For Many Black Women, Self-Care Begins With a Plane Ticket

A journey abroad can be the key to a new, more optimistic POV on life.

Photo: Illustration: Kaitlyn Collins, Design: Jenna Brillhart

Every radical life change begins with a tipping point. For Chrishan Wright, a New Jersey-based digital marketing entrepreneur, that threshold was crossed in 2020.

For Wright and so many Black people around the U.S., the tragic deaths of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd were too much to bear. She had also recently been let go from her corporate job.

"Their deaths on the heels of a job layoff, coupled with the disruption and uncertainty surrounding the pandemic, threw me into an emotional tailspin," Wright says.

Before that moment she had been saving money and researching how she could leave the U.S. But it was that emotional tailspin that led her to create Blaxit Global — a platform created to empower and inspire members of the African diaspora to pursue a life abroad.

While the word "Blaxit," a portmanteau (Black and Brexit) of another portmanteau (British and Exit), is new, the history of Black women seeking peace outside of the U.S. is not. From Maya Angelou's sojourn to Ghana in her 30s to the St. Louis Missouri-born Josephine Baker becoming a French citizen, there are numerous stories of Black women using travel as a tool for a better quality of life and an opportunity for deep reflection.

Black Women Are Redefining Travel as Self-Care
Chrishan Wright, founder of Blaxit Global. Courtesy of subject.

"There is no greater form of radical self-care," says Wright, who plans on moving out of the U.S. in 2023, after building a community of expats from all over the globe online. "I didn't realize the importance of travel as a part of my self-care until I took my first solo trip in 2017," she recalls. After years of putting her family and career first, she decided a bucket list trip to New Zealand was in order.

Wright arranged for her two children to stay with their father, she took time off from work and enjoyed 18 days alone. "That trip was transformative in so many ways. I was able to explore things I'd never do in the States because I felt free to just be," she says.

"I kayaked, even though I can't swim; I zip-lined across a forest, even though I am afraid of heights; I rode a horse along the beach and hiked a volcano… just to name a few. I learned so much about myself and who I thought I was on that trip. That is both the power and the gift of travel," she says.

Wright also notes that Black people spent over $109 billion on leisure travel in 2019, according to a study by MMGY Global. While there is no data regarding Black expatriation, it's clear that rest and relaxation has become increasingly important. Currently, Wright has cultivated a virtual ecosystem of roughly 20,000 members through her Blaxit Global network.

Black Women Are Redefining Travel as Self-Care
Sharita Jennings, lawyer and digital nomad mentor. Courtesy of subject.

The same year Wright sojourned to New Zealand solo, digital nomad Sharita Jennings found herself unintentionally in the same boat on the other side of the globe. In 2017, Jennings calls her first solo trip in Panama City an "accidental" one — she got stranded there due to a canceled flight. It was during that time that she discovered there was a different way to live.

"I was able to quickly research tours to explore the city and, through those tours, I met some amazing people who had all moved to Panama from the U.S. to teach or work remotely. That was also my first time working remotely in a foreign country," she says.

Sharita Jennings, traveler and lawyer abroad

Black women should be uncompromising in their requirement for self-care and rest.

— Sharita Jennings, traveler and lawyer abroad

In 2018, Jennings quit her law job in Washington D.C. and planned her escape to Medellín, Colombia. "I told everyone I'd be back in 3-6 months, I was so serious," says Jennings. Now, nearly four years later she's still traveling, working remotely as a lawyer, and guiding aspiring nomads to take the leap. It's a lifestyle where quality of life always comes first.

"Black women should be uncompromising in their requirement for self-care and rest. Travel is about discovering how to thrive mentally, emotionally, and socially," says Jennings.

Personally, hopping on a plane isn't so much of an escape as it is a way to remember what is most important. Like it is for Wright and Jennings, travel has always been a source of healing for me. In the winter of 2019, I briefly passed out in a bathroom stall at work. For over a year, I had been suffering from the effects of uterine fibroids, my iron was low from major blood loss, and the pain was unbearable.

What shook me to my core wasn't passing out near a public toilet at work or the pain of having a period that lasted for nearly 12 months. What disturbed me most was that so many Black women around me suffered the same experiences and how normalized it was.

In a 2010 Study of Women's Health Across the Nation (SWAN) it was estimated that Black women ages 49-55 are 7.5 years biologically older than white women due to stress. By age 30, the same study revealed that Black women exhibited signs of greater wear and tear on the body, contributors to chronic stress, than Black men, and white men and women. Unsurprisingly and more recently, pandemic-related stress has also disproportionately impacted Black and Latinx women.

Black Women Are Redefining Travel as Self-Care
Marquita K. Harris, journalist and digital nomad. Courtesy of subject.

I needed surgery and I noticed that many of my peers barely missed work after undergoing theirs, let alone had the opportunity to change their lifestyles and focus on eliminating stress — a key cause of fibroids. Instead, they immediately plugged back into the cycle of caregiving, whether it was for the office or their families. But never to themselves.

So by December 2019, I made a plan to quit my job and travel in the summer of 2020. Those plans were thwarted by the pandemic. But the desire to experience a different lifestyle, focus less on my job title and more on healing through travel was overwhelming, and would come to fruition a different way.

Last September, I began a 10-month solo travel journey after being selected to participate in Airbnb's Live Anywhere On Airbnb program. Myself and several other participants are currently traveling the globe and sharing what it's like to live nomadically with the company.

Like Wright, I've pushed myself to do things traveling that I hadn't in the past. I've ticked those dreamy to-dos off my bucket list one by one, like any good traveler. But the most satisfying moments have been subtle: Walking for hours through the busy streets of Barcelona alone at midnight, searching for Spanish-style oxtails (Cua De Bou); connecting with a community of badass Black women expats in Lisbon; walking through the valleys of the Atlas Mountains.

For Black women, who often bear the brunt of so much stress and pressures of the "Black Excellence" ideology, nothing breaks the cycle like having the space to choose your own journey.

"Today, I see more and more Black women open to the idea of taking control of their lives and optimizing their surroundings," says Jennings. "If a place is putting unnecessary stress on them or their families, they are packing their bags and moving to where they can live a full life."

I hope to see them there.

The State of the Arts is InStyle's biannual celebration of Black excellence in fashion, beauty, self-care, and the culture at large.

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