The Global ‘Green Book’ That Black Travelers Need Now
Safe traveling recommendations for Black people during Covid-19
When author and diversity consultant Martinique Lewis visited Amsterdam years ago, she made a pivotal discovery. “Black people are in places you’d never expect,” she says. “There’s so much Black history in Amsterdam. If you go to the Red Light District, which is one of the most popular tourist attractions, you will see statues of Black people on top of the buildings. Slavery was illegal, but rich families displayed their wealth with these figures of Black people.”
This experience was one of several that motivated Lewis to create a guide for Black travelers. This past August, she published the ABC Travel Greenbook: Connecting the African Diaspora Globally, inspired by Victor Hugo Green’s Negro Motorist Green Book, which guided Black travelers during the Jim Crow era.
“Seventy percent of Black travelers are more likely to visit a destination if we see ourselves,” Lewis says. That’s why she decided to build upon Green’s important legacy of publishing an annual booklet that listed safe and welcoming spaces for Black readers. Lewis’s international version lists everything from Black-owned hotels, hair salons, and restaurants to airports with Black aviation directors—all over the world. The ABC Travel Greenbook is a print and digital book that provides tips and info pertinent to Black people about dozens of countries. It also advises on where not to go. Places like Luxembourg and Malta are flagged for high levels of racism.
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Lewis has traveled for most of her life. Family excursions to Italy, Spain, and Jamaica, paired with study abroad in London, solidified her love of globetrotting. A highlight of those times was spotting Black people in places she never expected.
“I was having tons of experiences and seeing people that looked like me in places where I didn’t expect to find Black communities,” says Lewis, who is also the creative lead for Nomadness Travel Tribe. The job has allowed her to understand the connectedness of the diaspora: From Honduras to Ireland and countries in between, we are everywhere, and she wants Black travelers to know about it.
It might sound strange to discuss travel during a pandemic, but Lewis says now is the time to plan. “My first goal is to get more Black people to travel out of their comfort zone, internationally and domestically,” she says. So exactly where can travelers go during a pandemic? Outside of road tripping within the continental United States, there are currently about 43 countries open to Americans. Most of the Caribbean region, including St. Lucia, Jamaica, Turks and Caicos, and Grenada, is open with some restrictions for testing and self quarantining on arrival. Eastern European countries Albania, Armenia, Belarus, Serbia, North Macedonia, Croatia, and Turkey, are open to Americans. In Asia, Cambodia and South Korea are open, and in Central and South America, Brazil, Mexico, Ecuador, Honduras, and Costa Rica will admit Americans. On the African continent, Zambia, Kenya, Egypt, Ethiopia, Ghana, Namibia, Rwanda, and Tanzania will allow Americans with some testing requirements. Also, the Maldives, Dubai, and French Polynesia are also open to Americans.
The ABC Greenbook lists resources and social groups for most of these destinations, but Lewis suggests traveling closer to home for now. After all, she says, diaspora travel is a growing trend, with thousands of Black American travelers visiting Southern states to reconnect family lineages.
“I created this book to bring back our history that’s been lost.”
In the spirit of the original green books, car travel as opposed to flying is currently safer and more economical during the pandemic. According to the American Automobile Association (AAA), road trips have increased by 87% compared to car travel numbers over the last five years. You don’t have to worry about catching the virus in the safety of your personal car, and there are so many travel options to nearby towns or neighboring states.
“A road trip through Wyoming, South Dakota, and Montana is great. We don’t normally consider these places, and people don’t realize that there are Black people there,” she says. For solo women travelers, Lewis recommends visits to Black-owned spas to relax or a tour of the Black wineries and distilleries that she lists in the book’s “quick guide” section. She also includes Black women’s groups across the globe like Black Women in Copenhagen and Black Women in Europe so that solo travelers can connect with them. When Covid-19 is over and things get back to normal, families might be interested in kid-friendly festivals like St. Paul’s Carnival in Bristol, United Kingdom or interactive tours like the Walking Graffiti Tour in Lisbon, Portugal. The book opens with the quick guide section, which lists U.S. and international resources like Black hotels, banks, and restaurants. The rest of the book lists groups and resources by continent and country. The ABC Travel Greenbook represents the power that Black travelers have to circulate their dollars through Black businesses worldwide but also the hard-earned freedom to explore other locations, whether it’s a neighboring state or a different continent.
“My mom made sure we traveled at a young age, I’m on my fourth passport,” Lewis says. But it was about much more than vacations. It helped Lewis solidify her heritage. “I identify as Panamanian,” she says. “My grandma came from Panama to New York and then Los Angeles. Family ties to a different country play a big factor in travel. I asked my grandma [who is 102 and honored in the book’s dedication] where she came from before Panama, and she told me she left Jamaica to help build the Panama Canal. Knowing and connecting your roots is an important motivation to travel.”
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Another key factor for travel is safety. Knowing the levels of racism before visiting an unfamiliar destination is vital. She collects anecdotal info from Black people living or visiting the destinations.
“A lot of people have bad experiences when they travel due to racism,” she says. “I was walking down a street in Italy and a man was cursing at me because I’m Black. In Iceland, a man yelled ‘monkey’ at me. People react because they aren’t used to seeing someone who looks like you in different ways. I want Black people to be prepared and aware.”
The ABC Travel Greenbook has been two years in the making, and this is only the beginning. “This is volume one, volume two will update and expand the information,” says Lewis. “Victor Hugo Green published a green book every year so I want to provide new information annually because businesses change. I’m also working on an app [due in December] because we’re in a digital world.”
Lewis wants us to feel empowered about our history and to remember that folks like Green and Black car dealership owner Homer B. Roberts, provided cars for Black families to travel. “Black people were explorers before we were enslaved,” she says. “We should celebrate Victor Hugo Green like we celebrate Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. He [helped] Black people to travel and stay alive. Homer B. Roberts sold cars to Black people in Kansas City and Chicago; loaned them money to buy cars so they could travel. I created this book to bring back our history that’s been lost.”