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Travelling alone as a black woman? It doesn't get harder than this

Solo traveller Pelumi Nubi embarks on a road trip from London to Lagos.  (Pelumi Nubi instagram)
Solo traveller Pelumi Nubi embarks on a road trip from London to Lagos. (Pelumi Nubi instagram)

Travelling solo as a black woman is not just a simple thrill-seeking or a healing act. It's an empowering and defiant move that overcomes the layered fears of racism and a society that has for a long time, restricted us.

Solo travelling as a woman is a scary venture in general, but black women have to think beyond their gender to the immediate fear of how they will be treated once their skin colour is noticed. The presence of a black woman will incite a spectrum of reactions, from harmless but loaded stares that make them feel unwelcomed to racially motivated attacks.

Travelling solo as a black woman is a “triple whammy,” says Pelumi Nubi, the London-based travel content creator, who has since January been on a cross-continental road trip from London to Lagos, Nigeria. “I’m travelling solo, I’m black and female. It doesn’t get harder than this,” she adds.

Along with her backpack, she carries the perpetual fear of not knowing how she will be treated each time she crosses a new border. But those moments are fleeting she says, because she doesn’t want to be “ruled by that fear.” At times her concerns were forgotten about, the “kindness of people” surprising her.

Nubi, who up until recently was doing a biomedical degree before she quit to travel, describes herself as a “traveller at heart.” Her passport is already worn-out having visited 80 countries so far. “I was just trying to connect these two places I consider to be home,” she says from her latest stop in Guinea Bissau, a sun-drenched tropical haven in West Africa. “It’s very quiet here,” she says. There is less hustle and bustle compared to Dakar, Senegal, where she was a few days earlier.

When she's not driving or exploring, she’s sleeping in her Peugeot 107, parked on camping grounds. From riding on the iron train through the Sahara Desert and walking tours in Chefchaouen to watching the sun rise on the Atlas Mountains, Nubi’s trip has been extraordinary.

Her trip was inspired by Kunle Adeyanju, the Nigerian motorcyclist who cycled from London to Lagos in 2022, and it was his incredible feat that sparked in her the thought that no black woman had ever made a similar journey and she would be the first. Nubi is not just taking in the sights but making history along the way.

Black women have to think beyond their gender to the immediate fear of how they will be treated once their skin colour is noticed

“I was curious, have any other black female travellers done this before,” the Nigerian-born, London-raised 29-year-old asked. “I just felt that there was not enough representation. I know black women…they do different kinds of explorations, but I just don't think the media shows this or there's enough representation,” she adds. After a year of preparation, she set off in January across France, Spain, Morocco and then through the Western Sahara on route to cross 17 countries before reaching Lagos.

Visibility of black travellers has long been a glaring issue, resulting in the birth of the Black Travel Movement, a global campaign which began in 2013 and focused on uplifting black travellers and authentically representing them. The movement is this generation’s version of The Green Book, a travel guide first published by Victor Hugo Green between 1936 to 1966 and used then as a guide for African American travellers in the era of Jim Crow and “sun down towns.” A collaborative study by the Women in Travel CIC, and the university of Surrey School of Hospitality and Tourism Management, revealed the issue of diversity and inclusion in tourism marketing in the UK, which hinders many people of colour from holidaying in certain countries. The report also revealed that safety and concerns over racism were many of the contending factors for ethnic travellers.

Although sadly no longer running due to financial restrictions, Nubi was one of the co-founders of The Black Explorer, a print magazine launched to uplift black travel, that is often missing from the media. “The vision for us was to amplify black travel, to showcase that we too travel, we take our space too and to put our stories out there as well,” she says. “People want to do these kinds of trips, but they don't see themselves or someone like them doing it,” Nubi says. Her drive has always been to empower black solo female travellers “in a society that constantly tells us we couldn't.”

“That's why we have to make a conscious decision to push the norms. I refuse to live in a normal life,” she adds. Nubi documents her over 6,000 mile long trip to her rising 16,000 followers on Instagram. Already countless women in her comments have noted how they feel motivated to pursue their own adventures, she says.

Travelling solo as a black woman is a ‘triple whammy’ Nubi says (Pelumi Nubi)
Travelling solo as a black woman is a ‘triple whammy’ Nubi says (Pelumi Nubi)

For many women wanting to venture into solo travelling, safety is always a concern. A survey conducted by online travel agency, Tourlane, revealed almost 50 per cent of women who contemplated taking a solo trip refrained from going because of worries about their safety. Despite this, there is a surge in female solo travellers, with female-led tours booming in popularity. According to Condor Ferries, 73 per cent of travel agents found that female travellers embark on more solo trips than males. Research from booking.com, which surveyed 27,000 travellers across 33 countries, predicted a potential surge in women travelling alone this year, with 54 per cent expressing plans to travel solo in 2024.

When I crossed into Morocco I broke down in tears

To the naysayers Nubi says, “I want people to, at the end of this trip, see that I have done it. And then maybe then question what else in their life they consider impossible.”

“When I crossed into Morocco I broke down in tears, because I had this huge anticipation, I genuinely felt like I may not make it, almost like a public failure was something that I was even more concerned about rather than a personal failure.  And when I did it was just like, wow, if I listened to people I wouldn't have made it so far.”

Being an avid solo traveller, Nubi is packed with lots of sage advice for those wanting to take the dive and travel alone.  Here are five of Nubi’s tips and recommendations for solo travelling.

The solo traveler shares her best advice for those wanting to take the plunge (Pelumi Nubi)
The solo traveler shares her best advice for those wanting to take the plunge (Pelumi Nubi)

Make up your mind

Nubi’s first piece of advice before setting off on a solo trip is to completely make up your mind. Should there be any room for doubt or anxiety, quell it before you make the jump to travel across continents alone. It’s important that you decide for yourself too, Nubi says. That way when “the noise comes” later you’re not compelled to back out.

Do more solo activities before you go

If the thought of sitting in a restaurant alone or going to the cinema by yourself fills you with unspeakable dread, then it’s important you attempt to ingrain yourself with the idea of spending time outside alone. It’s like a muscle you need to stretch, Nubi says. After a while, “it’s less foreign because you've done it in your comfort zone,” she adds.

Start local

Before Nubi embarked on her solo travelling experience, braving her way through six continents, she started by exploring countries and cities neighbouring the UK.  “I think people feel like travel needs to be happening across the ocean. My early days I was just exploring Europe,” she says. Even going on a weekend gateway to the other side of the country is a big feat and would better prepare you for a solo trip out of the country.

Set up yourself to meet new people

It’s not an entirely a solo experience. As you’re travelling around a country, you’re bound to connect with the locals and other solo travellers. “I think people feel like when they go, they'll just be so isolated. But that's not the case,” Nubi says. Locals hold a breadth of knowledge, and talking to them can give you the insight you wouldn’t find in a travel brochure.

“Do walking tours, or stay in hostels where you can meet people, or shared activities like cooking classes... just things that would naturally bring other travellers and give you opportunity to meet new people while travelling,” she says.

Stay connected

This one is one of the most vital things for when you land in a new country. You may get lost in the excitement of your travels but staying in touch is necessary, should anything go awry.

“Having that attachment or that constant connection with your loved ones, with people you trust just gives you that extra boost of confidence that if anything does go wrong, I'm able to call for help,” Nubi says.

While travelling solo as a woman, take other precautions such as never revealing you’re alone or posting in real time on social media Nubi adds.

A hack repeated often to solo female travellers that Nubi stresses on is wearing a “fake wedding ring,” to repel unwanted attention, especially at immigrations offices or border control, where  “it’s predominantly male,” she says

Nubi’s final advice is don’t live in regrets and to not pushback on grand adventures whether it’s nearby or far.