I stood out like a sore thumb in restaurants and cafes because I am the only black woman and the waiters sat me at tables away from the liveliest places, away from the entrance and closer to the back. My orders have been ignored and the service I have received is poor compared to the excitement and smiles given to other customers.
Other times, I was harassed and approached by men, sometimes alone and sometimes in pairs or threes, and asked to take pictures with them.
Congratulations given to me by strangers often offended. I have been told that “I am too handsome to be black” or that the Russian side of my family should be pleased with my features.
The locals compare me unpleasantly to the only black celebrities they seemed to know, regardless of the fact that I do not share similarities with them, other than the fact that I am Black.
Good outweighs evil
Nancy Lova says her positive travel experiences outweigh her negatives.
Courtesy of Nancy Lova
There are places so different in culture that I feel more at home. For example, Udaipur, India, where locals welcomed and tried to learn more about me, regardless of my color.
Here, both men and women were sweet and respectful and I often had meaningful conversations with them in markets, temples or moving on tuk-tuk.
“When I first started traveling solo, I admired the stories and images of travelers sharing their experiences abroad, but one thing that stood out was that they were mostly all non-black. “
We would talk about India’s religion, food and ancient Indian stories, all of which made me feel closer to India and its people.
What was to be a two-week vacation in the Andalusian region of Spain, several summers ago was turned into a three-month stay due to the way I was hugged.
From daytime food shopping to dancing in the evenings and late night dinners at seaside restaurants, every moment was enjoyable because of the people I met.
Tuscany is another place that holds great memories for me and is a place I return to often.
Charm is everywhere in this part of Italy, from its architecture and especially for its people.
Although I was a solo traveler here, everyone felt like family or friend. The locals were sociable and always in the mood for conversation, others looked at my features and what I was wearing, and if I ever felt lost or a little stuck with something, I could believe that someone was close and willing to help.
For example, at one point while driving from Pisa to Roccastrada, I found it difficult to reverse my car through a narrow, narrow road and without having to ask, another driver stopped to help. These are the kind of meetings that keep my love of traveling alive.
Different places have their own versions / views of beauty
Beauty comes in all shapes, sizes and colors, but many countries and cities have their own pattern of beauty.
From rituals that stretch the ears in parts of Africa to the heavy wear of brass around the necks of women in Myanmar, it can be understood to some extent how a long history of different cultures can play a role in the appearance of beauty in some places.
The same can be said for skin color. Darker skin is considered more attractive in parts of the world, while lighter or lighter skin may be preferred in others.
Having preferences causes some to be ignorant and offensive when there is someone who does not fit their standard, but this does not apply to everyone and encouraged me to be more careful and know these patterns when visiting new places.
I also try to adapt to environments where possible, for example to wear longer clothes that cover the whole body and cover my head with a handkerchief to respect the main religion of a place or when in a house of worship.
Black travelers and role models are underrepresented
More blacks travel, especially solos, Lova says.
Courtesy of Nancy Lova
Fortunately, there is now much more representation of blacks in the travel and tourism industry. When I first started traveling solo, I admired the stories and images of travelers sharing their experiences abroad, but one thing that stood out was that they were always mostly black.
From magazines and advertisements to travel brands and their Instagrams, I had a hard time meeting a Black man who shared his stories and suggestions. I longed to see someone like me. The lack of representation was discouraging and often created the feeling that maybe this was a luxury or an experience that was not meant for us.
Travel is a humble experience and can shape our outlook on life
Wandering the world is a huge privilege, as there is plenty to gain. Adventures, whether good or bad, can turn one into a narrator. Regardless of the difference in race, travel can evoke new and meaningful relationships with people you would not otherwise have met.
The journey has humiliated me. I have seen people who have less than me but live richer lives, I have developed less interest in expensive material objects and I understand that there are greater rewards than investing in experiences and creating new memories.
Learning about a country’s culture and dominant religion opened my eyes when I saw why people live a certain way.
Wandering in places has the potential for many to find their identity as it has done for me, to put things in perspective and to influence us to make the necessary changes in life.
There are cases related to Black Travelers
Lova says blacks are underrepresented in the travel industry.
Courtesy of Nancy Lova
Times change and more blacks travel, especially solos, but what I have found from being one of the few Black tourists in a restaurant, museum or square at a time, is that it is rare for locals from some places to see blacks abroad.
As a result, many may still believe that blacks do not travel, and this can make them feel the need to express their ignorance and curiosity, conquer Black travelers, shout racist comments, and make insults.
The concept of world travel, especially solo, is still an unknown idea to some black families. My family has shared fears and reservations about how my color could be dangerous as a way to prevent me from traveling. While I remained determined, I can imagine how many have discouraged their families from pursuing their plans.
Sometimes in my social circle I have come across the view that travel plans require a lot of money and the involvement of friends. If I had followed this opinion and expected others, I would have missed many opportunities.
Although such spots are not exclusively for blacks, this is something I have noticed as reasons that often prevent us from traveling.
There are some tactics that I often use in my travels to try to avoid negative encounters and to give myself peace of mind.
For example, I usually like to stay in a hotel in the heart of a city or close to transportation and amenities to avoid arrangements that are too quiet.
Before I get to a destination, I research reputable taxi companies or local transportation options and have cash ready to pay. It is not uncommon for visitors to visit rogue carriers who charge more and endanger passengers.
Having and storing local emergency numbers on my phone is always key. I try to organize trips in advance and again with reliable companies. Many travel companies have direct phone numbers and WhatsApp details for drivers in case I need to get in touch with someone quickly.
Finally, I keep an open mind.
Race-related issues or concerns can arise at any time, but I try not to let that ruin a trip or thwart plans, but stay positive and look forward to all the good we have to gain.
Moscow-born Nancy Lova is a UK-based travel photographer with an emphasis on light, architecture and lifestyle. Examples of her work can be found on her website, www.nancylova.com and on her Instagram page, @nancylova_