In 2015, two friends abandoned me while I was on vacation in Amsterdam. After disagreeing with one of the two about her boyfriend, I woke up the next morning to find that my two friends were gone. At first I thought they were having breakfast, but soon realized after calling one of them that they were all gone. I was devastated and crushed. I called my mom, crying hysterically as I sat alone in a hotel room on my birthday. I booked my flight to return home the next day.
The next day I arrived home in New Jersey and wrote what I was afraid of; what were all the things that could go wrong if I had traveled solo. I was worried about my safety, not being able to enjoy the trip on my own, and the thought of getting sick in a foreign country. Then I started making a plan to travel on my own, and eight months later I took my first solo trip to Paris. I chose the French capital because I had always dreamed of spending time there.
When I started the planning process, I thought to myself that I would use this trip as an experiment to see if I liked traveling solo. I researched hotels and booked excursions; I was determined not to spend my vacation scared in a hotel room.
Despite all this, I was still nervous about traveling alone for the first time, so I printed out a photo of the Eiffel Tower and took it with me on the plane to calm myself down. My adrenaline was rising, but as soon as the plane landed in Paris, my fear turned into excitement. I was ready to spend an entire week exploring the city I dreamed of visiting. It was so liberating.
I see this first solo trip as where I gained my “travel wings”, so Paris will always have a special place in my heart. I went there as a woman who was not very sure of herself, but during my trip I visited museums, walked the streets of Montmartre and discovered the 16th arrondissement. I felt so proud of myself for having traveled to Paris independently and knew straight away that going forward this would be my new lifestyle. I left after discovering that I could be a fearless woman.
In 2017, I had traveled to around 20 countries on vacation, including South Africa, Seychelles, Singapore and Australia, and shared my travels on Instagram. Another of my favorite destinations is South Africa. I visited Johannesburg and my best memory is when I visited Nelson Mandela’s house. Seeing the bullet holes through the infrastructure of the house and the tree he planted for his daughter was so powerful.
Women were always reaching out to me on social media, asking me how they could start traveling alone themselves. So I decided to create a course and start coaching to show people everything I’ve learned since I started traveling the world on my own. It became my business, Travel Like a Bawse.
I was meeting people to share solo travel tips every week on video calls; then I decided to create a course on Teachable. The courses I offer now cover topics such as how to travel on a budget without compromising quality, how to build the confidence needed to travel solo, and safety tips for solo travelers.
The first month of 2017, I made about $500 in course sales. It was one of my proudest moments. Knowing that people trusted me to help them with their personal transformation was a feeling that words cannot describe. Then I posted a video about my travels that got a lot of views, and I was suddenly booked on coaching calls for five months. From there, I started to take my hustling side more seriously! It brought in as much money as my day job as a social worker, through which I was already earning close to six figures a year.
So in 2020, I decided it was time to quit my job of 14 years to focus on my business. At that time, my business had always earned me the equivalent of my daily work for about nine months. After I started my business full time, it really took off through word of mouth and through the use of Facebook ads.
Along with learning more about the world, I also knew that I didn’t feel safe in the United States because of what had happened to Breonna Taylor. Killed by police in her home as she slept in March 2020, her death let me know that even though I was home, doing nothing wrong, I wasn’t necessarily safe. Before she was killed, I thought that if I walked out of my house, speeded, or did anything to get the police to come and talk to me, then I might be in danger. But when I learned that I could be at home, sleeping, and still be killed by the police; it traumatized me.
Spending time in Antigua over the past two years has been good for my mental health. I have now traveled extensively, but when I landed in Antigua in June 2020, there was a little voice in my mind that told me I was home. The people were so warm and made me feel like I belonged there. The island has 365 beaches and everywhere I went people treated me kindly; I felt accepted. Every morning I woke up to the sound of the ocean, which was pure bliss. So I went home to New Jersey, and within 60 days I had found a place in Antigua near the beach. In August 2020, I had moved there to run my business remotely.
At first my palms got sweaty when I saw the police in Antigua, but I had to unlearn that as I slowly observed differences between the United States and Antigua. It’s going to take some time to overcome some of the systemic racism, verbal racism, police brutality and all that I’ve been exposed to directly and by others, but I’m working on it.
Now my Travel Like a Bawse classes have had nearly 7,000 students and since that first trip to Paris I have traveled solo to 57 countries and earned over a million dollars in income. This first solo trip and the creation of my company finally brought me peace of mind. I have more time to enjoy my life.
I now travel to Paris four times a year because when you visit in different seasons it feels like you are in a different city each time. My summers in Paris usually happen on July 14, July 14, when the Avenue des Champs-Élysées is packed with people and incredible fireworks take place. I also like to visit in the winter and admire the Christmas displays across town.
When I started my solo journey, I just wanted to prove to myself that I could do it. Then, by starting my own business, my intention became to help other women travel with more confidence.
For the most part my audience is made up of millennial women and I often get pictures of them telling me that they are on a solo trip because of me or that they have completed my course and have traveled solo in several country accordingly. Women also share photos with their families saying that I helped them travel cheaply. Waking up every day and being able to impact others and help change the trajectory of their lives is how I measure my success.
When I’m not traveling, I spend most of my days on the beach in Antigua, have a great customer support team, and do coaching calls once a week in group sessions.
In the future, I would like to travel to Mauritius and Bora Bora, but traveling during the pandemic has been hectic as the rules and regulations change so quickly. At one location the entry requirement may be that you need a PCR COVID test and a second test on arrival, elsewhere it is different. I learned that it is important to do research before traveling.
As Americans, we want everything to happen like a microwave: immediately. I saw that many other cultures don’t work like that. I think the attitude towards us can be, “What’s your problem America? Calm down !
Traveling to other countries helped me understand this and made me more humble. I am able to have more gratitude because I see that my worst day could be someone else’s best. Traveling teaches you a lot about gratitude. I learned to be much more grateful and more generous, and I learned to slow down.
Shakeemah Smith aka The Passport Abuser has traveled to over 50 countries solo and is the founder of Travel like a bawse, equipping women with the tools she learned to help them begin their journey around the world. You can follow her on Instagram at @thepassportabuser.
All opinions expressed in this article are those of the author.