“There are no foreign lands. It is the traveller only who is foreign” – Robert Louise Stevenson
There a few things I always try to do when I travel to a new place, I think they really help me connect and not be an insensitive aloof tourist mowing over culture and locals.
1.Befriend a local – where possible, I really like making friends with some of the local people. It’s a great way to really get to know a place and to get recommendations of things off the tourist trail. They are always happy to spill all the secrets that will help you have a really wholesome trip. I have thankfully been able to either make new friends at places I have been or to already have friends who live there. It is really great when you get invited to people’s homes, eat with their family and hear stories that bring life to your journey and make you appreciate being where you are. In smaller communities, befriending a local also opens the gate for you to be accepted by the wider, perhaps more cautious community.
2. Run – If you are a runner, it goes without saying that you will be packing your running gear with you on travels. If you are not a runner, well you should be, running and runners are great! Running abroad is a great way to stumble upon some spectacular places, some out of the way of the tourist bus. Running on location really amps your motivation as you might get to run on white sandy beaches, through mountains, muddy terrains or through a lush forest. Most people run on concrete weaving through buildings, pedestrians, prams and vehicles trying not let the exhaust pipe fumes strangle their lungs. So, getting a chance to change scenery and air quality is always welcome. Again, running has a way of really plugging you into the location and forging a connection. Do check out if you can sign up for any local or national races before you travel.
3.Buy local – Try to avoid the massive international chains and invest in local businesses when at a new travel destination. It is a great way to get some authentic cultural stuff and to talk to some interesting people. Open markets are amazing spaces, usually full of life and interesting vendors. Also, buying local (made) means you are less likely to buy stuff made in a sweat shop in some dark alley.Do remember to negotiate prices where possible though! I often try to find cool home decor that are well made , FOOD, jewelry and local fashion designers and artists. It is essential you buy stuff you really like and that is well made with real craftsmanship, it may cost a bit more but you don’t want to accumulate badly made junk. You may have to buy less but few quality pieces are much better than loads of junk…I would think.
Whilst I was in Italy, Reggio Calabria, I took a ferry over to Sicily, of course. You can see Sicily from the shores of Reggio Calabria, it beckons you and you have little or no choice but to ferry yourself over.
Sicily is a large island and I only got to truly visit Taormina. I asked my friends back in mainland Italy – “Where would you suggest someone who is short on time go in Sicily?” – and every single person said Taormina.
The journey from Reggio Calabria to Taormina is fairly straightforward and very scenic. I took the train from Messina to Taormina Giardini Train station. The train journey was mostly by the beautiful Mediterranean, which had islands, great and small, jutting from its depths. It was breathtaking. The train ride in and of itself was a great experience. I hear the bus from Messina to Taormina offers even more of a scenic route!
Once at Taormina Giardini Train station, which is the most majestic train station I have ever alighted at as its background is the sea, the easiest way up to Taormina is a cab or a bus.
When I say the easiest way up to Taormina is a cab, I do mean it when I say “up”. You are literally spiraling up to the hill top town, farther and farther above the sea. There are unconvincing safety nets separating the cars climbing up to the little town from the seas below. This is both frightening and beautiful, beautiful because this results in clear, unobstructed panoramic views of the sea and even the famous ice-capped Mount Etna.
Taormina may be small but its packed full of treasures. It felt like nothing I have experienced, it was so perfect that it felt I was in some fantasy film or book. It really is the stuff of dreams and hopes. You do feel that you are hundreds of feet high up as you can see the world far down below. Up in Taormina, you get a clear view of the intimidatingly massive active volcano, Mount Etna.
I found Taormina to be quite contradictory in the sense that it is a very stylish obviously tourist town full of all kinds of luxury and independent chic shops but also built atop centuries of architectural masterpieces and intimidating natural wonders. It’s alot of everything in high concentration.It didn’t take me long to see why it was so vehemently suggested as a must-see by my Italian friends. It is small enough to do in a day but full of excitement that you will leave feeling both fulfilled and curious as to what details you might have skimmed over or what beauty you might have overlooked. That is how packed full it is. And I definitely have to return as there where key things I didn’t experience such as the ancient Greek theater, called the “most dramatically situated Greek theater in the world” and the beach by the aptly named Isola Bella (beautiful Island).
My two definite favorite experiences were the Piazza IX Aprile on Corso Umberto and the Garden of Villa Communale. Both have absolutely stunning views (no surprise). The Piazza is at the end of Corso Umberto and is a pleasant surprise as you come from the narrow street full of shops and restaurants unto this wide square with its checkered shiny floor, an old small chapel on your right and the sea to your left, hundreds of feet below. You can contentedly sit in the Piazza for hours, armed with gelato, without a care! When I went, there were a couple of men singing in the Piazza and these two adorable little girls where dancing round the square happily, the breeze from the sea in their hair. Perfection.
Taormina is quite expensive, so do be prepared to splash out a bit on restaurants and hotels. However, there are a few hostels which are really cheap accommodation if you are on a budget. Though you can do much in a day, I would suggest around 3 days for a thorough in-depth but relaxed experience.
Taormina for me was the most surreal place I have ever tread my feet. The combination of the town’s altitude; the consequent views, the people and the food makes it a gem.
Now these points are going to touch on travelling to places where Black people are extremely in the minority based on my experience.
- You will be stared at and possibly pointed at; it’s completely unavoidable. You will get lots of stares from lots of people. This could be off-putting especially if you weren’t expecting it. However, after a while you do get used to it and choose to focus more on enjoying yourself . The amount of attention you get also greatly depends on which part of the country you are in and if they are used to getting tourists. As a note, I have found most stares to be harmless in the sense that it’s pure curiosity and perhaps shock, and though it might seem antagonistic I haven’t found it to be so. I say this because when I do have to communicate with the locals, which in my case is often, they are usually friendly. Of course, I try to be sensible when picking who to talk to. I have heard of people touching people’s faces in awe of all the melanin, but that has never happened to me before (thank God!)
- Sadly, again depending on the country and region of country, you may get creepy men paying you attention – more than usual at least. This is the worst part for me as I suspect this is often based on prejudices and sick stereotypes they might have about Black women. This could also be scary if you are on your own. Solo female travelers in general need to be careful. The best tip I can give is to just ignore, as you normally would at home, and keep it moving. Also, its always great to have someone you can contact in the country if in trouble. I also try to make sure I know the numbers to dial for emergency services in the country I’m in.
- You will not find your foundation/powder shade so make sure you don’t run out! It’s hard enough finding a shade that matches you exactly in diverse places like London so don’t dream of finding a variety of dark shades in places where there aren’t many black people. The reason is obvious, the market is little, the demand is not significant enough for wide ranges to be stocked.
- People might think you are a celebrity, even though you look nothing like said celebrity (sadly lol). You might get called Naomi Campbell or Beyoncé, do enjoy the moment of fame.
All in all, travelling for me has been great and I haven’t experienced any racism or damaging reactions from people. People have been super kind and hospitable. I do think this is the case for most Black female travelers. People will be curious but its usually harmless.
The color of your skin should not affect places you can travel to, yes you have to be wise and having a local or a group of friends is always helpful. Having said that, if locals advise you to steer clear of some areas, it’s often smart to do so. I know for the super adventurous that could be annoying though, but its important to consider local advise.
p.s. – Some might consider this bad advise or contradictory to last paragraph above but I think its worth saying. Never let people’s opinions of a particular culture and place completely put you off going to a place. Sometimes its scaremongering, sometimes its legit, its up to you to research and know for yourself if the trip is worth it and how you can make it as safe as possible. The News makes some countries sound like a cesspit of violence but sometimes it’s just regions of said places. Do your research and make your decision.
After all “you’ll never know until you go”