It’s a tale as old as time: “Black people don’t travel.” Just a quick search of the internet will land you page after page filled with travel bloggers, travel cliques and more all highlighting the supposedly nonexistent Black travel experience. And then there’s Travel Noire. This isn’t your normal online travel magazine and the bonds it has created weren’t born in a Facebook group. It’s something bigger. In only six months Travel Noire has become the holy grail of Black travel. Its carefully curated brand is about more than fancy trips and travel hacks, it’s about verbally and visually obliterating stereotypes, it’s about community engagement, it’s about us. And with over 7,000 followers, hashtagging over 5,000 pictures on Instagram alone just for a chance to be featured on the Travel Noire feed, it looks like those non traveling Black people agree. For some, orange may be what’s in. But for founder Zim Ugochukwu, travel is the new Black and she’s here to make sure it never goes out of style. Welcome to the cool kids table.
EBONY: The Internet streets are talking and you are definitely Black travel’s new ‘Curator of Cool’, but for those who haven’t heard the news, who is Zim Ugochukwu?
Zim Ugochukwu: I’m a 25 year old "adventure capitalist"—I invest in travel experiences. I’m very much defined by my upbringing. In the 90s, as a child of a single mother, I often found myself roaming around Rochester, Minnesota with my brother. We moved around a lot. I think that’s where I developed my love for exploration. I’ve been playing piano for more than half my life, I’m a designer and avid photographer. I’ve cloned genes linked to genetic disorders, strategized quarter-million dollar funding campaigns and led civic engagement organizations, presenting in workshops, panels and keynote presentations to over 15,000 people worldwide. Right after college, I sold my things and moved to India.
EBONY: In less than a year Travel Noire has become a travel bible for Black travelers. How did the idea come about?
ZU: Travel Noire was born out of frequent encounters with people of color who were skeptical about the reality of traveling abroad. I was hopping on flights to different countries for around $50 and I wanted to share those tips & hacks. Instead of focusing on me, I thought it would be much more powerful if I could empower ordinary people like you and me, who travel all over the world, to share their love of global culture and exploration.
EBONY: Why did you feel it was important to create a platform focused solely on the Black travel experience?
ZU: You know, before starting Travel Noire, I had bounced this idea around to friends. Some told me it should be an all-inclusive venture. But I thought that we needed more. I wanted to create something special and beautiful for people of color. Because we deserved it.
EBONY: What do you think sets Travel Noire apart from all the other travel magazines and groups out there, especially those aimed at people of color?
ZU: People connect to stories. Combine that with a space that makes you feel like it’s designed just for you and you’ve got magic. What sets us apart is authenticity. It’s not enough for mainstream travel magazines to throw a few people of color into advertisements – it has to be intentional & authentic. We cater to the black experience and we’ve got our finger on the pulse. Traveling as a person of color can be very different from the experiences you see most travel magazines advertise. We’re here to fill that void.
EBONY: One thing that Travel Noire seems to be amazing at is social media and community engagement. From Google hangouts and Twitter chats to online fellowships, you really seek new and creative ways to engage your readers. What’s the driving force behind that?
ZU: We really want to support people of color who want to travel. If that means digging deep and hosting hangouts, challenges, courses, conference calls, etc. I’m all for it. I want people out, traveling & living. Our fellowships are really intimate; we set up individual plans to assess travel goals and we ultimately help them hack their way to that destination. We also have this crazy group chat for Travel Noire curators. I’ll just say that there is never a dull moment, ha! We want people to be able to connect to & learn from each other. To supplement the amazing stories from our phenomenal cadre of curators, we recently launched the Travel Noire Academy, an online platform that democratizes learning with travel courses & challenges, handcrafted for travelers of the African Diaspora. Think actionable, tangible steps to get you where you want to go.
EBONY: Speaking of social media, your IG page is giving us LIFE! With over 7K followers, getting featured on the Travel Noire feed has become a major travel status symbol in the Black jetset world. Did you expect it to become such a movement?
ZU: Not at all. In fact, it still surprises me. It’s incredibly humbling and I’m thrilled that it’s been well received. It’s refreshing & inspiring to see so many Black travelers. It really is.
EBONY: Clearly Travel Noire proves that Black people do indeed travel, so why do you think the myth that we don’t continues to be so tough to disprove?
ZU: Perception is reality. What you perceive to be true is your reality. If you grew up in a neighborhood or were surrounded by people who didn’t travel or valued different things like shoes, cars or clothes, your global reality will be much different from someone who chose to surround themselves with global citizens, those who’ve traveled, etc. It’s a gross stereotype that needs some shattering.
EBONY: What factors do you feel hold people, mainly those of color, back from living their travel dreams?
ZU: Fear. We believe that we don’t have enough money. We don't like to travel by ourselves. We’re afraid of what society tells us about certain places. We feed into other people’s opinions. I’ve never let what other people have to say about a country stop me from going. Instead, I go & see for myself. Get out of your comfort zone and explore. Travel is transformative. You won’t come back the same. The US is like .2 percent (gross exaggeration) of the population of the earth. That means that there are 7.7 BILLION more people out there to meet, connect with and share.
EBONY: Where do you see the Travel Noire movement in the next 5 years? Any surprises on the horizon?
ZU: In the next five years, I see Travel Noire crushin’ it! I want Travel Noire to be synonymous with black travel. There are definitely some surprises on the horizon this year, so stay tuned!
EBONY: How has travel shaped your life and view of the world?
ZU: There is something radiantly beautiful about living without the pressures of society. Living in India taught me the power and importance of powering off and not continuously indulging in the work-obsessed culture of the west. Travel reinforces the notion that money isn't always what people need. A lot of times, they just need the knowledge and tools to help build a better future.
EBONY: What experiences do you seek when you travel?
ZU: I’m a pretty mellow traveler. I don’t go out to parties, drink or ‘turn-up’, so I tend to look for really chill experiences. I’m into finding local events, taking cooking classes, beach bummin’, renting a car & driving around, general city roaming, etc. I like authentic experiences. I won’t go to McDonalds in a foreign country unless I really need wifi!
EBONY: As a ‘Curator of Cool’ in black travel, people obviously look to you for what’s hot. Tell me some of your favorite must haves when you travel.
ZU: Minimalism is in. I pack incredibly light. A few weeks ago, I traveled to Italy with nothing but what I could carry on my body. When I travel, I like to keep my hair in a protective style so that it’s one less thing I have to worry about. If I’m on a solo trip, I leave room in my suitcase for things that I may bring back. If I’m with my significant other, I’ll pack an extra pair of heels or a few more dresses. But the overarching theme here is minimalism, so I tend to stick with that. I also love travel apps – Tripit helps organize all of my travel, World Clock allows me to track time zones & Currency+ answers all of my conversion questions.
EBONY: What five countries are on your travel bucket list?
ZU: Iceland, Bhutan, Morocco, South Africa & St. Lucia
EBONY: Three words to describe why Travel is the new Noire?
ZU: Authenticity, Global, Fresh
You can get your daily dose of Travel Noire online at TravelNoire.com, Twitter @TravelNoire and IG @TravelNoire @Zimism.