To live the life advertised in most ads for life-changing travel retreats and resorts, it often feels like a person needs three things: A thirst for adventure, the desire to have fun, and to be an upper middle class white woman. Meet those specifications? Then all those experiences that the happy models and actors are having in those ads can be yours. If you’re a woman of color looking to travel alone, however? These retreats look like an unattainable dream. Throughout my life, I’ve felt intimidated by the thought of going on a group travel retreat, scared that I’d be like a square peg trying to fit into a round hole, or “othered” in some way because everyone else I see taking these types of trips don’t look a thing like me. Imagine trying to explain why you’re not up for swimming in a waterfall because the battle of detangling your hair afterward is too much?
My experiences traveling in groups have been peppered with situations that confirm my fears. While studying abroad in college, I traveled to Barcelona, Spain with a group of girls who didn’t identify as women of color. Together, we all walked into the city center to explore the nightlife — and while we were all looking for a bar, a man came up to me and asked “how much?” I was flabbergasted, looking around in disbelief — he thought I was a prostitute because I was the only black woman in the group. In that moment, I wished I had someone who understood that these types of situations happen to black women on the regular, and someone who would do more than awkwardly laugh him off and walk away without paying it much attention. Some sense of support from someone who gets it.
It’s not that the market simply isn’t there for women of color who want to travel. According to the New York Times, research from the Mandela Research film shows that 17 percent of black Americans take at least one international trip per year — but black travelers are still often left out of travel campaigns and advertisements. For a single black female interested in having those life-changing travel experiences we all hear about, this can be downright disheartening.
I’m not the only one who has felt this way: According to a study done by the Global Wellness Summit, wellness trends are beginning to show that black women are not OK with being left out of the travel community — and many women of color are taking the challenge of solving the lack of representation in travel into their own hands. Women of color entrepreneurs like Tameika Gentles, Jakiya Brown, and Tillie Eze, each of whom decided to create their own respective travel retreats aimed at women of color and African-American travelers. Each retreat, in its own way, aims to foster an environment for women to create real, meaningful experiences for themselves while feeling part of a group, as well as learn more about themselves in the process.
For Gentles, the need for women of color-specific travel groups was highly personal: While living in Bali, she herself was once the traveler who felt she was the only black woman amongst seas of travel groups and retreats that poured through the region. Already known for chronicling her fitness journey on her Instagram, Gentles used her platform to create The Whole Experience Retreat: A travel retreat focused on supporting guests to live well-balanced lifestyles, as well as offering comfortable space for women of color to explore the world.
“The retreat industry is very linear, and it was time for change,” Gentles tells Bustle. “While our retreat is open to everyone, it is a place where women of color can feel comfortable, which is a really special attribute to the business […]. With the political climate we’re in, it’s great for women of color to have a safe space filled with positive energy that they can come to.”
Similarly, The TravelingFro Teranga Retreat seeks to add more diversity to the travel community, and was established by Brown as a direct result of a life-changing experience she had in West Africa. As Brown tells Bustle, spending time exclusively among people that looked like her made her feel empowered by her blackness, and she was reminded of her worth. She no longer had feelings of being that “token black girl who made it out” — in West Africa, she was a thriving woman in a sea of other successful black people.
“There are so many resources out there for white women, and while that is great, as black women we don’t feel represented or like we can relate,” Brown says. After experiencing West Africa, Brown decided that it was something every woman of color should experience once in their lives — and so, she started a retreat that focuses heavily on taking a closer look at the cultural richness of Africa. “It is always more rewarding to join something and be a part of a story where the people leading it look like you, can relate to your journey, and have a common understanding. The Teranga Retreat isn’t only for women of color, but has a heavy focus as I am one myself.” Unlike the typical places you would expect tourists to travel to in Africa (Egypt, Morocco, and South Africa), Brown’s aim is to empower women of color to learn more about their roots and the continent. “Retreats are essential for community,” Brown says. “It is in our nature as women of color to commune. It is what we know, how our ancestors have worked and those before them. When we experience retreats and connect with like-minded people, it just further fuels our magic and energy.”
That’s also what Eze is looking to accomplish with her new retreat, Moon Me In Sitges, which is coming to Spain this November — but, she’s doing it with a twist. Eze tells Bustle that the premise of her retreat is looking to the energy of the moon to guide women travelers, providing the optimal moment for them to become anew, meditate, and be more at one with themselves.
“Women of color deserve a space where they walk in and can breathe a sigh of relief, knowing that the other self-identifying women in attendance already have an essential layer of understanding of their struggles,” Eze tells Bustle. “There is nothing more draining than entering a place intended for healing, where you have to break down a racial or cultural layer that you were born into because others there haven’t and most likely will never experience it, or even care to. Think about how Black women are less likely to be taken seriously by medical doctors based off social stereotypes, resulting in higher complications including death. Honestly, you can replace ‘medical doctors’ in that last sentence with anything, and it still rings true.”
Why the moon aspect, though? According to Eze, “healing and holistic practices are indigenous to people of color, but it was seen as savage, or unholy, by colonizers. Now we are in a time where our practices have not only been co-opted by white people, but it’s been regurgitated and sold back to us at an inflated price.” Through Moon Me In Sitges, Eze encourages women of color to take back their power and cultural roots, and embrace it.
These groups all foster a sense of community and support that can prevent anyone from feeling as alone as I have before. Though each are vastly different in nature, adventure level, and experiences offered, the common denominator is responding to the very real need for supportive environments specifically catering to women of color, who, like me, may have felt they didn’t belong within a group of travelers. While Eze’s may harness the power of the moon to help her guests find happiness and liberation from the stressors of the modern world, Brown’s is focused on promoting the rich cultural offerings that the continent of Africa has to offer, and Gentle’s looks to help others become more at one with themselves, the bottom line is clear: None of these women felt as if there was a space for them within the travel retreat world, so they made one for themselves.
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