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Black Backpackers? Where in the World Are They?

“Only 4% of frequent backpackers are African-American, while Hispanics make up 19%, and Whites just over 70%” – Backpacker Magazine, May 1996

Yesterday I lazed on my couch trying to calculate how many Black backpackers – meaning those ‘of African ancestry’, I had seen or met in my travels over the past few years – I could only recall a small handful. The few that I had met were predominantly confident females traveling in small groups. I couldn’t seem to remember any names or faces of males that I had spoken to or shared a beer with.

A backpacker taking a nap before hitting the road

I thought that perhaps it is because I haven’t been to Europe, Asia, or Africa and maybe, just maybe, that’s where most black backpackers go. Is it? I guess that I won’t be able to prove or disprove this theory until I travel to those continents (hopefully sooner than later). Then I thought that perhaps it has to do with finances, but I quickly dismissed that theory since there are many black youth and young adults that earn just as much, or more than the average backpacker.

Real de Catorce Mexico

Photographing off the beaten path in Real de Catorce, Mexico

I have no doubt that other black backpackers exist, but they seem to be few and far apart. The one theory that I think holds the most weight is that black youth lack direct exposure to others who actively participate in activities like camping, hiking and backpacking. I am inclined to agree with David Baker, founder of a black backpacking group in California, “Once people are taught that there are woods to explore, taken there and shown how to backpack efficiently and safely, they will find a way to get back there.”

Although Bakers’s comment is more in reference to backpacking as it relates to camping, the same principle applies to travel. We need to introduce our friends, brothers, sisters and students to the outdoors and the beautiful world that awaits them beyond the glitz and glamour of shopping malls, posh all-inclusive resorts and the television.

Taking it a step further – and this isn’t a personal PR plug – we should start blogging and tweeting more about our travels and experiences from around the world. I have found that although I don’t have many friends who are as obsessed with travel as I am, Twitter is a great place to easily find, follow and interact with many cool travelers who are always willing to share invaluable advice and exciting travel tales. Follow me on twitter at www.twitter.com/adventurejo! Check out others that I follow and add them to your list.

Backpackers – New friends going out for a night on the town

For starters, I have an extra backpack that I would gladly lend to anyone who would like to give backpacking a chance – whether they are black, white, or blue. I hope that my blog will somehow reach more people that are apprehensive, curious or just need a little inspiration to get out into the world.

Have an opinion? What to share some advice? Just leave a comment below.

Check out the second part this post written in August 2016 – Black Travel: Being a Black Traveler in South and Central America. 

Live what you love – Joel

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59 Comments

  1. I would have definitely been one had I not gotten married.. but then again I may not have been interested in travel if I didn't meet my girl…

    It's not just backpackers though.. I rarely see black people when I leave the continent, period. I think Africans travel more than North American blacks.

  2. Jamaal I am sure that just about everyone is interested in travel in some shape, size or form. Some people are more conservative than others, so where they go will differ from the more adventurous. It is great that your wife loves to travel and has infected you or energized your dormant travel bug. You raise and interesting point – do Africans travel more than North American Blacks? It would be really good to see some stats.

  3. Well I'm not a backpacker but I am a traveler. I just see the world with a suitcase (and hand bag) instead of a backpack. So maybe black backpackers and black suitcases don't cross paths? Referencing your article, maybe the black travelers like the suitcase route over the backpack one?

  4. Love hiking, hate backpacking – if by backpacking you mean rolling out the sleeping bag and tent. Sold my camping gear years ago because i don't like sleeping with invertebrates.

    Yup. Just a black suitcaser or daytripper now. 😉

  5. Mandy & dweiums:

    Just to clarify – When I say 'backpacking', I am not referring to camping. As described by our friends over at Wikipedia, "Backpacking is a term that has historically been used to denote a form of low-cost, independent international travel. Terms such as independent travel and/or budget travel are often used interchangeably with backpacking."

    I think it is safe to say that the main aim of backpacking is to see a country's "real" or "authentic" side and not the pre-packed over-priced version. It is more than seeing the famous landmarks and collecting a passport stamp – not to say that this is what everyone else does. In response to Mandy's comment, the concept/culture of backpacking doesn't stipulate that you use a backpack rather than a suitcase. However, the type of traveling that a backpacker/budget traveler tends to do makes a backpack the more suitable option. For example, getting to a hostel at the top of a hill that is only accessible through an unpaved gravel road, is easier with a pack on your back rather than wheeling a suitcase behind.

    In most cases, a backpacking trip differs from a regular vacation in terms of the length of time spent in the foreign country or region. Most backpackers believe that it takes more than a week or two to fully immerse themselves in the visited country's culture and to see more than the popular sites. The length of the trip also dictates the backpacker's daily budget and calls for more conservative spending habits – hostels over hotels, local buses over taxis, meals at the market over the posh restaurant, etc, etc, etc.

    To be clear, I am not saying that there is anything wrong with luxury travel or being a 'suitcaser'. I would not have asked this question, had I met other blacks on my travels who checked in with suitcases rather than backpacks. I just find it odd that once you leave the major tourist areas, 'we' are few and far apart.

  6. I've met a few here in Central America, but not many. They've all been women too!

  7. Yeah that's the thing – most that I have met were also women.

  8. I'm an African-American female backpacker (wow, so many labels). My name's ord2world on http://www.bootsnall.com forums. Most people (ahem, white male americans) assume I'm in the military as I couldn't possibly be in Bali for pleasure. lol

    I love to travel off the beaten path and have (lately) been to..

    Barcelona and Ibiza, Spain
    Bali, Indonesia
    Tokyo, Japan
    Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
    Singapore
    Harare and Bulawayo, Zimbabwe
    Coming up….full moon parties, surfers and ceviche in Mancaro Beach, Peru.

    A lot of my fellow African-Americans think it's strange that I travel so much. I feel a lot of them try to put me in a box and it pisses me off. A lot of them are scared to travel outside of the U.S. too.

    One woman had the nerve to say it was strange that every picture was full of white people….I was in Prague. lol

    I'm quite happy to see the younger generation (God, I'm only 31) taking teaching positions in S.Korea and partying in Bangkok.

    PM me on bootsnall forums…..I'm quite helpful ;0

  9. hi i wanna do backpacking. im from london … ive just started to google and search if there are any about … i wanna live life and travel the globe as much as i can! with like minded people

  10. I think it is a great idea to do some backpacking or at least long-term travel with a suitcase. Living life is easy – you can also do that in the U.k 🙂 Traveling the globe is the more expensive hobby/lifestyle. I decided to take a shot at it and I am loving every costly moment. I have met so many like minded people from different edges of the globe. As a matter of fact, I am traveling with 5 of them right now (2 Americans, 2 Dutch & 1 London Bloke).

  11. Googling black backpackers is exactly how I found this page. My partner and I ( yes, Black, female AND gay. We wont stand out at all lol )are looking to set out in about a year to backpack for about 3 months and then settle down in either Mexico or Guatemala for a while and teach. I think you hit the nail on the head – exposure and breaking out of the resort mentality.

  12. Thanks for the comment. No you won't stand out 'at all'. It is great to hear that you are heading our of a 3 month trip. Settling in Guatemala or Mexico is a great idea. I am mildly obsessed with Mexico and I have spent about 3 years of my life within its borders. Let me know if you need any advice or recommendations about where to stay and what to see.

  13. On a whim I just decided to google 'black female backpackers' and came across your comments and website. I am a (mature) black female from Nigeria. I recently moved back to Nigeria after spending the last 20 years in London. It’s interesting what you said about the dearth of black backpackers. I caught the travel bug in 2000. I quit my day job and set off on a 6 month backpacking adventure through south America – Chile, Argentina, Peru, Bolivia, Ecuador and Brazil – It was absolutely fab! I returned to London to recharge my batteries and then set out again to take on East and Southern Africa, Australia, New Zealand, Indonesia, Malaysia, Cambodia and Thailand. The trip took about a year and it was the most exciting time of my life. I decided to travel solo on both trips because I didn't have any black friends who were remotely interested in travelling 'a la backpack.' To be honest,they had never heard of it, they were horrified at the thought of it and thought I was completely out of my mind. Before I set out I tried to get some information on solo black female backpackers and there was absolutely nothing! I went ahead anyway. It was a real gamble travelling on my own – single black female – I stood out like a sore thumb wherever I went. I think I only ever came across one black American lady in Bali and one black French guy in Peru, but even they were on relatively short trips. Overall it was a wonderful experience, with only a handful of unpleasant moments. People generally regarded we as a curiosity and couldn’t quite figure out how to react – some even asked me why I was black (they’d never seen a black person in the flesh!) and wanted to know whether my braids grew out of my head like that! As to why there are so few black backpackers, I find that most black people just don’t get it. We would rather go on expensive shopping ‘holidays’ and to expensive resorts than go out to explore and see the real world. When I mentioned sleeping in hostels, in mixed dorms and bunk beds my friends were incredulous!I’m Africa but still loved seeing animals in the wild in the Masai Mara, the Herero women in Namibia, Victoria falls in Zambia /Zimbabwe and the many fantastic experiences Africa had to offer. I wish more black people would travel, I mean really travel – it is such a mind expanding experience. I have travelled through, Europe, Central & South America, Asia, Oceania, the Caribbean islands- but Africa is still my favourite place. I still got strange looks in parts of Africa as they felt that backpacking was the exclusive reserve of ‘foolish’ white people with nothing better to do and couldn’t understand what a black woman was doing wandering around without a man! What can I say? But, it’s such a beautiful, diverse place, full of really beautiful people.
    Doreen Peters.

    • Wow Doreen, you’ve done exactly what I am planning to do. First South America and then East Africa (I’m focusing on Sudan and Ethiopia) I would love to know more about your experiences. I hope you see this.

  14. Googling ‘Black African female backpackers’ was how I found this.

    I’m putting the fundraiser for a trip through West Africa and Europe on IndieGogo at the end of this month, and would REALLY APPRECIATE your support! Please go to http://bit.ly/wf6Rcq for details.

    And you’ll be pleased to know that since there are so few of us (I don’t even sport the ‘American’ label, which puts me in an even smaller group), I decided to chronicle my experiences in an e-book: Reverse Transversal: Backpacking from Third World to First.

    I’ll be looking out for fellow Backpackers of all different shapes, sizes and colours on the way.

  15. I got a kick out of this article. I’m a black guy from one of the few upper mid class black communities in The States. I had resources, but I was still conditioned by a particular culture. Different cultures value different things – dancing, philanthropy, high grades, family unit over money, large families, being showy, etc. It’s not that blacks don’t know or don’t have resources any more than whites are “underrepresented” in the world of rap, r&b, basketball, or engineering. Asians aren’t trying to explain why a higher proportion of Asians are in sciences than whites. However, once I went away to college and was exposed, I found that, like most cultures, mine (affluent black) was limited. I joined the crew team. I joined a mostly white fraternity. I took windsurfing lessons. Turns out, I had more in common with these folks. If I’d been raised around similar whites, I might have been doing these things all along. If more whites were raised in ‘the hood,’ you might might more rappers, etc. Black-American culture is very limited, by and large. I’d never raise my kids in such a limiting and scared culture – scared that the world is racist or that they only certain people do this/that. I’ll bet many more blacks would enjoy backpacking if, like you say, they knew others that did so. We don’t all, by nature, only like basketball and soul. When you’re raised w/only black friends & you don’t know anyone who backpacks, it’s not something that crosses your mind. A lot of black college students would rather not work if they could afford not to, or simply spend their money on material goods instead of experiences. Finally, like most white folks, even many comfortable blacks in their 20s have to pay rent, student loans & transportation. They don’t have phantom money for gear, expensive flights around the world. The few that do, don’ that much time off. We don’t know how 20-somethings who make no more than us, can afford a trip to Thailand or Goa, lodging, equipment, food… plus their rent at home and student loans. Just doesn’t compute. Thanks for the interesting article.

    • Mike – Thanks for this very insightful comment. I enjoyed reading it and I am happy that people like yourself take the time to read and respond to this post. To be honest I have been on the road for about 1 year now and I am still amazed at how few Black males I have met traveling. I can actually list them on one hand and I remember their names and countries. I know what you mean about the money. I don’t think that whites necessarily have more disposable money either but they somehow find a way to take those trips. The same way how it seems that many others find the money to buy the latest Jordans or that special fixture for their car. I think it comes down to priorities and cultural upbringing. For example some people focus on getting the house, car and kids and put seeing the world on the back burner. That is neither right nor wrong – just a matter of choice. I will tell you this – I think that if more black males could break away from the system and go on extended trips, WE could change the world in many ways. For example, we can change the stereotype of what a BLACK GUY is supposed to be. How often have you heard – you are not like a real black guy? What does that even mean? We are all different as ever other traveler is.

      • Thanks for the response. You’ve been on the road for a year? Most folks, of any race, don’t have the money to travel for a year w/o generating income. Most don’t have the kind of job that allows them to generate money overseas. Most folks in their 20s can’t save enough to to do this whilst paying off loans. There’s just always more to it than, “I just saved my money from working a few years & took off”. There’s more to it than skipping out on Air Jordans. The cost of Jordans pales in comparison to just one trip to Buenos Aires… but you know this. I’ve a black friend who has lived in Italy since 1997. His aunt passed and left him a lot of money, but he never admits this to anyone else. He tells folks, “Just do it!” I’ve another friend who teaches English in Chile & has a site chronicling her travels. She never mentions her teaching. She wants folks to think she’s lucky or that she ‘manifested positivity’. I’ve another friend whose parents left him $5,000 after college. He started traveling & got jobs teaching kite surfing along the way. Again, he doesn’t tell anyone this. I’ve traveled to 22 countries & lived in Ams & Copenhagen. I don’t mind telling folks how I have. I’m a decent-looking gay guy who can *admit* he’s had well-off friends, lovers, etc. While visiting Amsterdam, I was picked up by a modeling agency & supported myself. A lot of times, if you just start traveling, opportunities unfold. That seems to be what most don’t understand. They assume they need an apartment and a job before even leaving or returning. I don’t try to pretend I’m lucky, did Voodoo with an average income, that there is some secret or that anyone can amass 22 countries & live in a few of them in the first few years of their adult life if they just avoid Jordans & prioritize. For 99%, there’s some extenuating circumstance, special job, gift or luck like I had when I was picked up by an agency. I know some folks who’ve lost/quit their job and planned to travel until the money dried up, but lucked into a teaching job or something. This information is far more truthful and helpful in getting others to travel than pretending just anyone with a 9-5 job, debt, and paltry American vacation days can take off for a year. The overwhelming majority of white Americans have never been off the the N. American continent.

  16. Hi Joel. I just typed “black backpackers” in a Google search and stumbled across this post and your blog. I’m a 30-something year old black female who is 40+ days in to a 13 month long solo journey around the globe and was obviously wondering the same thing since I have yet to see another black backpacker on the road. If you happen to know anyone who is traveling through SE Asia at the moment I’d love to connect. In the meantime I’ll definitely be reading through your blog and catching up 🙂 Safe travels.

    • It is great that you are doing an around the globe trip. That is an experience of a lifetime. I am yet to visit that part of the world. So it is the same over there huh? Few black backpackers? Unfortunately I don’t know anyone traveling through SE Asia right now but I will keep my ear to the ground. Thanks for reading my blog and your comment. Do you blog at all?

  17. This is very exciting!! I happened to google search “black backpackers” and came across your blog Joel. I’ve enjoyed reading all of the comments on this blog.

    I was born in Nigeria and have lived in Vancouver for the past 15yrs. When I got my bachelors degree, my present to myself was a trip to SE Asia for 5 months. A year later, I found myself backpacking across Mexico. The backpacking trips I’ve been on has been with my partner who is white and we’ve had a fantastic time. However, I often wonder what it would be like if we were both black. Would we still get weird looks? Would people ask us why we are together? Would we be shunned from certain places? Maybe so, maybe not.

    As many of you have mentioned already, I find that there aren’t enough black people that backpack. I often wonder if it’s because most black youths are just not exposed to it. Friends and family do not understand why I choose to backpack. I know that most of my family think that people who backpack are wayward and don’t know what they want in life and so they are just wandering. They sometimes think I’m trying to be white. After all, I don’t want to be married or have kids…simple enough. It can be quite frustrating at times!!

    So yes, I’m currently working on my masters and by 2013 I’ll be looking forward to visiting my grandfather’s village in Nigeria and then hopefully make my way to Egypt. I will continue to backpack until I can no longer carry a pack.

    To the black backpackers that have commented on this blog, maybe our paths will cross someday.

    • Cee – Thanks for the comment. It is funny how many of us are curious if we are the only ones out there. As you probably realize, I wrote this post in the attempts of crossing paths with people like yourself. I too entered “Black Backpackers” in Google – just out of sheer curiosity. So I guess the answer to the question of how many black backpackers there are out there is – NOT TOO MANY. Even when I ask other non-black travelers how many black backpackers they have met, their answers usually begin like this – “Coming to think about it, not too many” or “You are the only one” or “I met this one guy back in _________”.

      It is great to know that you are out there traveling and discovering the world and even better that you already have plans for future voyages. Get that Masters Degree and get out there. It has been 13 months now since I’ve been on the road and I am loving every moment of it. As you said, maybe our paths will cross one day soon. To the black and non-black backpackers that have commented on this post, Thank You – Joel

  18. I too stumbled on this post when I googled black backpackers. Growing up in Jamaica I had the opportunity to go to a summer camp, and this exposed me to a different world. In my home, soap operas were discouraged but discovery channel was encouraged. When I moved to the UK, I met so many people from different places I was intrigued. I knew I was going to travel, I just didn’t know there was a term called backpacking. I once recommended travelling to a friend and she immediately said she was not backpacking so I knew I was going to do it on my own. I am now going to Cuba and Miami this Sumer and I went to York and edinburgh already. When I finish university, i plan to go on a very big trip – exploring Mexico thoroughly and then continue down the rest of central America. I too want to do Africa and south east Asia, when I get the time I will. As I am now backpacking, te reactions I get are bewilderment and concerns about whether it is safe. Maybe I am being silly of not worrying about safety, but their objections to me travelling alone makes me laugh. I do get friends who are interested though – all females. I believe you are right about not being exposed – a lot of people don’t even know that it is possible to travel the world without being a millionaire. As I have recently caught the travel bug, I plan to blog more often about travelling and hopefully inspire a new generation of black backpackers 🙂

    • Thanks for your comment Shari. I am happy that you caught the travel bug. I warn you that it is nearly impossible to get rid of – you have it for life. Your trip to Mexico and Central America will be amazing. I lived in Mexico for 2 years after visiting for 2 weeks. That’s the trip that started it all for me. Last year I did the whole of Central America except El Salvador, so if you ever need advice on planning your trip, just let me know. I strongly encourage you to get blogging and I am sure you will inspire many new black backpackers to get out and explore the world. If you want to do a little guest post on what it’s like being a black woman and backpacking, let me know. It would be an honor.

      • Hi Joel,

        Sorry the late reply. Thank you very much. I defintely would not mind being a guest blogger.
        your post has inspired me to write a post on my own blog and I have mentioned it on a post I recently wrote called ‘The Revolutionary Traveller’. I would like to add a link to this post on my blog, please let me know if you dont mind.

        • Shari for sure. Feel free to use this post as a link in your post. I will definitely check out your post it should be a fun read.

  19. I’m happy to come across this blog and see black people interested in travelling as I am.

    Four years ago, after graduation, I spent a year in central America doing volunteering and travelling from Mexico to panama… and it was the best time of my life!

    I’m now thinking about a world tour, and in the mean time, am glad to read your great experiences 😉

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