Jordan Peele, Kakslauttanen Artic Resort and Norwegian partnered for a new movie, it’s about 7 people of color, lost in the Arctic Circle, the survival skills they develop and the transformation into a new super race. They go their separate ways after the trip and are planted in different areas of the globe as sleeper agents, waiting for the day….
KIDDING! Well kind of. Diversity is a trending word right now, especially in terms of corporate social responsibility. As consumers, we have a choice as to where and how we spend our money — travel should be no different. It’s not enough for a company to release a PR statement on how much they love all types of people, but look into who is making the decision making process. I’ve spoken on why I love partnering with Norwegian before from their great deals to their philanthropic partnerships, but this trip to Finland, and Kakslauttanen Artic Resort in particular sealed my love affair with the airline. In what was among the most outside the box thinking that I’ve seen from corporate PRs when organizing a press trip, Norwegian decided to gather editors, writers and influencers of color for this trip up North to familiarize us with their flight itinerary to the Laplands and Kakslauttanen Artic Resort. Reindeer sleighing, Santa’s home, dog sledding, icefishing, snow-mobiling, Finnish spas and chasing the Northern Lights. We definitely turned this region of the Artic into a vibrant inkwell.
I can’t remember if I tried reindeer… I’m editing a video for you guys and you’ll find out there. But in the meantime check out my photo diary of my trip to Kakslauttanen Artic Resort with Norwegian.
WHEN TO GO
We went in April, and it was cold. Hey, it’s the Artic, however it became a running joke because when you asked a staff member, they were pumped about the warm weather, sunshine and the arrival of Spring. One of the days we were sledding through a blizzard…. Haha they’re just built differently. Like the huskies, some of our guides were genuinely sweating as they lead us through the resort, meanwhile I couldn’t feel my fingers. April’s a great time to go; the arrival of spring means longer hours of daylight. Don’t go too late in the month or you can miss the Northern Lights, but it’s just late enough in the season that you can comfortably stay out chasing them and partake in fun winter activities.
Kakslauttanen is renowned for being the first to create the glass igloo concept. It’s actually genius. Up in the Artic Circle you can get 8 months of the Aurora Borealis but after 3 nights of being out hoping to see the Northern Lights, unfortunately we missed it due to weather conditions. In the middle of the night, while we were sleeping in the insulated igloo room, my eyes fluttered and I looked up and saw a brilliant green in the sky. “That’s it!” I told my cabin-mate Niki, the experience was almost otherworldly made even better by the fact that it came to me almost as in a dream. I didn’t get a great pic of the phenomenon but my girls GoYokoCoco did. Otherwise, the igloo cabins are also just a great place to wake up. Seeing the snow covering the trees while you’re snug in this wooden cabin is ultimate hygge. There’s even a mini sauna in the bathroom and I’d say the cabin comfortably sleeps about 4-6!
First time driving a snowmobile? Check! It was so fun and such a fun rush gliding through the woods for the snowmobile safari.
BE ONE WITH THE ANIMALS OF THE ARTIC
You could hear the playful howls of the huskies from miles away as we approached their kennels for husky safaris. I’ve always been a husky fan so it was incredible seeing these beautiful dogs in their element (see photos above). Again, my fingers were frozen as these pups dove in piles of snow because they were hot! The experience definitely furthered my love for huskies… but made me rethink the idea of having them in the city, seems kind of cruel now!
We also partook in a reindeer safari! Be careful, these mofos can kick up some snow. They didn’t fly though. Maybe that trick is reserved for Santa?
This was a personal favorite of mine and I was the only one to catch a fish that day and apparently one of the firsts of the season. Our guide Aunti actually asked to see my bait because I had the secret. To tell you the truth, when I caught my fish, my camera was glitching and I was complaining and distracted. It was a little shocking to realize what the tug meant. We grilled up my little fish and had a delicious fish soup out on Lake Inari. It was so serene, peaceful. You’d spot the occasional cross country skiier but it was pretty much just us.
berry tea inside of a traditional Finnish Lavvu
TREAT YO’ SELF FINNISH SAUNA STYLE
There are 5 million inhabitants in Finland and 2 million saunas. It’s safe to say that to sauna is an authentic part of Finnish culture. Indulge in the tradition with a typical smoke sauna, complete with birch leaf stimulation. My favorite part is the ice plunge afterwards. I know it sounds crazy but you leave feeling invigorated and with your skin beyond taut. After a long day of sledding, fishing, and the safari, this was an incredible experience.
I think no matter what time of year you go to Kakslauttanen, you will fall in love with the Finnish Lapland’s natural beauty. Miles and miles of untouched forest and snow covered “Christmas trees.” I can’t imagine a better place for Santa to call home.
Thanks to Norwegian for sponsoring this once in a lifetime experience.
India’s famed Pink City, Jaipur is as chaotic as it is beautiful. A feast and a work out of all five senses, exploring the city’s sites and navigating its traffic filled streets can be taxing. The oasis of hotel Alsisar Haveli was always a welcome treat when Michele and I returned from sight seeing. A stark contrast to the beautiful chaos right outside of its walls, this haveli is magical. Birds chirping, the smell of jasmine in the air, the sun dancing through stained glass windows and reflecting off of jeweled mirrors. Alsisar Haveli beckons you to explore its property. But a gentle, passive exploration. Relaxing and refreshing.
A beautiful representation of Rajput Indian architecture from the country’s legendary regal maharaja days in the wealthy city of Jaipur your stay at Alsisar Haveli gives you a glimpse into the luxury that is Jaipur.
The property was built in 1892 as a nobleman’s townhouse and is run by the descendants of the Maharaja Udaikaran of Amer and his Kachawa clan — they’ve refurbished many of their family’s old mansions (havelis) and palaces into a beautiful collection of heritage, luxury hotels.
A great night’s sleep in a four poster bed.
You want your hotel to be your home away from home when you travel. I’m privileged to be able to stay at lust-inspiring hotels that give me ultimate home decor vibes. I hope my travels inform my future home’s design aesthetic. Block prints of Rajput motifs cover the colorful walls and Mughal era architecture. Beautiful etch work, porticoes and archways pepper the halls and each of the 45-roooms is decorated uniquely. The colors of Alsisar Haveli are absolutely dazzling.
The property also has a restaurant and bar. Breakfast is served daily with both Western and delicious Rajput cuisine. Our stay at Alsisar Haveli was all too short but it’s definitely on our list for our next trip to Jaipur.
I’ve been in such a hole doing my taxes and prepping for Italy that I saved a draft on this blog post and forgot to hit publish!
Jaipur, India’s famed Pink City in the Rajasthan region. As beautiful as it is chaotic it was a magical sensory overload for Michele and I. To be candid, it also wasn’t always smooth sailing for me visiting the city, as I mentioned in a few Instagram posts.
Alsisar Haveli is without a doubt a serene oasis. To me, it became a refuge. A welcome home with a big luxurious hug. Check out my YouTube video of Michele and I checking in and checking out Alsisar Haveli!
I discussed the history and social context briefly around The Negro Motorist’s Green Book on my Instagram Stories “World News Wednesday” and in my last black friendly travel post. The film Green Book had a controversial Best Picture Oscar win but despite what you thought of the movie, I hope that it made you curious about the book that Viggo Mortensen’s character, Tony, was given by the record company: The Negro Motorist’s Green Book. This guide book, written by postal worker Victor Hugo Green in 1936 promised “vacation without aggravation” for black travelers. At the time, with the upward mobility of black people in the United States, and many being able to afford cars, and trips, they began to encounter the problem of “traveling while black.” Black motorists who drove nice cars sometimes went as far as to carry chauffeurs hats as a disguise for fear of harassment by law enforcement (has much changed?)! Often black people would pack food and even gasoline with them on their journey as many rest stops on the road did not serve them. And this wasn’t solely a Jim Crow South problem. There were tons of sundown towns in Illinois; Glendale and Culver City, California were as well. Green was from Harlem, NYC and originally the guide covered New York and the surrounding areas; there were several establishments in Harlem where black people were not allowed entrance. Motorists would spend hours trying to figure out where to sleep that evening and ensuring they did not enter sundown towns (towns where blacks were not allowed after dark). Also not featured in the film but an important aspect, the Negro Motorist’s Green Book highlighted black-owned businesses. The film gave a pretty narrow view of this, highlighting the white establishments as luxury while the black ones as run down and one-dimensional but this was far from the truth. There were the run down establishments but also the mid-range to quite comfortable. The guide was published through the late 1960s. There were other black travel guides at the time but the Green Book was definitely the most popular, reaching a circulation of 2 million by 1962. Vogue magazine’s 2017 circulation was 1,242,282.
Something that came up during my Instagram story that people responded to — and have in the past — is that I’ve never driven cross country in the US while I have in Italy. When people ask if me if I’m eager to do so, I’m conflicted. I am, but I do have some hesitation. Growing up black in America you get a little extra education. You know what sundown towns are, you know about the razing of Greenwood, Black Wall Street. Even if you’re so cushioned that you’d most likely never be near these places, or cross paths with these people, black parents feel like it’s their duty in raising a black child to make them aware of this history (and present). I remember a few years ago I was at an industry cocktail party and spoke to a brilliant woman that works in television production. American, her family was of Indian descent and her husband was white, Jewish American (FYI there were also Jewish travel guides in the 1930s). With my profession travel naturally came up and how I wanted to see more of the United States. We talked about the famed cross country road trip and a cool black woman hiker we both followed that just did the Appalachian trial. This well-travelled well educated woman then said to me, “that’s not for me though” and recounted driving down to Myrtle Beach. They stopped at a gas station and her husband asked her to stay in the car as he didn’t feel comfortable with her coming out in that place. They are an interracial couple, she’s brown, he’s protective of her as a woman, there were a lot of things at play here but traveling while brown is a real thing.
Today, politicians and television anchors speak of “terrorism” as though it is a new phenomenon to the United States. Terrorism is not new and to think so is a grievous slight to the nation’s native peoples, to its multitudes of immigrants, and to its legions of black Americans—all of whom have long been terrorized for calling America home. In fact, even before Route 66 was officially connected and enshrined, the roads that would come to form it linked one atrocity to the next.
Candacy Taylor, The Roots of Route 66
I came across an article on The Atlantic from 2016, The Roots of Route 66 that expresses my reservations about the famed cross country road trip. Black people were discouraged from doing parts of it initially. I can’t stress how good this article is. The author vividly (and briefly) recounts America’s terrorism history and why a book like the Green Book was necessary. Candacy Taylor takes you through the historical racial atrocities committed on Route 66 making that jingle “get your kicks on Route 66” seem like a warped joke. We’ve come a long way as a country, a lot of healing has been done but this in entrenched in America’s history and should be recognized. Perhaps it’s why so many of you even come to my Black-friendly travel blog post — that passed down generational trauma that says “I need this place to be vetted.” Or “people that look like me can’t afford to be explorers.”
I want my site to be a resource to you. I always have my spidey senses up when I travel and I am open and honest. We deserve to see the world too and I want to help you do it.
While you’re prioritizing self-care, time with your loved ones should be high on your list. I know, for me, there’s nothing like a girl’s night with my crew. Spicy margaritas, lots of wine, lots of laughs, advice, lots of shade. It’s such a cathartic experience. And when you get a whole vacation of it? Now that’s a treat!
That’s why I have compiled the ultimate list — 25, a whole TWENTY-FIVE getaways for you and your crew for Popsugar.com. Check it out now!
*Also for my readers overseas, I’m not sure why but Popsugar.co.uk does NOT show all 25 places on the list — they show only 8 and a random selection. If you have a VPN you can check out the article, in it’s entirety, as it’s meant to be seen on Popsugar.com. I hope you can, I worked pretty hard on this list for you guys and it’s frustrating that everything isn’t available for my international audience. Maybe, at a later date, when it’s been on Popsugar.com for quite some time I’ll repurpose the list here. In the meantime here are the places I listed and you’ll find out WHY on Popsugar.com
I consider myself to be a self reflective person, but sometimes, I am barreling full steam ahead with full on excitement. Those moments of looking at the bigger picture and asking myself what’s the plan come in the moments right before bed, or right when I wake up. With Michele though, even those moments aren’t particularly pensive as we excitedly plan our days, reflect on thoughts, discuss everything most waking seconds together. Hmm… I should get back to meditating.
Recently, while searching for a photo in Paris from the fall of 2017, I came across a treasure trove of photos and blog entry drafts from that summer and it was like watching myself on the precipice of an evolution.
2017: I knew I needed a change from NYC, I was stuck in a rut. A rut doesn’t necessarily always seem bad. Sometimes it comes discussed as a cozy nest. I had a really great year professionally, but while my travel industry friends were always on the move, I felt tethered to my apartment in NYC and it became such a financial burden. People stay in relationships because of great real estate in NYC. It’s a tough market! Finally, I got the opportunity to make a change. As my mom announced that we’d be heading to France in July, I let her know that I’d be staying on when she returned. I didn’t have an exact plan, in fact, I wanted to move to London, but I knew that this would be the first step to getting there.
So there I was in Brooklyn, forging ahead into plans, packing for an indefinite stay in Paris, I planned to be in Europe for at least all of fall. I studied abroad before, I lived in Italy but this was different, there was no safety net. I didn’t really have any friends in Paris, I didn’t speak French. But this wasn’t forever, and it was something I had to do. I had to follow through, didn’t I? I’d just started dating someone. Stating on our first date “Don’t get attached because I’m leaving in 2 weeks.” He was great. “What is this timing?” I thought. I cried leaving my apartment. I avoided saying goodbye to my close friend Jen because that would make it too real. She lived down the street and over the past few years we’d become fixtures in one another’s lives.
I spent a week in Paris and Marseilles with my mom before I bid her adieu and went upstairs to my AirBNB and cried. What was I doing?! I had wine, bread and cheese for dinner and watched a torrent stream of my Housewives. The next day, I woke up in my amazingly sunny and charming AirBNB and smiled.
This was my time.
I’m from New York. Like many of my peers from Amherst, I came back here after graduating. I traveled extensively at one point leaving NYC a few times a month but NYC was home. My longest stints away from home in my adult life were going to Milan; still it was familiar I studied abroad there and had a close relationship with a family; London, I had family and friends there. Paris was different, this was truly making my place in a new city. I explored Paris, took in everything. Spent a LOT of time alone in cafes, reading books. Went on few dates. Blocked a lot of people on Hinge and Bumble respectively. There was one particular evening where I sat in a cafe, on a lovely date but he was confused by how distracted I was by the next table. They’re so chic and French I told him. He laughed. Really, yes, they were but seeing this ground of about 7 young men and women, I desperately missed my friends from home. I wanted to be apart of the smiles, laughs and gasps. I think I probably stared a little too long, laughed a little too much. My date thought I was totally weird. Hosted visiting friends, made new friends with old family friends and really found my little neighborhood in Canal St. Martin. Got lost on the buses, walked everywhere. “Studied” French via Rosetta Stone everyday. There were days were I walked around, soaked the city in, but I didn’t have a true conversation with another person. Felt inspired and reinvigorated. Each day was something new.
I went back to NYC at the end of September to speak at a conference, spending 3 days in town before I flew to Copenhagen and then Djibouti to a Yemeni refugee camp with Norwegian and UNICEF. Afterwards the camp, I continued on to London and settled into a new life there by October. I explored neighborhoods outside of Notting Hill, met Michele and now we’re beginning our journey.
Thinking about that month and a half in Paris in the Fall of 2017 makes me so happy. I was so naive as to think as, I’m just going to do this and “pop back into” my life in NYC and nothing will have changed. I wouldn’t have changed. But my subconscious knew. Deep in my soul, there was a rumble, it came out in a shudder as I left my apartment. My avoidance of saying goodbye to Jen.
I knew there was change coming and I was slowing measuring my courage to accept it.
Whether it’s preliminary research for exploration, a desire to mix things up with a trip. A desire to learn about another culture. Or maybe you just wanted to satiate your wanderlust through pretty pictures. I wish for you my NAPW community, the courage of change and the true pleasure and luxury of getting to know yourself on your own terms.
Now that I’ve suggested some places that should definitely be on your travel list for 2019, let me share with you my secret about how I can get there. Yes, my job has a lot of perks, but being in a long distance relationship (and excited to travel every opportunity I get), I find myself racking up a lot of not comped airtime. My airline of choice for the last few years has definitely been Norwegian. My first flight with them was the summer of 2016 flying one of their first dreamliner trips from New York to Paris. Norwegian was new to me at the time, but as soon as I walked into the plane’s premium section, I was hooked. Super comfortable seats, great service and that new fresh feeling that you want your airplanes to have. Honestly Norwegian’s affordability at premium quality made my long distance relationship with Michele so much easier and doable, a reliable service from JFK to Gatwick for under $500 was heaven sent to us!
Our latest Norwegian long haul trip was together, from NYC JFK to Bangkok, Thailand BKK. In total, the trip is about 17-hours of flight time, but really, it was the easiest 17 hours of flight. Why? It’s science!
Norwegian’s Dreamliner’s air control system and ambient lighting allows you to have a restful flight and reduces jet lag! I usually sleep before airplanes take off — jealous?! — but even Michele was snoozing. This made all the difference as we landed in Thailand early AM and were able to hit the ground running and sightsee right away! The seats are also super comfortable with a very far recline in premium so you’re practically on a bed.
Another great thing about Norwegian premium on a long haul trip to Thailand is the lounge access. You’re well fed in premium but I love checking out a lounge spread, relaxing with wiFi and getting those last minute emails in before I check out for a day.
Let’s talk about the food. Fresh salmon, DRAGON FRUIT, PAPAYA, A PRAWN SALAD. Yes, I’m screaming. It was amazing. Michele loved the pretzel bread. Water and juice before you take off in premium. We were really stuffed. Commercial airline food that’s pretty enough for a blogger flat lay is almost unheard of, and it tastes delicious. You can also order snacks and drinks to your seat.
All of this, plus seeing the good that Norwegian does with UNICEF makes me feel great singing Norwegian’s praises and spending my money with them! In fact, taking my mom to Martinique at the end of the month for her birthday with a great deal I found during Norwegian’s Black Friday Sale. There’s a New Year sale happening right now with flights as low as $59 one way… I’m eyeing their Rome to Tel Aviv route! Get on it and see the world in 2019!
** Since the time of my writing, the Norwegian flight experience has only gotten better! Isn’t it nice to see an airline trying to improve the customer experience instead of sitting on their laurels? Starting today, January 8, 2019 Norwegian customers flying between Europe, USA, South America and Asia will be able to stay connected in the skies with the rollout of free and premium high-speed Wi-Fi on the carrier’s Boeing 787-9, Dreamliner and 737 MAX. Nice!
Every day, I have a comment, message or email pertinent to this article and it makes me so happy. Traveling is something that everyone has a right to experience and traveling as a person of color is a certain niche that does require extra research. This is why a guide like the Negro Motorist’s Green Book, a travel guide for African-Americans published from 1936 to 1967 that promised “vacation without aggravation” was created. Like many industries, the behind-the-scenes of travel industry content creation is majority white. They may have a VERY different experience in a destination than people of color. I’m a strong proponent of women traveling solo, I want to highlight my experiences about it. Recently, traveling to Jaipur, India as a black woman was hard. I can still picture the intense stares that went beyond curiosity more often than not into menacing. I was slightly prepped for this due to another influencer from Nigeria’s experiences in the country but never the less, confronted with the stares and the pointing and laughing, I had to keep reminding myself, “there’s beauty everywhere” and I had just as much right to see it as the next person. And I did; I savored those moments of beauty, and the smiles and positivity I did receive. I’m going to write about that experience but I bring it up to say, recently, due to this experience, even more-so did I appreciate and realize the value of this Black-Friendly Travel Destination list.
We deserve to explore the world, but let’s get our feet wet with some destinations that will embrace us first. So here are another 10 places that should be on every African American’s travel list (and for the most part, black people across the diaspora).
South Africa, particularly Johannesburg
Johannesburg might be popping up on your feed a lot lately with Afropunk and Mandela 100 (this year’s Global Citizen’s Fest) held in the South African city. “Johannesburg feeds the soul” seems to be the motto of many South Africans I met. This city is vibes. The food, the music, the people, the culture. If you’ve never been to the continent before, this should be your first stop! There is a lot more to South Africa than the recent history of apartheid but as they say “you’ve gotta know your history.” The country’s struggle for freedom during the apartheid regime will move you and also rip you apart because this was in many of our lifetimes. There is a strong initiative from the government to empower and re-enfranchise people of colour as well and you very much see it in the city of Johannesburg. Make sure to explore Soweto (SOuth WEst TOwnships). During apartheid, blacks were moved away from central Johannesburg to this area. It lives in South African history as the area with the heart of the struggle against apartheid. It also has the only street in the world to house TWO Nobel Prize winners: Vilakazi street is home to Desmond Tutu and Nelson Mandela. And the amazing neighborhood has given us Trevor Noah as well… just saying.
Guadeloupe, French West Indies
Guadeloupe is similar to another island on this list, Martinique, as it is a department of France in the West Indies. I’d say the major difference is that Guadeloupe rebelled… A LOT…. The slaves there rebelled a few times and the island also rebelled to overthrow France. In that sense, and in the spirit of who they are, Guadeloupe is an awesome island for a vacation: beautiful beaches, superb food, luxury hotels AND Guadeloupe encourages visitors of all backgrounds to explore its historical sites. Take a tour of places like the slave steps in Petit Canal and the preserved slave market: the first entry point after Africa for many of the slaves in the Caribbean and their last sight of the shore. There’s also the new Memorial ACTe museum. On par, if not better than, the new African American history museum in DC, this museum has won many international awards, has wonderful interactive exhibitions and is part of UNESCO’s Slave Route Project, a global initiative to promote the rapprochement of peoples through the shared legacy of this tragedy. This is such a great trip for African-American families.
Another island in the French West Indies that you should visit, possibly on the same trip (Norwegian has super affordable flights) is Martinique. It’s such a beautiful island with a diversity of landscape: super lush and green in the mountains up north, beachy down south. It’s a beautiful territory of France and has that unique balance of a deep and rich local history (very proud of their African roots) while having the chicness (and structural development) as the South of France. Beautiful people, great beaches, delicious food, great cultural offerings (a former distillery with a modern Art museum) and cheap flights from both the US and Europe. If you’ve ever wanted to “do Carnival” but maybe get intimidated by the crowds or sheer intensity of it all, Martinique has a super fun, light-hearted Carnival in February. It is the PERFECT place for your first Carnival as it is the only one that’s really participatory: there are no barriers separating the spectators and the marchers, everyone is encouraged to participate and does. If you decide to book, check out my Martinique guide for Vogue.com!
Riviera Nayarit, Mexico
The weather is perfect, the water’s perfect, and you can catch some great waves. One of my favorite places in the world, my happy place, is Sayulita, Mexico, I’ve written about it for Vice, Duchess Meghan’s The Tig and tons of other places. A small fishing village-cum-surftown-cum-pueblo-magico Sayulita is abound with good energy, color and good vibes. The locals there are almost like beautiful merpeople, taken to a water at a young age, tan skin glowing; it’s just a beautiful place. The whole riviera is with the different towns being distinct, whether it’s a boutique hotel in Sayulita, airbnb and family vibes in San Pancho or the posh W hotel in Punta Mita. Take a vacation in Mexico, learn how to surf, break the stereotype and get your hair wet ;).
While I was in Hawaii, I often heard the island of Kauai praised as “Hawaiians favorite island.” Often called the Garden Isle, this place is truly breathtaking. Think Fern Gully or Avatar. There’s the north shore, home to the Nā Pali coast where emerald green cliffs, sprinkled with clay red rocks dipping into the sapphire ocean will leave you in awe or the majestic Wailua Falls in Lihue. Retaining a strong connection to their native Hawaiian past is a source of pride to locals. There is a strong connection to the land and appreciation of the creator; a truly beautiful spirituality. In my short time in Hawaii, I went to a lot of blessing ceremonies. I got blessed more times than in a black church! We deserve self-care and natural rejuvenation too! Go for that alone! I wrote about my love of this island for Vice and for ‘NAPW!
Great food, good weather, cool people. I recently took a trip to Thailand with my boyfriend, exploring both Bangkok and the North and found it to be such an amazing and welcoming country. There’s a lot of innovation in the country and we spent the most time in the university city of Chiang Mai, where the openness, inclusion and frankly just the dopeness of the next generation lead the way. Sure, there were moments that I was met with curiosity, generally at temples in the North where Chinese tourists wanted to take photos with me and complimented my hair but it was genuine, good hearted fascination — though it’s OK to say no to a selfie. Throughout our travels in Thailand, I saw a solid amount of fellow black travelers and even happened to be on an excursion with a West Indian couple from my neighborhood in Brooklyn, small world huh?!
I spent my birthday in Morocco and besides not really feeling Chefchaouen (which was beautiful nonetheless) I absolutely loved my time in the country. Yasiin Bey / Mos Def seems to have his hand in all of the amazing places on the continent (his recording studio in Johannesburg launched this past fall) and the Moroccan city of Marrakesh holds a special place in his heart. Before you head there, take a look at the show, The Getaway an Esquire travel series showcasing his Marrakesh. As for my time in Morocco, As you can probably tell from my most recent posts, I fell in love with the vibes of the city of Fez, the cultural and spiritual capital of the country. There I was called an “African princess.” Fez not only has the oldest medina in the Arab world, but the oldest university which draws millions of religious pilgrims (including those from Sub-Saharan Africa) every year. Another place that we loved was Imlil Valley where we were ensconced in the beauty of the Atlas mountain and the world-famous hospitality of the Berber people. There is so much to see in Morocco and I would definitely recommend it for a black traveler.
As I mentioned in my original black-friendly travel post, France, especially Paris has a love affair with black Americans but what about exploring the smaller, yet cosmopolitan city of Bordeaux? It the capital of this wine region so Bordeaux is also a great base point for fun vineyard exploration. The city is in the midst of a rebirth with younger families opting for Bordeaux and its more relaxed way of life over Paris. It’s chic, it’s young, it’s hip, dare I say, I prefer Bordeaux to Paris at the moment! I wrote about it a few years ago for the Duchess of Sussex Meghan’s former blog, The Tig.
Lisbon & Porto, Portugal
With Brazil, Cape Verde and African countries like Angola being former Portuguese colonies and the immigration patterns that come with this, while not perfect in race relations, the Portuguese are used to seeing people of color and they have been integrated in Portuguese society for centuries. Portugal clung to it’s colonies a lot longer than other European powers (1975) BUT they were supposedly considerably more casual about interracial marriage and intermingling in society leading to a “browning” of the population and in my opinion, some awesome flavor (though there are no “good” colonizers and I would never want to add to that myth)! Lisbon and Porto are really cool cities and compared to other well-traversed European capitals they are very affordable in terms of food and accommodation. Portugal also has a very robust wine region as well so it could be an alternative to vineyard hopping in France! As a Black American, traveling there with my mom and also spending time there with my boyfriend I found myself welcomed in Lisbon and I’m definitely looking forward to going back.
Now here’s an interesting one: Finland. I went to Finland on a press trip with 7 other influencers of color and our Norwegian Airlines PR representative. I had an AMAZING time and was eager to put Finland on the list. Helsinki is a cool city that Lenny Kravitz apparently frequently visits: the design is on point and it has a contemporary food cuisine. We then went up to the Arctic Circle, the Laplands, and snowmobiled, ice fished and did lots of cold weather activities that black people aren’t normally pictured doing. We were warmly received — you know, as warm as the Finnish can be (they seem to be a very quiet people) — and it’s a great alternative to Iceland for seeing the beauty of the Northern Lights. Naturally, given all of this, I was eager to add Finland to the list but this list is not just based on my experiences but also my colleagues in the black travel community, friends, family and the current socio-political climate. That’s where Finland gets, well, complicated. I had great experiences there but according to the Being Black in the EU report (https://fra.europa.eu/en/publication/2018/eumidis-ii-being-black) published by the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA) among the 12 western EU states in the survey – including Ireland, Austria, Luxembourg, Germany, Denmark, Malta, Sweden, France, Italy, the UK and Portugal – Finland topped the list regarding perceived racial discrimination as well as harassment speech and gestures. Some 14 percent of black respondents in Finland said they had been the victim of a physical attack, which was the highest figure among all 12 of the countries overall. However, at the same time, the respondents from Finland reported among the highest level of trust in police and least examples of racial profiling by the police vs. the other countries. Digging more into it, I found Far Right street gangs street gangs have been on the rise in Helsinki terrorizing the Somali population there. If you do enough digging, you can find incidences of racism for most countries in the world, black countries included, so, I had a good experience in Finland but I want to give you the BIG PICTURE.
Speaking of FRA, on that list, the country with the least discrimination that’s been on my bucket list for a while is Malta. We do have to take these numbers in context because it is an island with about half-a-million people and few minorities, most of whom are Brits. But still the ones there are feeling pretty good about their situation! I’ve always wanted to go to Malta. Pre Game of Thrones fandom I was a Degrassi-stan and one of the characters, Jay, mentioned his family was from there. After looking it up, I decided I wanted to head to this beautiful island nation. It’s on my list for 2019 so you’ll see a post from there soon!
Another disclaimer I want to mention is this list is for places to visit. It is a far different experience being a visitor in a place, seeing tourist attractions, etc than living there and being firmly entrenched in daily life. For better or worse, a place really starts to show it’s true colors then.
Let me know if you have questions about other places that you’re thinking about going and feel free to share your experiences in the comments below. The last post created a great community, with even more insight and suggestions. I’m here for you guys!
This year has truly flown by. It was a year of steady professional highs that I didn’t take time to enjoy. I remember admitting to Michele sometime this year that I find it a bit overwhelming when I receive a professional accolade, or accomplish something because my almost immediate thought is “what’s next… alright so now, I have to do this, this and this while I’m still fire….” I’m still trying to make that travel tv show happen though, so a lot of my self-congratulation has been clouded with “I still don’t have that so… NBD.”
Looking back at the last few years, both professionally and personally, I’ve realized my capacity to will things into being. I wanted to forge my own way in fashion, and I willed myself right to the White House. I wanted to travel write? I started this blog and willed myself right onto being featured by Forbes 3 times in 2018. I even remember going to an iMovie course at the Apple store 2 years ago because, I want to have video travel content but I thought, I don’t have a camera crew so there’s no way I can do that. I’m not winning an Oscar for film editing, but I’m on my way to making things happen. I wanted a change from NYC, I made a life in London for the last year and 1/2 and even found love.
It zipped by. And as I’m finally taking a moment for overall self-reflection. 2018 was a great year. I visited and truly connected with places that have been on my bucket list since I was a child: South Africa, Morocco, India, Thailand, the Artic circle were the big ones. I am truly blessed. The relationships that I’ve invested the most in have flourished like the gardens of my wildest dreams. So moving into 2019, I’m going to LOVE MORE. I’ve let go of some things and people in 2018 and made room for my cup to runneth over with love and abundance. Now… next step is to do that with my wardrobe. I want to consume less — really I love my fashuns but I feel like I’m drowning in clothes and could go the quality vs. quantity route. Splitting my time between two continents really showed me wardrobe wise, less is definitely more. *If you have any particular clothing donation drives that you feel very strongly about, let me know. I’d love to donate boxes of great items.
2018 also seemed to be the year of queueing things up for the rest of my life. So what’s next? Well so far… Milan. What?! I’m still processing it myself. My best friend Carolyn cheered me on and reminded me that I’ve wanted to do this since 2006. Of course, I’m scared as hell. It’s not the right time. But, when will it ever be. It’s for the right person.
I’m thankful for this blog, and you my readers that keep me going. I want to pay this gratitude forward by always having fresh content for you. Sometimes it feels like I’m firing on all cylinders. So many things I want to do, so many things I want to write. Things get lost, I feel overwhelmed. But I’m going to tell more stories.
I can’t wait to see what this next year will bring.
We were lucky enough to have two great experiences at two very different hotels in Fez, Morocco. As I mentioned in my Morocco itinerary post, we rented a car and road tripped to Morocco’s blue city, Chefchaouen for a night and back the next day. We hit the road pretty early as to return our rental car to the Fez airport by noon. From here one of Hotel Sahrai’s luxury vans picked us up and set the tone for our stay. After a 3.5 hour trip through the Moroccan country side a little R&R is exactly what we needed and found at Hotel Sahrai, a member of the Small Luxury Hotels of the World.
Here’s why I like staying with Small Luxury Hotels of the World properties: I love a boutique hotel experience and members of this group operate independently but maintain quality standards that I can rely on. Generally if you’ve fallen in love with one SLH property, you will love them all.
A 5-star luxury hotel, Sahrai sits perched on a hill of the new city overlooking the old medina — the largest in the Arab world. The boutique hotel combines contemporary with tradition design. If the medina and riads are an onslaught of colors, sights and sounds, Sahrai filters them through a GOOPish lens. Very curated and fragrant, albeit beige. Upon entering the airy lobby you feel like you’re walking on water and are treated to a gallery of African artists. The use of light in the hotel from the common spaces to the rooms is really incredible.
On the site of the former French resident-general of Morocco’s summer palace, the design from architect Christophe Pillet is reminiscent of the motifs and arches of the palace. I love the Taza stone etchings in the rooms!
2 restaurants (they serve alcohol!)
a Rooftop bar with international DJs
a gorgeous infinity pool with a full pool bar menu
an exclusive Givenchy spa, combined with a traditional hammer
and a full service gym
I spent a very happy birthday with Michele at Hotel Sahrai and it will always have special memories for us.