From hosts on well-known travel programs to popular travel bloggers on Instagram, the travel industry has not been representative of people of color. Over the past few years, there has been a surge of black millennial travelers documenting their travels online known as the Black Travel Movement. Now, there are many prominent black travel bloggers, tour operators, travel photographers, and communities online.
These black women are the movers and shakers, the tastemakers and innovators of the movement. They are award-winning journalists, entrepreneurs, pilots, and hoteliers who are directly influencing how mainstream media represents black people in the travel world. We’ve gone from not being able to travel after dark in sundown towns across America’s deep south to flying all over the world. These eight black women are the epitome of black girl magic and they are steering the ship to help change the narrative around blackness in travel.
1. Kelle Edwards — the first black woman with a show on the Travel Channel
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For years, there has been a stereotype placed upon the black community that we aren’t adventurous, don’t indulge in watersports, and only travel to destinations within our comfort zones — think Miami or Vegas. Kelle Edwards is an adventure travel journalist known online as Kelle Set Go and she defies each of those stereotypes. From her days in the newsrooms as a travel editor to being an on-air personality for a travel news segment, Kelle is changing the narrative around black adventure travel.
Kelle is paving the way for other black media professionals as the first black woman to host a show on the Travel Channel. On Mysterious Islands, Kelle explores some of the worlds lesser-known remote destinations. A licensed pilot and expert scuba diver, Kelle visits places like Sapelo Islands in Georgia where she introduces the audience to the culture of the Gullah Geechee people — direct descendants of West African slaves. In another episode, she takes viewers to Sulawesi, Indonesia, where she explores caves in which the locals live amongst their dead ancestors.
If you’re an adrenaline junkie, as Kelle often refers to herself, you’ll enjoy watching her travel the world by land, air, and sea. Historically travel media has been dominated by white men, and Kelle Edwards is helping to redefine what black travel looks like.
2. Evita Robinson — CEO & Founder of Nomadness
Over the last few years, the online black travel movement has bloomed. Black people have been traveling, and mainstream media is just starting to take notice. Evita Robison’s travel community, Nomadness Travel Tribe, was a catalyst for sparking the surge in black millennials documenting their travels online.
Nomadness Travel Tribe was founded in 2011 by Evita and was the first digital travel community for black millennials. Nomadness came out of the gate swinging with thousands of members within the first few years of the company’s existence. Evita led Nomadness group trips to places like India and Brazil. She has been instrumental in influencing other black millennials to travel with projects like the Nomadness college RV tour to various HBCUs (Historically Black Colleges and Universities) across the country and a travel web series co-produced by Issa Rae of HBO’s Insecure.
Evita has consistently done work that brings awareness to the underrepresented demographic that is black travelers. In 2017, she gave a powerful Ted Talk aptly named “Reclaiming The Globe” where she poetically told the story of how black travel has evolved. She explains how black people survived the horrors of sundown towns in the Southern United States to literally being able to fly all over the world.
Her innovation in the travel industry doesn’t end there. Last year, Evita created the first festival designed with POC travelers in mind. AUDACITY Fest was held in Oakland — a city that’s known for its history with the Black Panthers — a bold statement in itself. The festival featured panels with industry experts and well-known black travel bloggers. AUDACITY also addressed other pillars of travel including wellness, culinary, self-care, budget, adventure, and luxury travel. This year, AUDACITY Fest will be held in Memphis, Tennessee, September 27-29, and any black travelers looking to find their travel tribe should be there.
3. Johanna Franco — created her own YouTube travel show
Black women are multifaceted as depicted in our list thus far. Johanna Franco of the popular online empire Damon & Jo is no different. The 20-something black traveler originates from Brazil, grew up in Connecticut, studied abroad in Paris, and travels all over the world. Jo’s global identity and love for travel have helped her learn six languages, and she can often be seen on her YouTube channel switching between English, Portuguese, French, and Italian all in the same video.
The motto of Damon & Jo’s YouTube channel has been “Shut Up & Go” for a few years, and Jo’s content inspires her million-plus subscribers to do just that. She has produced content on topics like getting shot during Brazil’s carnival and tips for conquering the fear of flying. Last year, she and her cofounder launched an official Shut Up and Go travel platform, which is home to articles on topics from STI testing abroad to language learning. The brand has grown quickly and now has contributing authors from all over the world and even its own Shut Up and Go merch.
Johanna often talks about her childhood as an immigrant growing up in the states and the struggles she and her family faced. She is a triumphant black example of the American dream that we’ve all heard about our whole lives.
4. Jessica Nabongo — set to become the first black woman to visit every country in the world
Jessica Nabongo, known online as “The Catch Me If You Can,” is traveling through Iran at the time this article is being written. Last week, Jessica was boating on Inle Lake in Myanmar, and before that she was dancing in the streets of Trinidad for Carnival. Jessica is currently on a quest to be the first black woman to travel to all 195 UN recognized countries in the world. The Ugandan-American and Detroit native has already visited 159 countries, making her one of the most inspiring black women in the travel industry.
Besides gallivanting around the globe, she uses her online platform to share the realities of what it’s really like to travel to every country in the world. She doesn’t sugar coat her travel experiences but instead shares how hard it is to logistically plan her around-the-world trip.
Her transparency online keeps her audience tuned in. Whether she’s sharing stories about the difficulties of obtaining a visa in certain countries or the realities of traveling around the world as a dark-skinned black woman, she keeps things candid. Most impressively, Jessica’s traveling journey didn’t start recently. She has been traveling internationally since she was a child and visited eight countries by the time she graduated from high school.
When asked why Jessica wants to visit every country in the world, she answers by telling people that her journey is about breaking stereotypes and normalizing blackness around the world. Jessica’s journey is inspiring many black travelers to get out there and see the world unapologetically all while dismantling the obstacles placed upon us.
5. Zim Ugochukwu — founder of Travel Noire
With the rise of the black travel movement online, Travel Noire has become synonymous with black millennials who travel. Zim Ugochukwu is the founder and former CEO of the trailblazing boutique travel company. She founded Travel Noire early on in the movement, and the company remains a prominent outlet for black travelers. With just one scroll on their Instagram feed, you will see them highlighting black-owned restaurants in their food series, Savor, or featuring black travelers in beautiful destinations around the world.
The company was founded in 2013 with a mission to help travelers get back to their truest selves by giving them the tools they need to see the world. Travel Noire organized group retreats to beautiful destinations like Zanzibar and Johannesburg — which often sold out in minutes. In 2017, Zim sold Travel Noire to a black-owned media company, Blavity. Since then, she has been openly sharing her journey as she navigates through life post-Travel Noire.
Zim’s innovation in the travel industry and dedication to pushing blackness in travel to the forefront has not gone unnoticed. Travel Noire has given many black travel bloggers, photographers, and entrepreneurs their first opportunities in the world of travel media. While Zim is still traveling the world and documenting it online, she has since started an inspiring podcast exploring the many seasons of a woman’s journey through life.
6. Oneika Raymond — journalist and host of digital Travel Channel series
Oneika Raymond’s travel story started when she began teaching abroad. When Oneika started blogging 14 years ago as an expat teacher at international schools in places like London, Hong Kong, and Mexico, there weren’t many others doing it too. Known by her audience as Oneika The Traveller, she’s been blogging and traveling full time for the last few years and creating the space for other black women to do the same.
The journey to landing a web series on the Travel Channel and becoming an award-winning journalist has not been easy. She spent 2016 building up her online presence and pitching her work in travel writing, ultimately giving herself one year to make it as a travel media professional. And she nailed it. She now hosts digital travel shows “One Bag and You’re Out” and “Big City, Little Budget” for The Travel Channel.
When she’s not hosting, you can find her speaking at festivals like Women’s Travel Fest or writing online for brands like Marriott. Her Instagram feed is always full of insightful travel tips, and Oneika often speaks candidly about her experiences as a black woman navigating travel.
7. Sheila Johnson — CEO & Founder of Salamander Hotels & Resorts
Not only are black women changing the narrative in travel media but they’re also disrupting the hospitality industry. Sheila Johnson is the CEO & Founder at Salamander Hotels & Resorts, a portfolio of luxury hotel properties across the country. In 1979 she co-founded well-known cable television network BET. Today, she owns and operates seven luxury hotel properties in Virginia, South Carolina, and Florida.
Salamander Resort & Spa, located just outside of Washington DC in Middleburg, Virginia, is one of Sheila’s biggest properties, sitting at 340 acres across DC’s horse and wine country. She is one of the first black women to reach a net worth of one billion dollars and is part of America’s top 1%, which is overwhelmingly filled with white men. She often speaks out about how proud she is to be an example for other black hoteliers and entrepreneurs.
8. Cherae Robinson — CEO & Founder of Tastemakers Africa
Traveling to the continent of Africa is an incredible journey that many people of the African diaspora want to do. Information about traveling to African countries hasn’t always been accessible, and the media has depicted Africa in a negative light for far too long. Cherae Robinson is shifting that narrative with her travel startup, Tastemakers Africa. Tastemakers Africa connects local insiders — think DJs and artists — with curious travelers who want to explore African cities beyond the typical safari.
Tastemakers Africa has been pivotal in helping to change the worldwide perception of African countries. Through immersive cultural experiences, planning group trips and leveraging media, Tastemakers has been able to bring hundreds of black travelers to the continent for life-changing trips.
Cherae’s background in international development with an NGO is what sparked her travels to the continent. Tastemakers began from the curiosity she received when she posted images from her work trips in countries like Zimbabwe and Sierra Leone. She saw this as an opportunity to start a travel group and chartered a private plane of 80 young people to West Africa with her — and soon after Tastemakers Africa was born. Tastemakers highlights the unique experiences travelers can have with music, art, and food from Accra to Johannesburg.