A story of community and creating a life from your imagination.
leven years ago I took a leap of faith and landed on my face. Well, really, I waivered and wobbled in my resolve to strike out for something different. The leap began in El Salvador, carried me to Jamaica, and ended with me right back where I started in Atlanta.
For those who are anxious or experience second-hand embarrassment, don’t worry. I’ve (mostly) sorted myself out these days.
In El Salvador and Jamaica, I spent nine months out of America that were filled to the brim with lessons. I met loads of new people, breathed very different air, and, of course, ate the yummiest foods.
I was doing the human thing; I was learning. Life is chock full of experiences we want and don’t want. And I believe that when it came down to it—specifically in Jamaica, where I had to make a tough choice–I fed my fears to the point that I cut myself off from seeing the possibilities of making my dream to live abroad succeed.
After I returned to Atlanta, the time I spent out of the country kept a hold on me. I was working terrible jobs, had lost friends and chosen family, gained friends and chosen family, and lost most of them again when I finally decided to bet on myself and make another go of Being Anywhere But America.
To ensure this one went smoother, I spent my time at my part-time sales gig doing research, digging into blogs and Facebook groups, investing in a course–anything that could tell me how to make a life on the road possible. I saved with focus and ended up with over $10,000, carry-on luggage only, a housesitting membership, a stack of points and miles, and a buddy pass to start my new adventure on New Year’s Eve of December 2015. I belonged to the world and the world was mine to explore.
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It was exhilarating! Everything I dreamed it could be. And as it is when you get what you want, your new normal sinks in, and you move on to the next thing. For me that desire was community. I had started a blog and was writing extra-long emails to the folks I wanted to stay in touch with till that dried up. I kicked around Europe for a while and moved to places where there were supposedly people like me, location-independent, online business owners. Unfortunately, nowhere was giving me that fulfilling feeling, so I did the only sensible thing one could do in 2017, I reached out to a few ladies I’d seen online, and started a Facebook group, Black Women Digital Nomad Entrepreneurs.
I wanted a touchstone place for us to gather and share. I wanted us to uplift one another in our own personal pursuits to say yes to ourselves through travel and our professional aspirations to create businesses we truly wanted to be in. To be clear, that’s only two things but a lot of folks go after one or the other. But achieving both for me was really special and important. A lot of folks who travel a lot already have or are in solo groups, work a job abroad, have married and relocated, or want to take a career break. But to craft a life and work of your choosing in this manner is different.
I became interested in finding, or, in my case, creating the silo for other Black women who believed that they could travel as they wish, have a business that supported them in every way they want to be supported, and contribute to the world what they decide they have to give.
Listen, I have no idea where I got the nerve to believe that I could pull this lifestyle off, but I had a notion that I wasn’t alone. I became interested in finding, or, in my case, creating the silo for other Black women who believed that they could travel as they wish, have a business that supported them in every way they want to be supported, and contribute to the world what they decide they have to give.
I’ve found the group to be ephemeral in nature, with posts coming and going. A good amount of the ladies are perhaps not quite looking for community, instead, they’re looking for answers on how to make it happen themselves by being in proximity to people who are doing it, close to it, or toying with the idea as a prospect for the future. I’ve learned that when your hands are full of the questions in your own life, there’s simply not space to give in a way that comes naturally, overflowing out of you. I’m a part of other women-only digital nomad groups and Black women-only groups that don’t function like our special group. It’s an honor to hold this kind of space and be an active witness to the group over time, and how it’s taking shape.
I wanted something deeper and maybe more of a home base for us rather than the chatter that social media often offers. So I created a weekly podcast where, instead of asking guests about the usual fare that’s easily Googleable, I ask them the questions about who they came from, where they came from, how they’ve made sense of their lives, and how travel has played a part in that journey. It’s called the Black Women Travel Podcast, and it’s been one of my proudest creations to date. It’s an honor to sit at a virtual kitchen table with often complete, or near-complete strangers and ask them about the things I think matter the most since we’re all just a jumble of animated flesh prompted by a shred of hope to keep going and move forward through another day.
Discovering, and being in touch with so many Black women travelers, content creators, and digital nomads got me fired up. I said, let’s get together, all of us somewhere, and of course travel, but learn how to do what we do better! They call those conferences I suppose. I called it the International Black Women Travel Jubilee.
Now, flash forward. Imagine me in Malaysia, doing The Work, and a virus pops up all over the world. Borders close, cities close. Supplies run low. Loads of angst and uncertainty grip every interaction. We had no idea what was happening, and probably thought it wouldn’t kill so many or last this long. I had no thoughts whatsoever about returning to America. So I sat and waited, and kept talking to Black women travelers, and thought I could still have a conference in Rwanda. And maybe I will one day when it’s safe.
I feel like I found my legs in Malaysia. Something about the humid heat permeating every pore, plus the really good food, just opens a girl up I guess. Remember I said that timing is like, a thing. I started the group in 2017 in Vietnam then started the podcast and planning for the conference in 2019 in Malaysia. Then came the global pandemic which stopped a whole lot of things but failed to stop the persistence of racism and white supremacy, which became very loud in an otherwise mostly quiet world. This ridiculous storm caused a lot of Black people in America to do what a lot of our ancestors did: consider a life abroad where the oppression couldn’t touch us so pervasively through every inch of our lives. Of course, white supremacy has spread to much of the world, and maybe one day I’ll find the words, but being Black outside of America is just different.
Malaysia has been gracious through the pandemic. Well, until April 2021 when it quickly and unceremoniously decided to send me an eviction notice, but that’s a story for another time. So I’m curious about the timing of my work, and what I’ll be inspired to create in Albania, where I’m headed next, as I travel there and try not to spread or catch death along the way. I wonder if I would have drawn the conclusions and took the actions and started the projects I started if it weren’t for the places I’ve been and for the person I was and am becoming. What do you think?