Kay Apkan got a bad feeling from the RV park her family pulled into in Galveston, Texas.
Having traveled across the country full-time since 2020, the Apkans were used to being the only Black people in some places, but this time felt different.
“It felt very intimidating,” she said, recalling the “funny stares” they got as Confederate flags flew from RVs and golf carts nearby.
She worried about her son Aiden, who likes to go exploring on his bike.
“In a place like that … what if he rides somewhere and somebody looked at him and thinks that he said something or did something, then decided to take matters into their own hands?” Apkan said, fearing “an Emmett Till situation.”
She knew they had to get out of there and did, but many families of color don’t always know what to expect or where to turn when they travel. So Apkan took matters into her own hands and created a community.
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A safe space
Apkan, who is known as The Mom Trotter to hundreds of thousands of followers across social media, founded the Facebook group and nonprofit Black Kids Do Travel to “encourage families to see the world and Black families to get out there.”
When she and her husband first sold their home and set off for adventure with their son in an RV in 2020, she found tons of Facebook groups for people sharing their nomadic lifestyle and love of travel.
“However, every time I posted about traveling as a family of color … every time I was curious about ‘Can I go here?’ or ‘How are things?,’ people would always downplay my feelings,” she said.
At first, Apkan said she felt gaslit. “I ended up realizing that that’s because they’ve never experienced that. They don’t know what it is to travel as a Black woman,” she said.
More than 70% of Black travelers from the U.S. and Canada identified safety as extremely or very influential in choosing destinations, according to MMGY Global’s 2021 research report The Black Traveler: Insights, Opportunities & Priorities, which surveyed more than 2,100 Black leisure travelers across the two countries.
“Traveling with kids is complex, but when you add in being a Black family, it takes even more consideration to make sure we are all safe and comfortable while we explore the world,” Courtney and Justin and Orgias, who share their nomadic journeys as O Family Adventures on Instagram, told USA TODAY. They’re among the 11,000 people in the Black Kids Do Travel community.
“Having spaces like Black Kids Do Travel is important because it allows us to support other families who look like us and therefore have similar considerations/concerns while traveling,” they said. “We can get relevant feedback about locations and share concerns that others may not be able to relate to.”
The Orgias, who have two young children, say the group not only offers them travel tips and inspiration but helps them vet potential destinations, pick the brains of other parents and feel better prepared.
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“It’s really grown over the years, and every time I go in the group, I’m always just so excited to see a family saying, ‘Hey, this is my first time on a plane. This is my first time going here … I took my kids somewhere for the first time, and I would have never done this without this group.’ ” Apkan smiled.
She recognizes that those may sound like minor accomplishments to frequent travelers, but “in the Black Kids Do Travel group, there are adults who have never left their hometown and never left their ZIP code, so it’s so many new beginnings, and the disparity is so crazy,” she said. “For us, it’s a big deal.”
“Sometimes you just need to see somebody else like you doing something to you feel like, ‘You know what, I got this, I can do this, too,’ ” Apkan added.
Her family is a living testimony.
In addition to exploring the country by RV, they try to travel abroad at least once a month. Some of her favorite destinations are Brazil, Colombia and Taiwan, which she loved so much, she considered moving there. Her son Aiden’s favorite country so far is El Salvador.
“I loved the food and also the black sand beach,” he said, raving about the surfing, zip-lining and other activities there.
“If your parents ask you if you want to travel somewhere … always say yes because you’re going to have a lot of fun,” he advised his peers. “I want other kids to know that you can learn so much from traveling, especially more than you see in books.”
Apkan encourages people to start small, even if it’s just attending a cultural event or trying another country’s cuisine in their own town.
“You don’t have to be on a plane or on a cruise ship to go to travel somewhere. Just get out of your comfort zone. Get in the car,” she said. “Maybe the next time you take a road trip or maybe just a short flight to another state. Just little bits at a time so you can get where you’re comfortable to go further out.”
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