The recent protests sparked by the murder of George Floyd have brought an important and hard conversation to the forefront. I’m hopeful something good can come from the righteous anger that’s risen to the surface, but it’s clear real action is needed to further the fight for justice and equality. There are countless women of color in the travel space who don’t get nearly as much shine as they deserve. So, I want to discover: Who are they? Where are they? How do they navigate life abroad? In the spirit of celebrating Black content creators and expats around the world, the upcoming #WanderWomen features will be more representative of these women doing amazing work abroad.
The #WanderWomen series highlights diverse women around the globe every Wednesday who took a leap of faith to leave comfort and familiarity behind and embrace expat life. In some cases, it was to find themselves, love, work, or something else entirely. I hope these stories ignite the inner adventurer in you, to remember that no matter where you start over, there’s a new home waiting for you if you’re up for it!
Meet Jacquelyn, A Slow Traveling Single Mom & Digital Nomad
Jacquelyn Omotalade is the bubbly blogger, digital nomad, and boss woman behind The Jackie O. Life – a blog that helps and empower Black women with the skills they need to move abroad in pursuit of their dreams. A former tech executive, she’s now transitioned into a ‘slow travel’ lifestyle and remote working career in Guatemala. She talks about how slow travel has allowed her to be the best mother possible, being Black in America, and how and why she feels more free abroad.
You travel with your cute toddler, Ruth! In what ways does traveling with her enrich the experience?
I absolutely love traveling with my toddler.
Is it easy? No and it definitely has changed how I travel. I definitely plan more. I have travel insurance. I have a will. I have a legal guardian should something happen to me. These are documents that every person should have and most definitely every parent whether they live abroad or not, but I am most definitely hyper aware that there is another human being who is completely dependent on me and I take that responsibility seriously.
Before my daughter, I used to not have a problem doing 10 or 12 hour car, bus or train rides to see something new or interesting. Now, I don’t travel like that. I’m also older now so comfort matters for both of us. A toddler can’t sit for 10 hours nor should she have to, so I typically break up longer trips over the course of a few days. I typically always purchase 2 seats even if it isn’t required because she is under two, but I find that having extra space on planes, trains and buses truly makes the experience more tolerable for both of us.
How would you define, ‘slow travel’?
Slow travel is defined by spending quality time in a country to really immerse yourself in the country, the people, the food, the language. etc. My daughter and I on average spend 6-12 months in one country.
It sounds nice not to have to rush through a country! Has traveling with a toddler hindered your travel in any way?
I’ve found that travel with a toddler has slowed me down, but I definitely don’t see that as a negative. It means we always stop and have lunch and/or dinner at an amazing restaurant. It means I spend more time at parks and outdoors. I’ve also found that people are a lot more friendly to a mother and child than they are to a solo adult. I never have problems striking up conversations with strangers.
I also get to spend a lot more quality time with my daughter.
One of the many reasons I left my executive job was that I wanted not only to watch my daughter grow up but to be an active participant in her growth and development.
I didn’t just want to see her at breakfast and dinner time and to drive her to and from activities on the weekend. And I have been able to accomplish that. I have truly built a child-centric life for myself and because I’m well rested and content, I show up for my daughter as the best mother that I can be.
Tell me more about your site The Jackie O. Life, I’m interested in the expat coaching work you do with Black women.
I’m a travel and lifestyle consultant. I don’t just help people move abroad, I equip Black women (mainly from the US) with the skills, information and support they need to craft the life of their dreams abroad.
For me that has been full-time travel. I’ve spent the past 25 years hopping all over this planet and I am so grateful to have a perspective that isn’t centered around the USA. I find that many Black people are interested in moving abroad but simply don’t know where to start. I provide both one-on-one coaching as well as a 6 week course where I go over all the nuts and bolts of moving abroad in addition to addressing issues that are particular to black women like race and gender and its impact of experiences in various countries. I find that many Black Americans are simply over their treatment in the USA. I know I sure was.
And I was highly successful, but it is demoralizing to do everything right and still get treated like a second class citizen…
To still have your every word questioned, still been followed around a drug store like you are a thief when you have several degrees behind your name and a sizable paycheck. I also find that there is a reluctance to leave a country that their ancestors literally built for free, so I do a lot of work with my clients on what it means to leave America but still be vested in America.
What are some examples of how you educate your clients on staying vested in America?
Most of my clients don’t hate America. They range in age from 18 to 67 years old and most are ready for adventure and over the micro-aggression, systematic racism, and overall stress of life in America. They are politically savvy women who are ready for a change. They have family and friends still in the US, so they always feel vested to the US. Most, if not all my clients crave freedom and adventure and are just over systemic racism and micro-agressions in America. Most aren’t under the illusion that living abroad is perfect, but they are ready for a change and the chance to thrive without their very existence being threatened.
On your blog you say your life changed for the better when you moved abroad. Can you expand on that?
First and foremost, I love a life of adventure and traveling full-time has provided me with that. No day is boring. That isn’t to say I’m hiking mountains or visiting museums every day – some days I’m just chilling – but it is to say that each I pushed to think differently.
I also find that most people in the world are warm, friendly and curious and I enjoy healthy curiosity.
I love how my daughter is growing into a bold and confident young girl who can easily make friends regardless of language or culture. I love that I don’t have to deal with the daily micro-aggressions and assaults on my humanity that I had to deal with in the US.
I also love the freedom and confidence that comes with the work from anywhere lifestyle. I wake up in the morning and can go out on a kayak or paddle board with my daughter, then have breakfast with her on the beach. I can afford a nanny who watches her for a few hours in the morning and while she naps while I do work on the computer and then we can have lunch together before heading off to Spanish classes or to explore. We come back in the evening to a house that has been meticulously cleaned by my housekeeper who has also prepared a delicious locally sourced meal. We eat by candle light on our balcony overlooking the beach. This is my idea of paradise.
What country has most closely aligned with the life you want and desire most?
I don’t think there is just one. My daughter and I slow travel to experience them all. One day, we will probably decide to settle down in one of them for a more than a year or two or three, but until then, we are going to keep exploring, learning, and understanding.
What has life been like for you as a Black expat? What stereotypes have you faced?
I have found my life outside of the USA to be much freer.
Does that mean that there is no racism, colorism, sexism or prejudice outside the US? Hell, no. It is there, but as a Black person who was born and raised in the USA, there isn’t much that I can’t survive. But I’ve found that outside the US, I am able to truly thrive. And it is simple things, for example – I was in the grocery store the other day and I had a whole bunch of items in my hands and a store employee said to me – why don’t you put those in your bag – as a Black American that is a HUGE NO NO!
To be Black in America is to always be on guard; to always be assumed guilty of a crime and so for a store employee to not instinctively assume I was a thief almost brought me to tears. It is little freedoms like that – that make my life outside the US so much more enjoyable.
But of course I’ve also been stereotyped in Europe. I’ve been assumed to be a prostitute in both France and Spain. But in general, I don’t spend much time in European countries. I find that there are so many more interesting places in the world. I also find that as a Black American, there are just some things I won’t tolerate from white people no matter where in the world I am. I’ve publicly admonished and embarrassed many a white or Asian traveler in my lifetime.
What piece of advice would you give women of color who want to go after the life you lead now?
My advice would be to just do it. The only thing holding you back is fear of the unknowns but on the other side of that fear is the adventure of a lifetime.If you don’t know where to start, ask for help. Reach out to people, even strangers who have done it and ask them how they did it. Be okay with uncertainty and sometimes failure. It is all part of the process.
Something beautiful lies at the end. Stay positive and get ready for the experience of a lifetime.