(CNN) – Traveling gave me a stable sense of identity. It’s a form of escape that makes me feel safest, at peace, and like myself.
I started traveling alone in my early twenties and of course I had some expectations of what I could gain and learn.
I imagined learning about new cultures and traditions, the history of different cities, their people and their architecture. I hoped to gain a better understanding of religions other than my own and maybe learn some new skills along the way.
And while these expectations were certainly met, I became aware of how the color of my skin can affect my time abroad. These are some of the lessons I have learned from my personal experiences.
Ignorance and racism can occur anywhere
There were times when I excelled as the only black woman in restaurants and cafes because I was the only black woman and waiters sat me at tables away from the busiest parts, away from the entrance and closer to the back. My orders were ignored and the service I received was poor compared to the enthusiasm and smiles of other customers.
At other times I was called and approached by men, sometimes alone and sometimes in twos or threes, and asked to pose with them for photos.
Compliments from strangers were often offensive too. I was told that I was “too pretty to be black,” or that the Russian side of my family should be thanked for my features.
Locals embarrassed me as compared to the only black celebrities they seemed aware of, despite the fact that I share no similarities with them other than the one fact that they are black.
The good outweighs the bad
Nancy Lova says her positive travel experiences outweigh the negative.
Courtesy Nancy Lova
There are places in culture where I felt most comfortable. For example Udaipur, India where the locals greeted and tried to find out more about me regardless of my color.
Here both men and women were sweet and respectful, and I would often have meaningful conversations with them in markets, temples, or while moving around in tuk-tuks.
“When I started traveling alone, I admired the stories and pictures of travelers who shared their experiences abroad, but one thing that stood out was that most of them were not black. ”
We talked about religion, food and ancient Indian stories, which made me feel closer to India and its people.
What was thought of as a two-week vacation in the Andalusia region of Spain a few summers ago turned into a three-month stay due to the way I was hugged.
From shopping for groceries during the day to dancing in the evening and late evening dinner at seaside restaurants, every moment was enjoyable because of the people I met.
Tuscany is another place that I fondly remember and that I return to often.
Charm can be found everywhere in this region of Italy, from the architecture to the people.
Although I was a solo traveler here, everyone felt like family or friends; The locals were sociable and always in the mood for a chat, others praised my features and what I was wearing, and if I ever felt lost or held onto something a little, I could trust someone around and was ready to help.
For example, at one point during a trip from Pisa to Roccastrada I had difficulty reversing my car down a narrow, narrow road and without asking another driver stopped to help. It is such encounters that keep my love of travel alive.
Different places have their own versions / views of beauty
Beauty comes in all shapes, sizes, and colors, but many countries and cities have their own standards of beauty.
From rituals to stretch the ears in parts of Africa to wearing brass rings heavily around the necks of women in Myanmar, it can be understandable to some extent how a long history of different cultures contributes to what sets beauty looks like in some countries.
The same goes for skin color; Darker skin is considered more attractive in parts of the world while a lighter or pale complexion may be preferred in others.
Having preferences leads some to be ignorant and offensive when in the presence of someone who is not up to their standard, but not all of them and it has encouraged me to use these standards when visiting new places to look more carefully and consciously.
I also try to adapt to environments whenever possible, such as longer clothing that covers my whole body and covering my head with a scarf to respect the main religion of a place or when I am in a place of worship.
Black travelers and role models are underrepresented
More black people travel, especially alone, says Lova.
Courtesy Nancy Lova
Fortunately, there are now many more representatives of blacks in the travel and tourism industries. When I started traveling alone I admired the stories and pictures of travelers who shared their experiences abroad, but one thing that stood out was that they were always mostly non-black.
From magazines and ads to travel brands and their instagrams, I hardly came across a black person who shared their stories and recommendations. I longed to see someone like me. The lack of representation was daunting and often made it feel like this might be a luxury or an experience not meant for us.
Traveling is a humbling experience and it can shape our view of life
Roaming the world is a great privilege as there is so much to gain. Adventure, good or bad, can turn you into a storyteller. Regardless of race differences, travel can lead to new and meaningful relationships with people you may not otherwise have met.
Travel has humiliated me; I’ve seen people who own less than I do, but who lead richer lives. I’ve developed less interest in expensive materialistic items and found that there are greater rewards for investing in experiences and creating new memories.
Learning about a country’s culture and dominant religion opened my eyes to see why people live a certain way.
Wandering places has the ability for many to find their identity, as it has for me, to put things into perspective and influence us to make necessary life changes.
There are assumptions associated with black travelers
According to Lova, blacks are underrepresented in the travel industry.
Courtesy Nancy Lova
Times are changing and more blacks travel, especially alone, but what I have found as one of the few black tourists in a restaurant, museum or square is that it is still rare for locals of some places to see blacks abroad.
As a result, many still believe that blacks just don’t travel and this can lead them to feel the need to express their ignorance and curiosity, call black travelers, make racist statements, and commit insults.
The concept of traveling the world, especially on your own, is still an unfamiliar concept for some black families. My family has shared fears and reservations about how my color could pose a threat to prevent me from traveling. While I remained determined, I can imagine how many of their families have prevented them from pursuing their plans.
At times, in my social circle, I have come across the view that travel plans require a lot of money and the participation of friends. If I had followed that opinion and waited for others, I would have missed many opportunities.
While such scars are not only reserved for black people, I have observed these as reasons that often prevent us from traveling.
There are some tactics I often use in my travels to avoid negative encounters and to calm myself down.
For example, I usually like to stay in a hotel in the heart of a city or close to transportation and amenities to avoid overly quiet surroundings.
Before I get to a destination, I do research on reputable taxi companies or local transportation options and have cash ready to pay for. It’s not uncommon for visitors to be followed by unscrupulous operators who demand more and put passengers at risk.
It is always important to have local emergency numbers on hand and to store them in my phone. I try to arrange tours beforehand and again with reputable companies. Many tour operators have direct phone numbers and WhatsApp details from tour guides in case I ever need to reach someone quickly.
At last I am open.
Racial issues or concerns can arise at any time, but I try not to let this ruin a trip or prevent plans, I try to stay positive and look forward to all the good that is to be gained.
Moscow-born Nancy Lova is a UK-based travel photographer specializing in light, architecture and lifestyle. You can find examples of her work on her website www.nancylova.com and on her Instagram page @nancylova_