Bora Bora! Bolivia! Finland! Zim Ugochukwu, Travel Noire Founder, Builds A Platform For Black Travelers
Marketing images of tourists traveling abroad have historically been devoid of faces representative of the African Diaspora. So if you didn’t know any better, you could almost be forgiven for buying into the myth that black people don’t travel. A myth that Zim Ugochukwu, 25, believed at one point while living and studying abroad in India. At the time, she felt like she was “an anomaly,” and that’s when she began to form the idea for what would in late 2013 become Travel Noire. (Instagram and Twitter)
On the surface, Travel Noire is a platform featuring cultivated insights from a global community of black travelers. Through the lens of other travelers, it allows us to see ourselves exploring, studying, volunteering and living well all around the world. It’s a concerted effort and blatant statement from Zim and her team that lets other people from the Diaspora know that yes, you can travel too.
Here, I talk to Zim about how she started Travel Noire with $50 (it now has 80 curators and 15 fellows and strategists), what her inspiration and mission for the platform are and how aspiring travelers can turn leverage any career or background to see more of the world.
MadameNoire (MN): What is Travel Noire?
Zim Ugochukwu (ZU): Travel Noire is a platform featuring cultivated insights from a global community of black travelers. We carefully select curators from the African Diaspora who reside all over the globe and empower each of them to share their love of global culture and exploration through stories, tips, videos and reviews. We recently launched the Travel Noire Academy, an online platform that democratizes learning with travel courses and challenges, handcrafted for travelers of the African Diaspora.
MN: Is it just a blog and a curated selection of travel images and stories? Or, is it something more?
ZU: It’s much more. It’s grown from a collection of stories to a company that supports the burgeoning community of black travelers and boasts a learning portal to help people of color travel better. We shatter the myth that people of color don’t travel.
MN: I’m glad you touched on that. Is that something you initially set out to do? Have people been surprised to see the images and read the global jet setting stories from black travelers?
ZU: To be honest, I thought I was an anomaly. When I was living in India, I didn’t see anyone who looked like me. And when I did, it almost felt like a “me & you us never part, makidada” moment.
I used to spend hours going through every [travel] hashtags on Instagram when we first launched Travel Noire. I spent hours scouring Instagram for any sight of a black traveler. With love from Myleik (from curlBOX) and other amazing people, we started growing, people started posting to the hashtag and voila!
People have been surprised to see images of black travelers and that’s a phenomenal thing. I want people to get out of the Atlanta/Miami/Las Vegas matrix and start thinking globally. Now that they’ve seen people who look like them, they know for certain that they can see the world too.
MN: What inspired you to create Travel Noire?
ZU: I wanted to create something for the quintessential mover-and-shaker, someone who desired to get out and explore the world beyond all conventionalities. I wanted people of color in Nepal. Bora Bora. Finland. Senegal. Turkey. Alaska. Bolivia. And in the coolest areas of the countries where they lived. Travel Noire was born out of frequent encounters with people of color who were often skeptical about the reality of traveling abroad.
I strongly believe that beautiful design is captivating. I wanted people, after finishing a Travel Noire piece, to feel like they were actually there. I wanted the stories to come to life. I wanted design to matter because after all, we deserve it. By creating a beautiful platform full of robust and captivating imagery, we’re continuing to shatter assumptions, connect curious minds and transport readers to new experiences.
MN: You still have a full-time job. How have you been balancing the two? Do you think you’d ever leave your job to run TN full-time?
ZU: It’s been a challenge, but I’ve been keeping side projects for years. I’ve always kept my hands full. Whenever there’s a lull in my work, I turn to an inspirational side project and vice versa. I typically wake up around 6 am to work on Travel Noire before heading to work and then I’m back at it in the evenings. I end up working eight hours for both jobs! While I love my current job, in the next year, I’ll eventually transition to running Travel Noire full-time.
MN: What advice would you give to someone who wants to start traveling but doesn’t know where to begin?
ZU: It all starts with a bit of curiosity. If you want to travel for an extended period of time, I recommend [reading] Delaying the Real World by Colleen Kinder. That’s how I found my first long-term traveling opportunity.
It also helps to think about where you’d like to go for the entire year and map out blocks of time. Plan around holidays for maximum time off. Start a travel fund. If money is a concern, I like setting aside a certain amount of money every paycheck.
Figuring out what types of places you want to go would be an easy next step. Don’t like the cold? Love beaches? Hate rain? You can use these metrics to start to narrow down possible destinations.
Once you have that, I’d head over to kayak.com/explore to see how much money can get you where.
Beyond that, this goes without saying, a passport is the real first step. People underestimate the power of that small blue book. It’s your key to the world.