On Instagram, the travel industry looks overwhelmingly white. Meet the influencers changing it up.
Travel influencer stereotypes, like a blonde beach bunny or bearded adrenaline seeker, do not represent everyone who wishes to be an adventurer. Many people — including me, a black, plus-size blogger — don’t see themselves portrayed in the photos that float through their social media feeds. The more time I spent in the online travel space, the more I realized it can feel like an exclusive club where only those with a certain look attract likes, sponsorships and campaigns.
Not seeing faces like her own inspired travel journalist Oneika Raymond to start writing about her experiences as a black woman abroad. She’s now the host of Travel Channel’s new shows Big City, Little Budget and One Bag and You’re Out.
“My voice is also important because I can provide information and inspiration for people who share a similar racial and cultural background,” Raymond said in an interview.
Raymond isn’t the only one working to change the perception of what life on the road can look like. I spoke with seven additional influential travelers — photographers, writers and entrepreneurs — about how they’re disrupting the status quo.
These influencers aren’t afraid to bring up real issues in the travel world
Sometimes dropping controversial truth bombs are the only way to get people to listen. Kiona, from How Not to Travel Like a Basic Bitch, has gained a reputation for calling out injustices — a personal piece on how Asian women are fetishized, a post on the difference between cultural appropriation and appreciation. In an email interview, Kiona said that in many cases, white people have more free time to pursue travel and thus have an edge in the travel industry. (Of course, socioeconomic status also plays a big role.)
“Theoretically speaking, people of color work longer hours, take care of more family members and have less generational income,” Kiona said. “It just does not leave a lot of time to edit an Instagram photo, travel, make a YouTube or document in a blog.”
Gloria Atanmo, a Nigerian-American who writes The Blog Abroad, posts about her experiences as a black woman traveling the world and doesn’t shy away from talking politics with her followers.
“I’m not afraid to talk about seemingly taboo subjects within the realm of travel, especially when it comes to intersectionality in politics, racism and foreign affairs,” Atanmo said in an email interview. Atanmo has written pieces on the pros and cons of traveling while black, the lack of color in the travel industry and the need for black travelers to be better at lifting each other up.
After Atanmo posted a photo of a stray dog that received tons of feedback, she challenged followers to think about why they were so upset about animal rights — but less vocal when she brought up issues of human rights.
“My aim is to always trigger an emotion and make you think a bit deeper about a subject matter than you did 10 minutes ago,” she said. “I think that level of challenging our audience is far and few between in the industry, but it’s always a breath of fresh air when it is seen.”
Bianca Karina, a biracial blogger who focuses on travel and plus-size fashion, used to think she would have adventures and wear fabulous clothes when she lost weight. But now she focuses her writing on showing readers they don’t need to wait to go after what they want — and that it’s OK for women of all sizes and races to be themselves.
“I envision a future of travel where the stories behind local food, local art and lifestyle don’t need to be filtered through a white lens,” Karina said in an email.
Forming like-minded communities through social media
“There’s this weird assumption that black people don’t have the want or ability to see the world, and no one in the industry seems to want to change that idea,” Kent Johnson, co-founder of Black and Abroad, said in an email.
Johnson and Eric Martin established Black and Abroad, an online resource for travelers of color to share experiences through empowering stories, in 2015. According to the New York Times, the Mandala Research firm found that black travelers spend upward of $48 billion every year. Despite this massive number, black faces are still not as prevalent in advertisements and brand campaigns.
Black and Abroad is “a direct slap in the face to an industry that has strategically marginalized us for so long,” Martin said. “It’s very ironic that the travel industry, a space expected to celebrate diversity and inclusion, is missing the mark internally. ... [The site’s] presence is important because it gives our people a place where they can connect and celebrate with other like-minded travelers of color.”
Annette Richmond, the blogger behind From Annette With Love, also created Fat Girls Traveling, a private Facebook group for women to chat and trade tips about traveling while plus-size. “I created the Fat Girls Traveling Instagram page to show diversity in travel and to encourage more fat, plus [and] curvy women to get in front of the camera [and] to stop hiding due to fear of being judged,” Richmond said in an email.
“There needs to be so much melanin walking around Asia and Europe that it damn near feels like we’re taking over the world,” Richmond added. “One way to keep people feeling oppressed is by making them think they can’t change their circumstances. But we can, and we are.”
Representing a community can be a burden — but that’s what makes it important
According to Erick Prince, who runs the blog Minority Nomad, he sometimes encounters people on his travels who have preconceptions about African-Americans.
“What people know about us comes from the media. While some of those images can be negative, a lot of it is positive,” Prince said in an email interview. “Sports, music and films featuring African-Americans dominate popular culture around the world.”
Prince sees his travels as giving “locals around the world the opportunity to see an African-American man in person.”
Atanmo takes a similar approach. “I’m always operating with the mindset that I may very well be the first and only black person a stranger has ever spoken to — so let me make sure I represent my people right,” she said. “White people will never have to live their life with that type of responsibility or burden, because they are always seen as the default.”
Atanmo’s readers have responded positively. “Every time I get an email or message from a younger woman of color, saying that my face gives them hope and inspiration for the possibilities for their own life, it’s a reminder that far too often, people of color only dream as far as they see the next person go,” Atanmo said.
There’s a growing movement around showcasing the realities of traveling as a person of color.
“I try to be transparent about what it’s like for me to travel,” Richmond said, explaining that while traveling, she has been sexually assaulted and discriminated against because of her race and weight. “These topics are not only hard to talk about, but they’re difficult to read. I don’t want to give off any airs of perfection. I’m sharing my real travel experiences — and in life, you take the good with the bad.”