On our way home from our six month honeymoon in India back in 2007, we paid $1000 in excess baggage fees for very few clothes, and anvil weighted books: hard to find travel essays, fiction, Hindi pulp short novels only published in India we ‘d picked up from tiny book stalls in Amritsar, a massive bookstore in a Bombay mall, and one nestled next to a ghat in Varanasi. We of course paid the fee because it was too painful to think of being separated from them. Some of the gems we’ve never found anywhere else, like a collection of essays called, “Indian Travel Journeys” with a gorgeously penned essay by Salman Rushdie that still haunts me when I think about it. Travel books and essays are pretty limited in their diversity on lists and bookstores, not in terms of what’s actually out there, but what gets published and perhaps more importantly, what gets marketed and hyped and actually put onto shelves. It’s the same fate with novels, which prompted me to write this list of 37 novels by People of Color in 2014. But this post is all about my love for travel blogs.
In December, while we celebrated Christmas on the beach in Puerto Rico, 100 “influential” travel bloggers were invited to the White House for a discussion on increasing the numbers and diversity of Americans going on semester abroad programs, particularly those from low income communities. And almost all of the travel bloggers were White. On a discussion of Diversity. And nobody at Hostelling International, who helped make the list, or the White House thought anything of it.
Since I couldn’t find a list combining two of my favourite things: 1) fucking awesome writing and 2) travel writers of color, I decided to write a list of my own. Because I can. This is by no means exhaustive and is intended to be completely subjective unlike the highly scientific Top 25 and Top 100 list of white travel bloggers. I mean travel bloggers. These are bloggers on my radar who write beautifully and viscerally about place, incorporating travel tangentially or significantly. Rather than talk about how fantastic each blog is or who these folks are, I’ve included an excerpt from one of my favourite posts with a link to read the whole thing on their sites.
“A few years ago, on a snowy January evening, a stranger mistook me for someone they had seen the previous week, aboard an evening train heading to Frankfurt. The moment lasted seconds, but our brief encounter would serve as a catalyst for what became a lifelong journey of (self) discovery. As a mixed race teenager growing up on a council estate in the north of England, it was the first time I contemplated a self-image tied with any sort of elegance. Who knows what this other mixed race guy with an afro was like, or why he was going to Frankfurt, or where he came from. For me it was the notion that a stranger stopped me on the street that day, because they thought it was plausible I was a black European traveller. One minute racing through the wintry German evening on a train, the next walking down a street in Sheffield. It seemed to offer a glimmer of a new, positive identity, and ever since I’ve been searching for that person on the 7.30 train to Frankfurt, within and without.”
Continue Reading, “Why Afropean? The 7:30 Train to Frankfurt.”
“For me, one of the most jarring points about apartheid were the dates. You’re not allowed to take photos or video on the inside of Johannesburg’s Apartheid Museum, so I was unable to capture the emotional reactions of everyone that went on the Nomadness trip. Going in as a group, we were immediately split into ‘Whites’ and ‘Non-Whites’ via a label you were given along with your receipt. From the door, you were slammed with the reality of what it was like living in South Africa from the 1940s to the 90s. Yes. Including the 1990s.”
3. Oneika the Traveler
“Allow me to tell you a bit of a story which explains why this phenomenon is problematic. When I was young, I thought travelling was only for white people. Don’t get me wrong, I travelled some with my family: we went to Jamaica to visit relatives and did the occasional road trip to Epcot and the Big Apple. But foreign travel — the type that required dabbling in unpronounceable foreign currencies and plane rides with lengths in the double digits — felt largely out of my reach. After all, none of the black people I knew did it. And none of the books, magazines, TV, or films I consumed heavily in my formative years offered images of voyageurs who looked like me.”
4. Brown Girls Fly
“It was Australia Day, the national holiday commemorating the arrival of the British fleet and the start of its first colony on the continent. For Australia’s first peoples, January 26th is also known as “Invasion Day” and carries with it a sense of cultural mourning. Because of its impact on the indigenous nation, I was torn about celebrating the “civilization of the terra Australius.” My quandary was to picnic or protest. So, I went to Redfern — the Sydney neighborhood that’s home to a sizable urban Aboriginal community — to experience the literal black side of Australia on this day of reflection.”
5. Carol Cain – Girl Gone Travel
“My travels started long before I could fully comprehend the awesome that my solo traveling mom was before I was born. I’ve traveled since I was a baby because I come from a family of immigrants who understood that to learn more and seek out better opportunities they needed to travel. I traveled throughout my entire life for holidays, for moves, to study, in search of myself, in search of careers, and in search of a home. It wasn’t till later that travel became more of a luxury (to travel for vacation, but not necessarily to see family) and now for work, as a freelance travel writer and blogger.”
6. Afros Y Paella
“Life is different now. Life is radically different than, say, a year ago, when I was navigating the streets of Madrid, juggling an exhausting freelance English teaching schedule, on the verge of giving up and throwing in the towel. On the verge of saying goodbye to what was a fairytale, a journey away from normal, a journey towards the rest of my life, towards the rest of myself, away from all the things that ailed my aching heart and my clouded psyche. I needed a reprieve. So, I ran. I ran 5,000 miles away with some sort of courage, with the hope I could start over, that I could forget all the trauma, letdowns, disappointments, ill treatment. I thought if I went somewhere where no one knew my name I could be a different person, a new me, a new woman, a renewed spirit. And, that was the truth, for a while.”
7. Fly Brother
“Brothers and sisters, if you don’t have one already, you need to get yourself a passport. If you do have one, it’s time to use it. As a 35-year-old black man living in Florida, I can honestly say that now, more than ever in my lifetime, I am mortally afraid of inadvertently pissing off some over-eager, trigger-happy jackass with a gun, who would then feel entirely justified in shooting me because he felt “threatened” and knew that he’d be absolved by a jury of his peers of any wrongdoing. No matter how many languages I speak, how many countries I’ve been to, how many degrees I have, how many classes I’ve taught, how many non-black friends I have, I am part of the same pariah class as you, demonized because of my skin color and feared because of my potential – for violence as well as greatness.”
8. Runaway Juno
“I hear all the crazy stories about how people were rude and taking pictures of them without asking, how all the locals were staring at them in a small village, how kids wanted to talk to them and how people proposed to them because you are so beautiful, but I have nothing to share but awkward encounters with locals. Unwanted attention is bad, I know. Who would want to be stared by a creepy old man? But to be honest, do you really hate when kids are following and laughing with you, and wanting to take a picture with you because they think you are the most beautiful person in the world? Is being exotic that terrible?”
9. Tiny Wanderer
“My journey around the world didn’t begin with a round-the-world ticket. It didn’t even begin with a ‘I-will-quit-my-job-and-travel-around-the-world’ thought. Such thoughts were too ambitious for a 23-year old Malaysian girl possessed with fervent wanderlust. I had some cash to my name but not enough. No worthy assets that I could sell to fund my travels. No rich parents to loan me some. No credit cards for emergency usage. No travel insurance. Nada. The only things I have, of real value were time, health and some spunk. So mine begin with a simpler thought: I will take one step, and then another. I never knew where I’d go and where the road will lead me to. I only planned to keep pushing boundaries and see how far that would take me. And as the story goes, my miraculous round-the-world journey somewhat kick started with denied boarding.”
10. Writing Through the Fog
“My favorite kind of “travel writing” — or I suppose writing about place — embarks on an inner journey, and uses a physical location as a diving board into one’s depths, into their mind. On a recent plane ride, I read a lovely piece called “Seeds” by Thao Thai about her grandfather and his garden, growing up, and Vietnam. The post isn’t about “travel,” and yet the journey the writer takes me on is expansive and revealing: about more than just place, and about something within me, my own childhood, and those who are close to me.”