The philanthropist and empowerment coach explains how exploring the world can help expand career opportunities and personal growth.

By Danielle Pointdujour
August 16, 2020
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Credit: Courtesy of Karen Arrington

Karen Arrington’s travel resume is one to envy, with the United Arab Emirates, Spain, South Africa, and Egypt being just a few places she’s been privileged enough to explore. However, what makes the Miss Black USA founder and NAACP Image Award-winning author different is that her global jaunts go beyond relaxation and photos for Instagram. She’s traveling to make a difference.

With over 20 years of experience under her belt, Arrington has helped 1,000 Black women and counting level up in business through travel. From trips to the Middle East that allow guests to get insider looks at how multi-million dollar businesses are run to philanthropic missions to West Africa to provide life-changing supplies and resources to local communities, Arrington is showing women how to transform their lives and step into powerful global careers. And that’s all while the Washington, D.C. resident hosts birthday parties for international heads of state and acts as Goodwill Ambassador to Sierra Leone. To say she has her hands full would be an understatement.

Travel + Leisure sat down with the humble empowerment coach to discover how travel changed her life, why it’s important for Black women to expand their global mindset, and what power moves are on her own bucket list.

Travel + Leisure: What was the first international trip you took that was service-based and transformational for you?

Karen Arrington: “The moment I touched African soil, my entire life changed. I led a group of 179 women to The Gambia, West Africa where Alex Haley, author of the acclaimed novel turned mini-series “Roots” traced his ancestry. It was the first time many of the participants visited the continent. One participant stated, “The trip redefined who I am as a Black woman.” She returned home with a greater sense of her identity. Another participant stated, “It’s such a humbling experience to return to my ancestral home. I learned a new language and adopted a family.

The trip provided opportunities for atonement and reconciliation for those whose ancestors were engaged in slavery and are the descendants of Africans forced into slavery. During the curated experience, we mentored local business women, discovered new projects to champion, and reclaimed our roots. We turned an empty space in a local primary school into a library and filled it with books and laptops. The expression on the faces of the children when they saw the new library was priceless. Lots of tears flowing. The Gambian people stole our hearts.”

What are the ways that women, specifically women of color, should be thinking about travel for economic and professional growth?

“Travel is a tremendous investment in your life and career. It’s a chance to prepare yourself for greater, deeper work — as you serve, empower, and create a global network. You will be challenged. You will be inspired. You’ll return home transformed, with a clear direction for your life, work and philanthropic goals. Women are still fighting for their fair share of wealth and still staggering behind men. And for women of color, the gap is even wider. Travel can help you discover hidden opportunities and resources that you’d never even considered before. Travel opens up a whole new world of opportunities to utilize your talents, stretch your imagination, champion a cause, and to expand your global network.

How can people help?

As a philanthropist and travel curator, I am always seeking ways to make an impact. I’ve always believed in the concept of lifting as you climb. Helping others is not only a good thing to do, it makes you feel happy and healthier, too. The most fulfilling, life-changing, and transformative experiences I’ve ever had come from serving others through international travel. Use whatever gifts you have to make a difference and your life will be enriched in so many ways. There is a country waiting for you to share them.”

Credit: Courtesy of Karen Arrington

You led 100 women on a "power trip" to the Middle East. How did that trip come about and what did you learn and discover from that experience?

“As a women’s empowerment expert, I know first-hand how travel contributes to your personal and professional growth. Looking for new and innovative ways to help women level up, I decided to host and lead 100 professional Black women on a power trip to Abu Dhabi. Three generations of women participated and the networking was non-stop. The week kicked off with a visit to the Emirates Autism Center where the attendees interacted with children and left a generous donation behind. The women spent another day behind-the-scenes on a private VIP tour at the headquarters of an international airline where they got a first-hand and intimate look at how a billion-dollar company operates. One of the participants said the week-long experience was equivalent to earning an MBA.”

In your book “Your Next Level Life: 7 Rules of Power, Confidence, and Opportunity for Black Women in America,” you say that women need to make travel part of their growth strategy. What’s the best way to do that?

“The best way to grow is to step outside your comfort zone. That’s where the magic is. Select a destination that is unfamiliar and strikes your curiosity. It could be a 20-hour flight or a 6-hour flight, but make sure it’s unfamiliar territory. If this is your first time traveling outside the U.S., I usually recommend starting your travel journey in Abu Dhabi or Dubai, Cape Town or Madrid. These destinations offer modern conveniences while exposing you to new histories, cultures, and ideas and customs. You will gain new perspectives, develop patience, and maybe pick up a new language.”

What destinations are next on your personal growth strategy list? What do you hope to learn?

“The most fulfilling, life-changing and, transformative experiences I’ve ever had come from serving others. The destinations on my personal growth strategy list are: Seychelles, Namibia, Egypt, Kenya, and Abu Dhabi and Dubai. I want to learn more about the future of women leaders, and how global connections and collaborations can contribute to closing the economic divide.”

This interview was edited for clarity and length.