One trip can change your life.
Just ask attorney and professor, Tiffanie Anderson. Her trip to South Africa years ago inspired her to create an avenue for Black people (both in the United States and throughout the diaspora), who are anxious to visit and learn more about the motherland.
It took a few years to finally make the concept a reality, but in 2015 Away to Africa was born. Anderson turned her passion for travel and exploration into a destination travel management company that is dedicated to providing guided, cultural tours throughout selected countries in Africa. Some of the locations she offers include South Africa, Ghana, Ethiopia, Zanzibar, Tanzania and Kenya (she’ll be expanding to Zimbabwe, Zambia, Botswana, Rwanda, Seychelles and Mozambique later this year).
The company offers personalized, small group travel packages for anyone looking to take their tourism experience to the next level. Anderson provides an immersive experience that allows individuals to get in touch with their African roots, while also changing preconceived perceptions about visiting the continent.
The moment that started it all
Anderson spent a summer abroad in South Africa while she attended law school at St. John’s University. The moment she stepped off the plane, she was forever changed.
“Prior to going there, I had preconceived notions of the continent. I’d read of Africa and learned about Marcus Garvey and other great leaders out of Africa, but I think the visual perception of Africa was still very tainted in 2006,” she shared.
In a pre-social media era, it’s unfortunate. that the images most Americans saw of Africa weren’t always positive, so it’s no surprise Anderson was hesitant to visit at first.
“Facebook was going on, but this was pre-Instagram and things of this sort, so a lot of what I learned from a visual standpoint was displayed through news such as CNN, and BBC and quite honestly, infomercials,” said Anderson. “Even though I knew greatness of Africa, still my visual connection to it was still off. I was a little bit skeptical. So, when I arrived there, it’s just such an amazingly beautiful country – the energy, the views and the people and it’s a very welcoming vibe.”
After a 15-hour journey, Anderson wasn’t prepared for how everything would change. “Everyone was like, ‘welcome home,'” she recalled. “It was the first time I truly felt at home, to the point where, when it was time to leave, I cried. I did not want to go back.”
When Anderson returned home, she recalls spreading the word to her friends about he time abroad.
“I started telling my friends, you have to visit Africa because it’s not what you think. It’s not what they’re telling us.,” she said. “Even when I was on the airplane, I was one of few Black people traveling there. It’s so funny that the narrative of Africa is only told from one point of view, but when you get on the plane, those same people who are saying “don’t go to Africa” are the ones vacationing and enjoying it there.”
What started as a conversation between friends, soon transformed into a business idea. People began to reach out to Anderson to plan their journeys to the continent. “Once I saw people were interested, and actually were open to going, I figured if I could somewhat build that bridge as a way for people to travel to Africa, then I would assist or aid in the process,” she said. “That’s how Away to Africa was born.”
As you can imagine, changing people’s perceptions of an entire content would be difficult. Anderson spent many tireless days and nights wondering how she was going to develop a destination management company to assist the process.
“One of the biggest challenges is explaining to people that Africa is not a country,” she expressed. “If something is going on in West Africa, it doesn’t deter you from traveling to East Africa or South Africa or anywhere else. Africa is a bit trendy now, so it’s a bit of an easier sell, but a lot of the questions that I get are from people wondering whether or not it’s safe.”
To preserve the quality of her business, Anderson doesn’t just take on anybody as a client. She only works with those who are already looking to feed their curiosity.
“One of the most difficult things you can do is try to change how someone thinks,” she says. “I don’t want to have to convince someone that this is why you need to go. There’s a lot of people who are ready to travel to Africa, so I’m working with those who are ready.”
Anderson doesn’t just work with client in the U.S., but also has relationships with people from the continent who are looking to travel to other countries in Africa and in the months to come, the Caribbean.
“We’ve launching Away to Jamaica at the end of this year, so I’d love to continue to work on the reciprocated services of bringing Africans from the diaspora to the continent, and Africans from the continent to Jamaica,” she shared with TheGrio exclusively.
“In five years, I would love to play a direct role in having direct flights from the continent to Jamaica. Ethiopian Airlines has discussed that opportunity for years, but it has not come into place. When they look at the demand, they only look at people from Jamaica traveling to the continent, but they’re not seeing all the Africans that would love to go to Jamaica as well. I’d love to play an important role in that.”
For more information on Tiffanie Anderson and Away to Africa, visit www.awaytoafrica.com.