I’ve been to a lot of places and held a lot of jobs. I’m an entrepreneur, and in my latest role as cofounder of Noirbnb, I lead strategy and oversee technology projects as our team builds a safe and welcoming product for Black travelers. As we grow, I continue to keep two key big-picture questions in mind:
No one story defines the Black travel experience, of course, but I strongly believe travel can help inform and evolve our views, experiences, and even our careers. We all have our own stories around travel.
I’ve personally always struggled to answer the “Where are you from?” question. I was born in suburban Maryland to a Nigerian father and a Liberian mother. I briefly lived in both West African countries as a child, while my dad was solidifying his career. I finished high school in Baltimore and went to college in Philadelphia. I’ve been to every continent except Australia!
Most of the places I’ve visited as an adult have been driven by my own curiosity, be it Paris as a graduate student, São Paulo as a football fan, or Bangkok as a honeymooner. What has been most surprising and gratifying is how my travel experiences have helped fuel my career. Here’s some of what I’ve learned from my adventures to date:
Too often, people don’t immerse themselves in the culture of the place they’re visiting. When I lived in Europe, I met many American students and ex-pats who moved back to the States within a couple of months because they couldn’t adjust to a different culture. What’s the point of leaving home if you’re only looking for an identical home in every place you visit?
Open yourself up to being a stranger. Practice the local language if you can. Go to where the locals go, eat where the locals eat, and mingle where the locals mingle. In doing so, you’ll find opportunities normally outside of the average traveler’s purview. It’s a scary proposition, but remember: People are more similar than they are different. Give them a chance, and who knows what you may uncover. Try checking out some of the same sorts of places you would go to back at home. When I visit new cities, I usually seek out a barbershop and a music store. I know that these places tend to have young people like me, and I can often find something in common with at least one person I meet. If you're into fashion, stop at a boutique and strike up conversation with one of the employees. Make a connection with a local so you can get insider tips to help you take advantage of your new surroundings.
I met a good friend-turned-business-partner at a bar in Rio De Janeiro. I was, to the bartender’s amusement, trying to order an “Irish car bomb” in a horrible English/French/Portuguese creole accent. A Swedish guy next to me wanted to try the drink too, so he hopped in and helped me complete the order. We struck up conversation, and I learned that he owned a construction company in Gothenburg and was interested in expanding his business to emerging markets.
I didn’t do any business in construction, so I was of no immediate help to him. But we exchanged contact info and kept in touch. More than a year later, I was on a trip in Nigeria when I came across an opportunity and thought of my friend. My aunt was looking to develop some property and build eco-friendly structures. She wanted a construction expert based in Europe, so I reached out to my friend and a business partnership was born. That’s the thing about meeting people – you just never know.
There’s a growing skills gap in our global marketplace: 21st century in-demand jobs in tech, engineering, and finance don’t have enough trained candidates to fill them. Yet hiring managers tend to look in the same places for talent, namely Silicon Valley. I’ve used this to my advantage and recruited talented developers, engineers, and skilled labor from overlooked and ignored places. This has allowed me to grow my business and deliver high-quality service to my clients at a reasonable price. Even if you’re not in the market for, say, a software developer, stay open to exploring new talent wherever you find it.
There’s a great American story told by Russell Conwell about a young man who traveled the world looking for diamonds and gold. He went broke and lost everything before eventually returning home, only to uncover a diamond mine in his own backyard. I’m not oblivious to the many challenges that can affect a person's ability to travel, but I’ll also stress that travel isn’t just riding camels in Cairo. If you’ve never been far from home, consider road-tripping to visit an old friend in a new city or taking a cheap flight to another state to see a long-lost relative. Business trips count as good travel opportunities, too.
Back when I was first starting my consulting business, I had to travel 90 miles to attend a two-day conference in Delaware. While there, I applied many of the same lessons I had used to take advantage of my experiences abroad: I embraced being a stranger, opened myself up to new networks, and looked for opportunities. And it worked; I sold my first client on my services, and the business grew from there.
Travel has long been one of the best teachers: It fundamentally challenges long-held beliefs and helps you grow. Every trip I’ve ever taken has taught me something new – about myself and the world around me. I love my job, and I’m already counting down the days until my next trip.
Image courtesy of Jide Ehimika