103. How to create more opportunities for minority travelers to see the world with Adriana Smith
This week I speak with Adriana who is the blogger behind Travepreneur.com and an educator who is an advocate for international education.
The first time Adriana traveled was during a study abroad program in Spain. She was embarrassed when she got lost in Madrid during the first two days and immediately wanted to book a flight home, but couldn’t as she was a first-generation student with no extra money.
Yet, that moment defined her entire travel journey. She discovered a new perspective to life: humility and global citizenry. Blown away by the rewarding experience, she devoted her personal and professional development to connecting purposefully to each and every country and city.
She later volunteered in Quito, which inspired the launch of Travepreneur. Catered to new, minority travelers, she empowers them to be a Social Do-Gooder Traveling the World.
Listen on to find out how Adriana promotes minority travel and international education.
Hey everyone, thank you so much for joining us. I’m here with Adriana. Hey, how are you?
I’m great. How are you? And thank you for inviting me.
Thank you so much for joining us. Before we get to your tips and tricks, can you tell us a little bit more about you and why you live an offbeat life?
My travel journey actually started 10 years ago, May 12th will be 10 years exactly where I participated on a study abroad program to Spain. And it may not sound super exciting, but for me, it was my first time out of the US, and my first time of the state of Florida where I’m from.
It was a lot of firsts for me. So going on a plane for the first time, traveling to Spain was very, very exciting, but also scary. I thought that things will go smoothly and seamlessly. But it wasn’t for me because two days into my program I actually got lost in Madrid, which was our first stop before the actual start of the program. And that was a pivotal moment for me because I actually went abroad to Spain with a very prideful, very arrogant attitude and mentality.
And I actually thought Miami was a center of the world at age 20 I can’t even tell you why I thought that if I were to go back in time and ask myself, I probably wouldn’t even have an answer. But that was who I was at that time. And that was significant because it made me much more humble when I got lost, much more appreciative of the entire experience and being a first-generation college student at the time, I didn’t have the funds to go back home that second day. And so I was forced fortunately and unfortunately to stay the duration of the program for six weeks.
And so that kind of led my journey up until now as the assistant director of international programs at the College in South Carolina. More of that striving to encourage other minority underrepresented students to study abroad, but also to focus on the positives and getting out there, getting outside of your comfort zone to see the world.
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That is a really great thing to be able to do is to leave your current situation. The place that you’re in, you were from Miami and there’s a lot of vibrant cultures over there, same here in New York City as well. And we do tend to think that where we are is our whole entire world. And then once you leave the little bubble that you have, your way of thinking suddenly changes and that’s definitely what happened to you, Adriana.
I actually compared Miami to Madrid, not even to say, these places are the same but more so thinking that I can handle this new place, without any problems. I was very prideful.
You can even see it as disrespectful in a way because I overlooked the differences and the uniqueness being it’s own country and own culture to the point where I allowed my comfort zone to extend to another country, which was the wrong thing to ever do.
And that’s why I encourage my students to go with an open mind and also give respect for the culture. Don’t take your American pride or even what you think a country or a place should be, but to respect it for what it is.
I think that’s a lot of what our mistakes are when we’re going into a new place. We think we know everything and then we’re proven wrong. That definitely happened to you when you got lost. And it also changes the way you think about yourself, It makes you question what it is that you’re doing and even your sense of knowledge of a lot of things in life.
Right, right, right. And that’s why it was such an important time for me because I don’t think I would be who I am today or even in the position I am without the experience. And so it made me so much more humble. Humility was a big lesson for me outside of learning Spanish and integrating into the culture is about humility.
And that’s why study abroad is such a great way for students to see the world because you have not only your academics and classes that you’re going to, but also you’re growing personally as well. You’re getting those skills that when you come back home you can apply to your classrooms.
But also when you go off to Grad school or even to a future employer that you are potentially working for. So it is definitely one of those moments that I always look back to and I didn’t realize the significance or the impact until much later. When I got much older, was when I realized what that experience actually meant and why it was such a great point in my life up until now.
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And at least you learn that about yourself and about traveling because a lot of people I think still travel not understanding the differences between cultures. At least you were able to learn that at such an early age and now you can teach other people to do that.
So now, Adriana, I know you had moved around quite a bit. You did study abroad. What has been your life like when you first started to take the initiative to start becoming nomadic and to live as a location independent entrepreneur and to start that business that you have online.
It didn’t start until maybe eight or nine years later after my study abroad experience. Again, it wasn’t a direct path for me, it was taking internships, volunteering abroad, and actually getting fired to the get to that point where I wanted to start a business and become location independent and also have a fulltime job on top of everything.
During my internship abroad was when I realized that International education is the field that I want to be in. There’s a difference between international education and traveling. And I think that’s where students actually appreciate other cultures because you’re actually studying their life. It is local versus it’s traveling and seeing the tourist spots. I realized that’s where my love is.
And through that company, I was able to volunteer abroad. So I got much more involved into social entrepreneurship and also impacting and volunteering my skills with a different organization outside of the U.S. So all of that culminated into me asking my self, where do I want to put my energy?
And I realized that I wanted to put my energy into something bigger than just traveling. I want to put it into an avenue for those who want to reach the world, see the world, open their minds to other people. And it boils down to diversity right here in the U.S. We have a melting pot, or should I say like a mixed salad where we have all these differences but do we actually appreciate those differences and the different people around us.
So I started Travelpreneur as a way to get the word out there, that there is much more to travel than just the tourist spots. More to just going to the same places every single year, I wanted to encourage others to actually immerse and learn more about the culture.
From there, I started writing about encouraging again minority students, minority people to also travel because for our students who go abroad in the US, about 400,000 of them, only 6% identify as African American. So we have that disparity between who actually goes abroad and travel.
And I wanted to put the word out there, to encourage them that it is possible and here’s how you can do it in a respectful and sustainable way. It hasn’t gotten to the point where I’m permanently location independent and remotely working on the business, I am still working full time, which is a balance. But eventually we’ll get there and I have that direct contact with students right now and so I will miss it when that time comes. But this is more about encouraging those students, having a population and an audience. When I actually transitioned over to full time for Travelpreneur.
Traveling as a black solo woman.
It’s a really great sector for you to go into because there are not enough minorities, especially black people, black men and women who are traveling around the world. What has been your experience like traveling as a black woman and as a minority? I know there’s a lot of different stigmas and maybe misconceptions too for people and a lot of fears that they can’t do this and that. What has your experience been like?
Going back to my experience in Spain, I actually studied abroad there twice. So ones as a 20-year-old and again as a 23-year-old. And whenever I encounter people while in Spain while traveling, they really couldn’t figure me out because they will ask where I’m from and I would say from the United States or I say America in Spanish. And they will assume that meant Cuba, Puerto Rico, or the Dominican Republic.
And I never disputed those statements from them. I kind of lived in my own bubble of a minority. So to them, I wasn’t African American because I do have light skin. I’m a light-skinned African American woman. But I also wanted to maintain my roots and to maintain my autonomy because I didn’t want them to discriminate against me because you’ll see in Spain there’s a lot of discrimination against those who come from Africa.
So I have to walk that fine line of how much do I reveal and how much do I keep sacred because I didn’t want that discrimination to come towards me at that time as a student who’s trying to figure out her own life and her own path and who she is at that time.
For my first study abroad experience, I was the only African American person. So I really couldn’t hide behind anyone. I had extensions. So it became apparent that I was of African American descent, but when it came down to my second study abroad experience, there are two other African American students. And I felt more comfortable being black in Spain because I had a group of people with a similar identity.
I had other people to feel confident by, and to also talk about the experiences that we had in Spain. So to me the challenge was either being alone in Spain as a black person versus being in the group with other black people in Spain. So those were different experiences for me.
In my other travel experience for example when traveling to Nepal, being maybe the only black person in the country. There were some questions and stares because my hair is natural right now. Before it was relaxed with it being natural and the light skin, I think it confuses people. Again, they are not sure about my heritage, my background. I think they assumed I was a mix between a white person and black person that was actually from Africa rather than the US because, in their view, the U.S and the rest of America are all white people.
So again, my identity confuses people. And so I had to deal with that confusion and how I choose to identify overseas, whereas here in the US, I am a black woman, but overseas I have to dig deeper into what I say to others, how I explain it to others. And I haven’t gotten to that point of how to do that just yet. And that’s why communities, black communities and online communities are so important because you’ll find others who are in that similar boats. And you can go off of each other how best to describe and identify your yourself and myself to others out there in the world who just don’t quite get that I’m African American. That’s two competing ideas to them.
Juggling dual identities while traveling.
You know what’s really interesting to me, Adriana, is that you think about these things as a woman, as a minority women, and thinking about how to identify yourself and how to approach people and how you may have to hide yourself from others because you don’t want to be scrutinized because there are stigmas against Africans and not a lot of people understand that even minority people until they actually travel, right? I’m Filipino and I get dark and sometimes people don’t understand if I’m from Latin America, sometimes I get mistaken for Egyptian or Asian. So it’s really interesting how you have to actually explain who you are.
Not as a person, not as an individual, but as a culture, as a race. A lot of people are curious about it, it’s not out of hate, but it’s just curiosity because they’ve never seen somebody who looks like you before. So it’s a really interesting thing that you go through when you’re in a minority and you go to a different country who don’t understand who you are and you have to constantly explain yourself and sometimes also there’s fear that goes into it, especially as a minority woman. So not only are you looking at the color of your skin but also your gender because as a woman alone traveling, especially if you’re traveling solo, it’s already so many fears that go into it. But now also a person of color. That’s another thing on top of that.
Right, so you have dual identities that you have to juggle and which one is being scrutinized and disrespected at the time. And going back to my experience in Nepal, after having an experience where a former principal of a school came up to me and asked me about how my hair gets so coily and natural and after that experience because I felt like he was curious but the same time criticizing my appearance.
I hid my hair for the rest of the trip because I wouldn’t want those questions to come up. I didn’t know how to explain it because no matter how hard I tried to explain it, they just didn’t get it. And so I hid my hair actually. And that didn’t even work because when I went back to another city in Nepal because I was traveling around for eight days, there are people who were staring at me, I actually had someone follow me and this is wasn’t even my hair.
So he really didn’t know if I was African American or whatever he thought I was. So it’s like you said, the dual identities and having to be a solo traveler as a minority. It’s kind of like a double stigma that you would get from others. And so having to fight that is difficult, which is why it is important for students, not even just college students, but even those in high school to travel just so that they can see and others can get comfortable with our presence because only 6% of students study abroad and not too many minority populations and while it is increasing, they aren’t traveling to places like Nepal, or even to Asian countries where they can be seen, and the people from that country don’t have the need to approach you and kind of touch you or stare at you because you’re different. And so this is why this conversation is so important, not just for educators or in higher ed, but the entire travel community for these reasons, for both minority and women and those combined identities.
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That is a really great point to say because if people from all over the world are seeing more minorities, more black men and women travel more Latin American people, traveling, and so on they won’t be as curious because it’s going to be like a melting pot. So it’s a fine line to see whether it’s just from curiosity and sometimes it is from ignorance, because you haven’t seen somebody like that before, which is really understandable because if it was you and I, and we saw somebody so completely different from us, it would take out that curiosity from us.
But also it’s interesting because there are certain cultures that we feel like their character is really rude. But that’s how they treat each other too, their way of thinking and the way they approach people is just very crass sometimes. In the United States, you are taught to always be polite. It always: have a nice day, have a good evening. And if you have noticed, in some countries you have no personal space. People will just go right on top of you. It’s learning all of these different cultures and also not being in a situation where you feel like you have to hide who you are, which is so unfortunate.
It really comes down to our research as well. So we can do a lot of research on our end about the communities. When you talked about having no personal space, I bring in a group of international students every semester and we talk about what the personal space means to us as US citizens, because when they’re coming from that country, which is more like community aspect, spaces are not as significant, but for us it is. We tie those conversations that way, that they understand that people are not being rude if they back up, it is actually because they value that distance. And so the same thing would apply for those who of us who are traveling outside the U.S and going to other countries that it’s not that they’re being rude, it’s just their culture.
And so to understand that even going abroad and understanding what it means and identity in these different countries and have they ever seen black people and what it would be like as a black person in the Asian countries or Latin America. It comes down to research. But again, the more we do our research and more we go, the hope is that we get to a point where the negative aspect of being out there with your identity and encouraging your identity to be authentic, that that will disappear. That fine line between having to hide and having to be out there that could no longer be there, we will just be who we are.
The hope is that we get to a point where the negative aspect of being out there with your identity and encouraging your identity to be authentic, that that will disappear. That fine line between having to hide and having to be out there that could no longer be there, we will just be who we are.
We won’t have to explain as much if people just accept us for who we are. And that’s what I hope to study abroad and international exchange and international education would promote, not just at the college level, but also at the younger level as well. And then we continue this dialogue everywhere and continuously promote that.
What you’re doing too with your website and your blog and promoting other black men and women to keep traveling and to really put themselves out there is so helpful for all of us to be able to get into the time where it’s the norm. You can see so many different types of people traveling and there’s not as much curiosity. I mean curiosity is not necessarily bad, but when you feel like you have to hide yourself and your identity, then that becomes a different type of level.
I know you are still building your company and your business. How have you been able to create income from your company and your site in order to transition to becoming location independent?
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So it’s been more sponsored content. So more of the guest posting or sponsor content. And this hasn’t been extremely profitable. But again, this is how I can balance having to work on the blog outside of work and also maintain my sanity during work hours. It’s getting to a point where I’m developing more revenue through the sponsored content and guest posting and just putting content out cause that’s how you build the foundation of a blog.
That way you can start building courses and building funnels that will bring in the money. And so that’s where I am right now building that content to further go on and build courses because I want to build that trust with my community and the people who are looking at Travelpreneur as a resource, that way they can come in and take courses with me and in the future to possibly take group trips with me, even solo travel cause I highly promote solo travel because it’s another aspect of you learning about yourself growing personally, if not professionally.
And so that’s where I am right now in terms of getting that income and I’m not in a rush to get it just because I’m enjoying my full-time job right now. But building content is my main focus.
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It’s also great because you’re not pushing yourself to do a lot of things because you still have your day job and you can really build out this business before you leave. And that’s a really good thing to do because you don’t want to be scrambling around and not making income and then you don’t have a place to live and you become homeless or something.
Right? It is the balance and I’ve gone back and forth between, okay in the next several months I’ll think about going on my own. But I think in my spirit. I mean I love my job and leaving right now, it doesn’t feel right. So it has to feel right even amongst having to have enough savings to last either six months up to a year. Right now it doesn’t feel right to move on just because I have unfinished business at my full-time job and in international education because both my blog and the field at my job intertwine so much. So I’m enjoying both at this time and I’m just loving it.
Well, it’s a good thing too that you love what you do because it’s not something that you really need to get out of. And I know a lot of people want to leave their nine to five, but for you, it will be an easy transition if you do decide to leave later on and you have that option whether to stay or to go. And that’s a good thing.
There are a lot of people who love their 9-5 and if you do, then you are lucky.
It has taken me some time to get here, but you set a goal and you continuously work at it. So four years ago, I was at a point where I wanted to be an international education. I kept applying, but at the same time, I was also putting myself in positions where I was getting experience on a side of my full-time job.
So I think for those who dislike their jobs right now, put yourself in positions where you can get to where you want to be.
If you can maintain a full-time job and have a side hustle that eventually becomes profitable, do that.
Because I think a lot of people, they see others, say, Oh, I left my job to travel the world and they feel pressured that that’s where they need to be. But if you can maintain a full-time job and have a side hustle that eventually becomes profitable, do that. I don’t see a problem with it. As long as you love what you do or putting yourself in positions where you can get there. It is possible. It took me five years to get here. Well actually a little less than that because I’ve been here going on three years. It’s taking me some time to get here, but I appreciate the journey for what I learned, for the people I met, and the experience to do what I’m doing right now and for the future.
You do not have to leave your 9-5 in order to be happy.
It’s a really important thing to emphasize that you don’t necessarily need to leave your nine to five to have a really good life because there are a lot of people out there who love their nine to five and there’s nothing wrong with that. In order to leave your nine to five, there has to be a purpose. In order to travel, there has to be another purpose than just to travel and you know, you just want to look cool and you want to do this and that.
I mean, you could do that but it can’t be forever. You can take like maybe a few months off or even a year, but even people who are nomadic who do this as a living, there comes a point in their life where it becomes too much, right? And then you tend to slow down. That’s why there are people that do slow travel, but it’s also not for everybody.
And there shouldn’t be a pressure to leave your nine to five or to stay in there. It should just be something that’s right for you personally. So even though I do interview a lot of people who have done that, and I have done that myself, it takes a long time of preparation and also self-searching to see if it’s the right thing for you. And it’s not something that you just jump into and then you’re leaving something altogether. I mean, it has worked for people, but it shouldn’t be something that you feel like you have to do because it’s so popular right now.
Well, it is not a trend. And again going back to what is right for you, what feels right in your spirit and then you go at your own pace. I think with us having, being on social media, Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, we see these success stories, we only see it at the end. We only see that result. We don’t see what it took to get there. And I think we just have to remember that we have to live for ourselves and then if we move before it is time or before we prepare for it. It can really push you back a step or two.
And we all get into that mindset that we see other people’s lives and think it’s all beautiful and we think it’s perfect. It’s always the grass is greener on the other side. Right? We don’t see the struggle in the beginning. We don’t see how much these people actually worked in order to get to that point. How many years of saving, how many years of anxiety and how many failures they’ve gone through in order to get to this point. And one of the things, I always say is it really hard work to be lucky.
Right! For me traveling is exhausting. Sometimes I enjoy having to be in one place like my job. And I also travel for my job so I have the luxury of doing both. I appreciate having a home base to come home, and to be in my own bed. And seeing my family, seeing my dog and he can’t travel around as much as I can. So I appreciate having a home base, something to come home to and look forward to.
Adriana, let’s fast forward to 30 years from now and you’re looking back at your life. What legacy would you like to leave and what do you want to be remembered for?
Well, I want to be the Beyonce of international education. So what that means on the shallow level, I want to be the star. I want to be a star of international education, but I want to be a change maker, someone who has encouraged millions of students and underrepresented minority students to study abroad and understand the impact of traveling the world and getting that experience not only because we want to see those numbers increase but also because it will benefit them in the long run.
If our listeners want to know more about you, where can they find you?
Well they can find me on my blog at Travepreneaur.com and you can find me on all the social media platforms with that Travepreneur on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and just hang out with me. And so we can talk about traveling while black, traveling as a woman, solo traveling.
Thank you so much Adriana, for joining us today. I really appreciate it.
Thank you Debbie.
Get the extended interview with Adriana where she shares how to discover new perspectives while studying abroad.
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