“Travel has changed my life. And just when I think it can’t get any better, it does.”

By Alisha Prakash
June 25, 2020
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The second time Zim Flores ever traveled internationally, it was an across-the-world move to India. Landing a fellowship post-college in the South Asian country, the then-20-something sold everything she owned and made the life-changing leap. But what she discovered when she arrived was jarring: India’s fixation with fair skin. Flores first got a glimpse into this color complex while in Delhi, when she saw a commercial for a skin-lightening cream, advertising dark-skinned complexions as something to conceal.

This was coupled with the fact that she rarely, if ever, encountered someone who looked like her during her travels. “I had been living in India and traveling frequently around Southeast Asia, and never ran into someone who looked like me doing the same thing,” Flores, who spent a little over a year in the region, told Travel + Leisure.

Chebem Ugochukwu

Though tarnished, this still-transformative trip inspired Flores to change the narrative — to find a way to amplify Black travel experiences.

“Living and working in India afforded me the luxury of frequent and inexpensive travel. In addition to close proximity to other Asian countries, I was jetting to new destinations monthly — for as little as $8 for a one-way flight,” said Flores. “I believed instead of being the subject, someone who looked like me could be the traveler…so, I set out to create a place for Black travelers to connect and explore new boundaries.” And in 2013, Travel Noire was born.

Jason Flores

According to a 2018 study by Mandala Research, African Americans spend nearly $63 billion on travel annually. Showcasing this representation, Travel Noire launched as a space for Black travelers to be seen and share their stories, providing tools, resources, inspiration, and eventually even guided tours. “I simply wanted to create a company that spoke to the unique experiences that I encountered while traveling,” says Flores, who served as the CEO until 2017, when she sold the company to Blavity, where it continues its mission to serve as a platform for Black millennials.

These days, Flores is using the lessons she learned at Travel Noire to fill another gap she identified in the market. The Forbes 30 Under 30 recipient recently launched her new company Italicist, an online styling service for women who dress modestly. “Much like the start of Travel Noire, I identified a challenge that I knew deeply, and could create a solution around,” she said.

Though she’s shifted gears a bit, Flores is still known and celebrated as a powerful voice and presence in the travel space. When asked what it means to her to be a traveler of color, Flores, who has racked up quite a few passport stamps over the years, says, “It means that I am a cultural asset. The world is informed by Black culture — in clothes, in music, in art. I am proud, but I am also aware. I’m aware of my privilege as an African. And then as an African born in America. And as a Black person. These are all very different and carry with [them] different nuances. So, I carry these many identities with me as I travel around the world.”

And with that often comes challenges. “There are many who will mistake Black skin for dirt. There are people who have put their hands in my hair,” says Flores. “It’s getting the awkward stares when I fly in business class. It’s being denied a taxi because of the color of my skin. Then there are experiences of my friends who have been called immigrants, prostitutes, thugs, and thieves. You name it, we know it. I often have to dress nice enough for [people] to know that I have money, but not too nice so that I’m not a target. It can be an exhausting line to dance around, but when you travel as often as I have, you recognize that it’s part of the territory.”

Jason Flores

But her relationship with travel remains strong. “I love the way [travel] challenges me to be a better person. For the way that it inspires me to dream. For the way my mind creates new worlds as a result of it. Travel has changed my life. And just when I think it can’t get any better, it does,” she said. As a travel expert — one that is tapped into the latest trends — we asked Flores to share some of her favorite Black-owned travel companies to know and support.

Las Morenas de España

“I've known Sienna for years and I love what she's built with LMDES. She helps Black women move abroad, providing them with remote working tools and templates along the way. She also hosts small, transformative group experiences around Europe.”

Tastemakers Africa

Cherae has been connecting Black travelers to the continent of Africa for years. It is a gem for anyone looking to connect to their heritage in a much deeper way.”

The Wind Collective

“What Clé and his team are doing for travel and travel content is nothing short of remarkable. Some of the most breathtaking imagery I've ever seen.”

Dipaways

This brand was started by a former Travel Noire experience designer, Chadricks. He is a master at experience design — so much so that Dipaways has grown exponentially in a matter of months. He has a knack for bringing good people together. If you find yourself on this trip, you won't regret it.”

Airfordable

“They allow you to split up the cost of your flights into payment plans. I had a family friend of ours use this to fly their family of six out to France for our wedding.”

Rewardstock

Rewardstock guides you through the process of earning travel rewards while automating much of the redemption process. They were featured on SharkTank and snagged a $300k+ investment deal with Mark Cuban.”

Curiocity

“A network of African-designed hostels rooted in community. I’ve had the pleasure of staying at their Johannesburg hostel several times over the years and we’ve partnered with them to create unique experiences.”

Siviwe Tours

Siviwe is an inbound operator that I’ve worked with for many years. He specializes in guided experiences through Langa, Cape Town’s oldest township. Much of what I know about South Africa is because of him.”