In celebration of Black History Month, Cultural Xplorer is doing a series of interviews to eradicate the myth that African-Americans and people of color do not travel and to show you people of color who are traveling the world and making history.

This series features a number of interviews from both men and women of color from around the world who are passionate about traveling and sharing their stories through their writing and through travel videos.

Chelle & Crystal of BrownGirlsFly

Chelle & Crystal of BrownGirlsFly

Meet Chelle and Crystal Roberts, the sister-bloggers of BrownGirlsFly. They do every thing from solo travel to ‘girlfriends’ travel, to luxury travel on a budget (using points & miles). They have been traveling their entire lives, and Chelle recalls her earliest memory traveling when  she took a family vacation to Bahamas when she was 6 years old and her mom was pregnant with Crystal. She remembers looking out of the window seat in awe of the world beneath her and she has been that way ever since!

Chelle & Crystal on Travel 

How were you exposed to traveling?

Our dad was in sales and traveled his entire career.  So, we grew up traveling with him to conferences or client dinners and hearing his excited stories about his adventures. Most summers, his life on the road culminated in a big way when he redeemed a chunk of his frequent flier miles and hotel points to take us . on a family vacation.  We got to see first hand how valuable these perks were because our airfare, hotel rooms and some meals were free. And, our trips were grander than the family budget allowed. We’ll forever be grateful for that exposure.  It wasn’t until our dad passed away and we were reflecting on his life that we really understood the impact.

What motivated you to make travel a part of your life?  

Chelle:  It’s just been a part of us for so long and probably always will be.  The more we travel, the more we want to travel. This wanderlust is just so hard to satisfy!

Crystal: For me, it’s about personal growth. The more I see the world and meet new people, the more I grow. Since my travels will never stop my growth won’t either.

What are your most memorable travel experiences to date?

That’s a tough one. There have been so many great moments.

Chelle: For me, it was Barcelona 2009.  I had a business trip and invited my family to join me there. By the time the trip rolled around, my mom, sister and 2 of her friends were on board. We did a pre-trip to the French Riviera and then wrapped in Barcelona. We rented an apartment, shopped in local bodegas, hopped around on public transportation and just lived like locals. It was so great to see my mom so comfortable, making friends in the neighborhood, and navigating town without a care.  She also got to attend my conference presentation and see me in action.  It was a really great trip and I felt like I was stepping into our dad’s shoes.

Crystal: Ironically, this same trip was my most memorable to date as well.  It was such a life-changing journey that I was so grateful to have experienced with the closest people in my life — my sister, my 2 besties and my mommy.  We left 2 days after I quit my pharmaceutical sales job and a week before my 29th birthday. That trip stirred something in me that has fueled me ever since.

How many places have you both traveled to so far?

Collectively, we’ve visited 36 Countries/Regions on 5 Continents.

What is the greatest lesson you two have learned on the road?

We’ve learned to stop taking the resources we have at home for granted, to be more embracing of other cultures, and to appreciate the beauty around us. We’ve also come to realize that international travel has taught us to be more patient, more resourceful, and more resilient than we’d imagined.

What has been your biggest challenge on the road and how did you overcome it?

For me (Chelle), it was definitely the racist attack I faced in Florence, Italy in 2011. I love Italy and particularly Florence. But, it took me a long time to come to terms with the intensity and unexpectedness of that incident.  What ultimately helped was doing research. First, the guy who attacked me mentioned he’s an opera singer in his tirade. I found him online and I know where he works. Though I don’t intend to retaliate, knowing that information somehow made me feel better about the situation and helped me let go.  Also, I spent a lot of time looking into the history, nationalistic pride, regional differences, race, and color lines in Italy. It’s complicated there.  While that doesn’t excuse this man’s behavior, understanding the system from which he came helped me put his actions in its their proper context. I had to remember that there are people like him in every country in existence. And, more than anything, I had to celebrate the many amazing experiences we had in Italy and the wonderful people we met who treated us like their own. Italy still remains one of my favorite countries. The benefits of travel definitely out-weigh the challenges.

Chelle in Santorini, Greece

Chelle & Crystal on Blogging

When did you decide that you wanted to become travel bloggers?

There are a few factors that came together all around the same time.  We’ve been traveling all our lives and would often return home with an arsenal of stories and photos and we were looking for a better way to share this with others. Also, we were finding crazy cheap fares — so cheap we were popping over to London for the weekend ($222 RT) or doing mileage runs to Hawaii ($250 RT) Dublin just to earn mileage status ($378 RT). Needless to say, our friends and family started begging us to help them do the same. Through all of that, we began to realize that if you had a small travel budget set aside, a little flexibility, and you knew where to look for deals, it was sometimes cheaper and easier to go international than to travel domestically.  And, we became keenly aware that we didn’t see a lot of people who looked like us on the road. We wanted to help change that.  By sharing our stories, tips, tricks and deals we found, we hoped others, particularly women of color, would travel more frequently, to places further outside their comfort zones.

What makes your blog unique in comparison to other travel blogs?

That’s a good question. There are so many great travel blogs out there with such great information. Of course, like other travel bloggers, we love to gush about the beautiful places and cultural experiences in the world, but I think it’s our celebration of women of color who travel that makes us unique.  Our favorite stories are the interviews we’ve done with an expat in Southeast Asia, a pilot, a financial expert, and many others (not yet published) who have re-oriented their lives around travel.  It’s so inspiring!  The other reality of traveling brown is that sometimes we have concerns that travelers of other demographics don’t necessarily have like how to travel light when you need to carry a ton of hair products, how to handle an encounter with a racist, or even how our cultural perspective influences our enjoyment of a certain locale. We wanted to foster a place where we could talk openly about these things.

What are the top three articles that you feel everyone should read on your blog?

Who is your target audience?

We invite anyone interested in travel to follow our adventure. We don’t discrimate because travel and the emotional-spiritual-personal journey it takes you through is universal.  But, we’re sure it’s obvious from our answers to your other questions, we really like to celebrate and encourage women of color who travel.

Crystal at Multnomah Falls in Portland, Oregon

Chelle & Crystal on Life

Favorite travel (or life) quotes:

Chelle: “Perhaps travel cannot prevent bigotry, but by demonstrating that all peoples cry, laugh, eat, worry, and die, it can introduce the idea that if we try and understand each other, we may even become friends.” – Maya Angelou

Crystal: “Though we travel the world over to find the beautiful, we must carry it with us or we find it not.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

What is something that your readers do not know about you?

We have a brother! He loves to travel too and even though he’s younger, he was the first one of us to take a leap and spend extended time abroad. A few years ago, he up and moved to Puerto Rico for a couple months.  We’re still working on our own extended journey, but it’s coming!   Next year, we hope to do something bold and life-changing. Stay tuned!

Where do you plan on going next?

We’ve got a little cultural exploration trip to Loiuisiana coming up.  We’re still deciding on the big international trip of the year.  Samoa, Italy, Greece and the Caribbean are on the radar.  We’ll see where the travel deals take us!

Interested in finding out more about Chelle & Crystal? Find them here…
Website: BrownGirlsFly // Facebook: BrownGirlsFly // Twitter: @browngirlsfly // YouTube: BrownGirlsFly // Instagram: BrownGirlsFly