Women on the Road: Tell us about Diverse Traveller if you could.
I set up Diverse Traveller in February 2005 to celebrate the diversity of the woman traveller - women of all shapes, races, sizes, backgrounds, who travel for diverse reasons - alone, with girlfriends, other friends, with family (of all ages), or business. I wanted a website that celebrated just that - our diversity - giving a voice to ALL women travellers, to inspire women to explore the world around them and beyond.
I also wanted to get more women's travel stories published, balancing the currently male dominated travel writing genre.
I am also concerned by the lack of published travel experiences from ethnic minority women (especially from the UK). As a black woman I also want to read travel stories by women like me. As a black traveller I am very aware of my skin colour, though (aside from Eastern Europe) it doesn't affect where I go, but I may be more cautious if I have read about race riots or racial attacks.
WOTR: You were bitten by the travel bug at ten - how exactly did it happen?
Diverse Traveller: When I was ten I travelled to the Isle of Wight with my classmates. Not only was this my first holiday (somewhere I didn't know anyone), but it was the first time I was away from home without my family. I thrilled in the sense of freedom (well as much as is possible with three eagle-eyed teachers) and discovery of a new place. Today, I take these feelings with me on travels around the UK and abroad.
WOTR: Tell us about your first few years of travel - what are some of your best memories?
Diverse Traveller: My first memory of travel (aside from the Isle of Wight) was a trip to Lagos, Nigeria. My parents came to London in the mid-60s, and had their four children here, but despite growing up in both Nigerian and 'British' cultures, I visited Lagos for the first time at 11 years old. It was amazing to be in a country where there were so many black people, doing many of the same things as their western counterparts.
I loved the intense sunshine, the many new extended family members who made me feel welcome and part of them (despite never having met me before). On the other hand I was often close to poverty, and people who felt children should be seen and not heard; I sweated at night, while mosquitoes buzzed and bit, and slept to the sound of generators, of the smell of kerosene lanterns as the electricity service was erratic. All in all, I loved my first trip to Africa, my eyes now opened to a much bigger and different world outside of England.
WOTR: Have you found it difficult to travel as a black woman in the world?
Diverse Traveller: In the main I have found mainly positive receptions. The few negative reactions tend to come about when travelling with a white person, who always gets the first class treatment (colonial mentality). I have rarely found this distressing, I am very secure of my place in the world, so I assert myself accordingly, which has always worked. It's interesting that often travelling in the world I feel more welcome than around the UK and Western Europe. I haven't been to much of Eastern Europe, but from the little I have I am in no rush to visit any more countries there.
The one think I find most interesting is whenever I visit a country or city with a large black population I am often mistaken for a local; in the USA they are often amazed that I am Black British, and in Northern Africa, I was mistaken for an African-American. Ironic, that just as in my home country, I am perceived to be anything but British.
WOTR: In your opinion, what are the top three destinations for women travellers? And the three worst?
Diverse Traveller: I don't think there are specifically 'top destinations for women'. There are many destinations, such as Western Europe and USA, where life for women is similar to that here in the UK. However, from my own personal experience, I have found even in countries not perceived to be women-friendly, provided you do your research (learn do's and don'ts) and abide by local laws and customs, women travellers will be fine. It's interesting that in the UK, if a man is harassing you help might not be at hand, while in Egypt when a man was harassing a friend on a bus, the whole bus turned on him. So my advice is do your homework, and if you find that you cannot abide by local laws and customs, then avoid those destinations.
WOTR: How would you deal with 'problematic' countries, say where women are second-class citizens, or where human rights aren't respected?
Diverse Traveller: If I feel a country offends my values and believes, then I won't go. However, in order to understand the role and place of women in some countries (something I am very interested in), I make an effort to talk and learn from local women. After all, the UK is not a paradise for women, we simply have different issues - nowhere is perfect.
WOTR: What is the best advice you can give to women who want to travel?
Diverse Traveller: In no order, 1) Read a little about the country you are visiting. Most guidebooks have a specific section for women travellers. 2) Pack appropriate clothing - in some countries a bikini is a no-no. 3) Take an open mind. If your values and sensibilities are offended, don't shove your views down the throats of locals, engage them with discussion. If that fails register your dissatisfaction firmly but politely. And if you are still so disgusted, campaign when you get back. 4) Stay safe. If you wouldn't engage in risky behaviour at home, then why do it in a strange land, especially one where you don't speak the language.
WOTR: What is the key lesson you have learned as a woman traveller?
Diverse Traveller: To be thankful for the life I have, especially as it has given me the opportunity to travel and learn first-hand about different cultures. I have also met some inspiring people (some have become good friends), and learned that we are truly part of a global village.
Ola Fagbohun is editor and publisher of Diverse Traveller, the online community for women passionate about travel and travel writing.
Still DREAMING of traveling the world after all these years?
What's stopping you from DOING it?
If you think it's too late, if you're holding back because you have no one to travel with, if there are a million reasons why you're alone or too inexperienced or too scared…
Then you really NEED Women on the Road: the essential guide for baby boomer travel ! This book is made for you. Whatever is holding you back, Women on the Road eliminates the obstacles, relieves your fears and insecurities, and gets you out of the house and onto the road!