How did Wanda Duncan create a brand that helps black women travel and be successful in work and life? She shares not only her knowledge and experience, but that of others through a community of black women travelers, podcasts, and conferences.
Other empowering women to learn from:
Boat Life as a Family of 5! With Erin Carey, Roam Generation
Transitioning to Remote Freelance Work in Your 40s – Susan Portnoy, The Insatiable Traveler
How Beth Santos (of Wanderful) is Changing the Travel Industry and Women in Travel
Creating Purpose and Connecting People, with Lola Akinmade Åkerström
Jump right into my Awesome Interview Series videos on YouTube here – and please give it a thumbs up, leave comments and subscribe!
Introducing Wanda Duncan, of Black Women Travl
Wanda is the founder of Black Women Travl, a brand that creates conversations, resources, and community for Black women travelers to help them embrace wholeness, travel better, longer, and make money online. She’s been working and traveling as a digital nomad since 2016 and started the group Black Women Digital Nomad Entrepreneurs, is the executive producer of the weekly show Black Women Travel Podcast, and an event producer for the annual travel conference International Black Women Travel Jubilee which includes the first-ever Black Women Travel Awards.
Her goal is empowering black women to travel how you want to travel, create money in a way that feels good to you, and consciously create the life you want.
In this interview we discuss:
- How she tried out the digital nomad lifestyle in 2010 and it didn’t quite work out for her, but it didn’t stop her from applying the lessons she’d learned and getting out there again in 2016.
- The advantages of letting your travel lifestyle inspire an online career (and the irony that I usually advise people get their online career started before they start traveling).
- The organic development of Black Women Travl and the various elements, like a Facebook group, podcast, Patreon channel, and more.
Watch our interview here! (Click here to see it on YouTube). Or, keep reading for the transcript of our conversation.
Lessons from Wanda’s 1st attempt at the digital nomad lifestyle
Nora: I’d love to talk to you a little bit about your digital nomad lifestyle. You’ve been a digital nomad and entrepreneur since 2016, but I believe you did try to hit the road in 2010 and that didn’t work out so well for you. What happened?
Wanda: I did all the wrong stuff that one person can do. I packed too much and I got a storage unit. I never recommend that. Please do not get a storage unit. I left my car at a friend’s place. What else? It was so much, I just did so much, but I guess that’s what you do when you first start off and you don’t know what you’re doing.
I went to El Salvador. I found a position on Idealist.org. I’m pretty sure it was Idealist.org. And went down there. Actually got fired from my volunteer job there. Not a good cultural fit. I ended up teaching yoga and some other stuff. Yeah, El Salvador. Beautiful country, very lovely people. Got to learn a lot about the history and stuff like that.
I decided to go to Jamaica from there. I spent six months in El Salvador and I was, “If I can figure it out here, let me get my butt somewhere where I really want to be. Not just where I found an opportunity.” So I went to Jamaica.
Was my first out of country experience. I traveled with a friend there and had been back a few times. So I was, “If I can make it happen here, I can make it happen anywhere.” I went there, but it only lasted three months. I came to this place where it was, “I have enough money to either pay my change flight fee.” I think I had a flight scheduled for ‘Whatever’, ‘Whatever’. I was going to have to pay a fee to change that flight to go back. Or, “I have enough money to extend my visa to stay there”. I punked out. I chickened out. I went back to Atlanta, and the rest is history. No, that’s just that part of the story.
Nora: It sounds to me like you were dipping your toes in the water of long-term travel. You wanted to see what it was like. You didn’t have an online career at that time. You were looking for ways to earn money on the ground. Is that correct?
Nora: What do you think you learned in that first trip? Other than don’t get a storage unit and give your car away.
Wanda: I was there in 2010. Back in Atlanta. It was the end of 2010. I was, “I’m just gonna stay here. Maybe I’m too flighty. I just need to do this thing, ’cause everybody else is doing it. This is fine. Right? Other people make it work. It’s Atlanta, come on. I started doing some music tech stuff. I had an app built and there were some events I was producing, and got ripped off by some producers.
I had my way with it, and that wasn’t enough, and it was never going to be enough. I needed to believe in, trust in myself to figure things out and to make things work. I just made a decision. I think it was 2015. Or 2014, cause I think 2015 I spent saving aggressively, while still traveling somehow. I dunno how I managed that.
I guess being single and not having any responsibilities outside of that. In terms of family. A lot of people contribute to their families, and stuff like that, financially. Also, not having student loans, and not having any other overhead, other than whatever it was I needed to take care of right then and there.
I wasn’t a big spender, like credit cards and stuff like that. I became one, because I was going to get those points before I left. I just made that decision and I got my life together. And I left. I did all the stuff that I needed to have done for myself back in 2010, but I gave myself the opportunity to do it in 2016, and on, and on, and on. ‘Cause it’s a process that never ends, right? You are constantly in the process of showing up for yourself, trusting yourself, believing in yourself, and learning who it is that you are, choice by choice, decision by decision. That’s how you show yourself who you are.
Nora: You did the test trip, we shall say, in 2010, right? You got the itch for the long-term travel, and then you thought, “Oh, well maybe I should come back and do the normal thing.” Then you realized, no, no, no. This really wasn’t working for you. You made the decision to travel. You saved aggressively for a year or two in preparation for taking off again, and really committing to doing it this time all out.
Trying again in 2016: what happened
Nora: I think you started traveling as a digital nomad before you established the Black Women Travl brand. What is it that you were doing for work before that? And what is it that inspired you to create this whole brand to inspire black women to travel?
Wanda: When I first left, I didn’t have an online job. I don’t know that I wanted one. I needed a space to breathe because a lot of the work environments I had been in are just soul crushing. Not in the sense that you have to show up and do your work. There’s just all the politics that are involved with keeping a job. You can’t just go and do your best and leave. They want so much more from you. I just found it to be super taxing as a creative person, and never being able to channel my creativity into the work that I was being paid to do.
I called it my freedom runway. What I did before I left. I didn’t just save money. I was doing all the research one possibly could. I was finding people who were already in the space, who were already making it work, and seeing what they were doing so that I could see if any of those things would work for me.
Accommodation, as we know, is the highest cost you’re gonna have. I got a Trusted Housesitters membership. I tried to get some housesits before I left the states. That didn’t work out. It didn’t matter because that company is a British company and I was supposed to start in Asia.
I was going to fly to Japan. Then from Japan, go to Vietnam. I was on a buddy pass and it was around Christmas. They were not taking people. They were taking things over people for these flights. We’d rather just max out on the load, the weight–
Nora: The luggage and cargo.
Wanda: –versus bringing people. I just went up to the Delta desk, and I was, “Hey girl, where can I go?” They were, “London’s wide open”. And I was, “Book it.” And I was on a flight to London. I showed up several times to the airport. “Today’s going to be the–, it’s not. It’s not today. Today’s going to be the– no, not today either.”
After I finally got underway, I arrived in London wasted off of champagne because it was New Year’s Eve, and I had nowhere to stay. I had to get my laptop out and put some of those points to use. Right? Found myself a place to stay. I found myself a housesit, and I just got busy exploring the stuff that I was actually interested in doing.
Developing an online career while traveling full-time
Wanda: I was doing some website development. I was doing some coding, learning coding. I was playing around with graphic design. All kinds of stuff. Whatever it was I wanted to do, since I had the biggest cost out of the way. These housesits are for months at a time. I gave myself that space to explore. I gave myself the space to decompress and be somewhere new and go outside and take pictures and breathe and just exist in my skin. And not carry with me how I felt. In how disempowered, specifically. I felt so disempowered in a lot of those places that I was in: Atlanta, in many of those jobs, and whatever. It just felt like things weren’t clicking.
I gave myself the chance to feel things clicking. Then, I was looking for community. I housesat for nine months. Then, left Europe, went to Vietnam. Because I heard there was a booming digital nomad community there. Didn’t really find that, at all, in Vietnam. Even when I went to Chiang Mai, another nine months later. There were people there, but they weren’t My People.
Nora’s Note: Chiang Mai is an interesting place from a digital nomad perspective. Read my take on it here.
I wanted to create digital spaces. The great thing about digital is not being reliant upon physical places in order to bring people together. I reached out to a couple of women that I knew who were out there in the international streets, doing their thing. And I said, “Hey, I want to create a group for us.” And they were, “Yeah, girl, go ahead and create it.” You know how people are when you propose an idea to them. Now, having skin in the game is a whole ‘nother matter. I’m learning so much more about that now. But I created the group, Women Digital Nomad Entrepreneurs. I think it was April of 2017. Then made some other stuff from there.
Nora: You have thousands of people in this group now, and I definitely want to dig more into the brand and how you’re nurturing this brand. But before, I want to step back into your travel strategy, because you started traveling full time in a similar way to how I did it, in that I didn’t have an online career either. I just knew I had to go and I would figure it out along the way. And, also like you, I got free accommodation as a way to subsidize my travels. In fact, I can now say that I saved over a hundred thousand dollars by getting free accommodation in my first 10 years on the road.
It’s a fabulous way to get a really culturally immersive experience. I can say that it was definitely nice to be able to travel and experience travel and figure out how to travel first, before really have getting dug in with the online entrepreneurship aspect of it. The irony to all of this is however, that my advice to people who are getting started these days on the road is: get the foundations of your online business in place before you hit the road. Because if you’re trying to travel long term concurrent to establishing your business, there’s a lot of balls to juggle and you’re consistently– in my experience, I was consistently sacrificing one or the other. I was either sacrificing the travel experience to sit in a room and work on my online business. Or, I was sacrificing the business to try to figure out how to be a full-time traveler.
What was your experience, and what would you advise somebody to do with this retrospect?
Wanda: I certainly think it’s more nuanced than that. Because, how are you supposed to create an online business in the exact same environment? Where things are not the best. Because that’s often what makes us want to leave in the first place, is there’s an un-fulfilment there. You’re coming home to your apartment every day, in your same environment. Or, if you’re living with people, whatever that looks like for you, in the same city that you already know. That you’ve probably never really explored as a tourist. They say, “Explore your hometown. You are a tourist.” We don’t do that. We just have a routine, right? It can be difficult to see something different.
How in touch are you, really, with other people who are like-minded, and often not. You’re having these same thoughts, being in the same place, around the same people. I think it can be difficult for you to come up with something different. Speaking to the part where there’s a sacrifice, as long as I’m traveling, I’m good. It depends on what kind of person you are. If you’re a slow traveler and you realize that you have time to get out and see the other stuff you want to see, then you take the pressure off of yourself to be out there clicking every day.
That’s just not your life. When you’re traveling, it just becomes your new normal. And the normal is that people work. It depends on how you set it up. I think it’s definitely a perspective thing. It can be possible for you to get some type of headway, some type of foothold into whatever it is that you think you want to create.
And the truth is, you have no idea. You can follow the exact same steps that anyone else under the sun has done in order to create their brand. You’re going to have a different result just because you’re a different person. Give yourself a lot of grace when it comes to that. You just got to stumble through it and you’ll see what starts to click. You have to stay curious to see what starts to click. It could be possible. I’m not saying it’s impossible. I believe that many things are possible. But also, with that, sometimes the travel helps to get your creative juices flowing because you’re somewhere else.
You’re someone else. I think that, what happens is, you see yourself differently and people see you differently as well. Because you’re used to being around the same people who see the same kind of way, or you have an idea of how they see you, right? “Oh, that’s Laura, she’s the sister that…” Cool.
Versus someone who doesn’t know you. Are you a local or are you a foreigner? Who’s this girl? What’s she about? There’s this newness and this freshness that you start to experience within yourself, just because you’re out of your own home environment. Your known environment. I think that you just have to find what works for you, and give yourself the opportunity to figure things out.
There can be some stress if you don’t have a strategy in terms of having some costs taken care of so that you have more of a runway. If you’re not good at budgeting and stuff like that, that’s a skill that anyone can learn that you’ll definitely need to be more in touch with. Just so that you don’t stress yourself out.
See also: Financial Planning for Digital Nomads
If you spend too much time in your spreadsheets and on your logical side, your creativity is not going to be able to click in for you to come up with these amazing ideas of what it is you truly want to do from your heart. That’s what I advocate for, for anyone in my community.
What is the point of getting out and recreating the same environments that you just left? This is an opportunity for you to give energy, time, and attention to the things that really matter to you. Otherwise, “Yo girl, you could get a remote job. That’s fine.” But you won’t have fulfillment because it’s not coming from you. It’s not an expression of whoever it is that you truly are. I also believe that travel gives you the opportunity to connect with that person. You just got to figure out what works for you. For me, if you’re on the road, it’s a win anyway. Let the rest of it figure itself out.
Have some risk management in there in terms of budgeting and maybe seeing where you could cut back on costs so that you can lengthen the amount of time that you have to figure things out.
Nora: You definitely had the financial savvy to know how to keep your costs low. You had the money saved. You gave yourself the experience of travel to allow your career ambitions to flourish. I know you tried a few different things, and the thing that locked in for you was the Black Women Travl and digital nomad community. You created this.
A lot of entrepreneurs create businesses, first and foremost, to solve a need that they have, and they recognize that other people have the same needs. This is what you did. You provided this space for black women travelers.
The Black Women Travl brand and ventures
Nora: Tell me a little bit about how this brand, and how all the various elements of it have developed. You’ve got a lot of fingers in a lot of pies now, which means you’re probably balancing a lot of things concurrent to the full-time travel lifestyle. What does this look like now? And how are you monetizing this as well?
Wanda: What happened was, I created the group in 2017. I got excited and wanted us to get together, but I didn’t have the chops at the time to actually make an event happen to bring us together. So I started a podcast instead. That was 2019. July, 2019. I’ve put out an episode every single week since July 2019.
I interviewed the people I was interested in talking to. A lot of them came from the group. Then I found a community on Twitter. And what I loved about them was, they’d be, “Hey, it’s not just me out here traveling. Here’s 15 of my homegirls.” I love that kind of support that was happening on Twitter.
There’s something happening on Instagram, but it was more of a showy, flying dress– not that there’s anything wrong with the flying dress– but, maybe more vacationers, I would say. Or something like that. I still don’t know. But anyway, so I’m interviewing all these ladies and I’m, again, getting excited.
I was, “We need to get together. Let’s have a conference. We can share these resources and do this, this, and that. I love getting people together. That’s where the other two prongs came from. There’s a group. Started the podcast. From the podcast I wanted us to get together and then I wanted to give them flowers.
Why shouldn’t you have flowers for all the amazing things that you’re doing? That’s also where the awards came in, which are tied in with the conference. Monetizing-wise. The group is not monetized. I am looking for ways to have sponsored content within the group. The podcast. I’ve had sponsors come through the podcast. Also, through the conference sponsors partners.
This year, we’re doing brand creator collaborations. I got Travel and Leisure to come through, which is amazing and wonderful.
Nora: Nice. Congratulations. That’s amazing.
Wanda: Thank you so much. So much emailing, but yes, excited. Excited. They gave me a shot. So they’re going to come on to do the brand one-on-one meetings. This is where a brand gets to meet with the creators and they can come up with collaborations that they both benefit from. And the creator gets paid. Which I love. A lot. I love putting money in people’s pockets. That’s the money. Also, I have events that I do just for the group. I charge $5, or something like that, for them to come through.
Not to say I’m a six-figure lady. I am not. I am figuring it out. Still. August this year, I started going live on YouTube and just talking about different stuff. Just talking, just sharing my perspective about things. I had an email list the whole time, and I wasn’t using it. I started sending out an email every week. I also started doing– there’s a show, Insecure, that is very important to my culture. We started doing a watch party on Saturdays, and we started doing virtual co-working twice a month. Just to put my face out there, you know. You got to kiss babies and politic, apparently, to make this thing gel together.
I always just wanted to put people up on a platform. In the group, we had done monthly meetings as well. Just come and learn. I would bring someone up from the group to talk about what it was that they had going on, or whatever. It was very much that. I’m just, “Hey, come up here. Yeah. What’d you got going on? Let’s talk about that.”
I guess I just needed to make more space for myself. It’s been good. It’s been really good. I feel like things are gelling more now that I’ve been putting my face out there. Putting my ideas and stuff out there more. I’ve also had some people ask for coaching as a result, actually.
I have a Patreon as well. I forgot that part. I have a Patreon. See, I’m so bad at this. I’m getting better at this. It’s not,” I’m so bad at this.” “I am getting better at this”. I have a Patreon. It’s trying to put people in the funnel. You have the free stuff. If you want a bit more attention, you come to the paid stuff, right? The Patreon was a part of that, where there’s a private community that’s not on Facebook, for the ladies who are interested in getting some more attention and taking themselves farther. Because the whole point of this is to not feel alone in what you’re doing. Digital nomadism can be very lonely.
Entrepreneurship is, in its own nature, lonely. I’ve even talked to people who have business partners and they felt alone in this. While I don’t think you can cure that specifically, that’s not my aim, there is a base to touch upon, a safe space where you can come and be like, “How am I supposed to keep up with all this social media? How am I supposed to do this, this, and that? How am I supposed to do that, that, and that?” That’s what happens too, is you put all this responsibility on yourself to show up in all these different ways, at once. Right?
Nora: You’re speaking to my soul right now. It’s very hard as an entrepreneur when you’re building a business and building a brand, and you’re doing it on your own, and you feel you need to be in all the places at once. And you can’t. It’s important to pick the places where we can have the most effect, at least right now. Then we can expand later when we have that opportunity. I definitely appreciate that you’re feeling your way through this. I also want to highlight something.
You were a finalist for the Trailblazer Award from the Women In Travel Summit 2021 Bessie Awards. This is a pretty big deal. When I was reading through your submission, the part that resonated with me was that you are “carving out a path for future leaders in the travel space.” I really liked that. I would love for you to expand on what that means to you and how that plays out.
Wanda: That was so long ago. That was earlier this year.
Nora: ‘Time’ takes on a whole new meaning in a post-pandemic world. Doesn’t it?
Wanda: I’m a whole different person from that lady back then, honestly. I don’t even know that it’s my place. I don’t know that they need that anymore.
Nora: What does your community need then? What is it? What’s your goal to nurture?
Wanda: When I started in 2016, I didn’t see any spaces dedicated to us, specifically. Right? There’s plenty of nomad groups. There’s plenty of nomad entrepreneurs. There’s plenty of traveler groups, but I didn’t see anything for black women.
It seems 2020, everything was coming out of the ground. Maybe they were seeds that were planted. Conferences were popping up. Groups were popping up. Groups for specific cities or countries were popping up. In support of travelers.
There’s Nomadness. They’re not specific to black women, but they are people of colour. Nomadness Travel Tribe. They did group trips. They also have their own conference. Not to take away from that, but they weren’t black-woman specific. Some of these other spaces aren’t black-women specific.
What I think that my community needs the most right now is just affirmation. To me, I didn’t know that it was as deep as that. But I think that’s exactly what they come to my spaces for, is for that affirmation. For that kind of support. It’s not necessarily the tools. Cause there’s the logistic stuff. There’s plenty of that. How do you…? The visas, and how do you choose a country? How are you traveling? What are you doing for your bank accounts? All that stuff that’s legit. The phone numbers and stuff like that. How do you keep a U.S. number? That’s the logistics stuff.
See also: Things to Do Before Traveling Abroad
Yes, some of that is needed, but I think, more than that, they just need to give themselves permission to explore it, to fail. Because it’s going to happen. It happens to everyone, in some capacity. To get back up and keep going. I think that’s what they come to my spaces for. I’m very into nuance. I’m very into, “Let’s have the whole conversation.” I’m not a “Five things you can do in Tulum” type of girl. Nothing against that, but that’s also part of my thing. I’m not using the hashtags on Instagram. I’m not dancing in front of a green screen.
Because I don’t do some of these things that a lot of other people do, I don’t think that I’m able to reach people. I think that the people who are meant to find me, do. There’s always this pull to be popular. There’s this pull to be seen. There’s this pull to use all the tips and tricks in order to get your face out in the streets. I think you just have to decide if that’s you. If it doesn’t make you happy, then don’t do it. You still have to do some stuff. What is that compromise? I’m still working through that.
I think that mostly what they come to me for is because I have these heart-centred conversations. I talk about how it’s no joke. “You mean you want all three of these things? You want to travel, you want to make money while you travel, and you want to be a whole embodied human being? What do you–?”
I don’t know that they even realize the embodied part and how important that is. If you are not an embodied person– What that means is you’re not in touch with yourself. You’re not in touch with what you want. You’re not working from the inside out. You’re very much working from the outside in. What other people have put on you. What you think other people think of you. What you see other people doing. Versus what I’m talking about, which is what you want. Knowing that and knowing who you are and operating from that vantage point. Otherwise, you’re just not going to have that fulfilment. Those are the three things that I generally talk about. I try to weave a story, and weave a tale, using all three. Everything that I do, the travel, the wellness, and the entrepreneurship/online business.
Advice for new digital nomads
Nora: Do you have any final words of advice for anyone who’s looking to hit the road long-term or full-time while working remotely?
Wanda: Do it. Do it scared. Do it nasty. Do it scrappy. Do it polished. But do it. However that looks. Trust yourself. Build trust in yourself. Get resourceful. Ask for help. If you ask the wrong person at the wrong time, don’t sweat it. Keep asking. Somebody’s going to be out there to help you. Join communities where you think that you’ll have the support and assistance that you need. If it’s not the right community, don’t give up. A lot of this is like dating. Some of these things you’re not going to hit on and it be the right thing for you at the right time. You gotta keep at it. Keep fortifying yourself. Keeping around people who understand and get the desire, and the drive, and the need… for speed. Yeah, that.
Nora: Beautiful. Thank you for that. Where can people find you and connect with you?
Wanda: My website is Black Women Travl. That’s T R A V L.com. On there you’ll see the community, Black Women Digital Nomad Entrepreneurs. Very specific, right? The podcast, Black Women Travel Podcast. Also, information for the Patreon. I also accept donations to support this work. PayPal, Coffee, Buy Me A Coffee. I’m everywhere. In terms of social media, usually I’m on the Black Women Travel Podcast accounts as “bwtpod”. Instagram. Twitter. I’m even on LinkedIn, if you search for it. And Facebook, of course. Yeah, I love connecting. I love talking to people. You don’t necessarily have to be black or a woman, and certainly not to support. I will see you out there, good, kind-hearted people.
Nora: Brilliant. Thank you so much for joining me today. Wanda, this has been a pleasure. I’m Nora Dunn. I’m otherwise known as The Professional Hobo, and I will catch you next time. .