“Do not seek to follow in the footsteps of men, instead, seek what they sought.”
— Matsuo Basho
I have a little confession to make, I’m not really a backpacker! Well not in the traditional sense.
Firstly I refuse to carry a backpack. I carry a so called ‘indestructible’ medium size suitcase. It can hold up to 20KGs (circa 45lbs) comfortably! Secondly, because I work full time I can only travel as much as my job permits, so that’s roughly 6 weeks of the year I devote to globetrotting (and I use ALL my annual leave on globetrotting). Thirdly, since I’m not travelling for long periods of time (up to one month per stint) I spend a ton of money on food and never have to really budget as a backpacker.
With all that said, I have embraced many other elements of backpacking. Travelling solo, staying in hostels, sleeping on buses during night trips from one city to the other. Cooped up in a truck for hours crossing one border to the other, dining at local eateries, all in the name of frugality and being akin to locals and like minded travellers.
And whilst I love travelling this way and have made great friends in the process, I have noted that I seldom come across other Black people doing the same. That’s not to say they don’t exist, but we are just so few and far in between, and believe me I am looking!
I wrote a previous post called Black People Don’t Travel. Now if you read it you would know that I refute this notion immediately but what cannot be refuted is the little Black presence there is in the ‘backpacker community.’ ‘‘It’s not in our culture [to travel this way]” a fellow Black traveller told me whilst in Cambodia. Which begs the question, do many other Black people hold this perception? Whose culture does backpacking belong to? The White middle class? Something I have always thought to be true until I did it myself!
I’m certainly not saying that Black people need to travel this way to prove a point or to be a better traveller. After all many people go abroad to escape their banal reality and feel special in fancy hotels and all inclusive packages. There is no wrong way to travel.
But surely we should embrace other diverse ways to see the world. Social media is saturated with images of Black travelers ‘doing it big’, dressing to the nines, visiting the same popular locations (if I see a picture of Cuba one more time…*rolls eyes*), having the most spectacular photos of their travel squad with the most flamboyant outfits, wearing tops with provocative slogans affirming the fact that they are Black and abroad. Again, nothing wrong with that; I too become somewhat of an unapologetic narcissist when I travel. However it seems that this growing ‘Black travel movement’ is somewhat one dimensional and could potentially purport the idea of living beyond your means. It does not promote or highlight enough the other ways in which we could travel i.e. for longer periods of time, visiting less popular destinations etc. Giving off the message (perhaps unintentionally) that we should travel merely to flaunt, rather than to inspire and educate our peers to do the same, and most importantly to connect with people in the wider world. Are we Black people just travelling for the Insta’ and the likes?
Do not be mistaken, people of the African diaspora have been travelling the world, in different ways since the beginning of time! But in these modern times, as we document our travels more and more, I wholehearted believe that Black people do not embrace backpacking enough. Am I wrong?
Are you a Blackpacker? Do you come across other Black backpackers on your travels? Are you put off by backpacking? Let me know your thoughts.