Photo Credit: Sheldon Louis
Meet Sheldon Louis: The Man Behind The Solo Traveler Group On WhatsApp
To Sheldon Louis, solo travel is an invaluable gift that keeps giving, and it inspired him to create Solo Traveler Group on WhatsApp. The app enables people to communicate in real time no matter where they are in the world, which is why Sheldon chose to host it there.
Most members are millennials or gen Z’ers, known to utilize social media and apps to plan their travel itineraries. Though only a few months old, Solo Traveler Group has garnered a steady following of over 150 members, and entry is by invite only.
“Traveling alone is the greatest form of self-discovery,” Sheldon told Travel Noire. “My group isn’t the first of its kind, and it won’t be the last. But building it on WhatsApp was very intentional. It has 2 billion users and is one of the most popular apps worldwide. Other platforms focus on content, while WhatsApp focuses on communication. I’m cultivating a space where people share excitement to see the world without having to wait on friends or family who may flake or make excuses when asked to pull up.”
Solo Traveler Group has an open forum format, which allows for more fluid discourse. From sharing travel memes to TikTok posts, so long as it’s connected to travel, nothing is off limits.
“Some people ask for recommendations about countries they’re planning to visit, others share their upcoming travel plans to see if anyone else will be in the area,” Sheldon said. “Each week, we do a spotlight feature on a member which we call STOTW, solo traveler of the week. That person gives the group a full rap sheet on where they’re from, where they live, their top five travel destinations, biggest travel pet peeves and more.”
Born in Florida, Sheldon’s earliest travel experiences were getaways to Trinidad and Tobago, where his parents are from. “Visiting as a kid opened my eyes to a culture, environment and world that was beautifully distinct from what I knew back home,” he said.
Being of Caribbean descent has shaped his outlook on travel, and as soon as it was feasible for him to get up and go alone, he did. But as most Black travelers are aware, there’s possibility for complications due to no fault of our own. While Sheldon acknowledges the fear and anxiety, he’s a proponent of taking the plunge when possible.
“When we travel, it presents a frustrating web of emotions that we must face head on,” he said, before adding that Black people aren’t the only marginalized group that encounters prejudice abroad. “If solo travel was some sort of math equation, it would be Calculus II for a woman. The harsh reality is that traveling alone doesn’t always grant women the peace of mind, safety and comfort that one would hope for when visiting another country.”
He continued, “LGBT+ groups are sometimes met with resistance from countries who don’t consider their lifestyle to be socially acceptable. While I can’t change a country’s stance on social and civil rights, I can do my part to make it a bit easier for solo travelers to feel a sense of belonging and connection no matter where they are in the world.”
Social media has changed the face of travel forever, making it unrecognizable from even a decade ago.
“In my opinion, social media did to travel what the iPhone did to cell phones,” Sheldon said. “It makes even the most distant locations appear reachable. The ‘post and share’ concept of social media has only increased my desire to travel more and travel often. Everywhere seems accessible now.”
Sheldon’s Instagram page is full of lively, colorful pictures, and it’s obvious a lot of thought went into the composition. In this way, he shows each destination at its best, and there’s an unmistakable intimacy to each post. Some sites are instantly recognizable, like the Brooklyn Bridge and Stonehenge, while others are off the grid. Sheldon is a fan of heart-pounding adventure as well, from riding ATVs in the desert to skydiving.
It was hard for Sheldon to choose his five favorite destinations, but he managed. Cuba was appealing for its old-world feel, while Italy was the first country Sheldon traveled to alone. Coming in third was Ghana, the first African country he visited. If told he had to move tomorrow, Sheldon would choose Portugal, with its fabulous views and food. The United Arab Emirates, home to the striking Sheik Zayed Grand Mosque, completed the list.
If you’re interested in the Solo Traveler Group, slide into Sheldon’s DMs.
“To join, people can reach out to me directly on Instagram,” he said. “I want people to feel empowered to connect with me even if they’re on the fence about traveling solo. The focus is to create the most authentic, culturally relevant and inclusive space for solo travelers. When you’re ready, there’s a community waiting for you. We’ll be right here.”
Go continent-hopping with Sheldon @swipeszn.