Texas native Lauren Gay’s first real outdoor exposure came at a camp in North Carolina. The Outdoorsy Diva went horseback riding, hiking, mountain biking, and ziplining. She wasn’t able to engage in these activities when she returned to her urban community in Dallas, but the experience made enough of an impression for her to explore more outdoor action when she left for college. Gay and her roommate set out to chase waterfalls.

“We were in northern Alabama and someone told us they had waterfalls, so we just set out to find one,” she told Travel Noire. “And once we did, man, that was it. I was just completely smitten with the beauty. I was so in awe that there was something that beautiful right here in the United States, especially in the southern United States. I had no idea. So it made me want to look up more and see more, and the more things I looked up, the more things I found.”

Later on as a single mother, Gay shared her love of everything outdoors with her son, especially visiting state parks, a relatively cheap and sometimes free excursion that not enough people in the Black community take advantage of. Now, spending time in nature and being outside is just a part of Gay’s daily life and an existence that she finds therapeutic and healing.

Outdoorsy Diva
Courtesy of Lauren Gay

She wants women in the Black community to have an open mind toward outdoor travel and get out of their comfort zone. Gay is an influencer who goes by the tag Outdoorsy Diva and offers coaching about all things travel and adventure. She is very intent on clearing up the misconceptions about outdoor recreation that factor into the low participation rates from Black Americans.

According to Gay, the outdoors can be tailored to suit each individual and done at their own pace. It’s not just a case of camouflage and extremes. It can even be glam.

“I took a group of women hiking in Asheville, North Carolina, and I wore my eyelashes when we went hiking and snow tubing, and a full face of makeup because I felt like it,” Gay shared. “I wanted to feel like there is no one way to do things. I had a white woman say to me on a recent camping trip in Utah, ‘Oh, you’re way too dressed up for the outdoors.’ And it’s like, what does that even mean? Who am I hurting? Who am I bothering? I was comfortable. But that’s the notion, right? That there’s only one way to do it. Oftentimes, it’s the whitewashed way that gets presented to us in the media. And it’s just not true. Black people do everything. We are not a monolith. We surf, we swim, we snorkel, we hike, we bike, we do archery, we hunt, and we ski. There’s not this one way that Black people travel.”

Outdoorsy Diva
Courtesy of Lauren Gay

And Gay definitely lives up to the Outdoorsy Diva moniker. She loves snorkeling, has hiked on the Azores Islands into a volcanic crater, gone hand gliding, and swam with sharks. Still left on her bucket list are swimming with whale sharks, wing walking — yes, on the wing of a plane — getting scuba certified, and parasailing.

For those ready to engage in outdoor recreation but wondering where to start, the Outdoorsy Diva offers a few tips.

Find like-minded groups

There is strength in numbers and Gay suggests finding other beginners on online services like meetup.

“There are so many more groups now than when I first started seven years ago that definitely are looking to empower and encourage Black people to get outside or to do some adventurous travel,” said Gay. “Now, just a quick Google search or a search on Instagram, and you’ll find a group to go with. Going with the group is a really, really easy way to ease yourself in. And don’t be intimidated by terminology or thinking you don’t have the right shoes.”

Outdoorsy Diva
Courtesy of Lauren Gay

Start where you are

Outdoor recreation doesn’t always warrant an intensive search for action sports. Look into resources a little closer to home.

“Visit your local parks, your city parks, your regional parks, or your state parks. They are a great resource. Tap into the programs they have. They have a lot of free offerings to help beginners, whether it’s ranger lead hikes. Some of them, depending on where you live, have programs for first-time campers where they’ll even set you up with the gear and get you set up for your first time.”

Do your research

Outdoorsy Diva
Lauren Gay

Knowledge is always power. Learning more about the outdoors will serve you well before you embark on your first trip.

“You can definitely find support as a newbie. Just take it easy and ease yourself into it. Do your research; you don’t want to put yourself in a situation that can be dangerous because the outside can be unforgiving. You have to pay attention to the weather and stay hydrated and things like that. But don’t get hung up on the small things. Just start at the level that you’re at.”

Follow the Outdoorsy Diva and her adventure travels on Instagram.