Yacht surfing: Don’t just look at the water — sleep on it

Bored with hotels? Thanks to the Web, you can now rent a night’s stay aboard a private yacht. Cruising is optional.

Today’s traveler is all about the experience, and many are looking for something beyond the old familiar hotel stay.

If that’s you, and your travel plans take you anywhere near a good-sized body of water, you’ve got a major alternative available to you.

Instead of sleeping ashore, you can rent a berth on a houseboat or even a yacht.

Who needs to sleep on a waterbed when you can sleep on the water itself?

Houseboat rentals have always been available on inland waterways across North America, from the Erie Canal and the Mississippi River to the California Delta.

If your vacation style is more urban, you could always rent a houseboat in Sausalito, just across the bay from San Francisco.

Then the couchsurfing concept came along and stood the travel industry on its head. Now, the idea has found its way to boat owners looking for a way to finance their floating lifestyles.

Airbnb, say hello to Boatbnb, and welcome aboard…in San Diego.

The company rents privately owned yachts in the Shelter Island anchorage as B&Bs. All the attractions of downtown San Diego, are minutes away by car or even walking.

The gorgeous views of the San Diego Bay and skyline are free.

The vessels range from sailing ships to cabin cruisers to catamarans. And some of them are available for charter. Your own private mini-cruise.

If you’d rather cruise than snooze, you can do that through sites like Boatsetter, which offers all the joys of recreational boating, without needing to own your own boat.

Floating B&Bs, land their landlocked counterparts, come in all sizes and all levels of comfort. But many come with fully equipped galley kitchens, bathrooms with showers, flat-screen TVs, you name it.

Whether houseboat, cruiser or yacht, or rivers, lakes or bays, you can find boat lodging all over the world, if you know where to look. And if you’re reading this blog, you already know where to look — the Web.

Just search terms like “houseboat rentals” or overnight yacht rentals” or “boat bnbs,” and add the destination of your choice, and check out the options that come up.

So if you’re looking to break the chain hotel habit, consider a stay where you’ll likely be greeted not merely with a welcome, but “Welcome aboard!”

Greg Gross is the Publisher/Sr. Editor of “I’m Black and I Travel!,” and the owner of the Trips by Greg travel agency, specializing in cultural and heritage travel worldwide.


Go West, Ethiopian

West Africa map
West Africa

An East African airline is making moves to turn one of Africa’s smallest and least-known countries into a major gateway to West Africa. More than a dozen nations — and a lot of international travelers — could benefit.

When folks ask me where to go for their first taste of Africa, I often recommend West Africa. Not only does it have a bit of everything in terms of natural beauty, vibrant cultures and friendly people, but its geography means you can reach the region on flights of fewer than ten hours.

But if you want to fly from the US to West African destinations, or fly between West African countries, you have limited options. Especially if you want to use African airlines.

How bad can it be? Across Africa, when people want to fly to neighboring countries, they often find it easier to fly to Europe first and then back.

South African Airways and Nigeria’s Arik Air have had this region pretty much to themselves, in competition with European carriers, but their footprint in West Africa doesn’t always allow much flexibility for the traveler.

© Illuminativisual | Dreamstime.com - Ethiopian Airlines Photo
© Illuminativisual | Dreamstime.com – Ethiopian Airlines Photo

Now, Ethiopian Airlines, which already flies to more African destinations than any other carrier, is turning Lomé, the capital of Togo, to become its West African hub.

That could make travel within West Africa a lot easier, and make Togo a much bigger destination for international tourists.

(NOTE: Togo isn’t just one of Africa’s smallest nations on a map of the Mother Continent. At just over 6 million, the country’s entire population is roughly equal to that of Rio de Janeiro.)

At the heart of this plan is Ethiopian’s affiliate airline ASKY, based in Togo, and the Boeing 737-800.

The 737-800 is a stretched version of the original 737, which first flew in the late 1960s. You see them just about everywhere. Reliable, cheap to operate, no frills. It’s the Greyhound bus of the airline industry.

And these new -800 models have longer range, pushing 3,100 miles fully loaded.

On this side of the Atlantic, that’s enough to get you from JFK to LAX with fuel to spare. But from Lomé, it puts the whole of West Africa — 14 countries — within easy reach.

Meanwhile, Ethiopian also plans to make Lomé the destination for new international flights from Newark (EWR) and is already flying from there from São Paulo, Brazil.

An Ethiopian Air hub in West Africa should make it easier for people to travel within the region. For international travelers, that makes reaching West Africa faster and likely cheaper.

What makes me think it will be cheaper than flying to West Africa via Europe? Well, Ethiopian already offers round-trip flights from LAX to the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, for less than $900. On brand-new Boeing 787 Dreamliners, at that.

Add to that to the rest of Ethiopian’s Africa route map, plus the fact that Ethiopian is the only African airline that connect the Mother Continent to both US coasts, and a continent full of great travel destinations comes into sharper focus.

Greg Gross is the Publisher/Sr. Editor of “I’m Black and I Travel!,” and the owner of the Trips by Greg travel agency, specializing in cultural and heritage travel worldwide.


MOVERS: Dash Harris

A series on Black men and women making moves in the travel industry

Dash Harris and tour group oin Cuba

All images courtesy of Dash Harris and AfroLatino Travel

This Panamanian-born sister is the driving force behind a tour company emphasizing the Black side of the Latin American cultural family.

Four years ago, Dash Harris got together with a group of friends and an idea, to bring tour groups to the Caribbean and South America, starting with her native Panama and Cuba.

But not just regular, plain vanilla tours. She had something specific in mind. She wanted to introduce travelers to the most neglected side of Latin America’s cultural house. The African side.

Dash Harris

“That’s pretty much our focus,” she says. “Afro everything. We’re connected to what we speak about.”

Thus was born AfroLatino Travel. The company formed in 2012 and began launching tours three years later.

With Cuba finally opening up to American tourism as the US-imposed trade embargo against Havana is peeled away bit by bit, Americans are increasingly flocking to the island nation to see what they’ve been missing for the last half-century and change.

That’s where you’ll find the AfroLatino Travel crew, arranging not just tours in Cuba, but also homestays for visitors with Afro-Cuban families.

But Dash isn’t doing this solely for the sake of cultural awareness. She wants to make sure that Latin America’s Black populations get their fair slice of the coming boom in North American tourism.

Toward that end, she wants to provide home repair grants to Afro-Cuban families, to help them get in on the airbnb action that has already spread to Havana and beyond.

From left, AfroLatino Travels partners Javier Wallace and Dash Harris.  Their T-shirts read "Orgullosamente Afrodescendiente" — Proudly Afro-descendant.From left, AfroLatino Travels partners Javier Wallace and Dash Harris.  Their T-shirts read "Orgullosamente Afrodescendiente" — Proudly Afro-descendant.
From left, AfroLatino Travels partners Javier Wallace and Dash Harris. Their T-shirts read “Orgullosamente Afrodescendiente” — Proudly Afro-descendant.

“They might have an extra bedroom, but the house is falling apart, so you can’t really rent that out to people. Most of these could be fixed up with less than $1,000, but they’re not going to see $1,000 in ten years. So the access to the tourism industry is just completely blocked off to them.

“So that’s one of the bigger goals, to get a program with that started, so you can actually see Black people on airbnb and say, “All right, I’ll spend my money here. You can have that choice.”

There’s another reason Dash and company want to help turn Afro-Cuban families into tourism entrepreneurs. If you’re Black, she says, Cuba’s hotel scene can be pretty discouraging:

“First of all, the hotel prices have tripled in the past year. You end up paying a lot for basic things, even less than basic, limited supplies. And also, the hotel are the main culprits of discrimination. You’re only going to see Afro-Cubans cleaning. I don’t think we want to direct dollars to the hotels.”

But Dash and her company aren’t just looking to hook up Afro-Cuban families for airbnb stays. She plans to offer her own.

“We’re looking at buying a house in Portobelo, (Panama) and Havana and hosting people ourselves,” she says.

But if Dash wants to make one thing muy claro, it’s that she’s not in this purely for the money. For her, this is as much a cause as a business.

“The (Afro-Latino) community has just been taken from for hundreds of years. I can’t be part of that. I don’t see the business being a success if other people aren’t benefiting from it.”

Just so you know, AfroLatino Travel is my official Cuba tour provider. Tours are available from Sept 1. through the Christmas-New Year’s holiday. If you’re interested in booking one of her tours, send an email to Trips by Greg and we’ll hook you up.

Your first authentic mojito is on me.

New Series: MOVERS
MOVERS: Latoya Brown
MOVERS: Brittany Pierce
MOVERS: Antoine Garth and Paul Mixon

Greg Gross is the Publisher/Sr. Editor of “I’m Black and I Travel!,” and the owner of the Trips by Greg travel agency, specializing in cultural and heritage travel worldwide.


Traveling Black, Spending Black

DANIELLE POINTDUJOUR and friends in Florence
DANIELLE POINTDUJOUR and friends in Florence

A movement to rebuild their historic financial foundation is taking hold among African-Americans, and traveling with purpose is part of the mix.

While much of the United States is consumed by the latest outburst of gun violence, police controversy or the tragicomedy that is Donald Trump, a new movement is quietly building among Black Americans.

It’s a movement to rebuild the solid financial foundation we had in this country, before Jim Crow and the Black Codes in the South, political and financial subterfuge in the North and blatant anti-Black terrorism nationwide destroyed it.

(If you don’t know about the destruction of once-thriving Black commercial and residential enclaves in places like Atlanta, Tulsa OK, aka “Black Wall Street,” East St. Louis, MO, Rosewood FL, Chicago, Knoxville KY — well, you now know one of the reasons why Black History Month exists.)

Specifically, it’s a growing collection of grassroots campaigns among African-Americans to support Black-owned businesses, nor just with rhetoric, but with their own dollars.

The spate of controversial police killings of unarmed Black Americans, the hateful pushback directed against the #BlackLivesMatter movement, and the virulent strain of racism flowing openly among supporters of Trump’s presidential bid, have added impetus to a movement that has been already building its own momentum for nearly a decade.

Even before #BlackLivesMatter, a growing number of African-Americans had already concluded that it was time, once again, to make #BlackDollarsMatter. And slowly but surely, we’re acting on it.

Most recently, the idea of “buying Black” has been joined by “saving Black,” with African-Americans beginning to open savings accounts in the country’s roughly 20 Black-owned banks.

The world of travel is hardly immune to this, especially as reports surface of discrimination against Black air passengers and airline employees alike, as well as African-Americans seeking to book lodging through airbnb.

Social media such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram are abuzz with Black folks talking travel, planning travel, conducting travel and sharing the experience of travel. Some of it is spurring by a growing political consciousness. For others, it’s a new way to socialize, a concept perhaps best expressed by the Web site “Travel is the New Club.”

We’re starting to prize culturally luxurious experiences over luxury items.

There’s no Black-owned airline in the United States, but African-Americans collectively do an estimated $50 billion of travel a year. A growing chunk of that money is going to international travel as a new generational of educated, adventurous young Black men and women set out to see the world on their own terms.

Catering to that new generational of young Black travelers is a growing segment of African-American travel agents, tour operators, hoteliers, travel bloggers and travel groups, many of them using social media as a base as they carve out their niche in the travel industry.

Together, this new generation of travel consumers and entrepreneurs is setting out across the globe, while trying to keep their hard-earned dollars within their own businesses as often and for as long as possible.

While we don’t own an airline in this country, we’re starting to realize, little by little, just what kind of travel options — and travel assets — we do hold. And new ones appear almost daily.

Here are a few of them:

All of these organizations and enterprises are but the tip of a large and growing Black travel iceberg. Not only are African-Americans increasingly turning to domestic and international travel, but we are starting to make the connection between traveling while Black and spending Black while traveling.

And that’s a good thing.

So if you happen upon a Black Web site devoted either to the enjoyment or the business of travel, check it out for yourself, then share its existence with others. Or give me a shout here at IBIT and I’ll do it for you.

Greg Gross is the Publisher/Sr. Editor of “I’m Black and I Travel!,” and the owner of the Trips by Greg travel agency, specializing in cultural and heritage travel worldwide. Next February, he’ll be leading his own group to West Africa.


Passport rescue

One passport is clean. The other has been laundered Not good.
©IBIT/G Gross photo. All rights reserved.

You didn’t lose your passport, but it’s damaged beyond use, and you’ve got another trip coming up within days. Disaster? Not at all. The State Department has your back.

I, IBIT, am guilty of a federal crime.

Not an offense in the unblinking cycloptic eye of the US Code. It won’t put me up there in the pantheon of federal felons with the likes of Al Capone, Chapo Guzman or John Gotti. If anything, it’s an offense against common sense.

My crime: passport laundering.

Lightweight convertible cargo pants that feature a plethora of pockets are great for travel. They let you stow a lot of stuff, are easily stowed themselves in a suitcase or backpack, and are super-easy to launder.

Provided, of course, that you remember to go through all of those pockets before tossing them in the sink — or in my case, the washer and dryer.

I didn’t. Result: I am now the owner of a large blue, multi-page potato chip.

The curled pages by themselves would be bad enough, a signal to every immigration officer at every international airport that the foreigner standing before them may not be the brightest bulb in the box. But that it happened now as opposed to, say, 1986, makes it worse.

Nowadays, all US passports come with scannable RFID chips — highly miniaturized, short-range radio frequency transmitters storing your personal data — built into them. Subject your passport to the Maytag treatment and you kill not only that little blue magic booklet, but the chip embedded therein.

Which means you can never use that passport again — except perhaps as part of a modern art exhibit.

If you treasure the visa stamps you collect over the years, this exercise in felony forgetfulness pains you like wearing shoes three sizes too small. Still, it’s not the end of your world as a traveler. All you have to do is apply for a replacement, in basically the same way you applied for the original.

UNLESS…you’ve got another trip going up in two weeks or less, in which case, the normal passport renewal process will be too slow and too late.

Enter the US Passport Agency, an arm of the US State Department. You’ll find them scattered around the United States — and if you’ve got one within driving range of where you live, your luck just took a victory lap.

You’ll need evidence of an urgent need for their services, like an airline, cruise ship, train or hotel reservation. The rest is pro forma — driver’s license or other photo ID, a new passport photo, and your checkbook or credit card to pay for your new passport.

“Wait, don’t I need my birth certificate?” you’re asking. As long as you haven’t destroyed the evidence of your absent-mindedness, the answer is no. Just bring your damaged — or as in my case, drowned — passport, along with the other stuff listed above, and you’re good.

Now you’re ready to call the automated phone number to make an appointment at the nearest Passport Agency — and here’s where it gets really good: Be ready to be granted an appointment the same day. Arrive with documents in hand, and you’ll be ushered through security to wait your turn to be called. It shouldn’t take more than a few minutes.

Hand over your documents. Take an oath to the accuracy and honesty thereof. Pay the fee. In return, you’ll be given a receipt for your new passport and told to come back in two days.

No FedEx, no UPS, no Postal Service. Come back two days later at the appointed time and give them your receipt. They hand you back a sky-blue envelope contained your blue tortilla chip, the travel itinerary that you gave them…and a shiny new passport with a brand-new number.

Once again, the whole world is your oyster po’boy.

What if disaster befalls your passport overseas? Are there US Passport Agencies in foreign countries?

No, but that, dear IBIT reader, is what US embassies and consulates are for. You may have forms to fill out and some lengthy waits, but once they’ve satisfied themselves that you are who you say you are, they will hook you up with an emergency passport.

Stuff happens. Bad things happen to good passports. But it doesn’t have to destroy your trip in mid-stay or abruptly cancel your next one. Not as long as you know where to go and who to see.

As for my blue potato chip, it will have its own place of (dis)honor on my desk, along with the mug in which I keep my leftover pesos, euros, Canadian loonies and Gambian dalasis, to forever remind me of the importance of attention to detail.

And to pants pockets.

Greg Gross is the Publisher/Sr. Editor of “I’m Black and I Travel!,” and the owner of the Trips by Greg travel agency, specializing in cultural and heritage travel worldwide.


MOVERS: Latoya Brown

One of an occasional series

Latoya's Namibia Tour

First, she moved herself from the US to Ghana as an expat and a solo Black woman. Now, she’s making moves on the African travel industry, organizing safaris for women of color.

When Ghana became the first Black African nation to win its independence from colonial Europe in 1957, it also became the first nation on the Mother Continent to formally extend a standing invitation to Black Americans to return to the land of their ancestors.

Latoya Brown
Latoya Brown. Photo courtesy & property of L. Brown.

Four years ago, Latoya Brown accepted that invitation, leaving behind the United States for a new life in Africa. That’s when IBIT readers first met her.

A few years later, she sent for her 11-year-old son to join her in the Ghanaian capital of Accra.

For all its goodwill and good intentions, taking up Ghana on its trans-Atlantic invitation to reset your life in Africa is not easy for Black Americans. Dealing with the country’s bureaucracy is enough to deter all but the most determined.

Which pretty which describes Latoya Brown. Which explains why she and her son today have a Ghanaian home address.

Now, she’s launching a venture through which she hopes to share the wonders of southwestern Africa with eight to 10 women of color — and perhaps, leave them feeling as empowered as she is.

It’s a 10-day trip to explore Namibia, near the tip of the continent on the southwest Africa coast, on the board with South Africa.

She’s calling it Soul Adventurer Safaris.

She organized this journey, she says, “to bring together ladies interested in an African safari — to see something more magnificent than ourselves. Small and quaint and still fun for us all to learn about each other, enjoy nature, and get some reawakening or refreshing in 2016.”

If that sounds good to you, give Latoya a shout on her Facebook page — and start preparing yourself for the journey of a lifetime.

The safari hits the main highlights of northern and central-western Namibia first, then heads south to the Namib Desert.

This is assisted comfortable camping, with participation limited to only helping with the tents.

See the highest sand dunes in the world, wildlife, cultural visits, the art of the San peoples and a trip to the seaside! You’ll get up close with the Big Cats at Okonjima and photograph amazing wildlife in Etosha National Park. Learn the tribal structures, religions and daily life of the Himba. Walk Namibia’s highest mountain, the Brandberg, to view the ‘White Lady.’ Drive through the beautiful desert landscape of Damaraland. Enjoy Namibia’s premier seaside town, Swakopmund on the Skeleton Coast. A visit to the Namib Desert sand dunes at Sossusvlei.

Your flight and visa costs are separate and you will be responsible for securing this part. I have found flights for as little as $900 up to $1300 round-trip from the U.S. You may also use your traveler’s points if you have any. Hosea Kutako airport in Windhoek. Airport code is WDH. Contact Trips by Greg for flight information and booking.

Arriving at least the day before, and then staying in Windhoek, is ideal to rest after such a long flight. On the 1st, all will be picked up from the airport – that specific information (time) will be given to participants closer to the date. You may find a hotel on your own to stay in during that time. I have found 1 hotel at about $30 for the night.

FOR THOSE CAMPING — Total: $1500.

FOR THOSE IN HOTELS —Total: $2,000

Payments can be made in installments. Contact Latoya Brown as soon as possible for pricing and payment schedule, or any other questions you might have.

NOTE: VERY IMPORTANT that you place in the description for the PayPal payments that you are with ForBlackWomen Group. Payment email is Namediting@gmail.com. You will receive a formal receipt by email.

Greg Gross is the Publisher/Sr. Editor of “I’m Black and I Travel!,” and the owner of the Trips by Greg travel agency, specializing in cultural and heritage travel worldwide.


IBIT Log: Alaska cruise 2013

First of an occasional series

Cruise ship Carnival Spirit passes through icy Alaskan fjord.
Carnival Spirit in Alaskan waters.


In early summer, the word for Alaska seems to be gray. Gray waters. Gray sky. Somewhere on the other side of that gray water and beneath that gray sky is the outline of a fjord, but the fog has swallowed it whole and appears to want this ship for dessert.

Beyond the ship’s rail, all is nearly perfect silence.

There is ice ahead of us, the kind of ice that made the name Titanic famous, playing hide-and-seek in the fog. The ship has slowed to the point that not even its wake makes more than a barely audible “Shhhhhh!,” as if it is trying to sneak up on the icebergs that float silently in front and on either side of us.

Fog slides over nondescript waves like gray smoke from a passing freighter, thick and assertive. Only the tallest, meanest peaks defiantly punch through it, trickles of ice running down granite crevices like hardened tears.

It makes you wonder about the ancients who first paddled, slowly and relentlessly, into the thickest depths of that fog, without the benefit of radar to tell them they were about to rip out the bottom of their fragile boats on the unseen rocks in front of them.

Eventually, though, the gray curtain peels back. The fog reluctantly gives ground. Not even this dense, misty camouflage, however stubborn, can hide forever the true nature of this land. Indeed, that seems to be the operative word in Alaska.

Nature rules here. It is mother, godfather and president-for-life.

Man is tolerated, barely, and only those hardy and single-minded enough to accept nature on its terms and push back.

No soft, sweetly seductive land this. Alaska struts its beauty, flaunts its dangers as if they were badges of honor and asks you, the newcomer “You wanna give it a go or what?”

And it is wholly indifferent to your answer.

Greg Gross is the Publisher/Sr. Editor of “I’m Black and I Travel!,” and the owner of the Trips by Greg travel agency, specializing in cultural and heritage travel worldwide.


CRUISE: Double your pleasure

SD cruise ships

The right choice of port to begin or end your cruise can give you two vacations for the time and cost of one.

Even if you’ve never left sight of land in your life, you already know that all cruise ships are not created equal.

Well, neither are all cruise ports.

At some port cities, there isn’t much to do other than board the ship at the start of the cruise or leave town once your cruise ends — in both instances, as soon as possible. No disrespect to Bayonne, NJ or Long Beach, CA, but neither is likely to leap to your mind while planning your next vacation.

What about New York City? Miami? New Orleans? San Francisco? Vancouver? That’s more like it, yes? Or maybe London. Paris, perhaps? Rome. Barcelona. Rio de Janeiro. Shanghai. Now, you’re on point, and the point is this:

When the departure or termination port for your cruise happens to be one of the world’s more attractive and popular travel destinations in its own right, that’s your chance to effectively double up on your vacation fun.

So rather than stressing yourself out trying to time your flight arrivals or departures to get you into town just in time to board your cruise ship or leave just enough time to get back to the airport for the flight home, try this instead:

Arrive a day or two before your ship sails, or stay a day or two after the cruise ends.

So many cruise travelers treat their departure or return ports as an afterthought in their vacation plans, if they think of it at all. and considering the places that a lot of the world’s cruise ships call home port, that’s kind of a shame. Some of the world’s major cruise ports just happen to double as some of the world’s great cities, with a nearly endless number of delightful things to do/see/experience.

If you told your family and friends that you were going to spend your entire vacation in San Francisco or the NOLA or Hong Kong, no one would think you were crazy. If anything, they might be a bit envious.

Want to really see them turn rainforest green? Tell them you’re going to spend a few days in one of those cities…just before or after your cruise.

Two days before a week-long sail last years across the northern Mediterranean, I spent a couple of days in Barcelona, which happened to be the departure port. Spent a third day after returning there before flying home.

Within hours of arrival, even at the height of the summer heat and the tourist season, I fell head-over-carry-on in love with the city and its proud, friendly people. Had the cruise line cancelled the sailing and compelled me to spend the entire week in Barcelona, I would’ve shed nary a tear.

I could say the same of a dozen different cruise ports around the world, and I’ll bet you could, too.

With a little careful planning and budgeting, spending a few extra days in your port city need not break your vacation budget. In fact, when you consider how cost-effective the cruise part of your trip will be, the combination of cruise and port stay could actually cost you the same as, or even slightly less than, spending your entire vacation on land

With a little imagination and planning, even less likely vacation destinations like a Bayonne or a Long Beach can work in your favor. Being off the tourist radar can make a town less expensive than its more glamorous neighbors, and thus a bargain base for exploring those pricier travel hotspots.

There’s another benefit to a short pre-cruise or post-cruise port stay, one that’s perhaps best measured not as much in dollars as in blood pressure readings.

Cruise travel should be to be fun and relaxing, but for more than a few cruise travelers, the start or end of a cruise vacation is anything but. They’ve driven themselves crazy trying to time their flight arrivals to get into port just in time to board the ship. Often, they’re among the last to board, arriving just before the gangway is withdrawn.

Those same cruise passengers will also be the ones who see scrambling to be among the first to leave the vessel when the cruise ends, desperate to round up their bags and grab the first cab to the airport. Let the least little thing delay their departure, and their stress levels go into orbit.

This is a vacation?

If you arrive in town a few days early, you can explore the city and environs, then arrive at the dock relaxed and in plenty of time to board. At cruise’s end, you don’t have to worry about the mad, crowded dash to leave the ship. You’re not joining that mad dash to the airport. You’re going to your hotel. Drop your bags. Do a little exploring at your leisure. No bum-rushing the airport for you.

The cruise lines themselves play right into this strategy. Most cruises leave in the afternoon, so you can take your time checking out of your hotel, have a leisurely breakfast, maybe even see one last sight before heading to the port a little after noon to check into your cabin in time for your mid-afternoon departure.

It works the same way when it’s time to leave the ship. Since your cruise is likely to end in the early morning, you can check in to your land-based lodging and have the whole day to enjoy ashore. Fly home the following day after a fun day ashore…and a good night’s sleep.

Now that’s a vacation.

Greg Gross is the Publisher/Sr. Editor of “I’m Black and I Travel!,” and the owner of the Trips by Greg travel agency, specializing in cultural and heritage travel worldwide.


My Fellow Traveler

Alice Kay Gross in front of the Mona Lisa at the Louvre in Paris, France.
Alice Kay Gross, June 1, 1947-Feb. 28, 2016

The woman who shared my love of travel for nearly half a century has left on a journey of her own.

Part of the world knew her as Alice, Katie, Auntie Kay. To me, she was Kay, my wife of 42 years, and the person with whom I would see the world that I write about on IBIT.

Alice Kay Gross died last weekend in a San Diego hospital following a brief illness. She would have been 69 on June 1. She would have been a retired educator from the San Diego Unified School District a month later.

Kay shared my passion for travel and we would spend most of our lives seeing the world together. There was always somewhere else to go, something else to see, do, experience.

You’ve never read about her on this blog until now because she wanted it that way. Her circle of life was small and she was extremely selective about who she permitted into it. Those whom she allowed inside saw someone both genteel and gentle, who practiced kindness as if it were a religion, and had one of those smiles that could light up an auditorium.

They also saw an accomplished world traveler and a dedicated cruise enthusiast.

We met as university students in Northern California in 1971. The Journalism Department’s office copier had run out of paper and I went next-door to the Sociology Department to borrow some. When I walked through the door, there was this new student secretary behind a typewriter.

That moment sealed my fate for the next 45 years.

Three years later, we married on the front lawn of her grandparents’ house in Berkeley, a short bus ride away from the University of California campus.

We both loved the San Francisco Bay area. We never thought we’d leave it. Four months after the wedding, a job transfer deposited us in San Diego.

Kay had the white-picket-fence dream of most young women of her generation — a house, a car, the whole bit. Unbeknownst to me, though, she wanted something else first.

The surprise came in the form of a brochure she brought home, a travel package just for teachers and their families. Ten days in Asia — Japan, Hong Kong, Bangkok. Air, hotels, flights, tours. Less than $1,000 per person.

“Let’s do it,” she said. We’ll have to save for a while, I said.

“It’s worth it,” she said. “Let’s do it!”

We scrimped and saved for nearly a year, but we did it.

Both our families came down to see us off at LAX in that summer of 1976. Few of our elders had ever left North America, and never would. For us, it was a trip. For them, it was a milestone, an achievement in which they probably took more pride than we did.

It was a different time then. No metal detectors, no TSA. Your loved ones could go with you to the gate. We practically ran down the ramp to board the Japan Air Lines Boeing 747.

Jumbo jets were still pretty new in ’77. Boeing had debuted the 747 only five years before and most of the world had yet to fly on one. Long before we touched down at Tokyo’s Haneda International Airport, we were already in another world.

Ahead lay a fortnight of dazzling sights, incomprehensible sounds, tantalizing aromas. We soaked it all in together, one mind-expanding moment at a time.

Years would go by before we left America again. The house, minus the white picket fence, was next for us.

One day, she popped up with something out of the blue. Carnival Cruise Lines had a three-day cruise to the Bahamas out of Miami for less than the cost of a cross-country flight. It was on one of their new ships, the Ecstasy. She was sleek and white and a trip we could actually afford.

“Let’s do it!” she said. So we did it.

That was the start of a life-long devotion to cruise travel. We would go on to cruise the Caribbean, both coasts of Mexico, Alaska, the Mediterranean. We fantasized about buying a cabin aboard a cruise ship like The World and making it our permanent home.

Like Arthur Frommer, the man I call “the Godfather of Travel,” Kay loved just being on the open sea, losing herself in the split-level eternity of sea and sky, soaking in sunrise and sunset over the rail as if they living paintings of her own creation, delighting in the lights of a new port like a child on her first trip to Disneyland.

As the years took their toll, the cruise became her refuge, her journey to a few days of serenity and peace. But it was not the only traveling we’d do together. Europe became a focus. The 11-hour flights were hard, but the Old World capitals more than made up for them.

She wasn’t big on frills and finery. Most of our meals on our first visit to Paris came from nondescript cafés, Sidewalk crêpe a gas station mini-market next-door to our hotel in the 6th Arrondissement (don’t laugh too hard; their Quiche Lorraine was off the hook).

In London, we stayed in a South Kensington apartment across the street from a 24-hour supermarket and cobbled together meals in our own kitchen. We went everywhere via double-decker bus and the London Underground, the subway that Londoners call “the Tube.” The Gloucester Road stop became our home station.

And like all London subway riders, we learned to “mind the gap!”

Nor was she big on museums or other designated tourist attractions. She liked to walk the neighborhoods, check out the shops, the bookstores, the churches, the parks. She wanted to breathe in the heart and soul of a place.

She had her favorites. London, because it was the first European city we ever saw. Venice, for the romance of the place, its canals and its total absence of cars. Barcelona, because it reminded her so much of her beloved San Francisco. And Paris, because…well,because it was Paris.

Kay was my back-up on the road. The things I missed, she noticed. She found meaning in the things I dismissed. She was the one who made sure that nothing was forgotten, left behind, overlooked.

She wanted me to take a million pictures, but she never wanted to be in any of them. The one exception is the one above, at the Louvre in Paris, with the Mona Lisa.

I hope old Mona wasn’t too jealous.

Of late, she had been very short of breath. Walking even a few steps was difficult. When I took her to the hospital last week, doctors suspected she was losing blood from somewhere, but the first set of tests found nothing. They wanted to keep her over the weekend for more.

Saturday afternoon, we watched Rick Steves’ Europe on KPBS, as we did every Saturday. He was touring the little kingdoms of Europe — Liechtenstein, Andorra, San Marino, Monaco and Vatican City. That we were watching from her hospital bed in the emergency room scarcely seemed to matter. We were preoccupied with our satisfaction at having “bagged” the latter two and debating whether to add any of the former three to our destination list.

The next morning, I get a call from her doctor. “There has been a terrible development,” he said. “Alice has stopped breathing.”

The hospital was 14 miles from the house. In the 12 minutes it took me to get there, she was gone. No one saw it coming. No one could explain.

I’ll still see as much of this incredible world as I can in the time I have left. I’ll still work and write and advocate for travel, especially for people of color. And it will all still be wonderful. But it won’t be the same.

Kay and I do have one more trip to take together. She wanted so much to see Africa, to touch the Mother Continent, to bond in Ethiopia with the people she considered the original Christians. This year, I promised her, we would go.

Later this year, I will take her ashes to Africa. Kay will touch the motherland.

But even that will not be the end.

Because my fellow traveler is now on a journey of her own.

And knowing her, I’m sure it’s the Best Cruise Ever.

Services for Alice Kay Gross will be conducted at:

Anderson-Ragsdale Mortuary
5050 Federal Blvd.
San Diego, CA 92102
(619) 263-3141

A public viewing will be held Tuesday, March 8, from 5pm to 8pm. Funeral services will be held at 11am, Wednesday, March 9. Cremation will follow. In lieu of flowers, the family asks donations to the American Cancer Society or the United Negro College Fund.

Greg Gross is the Publisher/Sr. Editor of “I’m Black and I Travel!,” and the owner of the Trips by Greg travel agency, specializing in cultural and heritage travel worldwide.


Black America & Africa: Travel’s Great Divide


When it comes to Africa travel and the African-American travel market, it takes two to miss a golden opportunity.

On one side of the Atlantic, you can find a lot of Black Americans who say they’d love to see Africa someday. On the other side, you find a lot of African nations looking for more tourism that would love to welcome them.

In between, you find…not much.

Black Americans are traveling the world in growing numbers, but the numbers traveling to the Mother Continent are nowhere near what they could or should be — and the reasons why have nothing whatever to do with ebola.

So why haven’t the two sides hooked up in the name of travel and tourism?

On the whole, we Americans — and Black Americans, in particular — really don’t know Africa. What little we do know, we tend to draw from the crisis du jour menu served up daily in mainstream media and the world’s single greatest source of misinformation: “I heard.”

YouTube boasts a whole collection of videos devoted to asking people what they know about Africa, including African-Americans at HBCUs like Howard University. The answers range from head-shaking to embarrassing to downright cringeworthy.

Africa has always been an afterthought in the United States. Our social and business ties to the Mother Continent are sparse compared with the rest of the world.

America’s schools have never taught kids about Africa in the same way it teaches about all things European. And while African food, art, music, film are global staples, you find precious little representation of any of that in US mass media.

The gap of knowledge and understanding between Africans and African-Americans is huge. But the blame for that gap cannot be laid entirely on this side of the Atlantic. There are two uncomfortable realities here:

  1. The nations of Africa have put too little effort into developing the US market.
  2. Safari travel in Africa has been over-marketed and over-promoted, to the detriment of African travel and tourism overall.

You find the best evidence of the first point at travel trade shows.

The biggest ones are in Europe, and ITB Berlin in Germany is by far the biggest. We’re talking 10,000 exhibitors from 185 countries — and about 50 of those countries are African. Government tourism ministries, private tourism boards, tour operators, travel agencies. Africa represents at ITB Berlin.

Here in the United States, Unicomm annually puts on the Travel and Adventure Show series — seven travel trade expositions in Chicago, Dallas, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, San Diego and San Francisco.

The perfect chance for African travel providers and tour operators to connect with travel agents and potential visitors here in the States.

The total number of African tourism bodies, public or private, represented at those seven shows: One. Rwandan Tourism, with whom I’ll be meeting this weekend at the LA show in Long Beach, CA.

The grand-daddy of US travel expos, the oldest and largest single show in the country, is the NY Times Travel Show. Their African exhibitors? Nine, maybe. Out of 55 sovereign African nations…nine.

Then, there’s the whole safari thing. Pick any ten people at random and tell them you’re contemplating a trip to Africa. At least seven out of ten will ask you: “Are you going on a safari?”

More likely, it’ll be all ten.

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with safari travel. Done right, with respect for the environment and the local people who depend on it, it can be one of the most unforgettable experiences of your life. Small wonder that safari travel is the first thing that comes to mind among Western travelers.

The problem is that it tends to be the only thing that comes to mind.


Talk to Black Americans, especially younger ones, who have an interest in Africa, and you’ll find out that their interest often reach far beyond wildlife. They want to know about the history and heritage — not just as it relates to the trans-Atlantic slave trade, but what happened before and what came after. They want a taste of Africa’s many cultures. They want to check out the music, the food, the styles. Everything.

And Africa has a mind-boggling amount of attractions to offer them in all of those areas. But Africa’s nations aren’t reaching out to tell them about it.

On the whole, the African and the African-American are much more culturally attuned to Europe than they are to each other, no surprise given our respective histories. And it shows in our disconnect when it comes to travel and tourism.

We’re like two blindfolded men sitting in a darkened room, each waiting for the other to get up and turn the lights on.

If Black Americans are going to take Africa seriously as a destination — and if Africa wants a bigger piece of the roughly $48 billion annual African-American travel market — that needs to change.

On our side, we need to insist that our schools and our news media do a better job of teaching us about Africa. And if they refuse to do it, then we need to start learning on our own. We need to reach out to the African expat communities we have in this country and start making some connections. They can teach us much, if we’re willing to listen and learn.

Meanwhile, Africa’s decisionmakers in the travel industry need to reach out to potential African-American visitors in the same way that they reach over to Europe. They need to show up at the trade shows here. They need to advertise on Black American media. They need to work with Black American expats in African countries and African-American travel professionals over here.

International travel markets don’t build themselves.

It’s time to close this great divide.

Greg Gross is the Publisher/Sr. Editor of “I’m Black and I Travel!,” and the owner of the Trips by Greg travel agency, specializing in cultural and heritage travel worldwide.


Black History’s gleaming new home

A night shot of the African American History and Culture, set to open this fall.
The National Museum of The African American History and Culture, set to open this fall. Smithsonian Institution photo

The long-awaited National Museum of African American History and Culture is finally ready to open its doors, an event that will be celebrated on both sides of the Atlantic.

Sept. 24, 2016 is a day that’s been in the works for 13 years. That’s the date set by the Smithsonian Institution for the grand opening of the National Museum of African American History and Culture.

President George W. Bush signed the legislation authorizing the museum’s creation in 2003. Thirteen years later, President Barack Obama will preside over its opening.

The $500 million museum is the newest in the stable of museums and exhibit halls of the Smithsonian Institution, America’s grand curator of art, science and history. It’s also the Smithsonian’s largest new facility in a decade and occupies the last space available on the Washington Mall.

But more meaningful to me is that, at long, long last, it gives Black American History a national headquarters.

Physically, it’s meant to leave a lasting impression. Five stories above ground, four levels below. In all, 400,000 square feet of exhibition galleries, an education center, a theater, café and store, office space for museum staff. Here’s a bit more description from the Smithsonian folks:

“Among the building’s signature spaces are the Contemplative Court, a water- and light-filled memorial area that offers visitors a quiet space for reflection; the Central Hall, the primary public space in the museum and the point of orientation to building; and a reflecting pool at the south entry of the museum, with calm waters meant to invite all to approach.

“The museum also features a series of openings—“lenses”—throughout the exhibition spaces that frame views of the Washington Monument, the White House and other Smithsonian museums on the National Mall. These framed perspectives remind visitors that the museum presents a view of American through the lens of the African American experience.”

Consider that. The building itself will be a lens through which to view the nation’s capital.

There will be 11 exhibitions in conjunction with the museum’s inaugural run, featuring some 34,000 artifacts, as well as art and photography from the likes of:

This is where you’ll be able to see the shawl worn by Harriet Tubman as she led escaped slaves to freedom on the Underground Railroad, where you’ll see one of the airplanes in which the Tuskegee Airmen learned to fly.

This museum may have been built to provide Black History a national home, but its creation and debut are international in scope. Events celebrating the opening of NMAAHC will be taking place across the United States — and in Africa.

One of the principal members of the design team is the award-winning Tanzanian-born architect David Adjaye, named in 2012 as the most influential Black person in Britain.

The moment you see the building, you’ll see his influence on the design. The museum’s crown motif, inspired by sculpture from the Yoruba people of West Africa, was his idea.

So a giant African crown now sits gleaming in the heart of America’s capital, and a treasure trove of Black American history sits within it.

IBIT will publish more info on the plans and schedules for NMAAHC’s debut as we get closer to Opening Day, along with advice for getting around, where to stay, things to see and do. But if you want o be on hand for the grand opening, you need to start making your plans now.

This is going to be big.

Greg Gross is the Publisher/Sr. Editor of “I’m Black and I Travel!,” and the owner of the Trips by Greg travel agency, specializing in cultural and heritage travel worldwide.


A shared struggle

samba dancers in front iglesias rosario dos pretos in pelourinho area in the beautiful city of salvador in bahia state brazil

Salvador, Bahia’s rich cultural vibe has tourism officials touting it to tourists as the capital of Brazil’s African heritage. But a look past the enticing travel brochures reveals controversies that Black American visitors may find disturbingly familiar.

In a social sense, Salvador, the capital of Brazil’s Bahia state, is a coin with two sides, heads and tails.

Heads, the positive side, is Salvador’s status as the de facto capital of Afro-Brazil, the proud, emphatically beating heart of African culture in South America’s largest country.

Salvador is 80 percent Black, and present-day Salvadorans show their pride in this culture in the most direct way possible: They live it. Food, dance, dress, music, religion, language, even martial arts, all bear cultural threads that stretch all the way across the Atlantic, back to Senegal and the Gambia, Benin, Angola and the Congo.

That vibrant culture, combined with tons of natural beauty, has made Salvador an increasingly important tourist destination in Brazil. Local, regional and national tourism officials all hype Salvador to would-be visitors and travel industry professionals alike.

If all that is heads, then what is tails? For that, let me introduce you to a friend and colleague of mine, journalist Kiratiana Freelon:

“Salvador is a place where black men are constantly harassed by an intimidating police force, one that many say kills freely and with impunity.”

For more than a few Black Americans, those words carry the sting of grim familiarity. Ms. Freelon offers details in her recent report, “Fighting a Black ‘Genocide’ in Brazil.”

By the time you finish reading it, you’ll know how to say “Black Lives Matter” in Portuguese.

The Brazilian equivalent of the #BlackLivesMatter movement in Salvador is an organization that calls itself “Reajá ou Será Morto” — React or Be Killed.

Its leadership has called on tourists to boycott Salvador, especially during the pre-Lenten celebration known as Carnaval, the biggest annual event across Brazil.

Others seek to use the Carnaval celebrations as a public platform to speak out against brutally heavy-handed police conduct.

On the one hand, police harassment and homicide against Salvador’s Black population could justly be viewed as grounds for a travel boycott. On the other, seeing how the people of Salvador face a deadly problem we here in the States know only too well could just as easily be taken as a good reason to head below the Equator.

If nothing else, it reminds us that the travails of Black Americans aren’t unique to the United States.

Heads, a shared heritage. Tails, a shared struggle. Flip the coin.

Greg Gross is the Publisher/Sr. Editor of “I’m Black and I Travel!,” and the owner of the Trips by Greg travel agency, specializing in cultural and heritage travel worldwide.


"The day you decide to do it is your lucky day." — Japanese proverb