Tanyka Renee Says Adventure Travel Made Giving Back Inevitable
By Nadia-Elysse Harris
Whether she’s bikini clad and standing tall in crystal blue water with sharks or she’s dangling out of a helicopter as she flies above Rio de Janeiro’s famous Christ the Redeemer statue, Tanyka Renee has got people’s attention. But her journey is far more complex than it may appear on social media.
“I would describe myself as a global citizen,” Tanyka tells Travel Noire. “I travel the world exploring, trying to empower and inspire others to do the same. I’m passionate about living life to the fullest and loving thru it all – sharing love, feeling love and showing others that they are love in its physical form.”
Adventure travel was once something reserved for the white elite — or, at least, that’s how the mainstream travel lexicon would make it appear. But we do travel, to the tune of an estimated $50 billion annually. And the visibility of travelers like Tanyka has definitely helped challenge the perception that black travelers aren’t into adventure.
She does exploratory travel, Tanyka says, because it’s simply something that she loved even as a child. But what she represents for other black travelers isn’t lost on her.
“Growing up it was always a stigma attached to being adventurous. It wasn’t common to see a woman of color doing it; representation matters,” she says. “I believe that once you see one person doing it then you know that you can also do it. It’s not really part of my mission. It’s a part of doing what I love. I love adventure and I love conquering my fears. When you authentically share what you love others gravitate to it and they want to do it also.”
Prior to doing travel full-time, Tanyka was a professional football player, a holistic nutritionist, and a magazine editor. But her passion to explore never went away. Her journeys started as a means to learn more about herself. She found travel empowering. Planning trips based on what she and she alone wanted was a form of self-care.
However, bending to only her own needs was short-lived. As she traveled and became acquainted with locals in these amazing destinations, she couldn’t help but notice how seamlessly cultural exchange happened. These interactions sparked something in her that wouldn’t go away.
“In the beginning, the old me couldn’t imagine the new me giving back- it wasn’t a thought in my mind,” Tanyka says. “But when you have traveled and you visit these different countries, you realize that we are all connected. I have family all over the world. Whether it’s Thailand, Honduras or Paris, family takes care of family. Family fights for family.”
When it comes to philanthropic travel, Tanyka offers a few tips.
Educate yourself. Make sure your volunteer opportunity is actually helping the locals.
“There is a thin line between reciprocating the same energy you are receiving from these locations and exploiting them,” Tanyka says. “There is a lot of stereotyping and disrespect associated with volunteering. For example, not all people in Africa are poor or need your handouts. Be careful when volunteering, are you taking a job that a local could have worked? Be aware that all though these none profits mission statements may mean well, some have ill intentions. When I visited Cambodia, I volunteered at an orphanage that was exploiting children to make money off of tourists.”
Volunteering isn’t the only way to travel consciously.
“[Philanthropy] can mean many things. It can mean volunteering, it can mean donating money to causes, it can mean mentoring during your travels and it can even mean building a school,” she says. “It can also mean just sharing your energy with the locals so that they can see a part of your culture. A lot of resorts are built in impoverished areas because the real estate is cheap. It doesn’t cost much to hire the locals so we visit these luxury resorts, experience and enjoy them but the staff that is waiting on you doesn’t even have clean water at home. Some hotels like the 1 Hotel or Cappuccino Hotel in Seoul allow you to donate your unused toiletries, they are eco friendly and prides it self on giving back to the community.”
You can’t help edify others without first taking care of yourself.
“How can I share love when I’m not loving myself? I’m very picky of the energy that I have around me and the energy that I choose to entertain. When my energy levels feel low or off I look within to heal, and align. I have self care rituals. I wake up, I meditate, I pray, I drink room temperature water, I practice affirmations and visualizations. Sometimes I purge and release my emotions. I practice being present, being aware and fighting for my happiness. Just trying to love myself thru the highs and the lows.”