All packed, ready to go

September 15, 2021


By Kristin Baird Rattini

Like so many people, Shira Smillie, ’18, is eager to make up for more than a year of travel adventures lost to the pandemic. But the author of the Black Girl World Traveller blog advises readers to temper their expectations of what they’ll experience as countries reopen for travel.

“I’m happy to see travel reemerging,” she says. “But with curfews and quarantines and other restrictions, you aren’t going to see countries in the same way you would before. It may not be the full, authentic experience.”

Smillie credits a trip to Cuba at the conclusion of her Sophomore Scholars in Residence program for sparking her love of travel. She followed it up with a study-abroad semester in Ecuador and, after a year of saving, celebrated her graduation with an eight-week 14-country backpacking blitz through Europe. She subsequently put her Spanish degree to use, working as a translator and teacher in Murcia, Spain.

She originally launched to help her remember her European travels, but it soon took on a larger dimension. “I started hearing from people who were inspired by it, and it slowly transitioned into an outlet for encouraging Black women to not only travel, but travel solo,” she says. Her podcasts on YouTube — featuring locales from Morocco to Trinidad to the U.S. Southwest — have bolstered her social media following.

The Philadelphia native has since written the e-book Backpacking While Black and plans to launch an agency, PennyPacker Travels, in the fall. Both are designed to help others dream, plan, and budget for their own post-pandemic travel adventures. “I want people to realize that travel can be accessible and affordable for everyone,” she says.