Black Girls On The Go is a Facebook travel club comprised of almost 30,000 members who want the world to know travel and healing go hand in hand. Even during COVID-19, with both national and international travel restrictions, the group has been able to find ways of connecting and sharing their experiences online. With a strong foundation in the exploration of how healing and travel can empower people, founder Shay Sane wanted the community to really be a place where its members could make memories together, while also finding genuine sisterhood and support.
According to Sane, BGOTG was inspired by a tragedy in her life. After her sister passed away 20 years ago, she was worried that when the anniversary of her passing came along, everyone in the family would be depressed. To offset that, she began traveling more often with her kids and nephew.
“We started traveling to Orlando for Christmas, over the Christmas holiday, as a way for us to cope,” she says. Those experiences, which would lead to further trips, and the healing that came from those travels, helped bring about the creation of BGOTG in 2014.
On a mission to “introduce other Black women to the healing power of travel,” community members join Sane for “TTraVsperiences” (a combination of “transformational travel experiences”) where the group jet sets across the globe, experiencing dinners together, doing activities, but also working through their wounds with one another and with the help of mental health professionals who join in on the trips. I had the chance to speak with Sane more about how the community is functioning amidst the spread of COVID-19, why now is a good time to join BGOTG, and the restorative power of seeing the world.
MadameNoire: Why would now, during COVID-19 be a good time for someone to join a travel club? How is the community functioning in light of COVID-19 and the restrictions it’s created?
Shay Sane: It’s become more challenging to talk about travel in the community because people are very skeptical about traveling. It’s very, very difficult. Initially, at the onset, I started doing a virtual Self-Care Beach Weekend, an event that was over two days with over eight speakers. It included a grief counselor, because of course in the middle of COVID, a lot of people have lost family members and haven’t been able to grieve properly, a life coach that talked about identifying your purpose and your passion, and a person that did journaling. She taught us how to journal so that we could start talking about our emotions and not keep them bottled up.
Right now the entire nation is traumatized from COVID, you know? Whether you’re fearing being infected by the virus or infecting someone else, or the economic loss that we’ve faced, it’s like right now the community is hurting and we’re going to need healing. Travel offers that for people. It’s like we need to get out of the monotony that we’ve been in. Interestingly enough, early on during the pandemic, there was a lot of “travel-shaming” when people would post in the group that they were traveling. We understand it’s a pandemic, but you also don’t know what a person’s mental health struggles are like. Some people have to get out and travel. We’ve encouraged people to “explore your own backyard.”
Could you tell me more about what a “TTraVsperience” is?
TTraVsperience is actually a word that I created to bring uniqueness to the brand, what we do, and to separate it from all the other travel groups that travel just for leisure. For me, the TTraVsperience is a “transformational travel experience” where you can actually change your life by focusing on what your needs are when traveling. Travel can change your life. It’s amazing how powerful it can be.
Originally, I wanted to get a group of women together and take them on international trips so they could get the rest, relaxation, and healing that they needed. But one thing that I encountered that made me really shift focus on mental wellness was I was encountering a lot of clients that were very angry. I used to be in that place too, where I had unresolved trauma in my life. I was hurt, and I redirected my anger towards other people. I recognized that I needed to be doing something more than just bringing women together to travel. That’s when I decided to reach out to some mental health professionals. They help women to deal with anything they want to deal with, what they want to talk about.
For Black people, there’s always been a stigma about mental health or going to see a therapist or a psychologist. It’s really shunned and we don’t talk about it. Adding it in with travel opens the door for people to be more comfortable about seeking therapy. When I do travel with two of the therapists that are there with me, they actually have a consultation before we travel with each client. Of course, they do a follow-up after we travel just to see how they can support our clients in their healing journey.
Is every trip that you guys go on a TTraVsperience?
TTraVsperience is the only type of touring that we do, with the exception of the one event that I do each year, which is a Self-Care Beach Weekend. Most of my trips are international. One thing that I also recognize is because people don’t know me, and people are apprehensive about traveling out of the country with me, I created the Self-Care Beach Weekend to do something stateside so that people can come and meet me first, get to know the brand, and feel more comfortable traveling with us.
Could you tell me a bit more about the connection Black Girls On The Go makes between traveling and healing?
Travel and healing equate to mental wellness. For me, I’ve struggled with depression for a long time and travel helps me to recenter myself. In addition to doing talk therapy with a therapist, I combine it with travel to give me a more healing experience. I have these lists of questions before I’m booking a trip like, “What I want to accomplish” and “What I want to focus on.” I want my travel to be transformational.
I was able to take what I created for myself and apply it to my business model to expose other Black women to how empowering it can be to travel. It’s more than just collecting passport stamps.
What do you think travel experiences might look like in 2021?
I think that people are going to be more intentional about their travel. Because we went through this pandemic, more people are looking to heal and travel is a big part of it. I think that travel will bounce back. Now that we have the vaccine, that’s looking promising. It makes it a little bit easier to start feeling good about traveling again.
Do you guys usually have a set agenda or itinerary when on the trips?
The great thing about a TTraVsperience is, it’s almost like a combination of touring with a retreat. You’re getting the best of both worlds. I changed our program so, in addition to doing tours together, we also do some healing work at the same time. Each morning I would come up with a word of the day and talk about the word, and that’s how we move. We have a very, very robust schedule between the touring and the healing work, but it works out very great.
I don’t make people participate. It’s like, okay you’re an adult. If you don’t want to go out on the tour with the group today you don’t have to give us any reason why. You can do you. People really love the option of being able to be with the group if they want to or do things solo on their own.
What do you love most about the BGOTG Community? What does your global community look like?
What I love most about it is, you get to talk to other women about the issues that they’ve been through, or the experiences they’ve had in life and you feel like you’re not alone. There’s always somebody on a TTraVsperience that has experienced something you’ve gone through, and it’s important for us to understand that we’re not the only one and that we can survive this. It just feels good to connect with other women that understand your struggle, whether you’re going through a breakup, stress on the job, or racial inequalities. It’s just a whole lot. But when you have that tribe of people that understand what you’re going through, or what you will go through, it makes you feel in power.
The average age is about 36, but there’s always a gamut. I’ve had some young women in their late 20s and I’ve had women in their 50s and 60s. What’s great about the age diversity is that each person comes with their own history of experience and knowledge that they can share with you.
When we went to Paris in October 2019, Miss Helen was 86 years old and she went with us. She just passed away. I pulled up pictures of her [in the Facebook group] and she was just amazing. She had never been out of the country before. That was her first time getting a passport. I had a photographer travel with us to do photoshoots and Miss Helen did a photoshoot at the Eiffel Tower. She was out at the Eiffel Tower singing and had a crowd of people that came around and were clapping. If she was home, she would have never done that.
During our conversation, Sane echoed everyone’s hopes of being able to get back to traveling, with fewer restrictions, soon. Whether telling me stories about eating waffles and ice cream with her travel mates at night on the beaches of Greece, or discussing all the trips she hopes the group will take this year, she clearly basks in the memories of the TTraVsperiences she creates just as much as her members gush about them in their community group.
As we wrapped up, Sane said “one of my favorite holidays is the new year. I’m looking forward to the new year because it gives me a reason to start. I’ve already started doing research on other TTraVsperiences that we can take.”
It’s nice to know that we’re not the only ones who can’t wait to do more exploring in the near future and that we can join one another in community, and to revive ourselves, regardless of where we are on the map.