Diary Of A Black Traveler: Haley Realized What Matters In Switzerland
PUBLISHED: March 21, 2019
We all have unique experiences when we visit a different city or country, but how often does your black identity have an impact on your trip? In our Diary of a Black Traveler series, we ask members of the Travel Noire family to share their personal experiences of being a black traveler in an unfamiliar space. Haley (@hcoller) tells Travel Noire about her experience while on her first solo trip through Switzerland.
Travel Noire: Why did you decide to go to Switzerland?
Haley: This trip was my first time on my own. It was a self-discovery trip. It was a trip I was insanely excited for but also secretly nervous about. The trip would go down as one of the best experiences of my life!
This was a solo backpacking trip post-college. I visited numerous European countries and cities (10 countries and 13 cities). The best part about this experience is it was my first time completely on my own in another part of the world. The months I spent abroad were a culminating journey of self-discovery and awareness with the world.
Travel Noire: Where did you go in Switzerland?
Haley: Interlaken and Lauterbrunnen Switzerland
Travel Noire: Did you connect with the destination on a personal level due to your black heritage?
Haley: I did not personally connect to this destination on a heritage level, but I connected to it on an adventure level. Interlaken is smudged between two lakes in the heart of the country which makes it a hotspot for natural beauty, adventure sports and wanderlust sightseers.
Travel Noire: Did you feel like you were treated differently because you were black and from a different country?
Haley: I believe more people were aware of me being there. It was hilariously apparent that I was different. If my very obvious skin tone did not give it away, it was my American accent, big curly hair and camera equipment strapped to my chest. I was CONSTANTLY asked where I was from. When the answer, America was provided, smiles lit across most people’s faces. I assumed it was because they assumed it meant money, but I don’t know. Maybe they smiled because they found it hard to believe.
Travel Noire: What challenges did you face (if any) because you were black and how did you overcome them?
Haley: There is an intense visual disparity between white people and people of color in Switzerland. It is one homogeneous white country, which made some situations awkward such as shopping. I also needed to overcome their very unseasoned food (boy do they need some spice lessons). Lastly, the language was challenging. It was an interesting mix of both German and French. I know a small bit of German but the French-German through me for a loop. Thankfully, the also spoke good enough English for the average person to get by.
Travel Noire: How did you grow from those experiences?
Haley: I overcame challenges much like I have in the United States: with a smile and class. When I noticed I was getting an interesting look or asked a question, it was clear no one else was being asked, I smiled, answered politely and kept it moving. I believe all situations can cause challenges, but it is about how you respond to them, that count!
Travel Noire: What impact has your trip to Switzerland had on your life?
Haley: I loved my experience in Switzerland mainly because I looked back on my life growing up in a single parent household and about all the challenges we faced. Travel and the enjoyment/beauty of experiencing the world around me was never at the forefront of my family’s mind. It was food, shelter and livelihood. This trip was a liberating experience and super special because it felt like I had finally done one of the biggest things in my life: get out of the United States and see the magnificent beauty in the rest of the world. The bitter part about this trip is that my family was not there with me. Facetiming my mom and wishing she was there was probably one of the hardest parts of the trip. Thus, this trip’s most important impact was realization. I realized that I needed to get my mom on her first foreign trip and to experience the vast world around her. I am happy to say that trip is currently in the works!
Travel Noire: Would you encourage other black travelers to visit Switzerland?
Haley: Yes. I believe Switzerland will take black people to new heights (literally and figuratively speaking). Black people can enjoy all the thrill, adventure sports and beauty it has to offer but they can also experience a place not many blacks have ventured to before them. I have always said you’ve never traveled well until you’ve traveled to places where you would never expect a black person to be. Switzerland is one of those places.