Travel has returned with a Big Bang this summer! According to Travel Noire, travel has seen a 30% increase, more than its height in 2019. Airbnb co-founder Brian Chesky, at the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, when travel literally all but stopped, accurately predicted that travel would return because, according to him, “travel is a human need.” Brian was right! People are seemingly busting out the seams everywhere you turn with travel itineraries. According to The Big 7, Bali and Mexico are among the top five travel destinations.
My twin sister, Taiye, and I are co-owners of Urbanity Lush–curated hospitality and travel brand specializing in providing warm and welcoming Airbnb accommodations, travel tips/guides, and culturally immersive online and in-person experiences. As a brand, we see travel and hospitality as powerful tools that facilitate the breaking down of individuals’ racial and cultural biases and are essential in cultivating kindness, empathy, and understanding of others’ lived experiences.
We call this social hospitality—hospitality that provides more than a great place to stay but creates spaces where diverse people can gather and exchange ideas, worldviews, and cultures. We expect Generation Z and Millennials to come to choose stays that offer social hospitality as one of their primary means to immerse themselves into the lives and experiences of those who differ from them. When this happens, we will create the race and cultural allies needed to change the world for the better.
While most people see travel just as a means to escape and soak up the sights from Milan to Mexico, many Generation Z and Millennials are looking for meaningful trips where they can engage the locals and lush topics (i.e., taboo topics) that challenge their biases and inform them on a range of topics from a different vantage point, all the while creating memories that will last a lifetime.
This was our most recent experience during our trip to the island that has rightly earned the title, The Enchanted Island–Puerto Rico–because of its stunning beaches, tantalizing foods, and home of the only and most expansive, memorizing forest in the US—the El Yunque Rainforest.
As Xennials, my sister and I designed our trip to Puerto Rico in a manner that afforded us the best opportunities to mix and mingle with the locals and other international travelers to get that immersive experience. For example, we booked our three-day getaway at La Buena Vide Inn (aka The Good Life Inn!) in the Santurce neighborhood in San Juan.
We choose this place because of its unique and beautiful design, which features an indoor/outdoor floor plan. We didn’t realize this when booking, but the Inn is designed with sustainability in mind, using recycled materials, including rainwater, which falls from the ceiling like a cascading waterfall, straight through the heart of the Inn, watering a small wall plant garden! This promoted a sense of calm and peace, beckoning guests to come out of their rooms and gather in the Inn’s shared spaces.
Beyond being designed with sustainability in mind, guest interaction is the design’s centerpiece and why we ultimately picked La Buena Vide Inn for our accommodations.
The upstairs floor plan opens into a large sitting area, with workstations hugging the wall across from a modern sitting space. Upon entering the room from the stairs, our eyes are instantly drawn to the open kitchen with modern and Spanish design elements and a large dining table that seats eight people. This signature design feature invited guests to gather, giving us the perfect opportunity to engage in conversation.
One guest’s conversation stood out and gets at the heart of what we mean by travel as an opportunity to engage in social hospitality that exposes you to others’ lived experiences, ideas, and culture.
Karla was the guest’s name, and she had traveled from London to attend the concert of native and social advocate for the people of PR, Bad Bunny! Through our conversation, we learned that Karla is a highly sought-after MUA with a style that could easily have her taking home the title of top MUA on Netflix’s hit show, The Glow up! Check out her work on IG here @karlaqeon!
Originally from Ecuador, Karla, we learned, had grown up in a deeply religious family and identified as a Catholic until recently. What immediately struck me about Karla was how she showed up for me. If I can be honest, someone with European features comes to mind when I think of Ecuadorian people. On the other hand, Karla had perfect coffee caramel-colored skin and a round face that she framed well with a bed of signature black cornrow braids. Even though I had paid attention in my high school Geography class and knew that Ecuador is in South America, I still struggled to contextualize Karla’s features as being synonyms to mine.
Ecuador is situated on the Equator, where it gets its name. A fun fact about Karla’s birth country is that it’s home to more than 1500 species of birds and is a wildly popular travel destination for bird watchers!
I wasn’t entirely wrong for assuming Karla should look more European, given that most Ecuadorians identify as mestizo–people of mixed indigenous and European descent. However, most are a mix of indigenous-speaking populations referred to as Amerindians. There is also a subset of Ecuadorians descendants of enslaved Africans.
Considering my sister and I are half Nigerian and this area of the continent of Africa where the vast majority of Africans were captured and dispersed through the Americas, it is very well possible that Karla could be our distant cousin!
While our encounter with Karla was in spurts over two days in that short time, my sister and I got to experience the world through the eyes of a young Ecuadorian woman (the first Ecuadorian we can remember meeting!). The other activities we participated in during our time in PR, like sailing in the Bay of San Juan with @sailsanjuanbay, soaking in the sun rays at the Blanario El Escumbron beach, and zipping through the El Yunque rainforest with @rainforestzipline, were terrific experiences, but meeting Karla and hearing her story was just as great too. Why? Because we came away from that encounter with a better understanding of someone else’s lived experience, views, and ideas on a range of topics, which is foundational and necessary to building race and cultural allies.
It is in hearing and experiencing others’ stories and cultures that our own biases are challenged, the result is more understanding, kindness, and empathy toward those who differ from us, which is desperately needed in society and a world increasingly divided by racial and cultural differences.
When we come to embrace and celebrate, or at least respect, our individual racial and cultural differences and see them as gifts to be immersed in, then we will truly be living La Buena Vide (The Good Life)!
So to all the trivialists and everyone in between, get out there and join the travel boom, but do it with a mind to find social hospitality–stays that allow you to meet people like Karla, and engage them in lush conversations (i.e., hot topics like race, current affairs, culture, and religion, for example) and immerse yourself in an experience that broadens you and challenges the subconscious biases we all have of people and places that are different from your own.
Let’s get social! Join the conversation and leave your comments on our Facebook page @urbanitylush! Does the term social hospitality resonate with you? Why or why not?!
Your favorite Airbnb Hosts: The Twins & Buddy & Bella