I am a fat queer Black woman, and the world doesn’t seem designed for me. Whenever I want to travel, questions flood my mind: Is the destination safe for Black people? Is it safe for women? Can I fit? Will people take photos? How can I navigate it all? Traveling used to make me panic; the shame of being seen is real. I used to think being uncomfortable was the hallmark of traveling (and living). Thankfully, therapy has helped unpack weight I should not have to carry, and traveling is now something I look forward to. Everyone deserves a Nancy Meyers-esque vacation.
Here are four tips I’ve found helpful:
1. Ask for exactly what you need. Need a seatbelt extender? I used to ask for one when boarding, and now I carry an FAA-approved one with me everywhere. If you’re flying Southwest, you can also ask the gate agent for an extra seat, if there’s one available, at no extra cost to you. Unfortunately, not every airline offers this, but talk to the crew at the gate. If you need extra time to get on the plane, pre-boarding is available to you. Upgrading your flight cabin can also be extremely low cost at times or even complementary; I recommend talking to the gate agent about what accommodations they have. As my mom always says, “Asking is free.”
2. Research. Talk to friends who have been to your destination and ask, is it safe for Black people? This stunned my white friends the first time I asked because it was never something they’d needed to consider. I also scout out Black-owned restaurants and plus-size boutiques to find something more tailored to me. This article on safe queer Black travel is incredibly helpful. Also, downloading offline maps from Google is a game changer in case you find yourself in an area without SIM card or wifi accessibility.
3. Meet up. Find your people — there are so many cool travel groups out there! Melanin on the Map is a travel app dedicated to people of color, Travel Noire helps you find Black communities abroad, Out Adventures is a long-time travel staple for LGBTQ+ folx, and WHOA Travel focuses on safe, fun travel at any size. I guarantee there’s a group out there for you.
4. Take up space and take no shit. Listen, I am a born-and-raised southsider from Chicago. We are nice with mean faces, and that is on purpose. Why can’t I question the way society functions? My entire life, I was taught to hide and apologize for the space I took up. But no more. Who has the time?
When I walk into a room, some people may have thoughts about who I am and how I live before they know my name. But my identifying intersections are what make me an amazing person that deserves to travel the world. You’re gonna get this skin, this body, this hair, and this gay lady all up in your face without apology. And she’s gonna have FUN. This leaves me with two questions for you: What has helped you navigate your intersections while traveling? And who is trying to go to Croatia with me in 2023?
Abby Mallett is a freelance writer and editor at Joy The Baker. You can find her tucked in her Chicago house, surrounded by plants and crystals. Follow her on Instagram, if you’d like.
P.S. Traveling while Black and 15 reader comments on travel.
(Photo of Abby by Breyon Brown.)