Tulum’s beaches might still be covered in matching swimsuits and City Girl captions but the majority of 2020 trips have been canceled on account of ‘Rona.
Kristin Braswell has been working to provide safe options for those who aren’t ready to risk it all. The journalist-turned-entrepreneur, who’s a contributor to MadameNoire, founded her own agency, Crush Global, to provide authentic travel experiences with the help of local guides and Black Businesses. And now she’s added road trips to the mix.
“I thought about historically Black people on the road and how that’s oftentimes been met with hesitation for a number of obvious reasons, fear of safety,” she said. “We even see it in entertainment now with Lovecraft Country, with sundown towns, we know historically about the green books. And so I wanted to create domestic routes because that trend was already starting because of restrictions with international travel.” The road trips feature detailed driving routes, vetted restaurants and activity suggestions, and other useful information for Black travelers. Selections include options for foodies, lovers, nature enthusiasts and history buffs.
As she curated each road trip, Braswell worked “to really make sure that a lot of that revenue was going back to Black businesses in the U.S.” She thoroughly researched locations with the help of experienced tourism professional Victoria Lightfoot. “We are a two-women team,” said Braswell.
“We would be up until 3:00 AM but the great part about it was we love research. We love what we’re doing.”
Braswell was no stranger to research. She migrated to travel after becoming disillusioned with the early days of “infotainment.”
“I went to journalism school at the University of Pennsylvania. And from there, I hit the newsrooms in New York and had a quick and very traumatic experience at various places from radio to television before landing in digital,” she said. “I just became very sad about what breaking news was then because this was at the start of blogs and reality shows.”
“They wanted to report about Lindsay Lohan getting into a car accident,” she added. After one too many assignments about Hollywood’s over-privileged and under-parented, she defected for the travel beat. “I thought about other ways that I could present information to the world and realized that it can be travel because I’ve always loved to travel. It’s again, an extension to me of just storytelling that’s outside of your immediate surroundings.”
She convinced her editors to allow her to tell a story about a rustic getaway in Jamaica owned by a local Black woman who was an artist after enjoying its charms. The success of the piece thrust her into an entirely new area of journalism.
“They ran the piece. And after that I started getting emails from editors asking me, you know, would you be interested in covering this region of the world? I started getting press invites to various dinners in New York with tourism boards, learning more about the industry,” said Braswell. “I never knew, because my background was in hard news, that there was actually a journalism world where people could travel for a living, get paid to write about it. So I really kind of fell into my dream job.”
She went beyond identical resorts and hotels and into the cities to get the best story possible and it was there that she saw something missing. “What is a way that I can share these experiences that I’m having with Black people in particular,” she asked herself. “Because anything that I do, especially if it’s joyful, I want to be able to share that with Black people. And so I founded Crush Global, which is my company now, in 2016.”
Braswell brought “some of those experiences that I was having from Morocco to Japan and Mexico,” to her clients by relying on “all the locals that I met there.” She offered them access to regional delights like unique culinary experiences and Afro-Cuban salsa classes. “Chefs, tour guides, artists, I built relationships with them,” she said. “I said, ‘Hey, I’m starting a travel company. I want to be able to bring Black travelers to you to give you business. Would you be interested in partnering and working with me?’ And from there I started trading guides around the world in various places like Morocco, Paris, Cuba is where I started in Havana. And I’ve even gone on some of those trips where I take people with me and we do various activations and meet with some of my partners.”
When the COVID-19 pandemic began to ravage the travel industry she worked with her partners to safely pivot. “When I found myself with the travel business and a world that couldn’t travel, I figured out a way to be creative,” she said. “We are still in a pandemic, which I think a lot of people have forgotten, but we very much are. So we have to keep that in mind.”
Braswell laid the groundwork for catering to domestic tourists at Crush Global from the very beginning. She wrote about how to craft quick getaways and staycations when long-term travel wasn’t an option. Because her content was designed to speak to everyone she had to adopt multiple points of view, including that of people who couldn’t afford private cabanas or luxury suites.
“I think part of it was really just me always trying to think about how travel should be accessible for everyone. Oftentimes when we’re presented travel, particularly on social media, it’s always something that’s presented that you need to be. You should be flexing, you should be with the floating breakfast in bed. You should be in the Maldives or, you know, with bottle service in Dubai and people, I think, can get so overwhelmed with that and even tricked into believing you have to have a passport to even travel. And I don’t believe that’s true. I think that there are a number of places probably 45 minutes to an hour away from where most people live that they’ve never even considered visiting. And I think that the staycation is a really affordable option for people looking for a travel experience that might be afraid to fly, they might not be able to afford it, and might not have a passport,” she said.
As Black people with and without access to resources for international travel turned to local road trips, she sprung into action to lift their spirits and keep them safe. “I think that this year has been very jarring, of course, very depressing, very chaotic, and made a lot of people feel so imbalanced and uncentered,” she said. “If I can provide experiences where people feel more centered and more like themselves, then I’m doing my job.”
She considered those on the other side of the selfies as she researched. She would spend hours during press trips chatting with those who lived and worked in the city, longing to hear the stories of their lives. She didn’t see them as a human means to arriving at the next massage or cocktail; she saw them as humans with their own desires and interests. “I think that that’s the journalist in me,” she said.
“I’ve always felt such empathy for people in the service industry. It’s never lost on me when I’m having a five-star experience somewhere that the person serving me, my drink at the bar, you know, turning down my bed at night, they don’t have this experience. They are likely driving an hour, sometimes even hours away, to get back home, then getting up the very next day, to do the same thing. So while I love, obviously, being treated and feeling special as everyone does, I’ve tried to remain very aware of people in the service industry and respect and tip them, do whatever I can. And I think now in the pandemic that has become even more magnified to me,” she said.
Crush Global offers tourism but not escapism. They have opted to ban all businesses that are not compliant with safety precautions from their guides. “We are only highlighting places and our road trips that, for example, have outdoor seating. Hotels that clearly list their COVID safety protocols, what they’re doing to clean the place, how they’re protecting their workers. We sent all of them a survey to fill out where they told us all the latest safety COVID protocols,” said Braswell. “I would have to play a game of make-believe in my head to have an extreme luxury experience right now and ignore all of the things that are going outside in the world.”