For some Black women in America, moving abroad is a way to heal and find themselves
- For decades, the international travel space has been largely white.
- Black women told Insider they found healing in their experiences abroad.
Less than 300 people have traveled to every country in the world. Jessica Nabongo is one of them.
In 2019, she became the first documented Black woman to visit every country in the world.
The author of "The Catch Me If You Can" began traveling at the age of 4 with her family and later made a personal goal of seeing the world before turning 35.
Nabongo's trust in humanity kept her going. "I don't fear strangers, I traveled to 89 countries solo as a Black woman, and I had an amazing time. My journey was made beautiful by the kindness of strangers," she told Insider.
The countries she thinks about the most are Afghanistan, Somalia, and South Sudan, mostly because of the people she met.
"I think for me, it was just an amazing opportunity to be able to go there, have those experiences, and then share those experiences with people because it wasn't what everybody assumed it would be."
Nabongo said the most racism she's faced so far is in the United States, which is why she encourages Black people to drop any fears they may harbor of exploring new places.
Searching for balance
For decades, the international travel space has been largely white, kept down by access to resources and racism that some experience abroad. The representation of Black women living and traveling overseas is slim, but that narrative is slowly changing with the rise of social media.
One of these women is Charlotte Manning, a copywriter, poet, and model. Manning says her decision to move to Stockholm after college was made relatively easy.
Manning was born in Sweden, where her American parents met, but she spent the majority of her childhood growing up in Minnesota. After completing her bachelor's degree in Chicago, she said she was ready for a change.
"For my sake, it would have been a stupid choice not to explore living life [in Stockholm] with such a privileged person having two passports and being able to do that. I felt like it was a necessary change in environment for me," Manning said.
Although it took the copywriter a year to fully set in her new environment, life in Stockholm proved to be what she was looking for — balance.
Like many other Scandinavian countries, Sweden has relatively accessible health care and education, and the culture embraces a leisure lifestyle. As Manning said, "people don't live to work here."
Finding a community abroad
It's the same reason why Sienna J. Brown, founder of Master Your Move Abroad (MYMA), moved to Spain eight years ago. Originally from New York, as a Black woman, Brown sought to metamorphose elsewhere.
When she moved in 2014, she never thought of finding a community of Black folks, which is why she started MYMA, where the goal was to redefine the Black experience in Spain.
"Now, I'm so happy to see the expansiveness of the African diaspora here in Spain, which was once known to be an extremely homogeneous country," she said.
She references iconic Black figures like Frederick Douglass, James Baldwin, Audre Lorde, Maya Angelou, and Alice Walker, who all lived in temporary places around the world.
"It comes back to embodying a sense of freedom, softness, abundance and ease that wasn't possible for me to build in America," she explained. "America was not, nor was it ever made for us… we're deserving of occupying other spaces and building a new life there where we are loved, respected, and celebrated."
Maya Angelou spent around two years in Ghana as a journalist and university administrator. In her auto-biomythography, "All God's Children Need Traveling Shoes," she wrote, "If the heart of Africa remained elusive, my search for it had brought me closer to understanding myself and other human beings."
According to Dr. Aminata Cisse, psychiatrist and founder of Am Taar wellness, burning out from an environment is normal, whether due to internal or external stressors. As she got older, she realized the need to spend more time in Senegal for her mental health.
"Outside of my family being from there [Senegal], it was just a moment of fresh air to just be in an environment where I didn't have to explain my Blackness," she told Insider.
In general, traveling and living abroad can be healing for the many lessons it teaches you about yourself. However, she mentions, it does not mean everything else in your life dissipates. "As a psychiatrist, I always have to remind people, wherever you go, you carry yourself with you," she adds.
Manning echoes that while it's easy to get lost in the romanticism of living abroad. "You're still going to have to deal with a lot of the same issues and microaggressions."
Brown also said that although racism and microaggressions happen everywhere, comparing Spain and the US is like comparing apples to oranges.
"I always tell people, I would much rather be stared at for 5 seconds on the street than to be constantly afraid for my life every time I leave my home like I experience in the U.S." she said.
Before moving abroad, Dr. Cisse recommends giving yourself a mini-trial, like visiting for long enough, staying in spaces outside of hotels, interacting with locals, experiencing the weather, checking your finances, etc.
Once you're sure about the location, Manning said to commit to the decision. She doubted moving for so long, but when the plane ticket was booked, the job and apartment were secured, all the other parts didn't seem so scary.
Above all, Nabongo said to trust. "Let go of that fear and trust your gut, your instinct, and really just trust humanity," she said.
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