Reflections of a Brown Traveller

If you thought this was some kind of rant against being racially abused during my recent travels, it is definitely not that. It is something else and I have been wondering about it a lot this time. I didn’t understand it the first time. I had just come down for dinner on my first night …

Written by: Soumya Nambiar

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If you thought this was some kind of rant against being racially abused during my recent travels, it is definitely not that. It is something else and I have been wondering about it a lot this time.

I didn’t understand it the first time. I had just come down for dinner on my first night at my hotel in Lisbon and suddenly I somehow felt like I was the centre of attention. I was definitely not looking my best then and it was a different kind of staring. At that time, I just brushed it off as me being tired and didn’t think much about it. But then it kept happening at many places around the city for the next two days.

But it was not until I reached Algarve, it finally struck me. So I was staying in this nice hotel and on my first day there, I went for lunch and suddenly all eyes were on me again. That is when I realized why. I was the only brown traveler there and people were just stunned to see a solo female Indian traveler. Over the course of the next two days, I did become friendly with few couples there and they were kind of surprised that I was traveling alone and they had all kinds of questions for me.

Over the course of the next one month, this happened quite frequently. By the end of it, I had just gotten used to the stares. It always followed a pattern. First the stares, then a smile and eventually someone would drop in to say hello if I was dining alone in my hotel/hostel. If I walked into a restaurant, many of the waiters would have this dumbfounded look on their face.

But mind you, this did not happen everywhere. In the popular places like Paris, Amsterdam or Bruges, this rarely happened. The reason was quite clear. There were plenty of other brown people around.

This got me thinking. I come from a country that currently has around 1/7th of the World population. Then how is it that I was the only brown person the time I went salsa dancing in Madrid or when we spent an entire night talking about world politics or when I went to the Moulin rouge or when I went cave hopping in Algarve or when I went on walking tours or when I went to watch the Opera in Vienna or when I went on pub/restaurant crawls?

Reflections of a Brown Traveller
Strasbourg, France

Was I traveling at a time when less Indians were traveling? I don’t think so. I started when the summer vacations were still going on in India. Is it that we as Indians are conditioned to travel differently? I know as someone traveling on an Indian passport, it can be extremely difficult to get a visa sometimes. But I don’t think that was the reason.

When I went on a guided tour to Luxembourg from Brussels, my bus was filled with at least 8-10 Indians including me and I had a tough time getting two nosy Indian aunties off my back. When I went to gape at the Louvre, there were scores of large Indian families outside the Louvre clicking selfies.

Reflections of a Brown Traveller Dinant
Dinant, Belgium

I can think of multiple instances but it still doesn’t answer my question. Why was I the only one in so many places? I really don’t know. Is it that as a general rule of thumb, we as Indians stick to the popular cities and popular tourist spots? Do we stick to the itinerary shared by our tour operators? Do we not venture out and eat something local for a change?

Few people on my timeline mentioned that they were seeing some of these places for the first time. But I did not choose obscure places. I only went to places which were accessible by public transport and all of them were chosen because of the popularity of the place.

Again I repeat. I really don’t know why I was the only brown one there. I met people from all over the world in less popular places. I met Americans, Europeans, Chinese, Koreans, Brazilians, Egyptians in such places but not a single Indian/brown traveller.

I sincerely hope that this trend changes. So that when someone like me goes to such places in the future, we are not embarrassed by the constant stares and the disbelief. I am used to being the centre of attention. I just don’t want to be the centre of attention when I am travelling around the World. I just want to focus all my energy on seeing this beautiful World.

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Reflections of a Brown Traveller
Reflections of a Brown Traveller

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Soumya Nambiar here. I am an avid traveler, travel blogger, vegetarian foodie and entrepreneur from Bangalore, India who grew up in Tanzania, Africa. I have been to more than 60 countries and in this blog, I write about my personal experiences as an Indian traveller around the world as well as my struggles as a vegetarian. I can be reached at [email protected].

7 thoughts on “Reflections of a Brown Traveller”

  1. These are some of the of beat places you have mentioned. Moreover the devalued Indian currency ensures that only a selected few Indians can afford a foreign tour, that to in western countries.

  2. I don't think it is a trend, it is just convenience. Why even the foreigners who come to India, tend to visit the popular destinations like Taj Mahal and the Golden triangle, while the rest of India remains virtually unknown to them. It is the same when Indians go abroad. Lots of reasons – budgets, connectivity ….etc.

  3. I agree with the devalued currency part. But I did see lots of Indians in popular places like Paris, Bruges etc. Paris was the most expensive city I went to this time. Lisbon, Strasbourg were all half as expensive as Paris.

  4. It is just a misconception that these places are more expensive. Places like Paris and Amsterdam still get more Indian tourists and if you ask me, Paris is pretty expensive compared to other European cities.
    I was traveling solo. So my utmost concern was safety and connectivity. I only chose ones which were easily accessible. Please don't stick to only the popular cities and the conventional ways of seeing them. I feel we don't try to get out of our comfort zones and try out new things when we are abroad.

  5. Thanks for sharing. I think it's bad ass you're traveling and breaking the stereotype. It will change if you keep traveling and doing what you love. My boyfriend is Indian and we live in Munich together. We get a lot of stares being a bi-racial couple in a dominantly white city. Sometimes I think the stares are good because it helps people see and acknowledge us as a real couple

  6. This blog post beautifully captures the unique experiences and perspectives of a brown traveler. The author’s reflections provide valuable insights into the cultural richness encountered during their journeys. It’s a refreshing read that encourages a broader understanding of diverse travel narratives.


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