Starting a Travel Business during a Global Pandemic
My travel journey — how it started and how it’s going.
I am the first in my family to call myself a Traveler.
I do not take that lightly. As a Black woman who has found the opportunity and has had the privilege to travel, I use my platform to inspire others — especially Black folx — to take up space, to disrupt White spaces, to challenge and destroy assumptions about what we can accomplish.
I’ve been to some pretty amazing places in my 22 years of life. Granted, I’ve been to most of those places in only the past two years alone. Growing up, my family didn’t have the financial means to travel often, and if we did travel, it was domestic to the United States. The first and only time I remember going anywhere international was our family vacation to Mexico when I was in the third grade. I lived for those explorational experiences: when we could get away to Florida, or Massachusetts to visit my aunt, or even to Virginia when my dad needed to travel for work.
I’ll be honest. I always thought studying abroad was a “rich kid thing.”
Watching movies, television, or even reading, I had assumed travel was a routine hobby of the wealthy and affluent. Not something that a Black girl coming from a lower-income household could do easily, right? Thinking this way, it didn’t even occur to me that I could study abroad until something big changed during my sophomore year of college.
My friend died. To put it simply and bluntly, because to be honest, I still struggle with writing about it (I say “write” because all of us writers know that’s easier than talking).
After being a part of our close circle of friends for over five years, Damian left a hole none of us knew how to fill. Not that we even wanted to fill it. And that it happened right before we all came back to school from winter break made it even worse. I forced myself to focus on homework, work-study, school clubs, and sports practices all while the rest of my friends were across the country at their own schools (because you see, we didn’t even all attend the same college). It was lonely. And it was part of what made me apply for a study abroad program.
A TRAVELER IS BORN
A pretty big jump, right? In hindsight, it was a very impulsive decision. And the talks with the financial aid office, the study abroad scholarship program, the VISA application, and plane ticket-bookings still feel like a blur.
But in the end, I ended up studying in Paris for wayyyy less than the cost of attending my college in America. Let’s ignore what that says about our American education system for a minute, though.
While I was in Europe for those 6 months, I traveled to over 11 different countries, from London to Spain to Portugal and even Greece. Experiencing so many different cultures in such a short timespan brought on some culture shock, but it was amazing to see how different each place was. I loved learning to adapt and ease my way into each new location. It was humbling, and it inspired me to keep traveling and to learn as much as I could.
After graduating a semester early, I eagerly researched ways to continue traveling while also pursuing my passion for screenwriting. I found it when I managed to network with a member of the UK's number 1 home-based travel agency. With her advice and direction, I set up my website, figured out how to send mass marketing and newsletter emails, and Goddess Travels was born…
AH YES, THE PANDEMIC
It seemed to happen all at once as the news of the pandemic threw the world into disarray. When the United States finally hopped on the “hm, maybe this is a big deal” bus, we had no idea of what was to come next. I had been traveling in New York City when we got the message of a city-wide lockdown. Needless to say, we couldn’t do very much that weekend. Back then, I was still naive about the impact the pandemic would have on my travel business. Remember when we all thought things would go back to normal in a few weeks? Ha.
Almost 9 months later (yes, you read that right) and it is still unlike anything that came before — a worldwide standstill on the global economy that relied so heavily on continuous consumption of information and goods. Ah, Capitalism.
Countries are closed off, people are under self-induced quarantine to curb the spread of the virus, and 90% of businesses, big and small, have all ground to a halt. Even as we tentatively take steps towards opening up, a fall resurgence of the virus threatens.
The travel industry was the first to go as people stopped moving around. Small businesses that relied on tourism ran out of money and many had to close down. Not even big companies were immune to this impact. Airlines and cruise ship companies laid off their workforce as the unemployment rate skyrocketed and the tourism industry crashed onto itself like a dying star.
And I, the bright-eyed Travel Business Owner, realized how sad it was that I now had to rely on advertisements, sponsorships, and people’s goodwill to stay afloat. All before my business even started.
When I’m not traveling, I try my best to live my life modestly. I am lucky enough that most of my college experience was paid for with merit and need-based scholarships, so I’ve been using my earnings to pay off the few student loans I have.
Currently, I have no debt (and I’d like to keep it that way all my life if possible), and as the pandemic thoroughly thwarted any plans of moving out to LA for the time being, I am living rent-free at home. I had an unpaid internship at the Showtime Channel, but the program ended early due to the pandemic. Now I’m an English TA at my old high school — and it’s paid.
I keep myself busy most days as I continue to work on getting my business up and running, writing scripts, and entering screenwriting contests. Okay, and watching a lot of Netflix.
So to answer your question, yes, I’m doing well all things considered.
As the saying goes, you adapt or you die and from what I’ve experienced in the few but diverse cultures that I have in such a short amount of time, I am nothing but adaptable.
500 DAYS OF SUMMER
So, how to adapt my emerging travel business to the current climate?
Those first few months of the pandemic were hectic, frustrating, and confusing. Then the summer came. And it was a long one.
It wasn’t just the pandemic anymore. The Black Lives Matter protests and the upcoming 2020 election became center talking points across news channels, households, and group chats. It was a tough time for me as a Black creative because, for the first time in a while, I didn’t know what to write.
How do you encapsulate so much pain, anger, sadness, and longing into a single blog post?
And you could forget about focusing on my business. My attention was (needed) elsewhere. As the months went on, and my business sat waiting patiently to be attended to, I finally got on a call with my travel advisor.
When I told her about what I (hadn’t) been doing, she assured me that there was no reason to feel guilty about not having my business where I wanted it to be. But she also said I shouldn’t feel guilty about pursuing my goals in spite of everything going on. That was nice to hear coming from a fellow Black creative, but what was the point? No one’s traveling now anyway, right?
My advisor pointed out that, even though people aren’t traveling as much, many are still dreaming about doing it in the future. She recommended that I take my frustrations and release them into an outlet that could benefit the community I was aching for. So I doubled down on producing content that allowed others to escape from this brutal reality and be teleported somewhere where they are not constantly bombarded with the negative news of the world. It’s important to stay informed, but seriously, some of us need a little bit of a break.
Since then, I have been spending more time reaching out to my clients directly through my newsletters and establishing a more direct conversation with fellow travelers on social media — particularly Black travelers. So if you need some travel inspo, you can register for my newsletter here, and I promise I will keep fueling that wanderlust!
THE FUTURE OF TRAVEL
What the future holds is uncertain, especially after such a world-changing event like a pandemic.
It is hard to say if and when people will start to travel again and how much this experience will forever change our travel habits. As a US-based travel business owner, my clients in the States may be looking at fewer travel opportunities than those in other parts of the world that handled this pandemic a little (a lot) differently. In other words, we’re gonna be here for a while.
What I do know is that the will to travel is still there, and I am now focusing on igniting that desire if only to inspire hope for a future that is becoming increasingly difficult to visualize.
As a Black female entrepreneur (it feels so weird to say that), these times are extremely trying. Dealing with racism and sexism in the professional world on its own is terrible, but all of that in the midst of a pandemic, and with jobs in my chosen industry so scarce (travel and film), it can be hard to recognize those silver linings when they do come around.
Connecting with like-minded creatives has been a solid reminder that I am not alone. My wanderlust is currently being curbed by finding adventure locally, like this local overnight trip I took while traveling for work. And the support I’ve received from family and friends registering on my travel site (even if it is just to get travel-themed newsletters for now) has been amazing.
I am a part-time traveler and full time screenwriter, using my travels to broaden my storytelling.
This is the mantra I will continue to tell myself. My work does not define me. My passions do. You are what you love. And luckily, while traveling may be limited, writing is something I can do from anywhere.
This pandemic has affected all of us in varying degrees, some more than others, and I am standing in an extremely privileged position to be writing about it. But to leave you on a positive note — please take the remainder of 2020 to do good. Good for yourself and for others. Our world needs it.
And so, if you are a fellow traveler or anyone who is currently suffering from the effects of this pandemic — instead of longing for a past that may not return, use this opportunity and carve yourself a new path for a future that is yet to come.
Happy travels, wanderer.