Photo Credit: Courtesy of Rachael "Slim" Bivens
Traveler Story: 'I'm Treated Better In Melanated Countries
World traveler Rachael “Slim” Bivens hails from Augusta, GA. She currently resides on Maryland’s Eastern shore, where she works as an engineer and officer in the US Army Reserve.
Slim has traveled to 27 countries, including Bermuda, Indonesia, Morocco, Jamaica, Thailand, Martinique, Bolivia, Cape Verde, Austria, Tanzania, Italy, and Belize to name a few. She says she enjoyed Brazil, Cuba, and Thailand the most.
“I feel I’m treated better in melanated countries,” Slim told Travel Noire. “I absolutely adored Cuba for the unique experiences I had. In Cuba, I danced like no one was watching and truly soaked in their realities. I’m someone who disconnects digitally when traveling, so, for me, not having Wi-Fi was even more freeing. I felt everyone truly interacting with each other without all the distractions of a phone.”
“I loved Thailand mainly because of their culture and adventure. I got to visit an ethical elephant sanctuary (no riding) where I met mahouts and their elephants. I fed and bathed them, and it was spectacular. I also got the chance to visit a Buddhist Temple to sit and talk to the young monks in training. They are learning English by talking to tourists, so it was extremely insightful to discuss various topics since they are taught never to lie.”
“In Brazil, which was my first international trip, I experienced the friendliest people. They truly embraced me. I found the Afro- Brazilians especially accepting. I visited Lapa and was taught how they danced as we enjoyed live music. Brazil’s food was amazing, as well. It’s not uncommon to eat steak for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Lastly, caipirinhas are the most heavenly drinks I’ve ever tasted. They’re still my favorite alcoholic beverage to date.”
Slim was inspired to begin traveling through a series of events which included a major milestone and two devastating experiences.
“In 2016, as I was preparing to graduate with my bachelor’s degree, I promised myself I’d get my passport and gift myself my first international trip. It was such an accomplishment as I’d worked so hard attending school, working, and supporting myself completely with no loans or debt throughout. That was the good.”
“At that time, I was in a long-term relationship that I thought would result in marriage. That relationship ended just before my trip. If anyone has dealt with heartbreak, you know how it is finding yourself after sadness.”
“Soon after returning from my first taste of discovery and freedom of international travel, my mom had a stroke. She was in her 40s, healthy as can be, exercised, and ate right. Well, that stroke caused her to have to relearn to walk, talk, and survive. My superwoman had to stop working, and working was her whole life.”
“Through my mother’s story, I realized that no amount of work would fulfill me. I knew I had to live my life as fully and authentically as I could because no matter how hard I work, how healthy I eat, how much I work out, my time will come. It inspired me into full discovery mode to find all that I was missing.”
“I knew I wanted to travel as much, as far, as wide, as deep, and as long as I had time left to do so. My mother inspired me to live life to the fullest. Her stroke propelled me into the uncertainty and out of my comfort zone to discover greatness beyond.”
Although she sometimes travels with her beau or a couple friends, Slim said she loves to travel solo.
“It’s something I am an advocate for simply because I think we should all get to know ourselves without the influence of familiarity. Travel is the ultimate way to do that.”
As a Black woman traveling solo, Slim has felt the most welcome in Central and South American countries, as well as some African countries.
“I felt most welcome in Belize, Colombia, El Salvador, Honduras, Peru, Cape Verde, and Tanzania. I felt like I was amongst family the most in Tanzania. The couple I was paired up with during my solo birthday trip adopted me as their daughter. My Tanzanian ‘dad’ even gave me spending money that I tried not to accept, but he insisted was my birthday gift. I keep in touch and plan to visit them.”
“On the flip side, I was made to feel rather uncomfortable in Vietnam. I went to the golden hand bridge wearing a beautiful honey-colored dress with a train. I had faux locs in my head, and I was photo-ready. There was a large group of women just a couple of feet away from me, pointing and taking photos of me without permission. They were tourists, not Vietnamese, but I was uncomfortable.”
“Then one man motioned to ask for a photo with me. I obliged, but as I stood next to him, he tried to put his hat and shades on me as if I was a prop. I was very uncomfortable. I understand some people aren’t used to seeing Black women, but I wished they saw me as human and not a novelty.”
However, Slim says the majority of her travel experiences have been overwhelmingly positive. One of her most memorable experiences occurred when she sought a local on Couchsurfing to show her around.
“Morocco turned out to be a HUGE hit for Couchsurfing. One guy had a ton of amazing reviews from both men and women. He offered me my own room and bed, and though I had only been looking for a guide, I figured it would be an amazing immersive opportunity. He was very kind and introduced me to his family.”
“He ended up leaving me at his house, and since none of his family spoke any English and I don’t speak any Arabic, we had to communicate as best we could. It was a day in which the entire immediate family comes over to eat together. They were absolutely amazing to me. They provided the meal family-style. I drank a yogurt drink and delicious hot tea.”
“I spent the evening on the rooftop with the kids. One of the older boys taught me how to pronounce all the children’s names. Later, I was shown to my own apartment just below theirs – a whole apartment with a bathroom, kitchen, and its own entry all for free. It was truly the most amazing experience.”
Experiences like this that allow Slim to meet and learn from people of different cultures are part of the reason she enjoys traveling.
“I love getting out of the mundane to experience something different. Traveling is truly living. I am energized and more educated through travel,” she added. “I find that I become more open-minded the more I get out of my comfort zone and challenge myself. I think I am discovering who I truly am through travel. I live such a structured life. I have a corporate 9-5 job, and I’m in the military on the side, so when I get off, I like to disconnect and let loose. Travel is my therapy. It’s relaxation.”
Slim is currently planning and looks forward to her next trip to Guatemala. You can follow her at @slimbivens.