King Trimble is 7, and, since June 2018, he’s visited over a dozen countries, including Indonesia, Thailand and Malaysia. He wasn’t by himself. He was with his parents, Dale and DamiAna Trimble, and his younger siblings, Legend and Love, on a lengthy trip around the world.
“We got tired living a routine,” DamiAna, 38, said on a call from Kenya, where the family has been living for the past few months. “We’re adrenaline junkies. To travel with three kids, you have to be some kind of adrenaline junkie.”
The Trimbles are so-called ‘digital nomads,” people who roam the world indefinitely while working remotely. This in itself is not rare. A 2019 report from MBO partners found that 7.9 million Americans considered themselves digital nomads, up from 5 million in 2018.
Since Covid-19 and concerns about flying, many people have gotten into RV life. According to the RV Industry Association, more than 40,462 RVs were shipped out in June — a 10% increase from the previous year, and the highest monthly total since October 2018.
Millions of people have been craving that that these days, especially since Covid-19 hit.
But one thing they noted is that wherever they went, they were one of the few, if not the only, families of color.
While the family didn’t experience any overt racism – “we were loved, welcomed wherever we went” – she was aware that she was in a minority.
‘Not a lot of options’
“Not a lot of Black people feel like there’s enough options for them to be able to hold an income and travel full time,” said DamiAna, who runs a web design company with her husband.
The reasons why are manifold.
For starters, many families of color don’t see themselves represented in magazines and online, and so it doesn’t even occur to them that travel is an option for them. They’re busy saving money or stuck in jobs that require them to be in one place. The bulk of “essential workers” are Black or Latino, reports The Center for Economic and Policy Research. Their jobs can’t be done from afar or online.
Nearly 65% of Black households are helmed by single parents. “My husband and I have been together 16 years, we have our kids together,” she said. “It’s easier for us. Other couples are blended families.”
Consequently, they’re too busy trying to make ends meet than worrying about where to travel.
Hierarchy of needs
Tykesha S. Burton, 43, a writer, editor and founder of MommaWanderlust.com, which curates cultural travel for Black families, thinks of it in terms of Abraham Maslow and his hierarchy of needs.
Basic physiological needs such as food and shelter are at the bottom of Maslow’s five-tiered pyramid, with “self-actualization” at the top.
“As African Americans, we’re still taking care of the basic needs,” said Burton, who lives with her husband and two children in southern Maryland. “It’s difficult to get to self-actualization. I didn’t inherit a home; I didn’t have my college paid for. I owe $80,000 in college debt. I have to work 40 hours. I could find a remote job, but that’s not where I am yet.”
Some families have figured out a way to make it work while others acknowledge the challenges.
Ruth Mendes has been homeschooling and traveling with her four children for eight years. After studying a subject, they would hop in the car and visit the historical site: Gettysburg, say, or Flushing, Ohio, to the Underground Railroad Museum.
“As we studied a certain region or culture, we would travel there,” said Mendes, who lives in Burlington, Connecticut, with her children and husband. During the pandemic, they’ve only been traveling in the United States.
She is well aware she is in a rare and privileged position.
“I have an MBA, my husband is an MD, we’re highly educated,” she said. “I have the option to say, ‘I’m going to work from home, I want to make sure the school curriculum program is not biased.’ Not everyone has that option. They have to work several jobs.”
She noted that she has experienced more racism in the United States than she has abroad. “In other countries, it’s ‘if you have money and are paying us, you’re the most important person in the world.’”
Mendes plans her family trips in elaborate detail. She often travels alone with the kids while her husband, a doctor, stays home and works.
She plans trips “so I don’t have to stop by rest stops or not get gas in certain parts of the country,” she said. “I’m very cautious of the fact that I’m a Black woman traveling with four Black kids.”
“There is a perceived difficulty to enter in that kind of lifestyle because culturally and systemically people of color have not felt wanted in certain places,” said Mendes. “We’re a skiing family – we’ve skied throughout New England and Colorado – and you see another Black family and you’re like ‘Hi!’ The same goes for camping. I hear — ‘Black people don’t do that.’ Well, why? Because there are difficulties to enter into those spaces in the United States.”
Wanted: Diverse role models
This is something Astrid Vinje has thought about a lot.
Vinje, 38, and her husband, Clint Bush, 41, left the United States in October 2018 with their two young children in tow. They hit Mexico, Costa Rica, Italy, France, Indonesia and the Philippines before arriving in Vietnam, where they spent lockdown.
Vinje, who is of Indonesia descent, believes there are so few people of color because they have limited role models.
“Most people are used to their idea of how to live life based off what their parents or families and surroundings have done,” said Vinje, a project manager for a global nonprofit organization. “If you’ve never personally known somebody who chooses a different lifestyle, then you wouldn’t know it’s possible for you. A lot of the families we’ve met as we traveled are actively choosing a different way of living our life.”
This struck her when she attended the 2018 Family Adventure Summit, a conference for family travelers. Out of about 200 attendees, there were only two biracial families. She started an Instagram account, brownfamiliestraveling, to highlight other mobile families of color.
“We’ve met so many wonderful people through travels, regardless of our ethnicity, but sometimes we find ourselves connecting more to other families of color because of the shared experience in the world,” she said.
While Vinje hasn’t experienced racism outright, there have been “microaggressions,” she says. Like when she was shopping at an electronics store in Indonesia, talking to the salesperson, when another tourist, a westerner cut right in. Because Vinje is also of Indonesian descent, she believes the other tourist assumed she was working, not shopping. She couldn’t possibly be another customer.
“I was thinking, ‘excuse me, I’m here!’ ” she said. “That’s one reason I started this account, to encourage more families to travel and show other families of color that it’s possible and you don’t have to be limited by what you see in the magazines or blogs.”
Abby Ellin is a journalist and the author of, most recently, “Duped: Double Lives, False Identities and the Con Man I Almost Married.” But her greatest claim to fame is summiting Mt. Kilimanjaro (with a broken wrist!) and naming Karamel Sutra for Ben and Jerry’s.