All summer OM will feature posts and stories from black millennials traveling the world. Read about Leah Shaw who quit her job to teach in Taiwan.
She’s one of the millions of black millennials traveling the world, seeking and having experiences that for centuries were off-limits to black Americans. But she’s not traveling for work; she’s traveling and making it work by teaching, using social media and other traditional and nontraditional methods.
The trend is new but like many trends has benefitted from social media and blogs and online news sources. These places not only normalize and glamorize black travel but also make it accessible, offering helpful tips on where to go and cheap ways to get there.
Anderson is in London for another week or so, having spent about a month there. But she’s not coming back to America. From London, she’s going to Modena, Italy, inspired by the second season of Netflix’s Master of None, and from there to Amsterdam.
“I like London a lot and I’m inclined to stay here, to return here but also I know I need to experience Europe in the summer. But 90 percent of me does want to stay right here,” she joked.
While her constant traveling is little more unique for black travelers, Travel research group MMGY Global shared that overall Black Americans are traveling more. Stephen Cohen, the firm’s vice president of insights, told TIME magazine: “Over the last three years, the increase [in intent to travel] among African Americans has been pretty significant, going from an increase of about 3 [percentage] points, to 6 points, to 19 points this year. The trend is suggesting that we’re going to see more African Americans traveling internationally.”
However, Anderson did very little planning before hopping on a plane and leaving on New Year’s Eve. She flew into Shanghai, and from there into Bangkok, where she says her travels really began.
“It was basically like spinning a globe,” said Anderson when asked about how she chose China and Thailand. She said in retrospect her mindset was clearly here; she was heading down this path and looking to be living her best life. However, it didn’t manifest in actual planning for a trip. Instead, she met a woman who said she’d been living abroad for a few years; traveling place to place and called herself a nomad. Anderson said that lifestyle was completely new to her.
“We ended up hitting it off. So we’re having this conversation and she’s telling me about being a nomad and it has never even crossed my mind. At this time I’m like knee deep in responsibility. I’ve got this big fat loft, a dog, a car and all this stuff and everything was pretty good,” she said. “Everything was really good in my life actually…At some point in the conversation I told her, ‘man, I feel like in a couple months, I’m going to be telling you I’m a nomad too.'”
Within days, Anderson fell incredibly sick, leaving her even more reflective and one day soon after the woman asked if she’d like to travel, sending four options: Hawaii, Thailand and two states. Anderson ignored the message initially but one night couldn’t sleep.
“So, I responded to her and I was like, ‘You know what? I’m going to give away all my stuff, sell my stuff and I’m just going to move there…and she never responded,” Anderson said. “I didn’t know anything about Thailand. I didn’t even know where Thailand was.”
Undeterred, Anderson did just that.
“I got to Bangkok, and when I walked into the place, I had an AirBnB and I remember opening the door and I was like, ‘Fuck, I actually did this. Like I’m in Thailand, this is crazy.'”
Since, it’s been six months of constant exploration- of herself and her new, constantly-changing, stomping grounds. She left New Year’s Eve, seeking liberation and later learning she also sought peace of mind.
One of the biggest takeaways? How differently her skin color is perceived in other places. In other countries, she said she is viewed as American and her skin color? Not as policed as it is here.
“My nickname to some people is ‘America’ or I’m known as the American. That’s like such a new concept to me because we don’t get to be a part of the American experiment,” she said, before adding, “Your brown skin doesnt mean the same thing out here.”
She said this particularly has been freeing and has allowed her the rare opportunity to get to know who she is without the social and political pressure faced by black Americans. That pressure can give you a negative frame of mind or negatively impact many of your experiences going forward, she said discussing how her harmful American experiences influenced her travel, recounting one particular experience:
did i tell y’all about the time my roc – @nomadnesstribe – @hardlyhome fam @physicalcanvas and I danced at this vietnamese…uh let’s call it a day party lol This was hands down the dopest day in my six-week stretch in Vietnam. didn’t even see a rat this day. we took a road north until it ended, paused and @lucas__barber asked if we should keep going or nah… yes! we get to this spot (by spot i mean a what is this?) with a sign that says OBAMA in all caps. Obama in the middle of nowhere in Vietnam… we had to see what’s up. take the dirt road until it ends at a parking situation of sorts. drop off our motorbikes and some Dong to cover parking, prolly like $.10, maybe. we trek it out and find this dope waterfront scene. snap a few pics. hike. lucas climbs a mountain. i’ll share that pic soon. he lays in a hammock. vietnam loves their scams …a girl comes up asking for money for him to lay in the hammock. we snap a few pics and bounce bc nah sis. here’s the thing about vietnam, i don’t think they have a word for rude bc EVERYTHING hinges on uncivilized… rude behavior eventually you just roll with it. ssooooo we see this gathering of people in this villa like situation and a private looking beach on the other side, our only option is to turn around and go back to our bikes or walk all up and through their get together. it’s vietnam, we walked through straight like ddddaaatttttt. boom. sat on the beach eating a fruit i can’t even remember the name of, was mad juicy doe! i snapped more pics and one of the dudes from the party signals for me to take one of him… i’d already taken like five unbeknownst to him 😩after i showed him the pic he invites us to the party. i skipped most of the food bc in vietnam it’s either pork or spicy pork and no pork on my fork… but i did try the spicy mango, it was spicy… oh and bread bc that banh be hittn. anyways they put on some music and lisa and i jump right in. i ask for the aux cord bc Black and dropped some Solange and Bruno on them… we turned all the way up. then when it was time to leave Lucas and I taught them how to dap properly… nigga we made it! full Da Nang Dap 📹 bio link.
“I was in Vietnam and being followed around the store. In my mind, as a black person I’m like, why are you following me? I can literally pay your salary but thats not the reason they do it in Vietnam. They do it because they want to be right there when you need help. So they have this kind of ‘servants’ perspective but I still couldn’t divorce my American experience even knowing that. For me, this is place of unlearning, learning and affirming so I have to take those experiences and say, ‘That’s in America.'”
She said it took seeing the staff doing that to other customers to fully understand. And from there the differences began to grow. She noticed she wasn’t following the news as much, and realized she didn’t actually enjoy politics.
“I had to like it,” she said, explaining why she followed the news stateside. “My existence depended on it. Here, I don’t have to care.”
She said a couple weeks ago she saw a black woman in London yelling at an officer’s face and found herself terrified for the woman’s life. She knew with that kind of behavior back home, the woman could be in serious trouble.
“Like all the lines white people use, she was using. Pointing her finger, yelling,” she said. “I was looking at her like ‘you are going to die.’ I’m going to witness someone be murdered.” But the woman carried on and she was never harmed. It was another eye-opening experience for Anderson.
When asked if she’ll come back, she laughed and I couldn’t help but chuckle too. After over an hour of speaking about how much freer she was, happier and self-aware why would she come back? At least in the very near future?
“I can say this: at this stage currently I don’t see how I can come back,” she said.