If you’ve never heard of the blog How Not to Travel Like a Basic B*tch, drop everything you’re doing right now and go check it out. HNTTLABB is determined to change the way people travel. It has evolved into an online publication that is committed to uplifting the voices of marginalized people, and sparking important conversations around the privilege of travel.
Kiona is one of the women behind the blog, and she is someone who wears many hats in life. She is a Doctor of Nutrition, a social justice advocate, and a travel blogger. She is unabashedly candid and maybe a bit controversial. But I think that the level of authenticity that Kiona displays is sorely lacking in the travel blog space. Her Instagram post descriptions never fail to make me laugh out loud, and yet I’m also always learning something new. And not just about travel destinations, but more importantly about the people that live in these places. HNTTLABB teaches you how to travel, really how to exist in today’s world, without being oppressive and unintentionally disrespectful to other cultures.
First things first, tell us a little bit about your background (where you grew up, went to school, professional experience).
So I was born and raised on The Big Island of Hawaii. My parents decided to move to Dallas, Texas where I went to Booker T. Washington High School For The Performing And Visual Arts and specialized in painting. BTWHSPVA was a dope school because it was the first African American school established in Dallas in the 1800s and for a long time was the only school that allowed students of color. When I attended, there was an ethnic requirement of 30% Black, 30% White, 30% Hispanic, and 10% Other (me) to make sure that there was racial diversity and equity at school.
I then went on to college where I got a Bachelors in Sports Medicine, Masters in Nutritional Epidemiology, Masters in Statistics and Data Sciences, and a Doctorate in Nutritional Sciences. Besides my Bachelors, I completed them all simultaneously.
When, where, and how did you first catch the travel bug?
Because both of my parents are immigrants and I didn’t have any extended family members around, we had to travel to go see them. So I’ve been traveling since before I could walk. It has been a huge privilege. However, I don’t think I caught the travel bug until I studied abroad in Spain. I applied for a few scholarships and spent three months abroad and it changed my entire life.
I just remember sitting and looking up at the sky in a boat in Tunisia and thinking how people dressed different, acted different, loved different, yet we were all operating under the same moon. And that’s when I decided I wanted to learn everything about how people were different but all very much the same.
What inspired you to start the blog HNTTLABB?
Well HNTTLABB started off as a blog in that it was my own thoughts. I was traveling every month with my best friend and we just kept running into the same types of travelers. We could spot them from a mile away and quickly would turn around and try to find some locals we could hang out with. Inherently, we deemed locals “safer” without understanding why.
I think what we were picking up on was the “basic bitchness” or the general unawareness and ignorance that you frequently see when people travel with no regard for the country and its people. What we were inherently doing was distancing ourselves as much as we could from that mindset so as not to disrespect the humans and environment we were interacting with abroad. One day we came home and drank a bottle of wine and I was like “Let’s start a website to teach people how not to travel like a basic bitch.” And I bought the domain name that day.
However, since then, I’ve realized how basic even travel blogging is. I mean, I started entering the world of travel blogging and saw other people doing literally the same thing over and over. I was so bored reading their blogs. I wanted to learn. And I learned nothing from these basics. So I put a call out to see if anyone wanted to write about what it’s like to Travel While Black. It’s something I experienced traveling with my best friend who is Haitian/Sudanese. I would receive better treatment traveling with her than traveling alone or traveling with another Asian person. I wanted to see if that was a common theme and it would be a collective learning experience. I got a lot of responses and since then, the blog has turned into a digital travel publication that features content from all sorts of writers from different backgrounds.
I love that you post ass shots for every 1,000 followers you gain on Instagram. I literally giggle out loud when I see these posts show up in my feed (and it seems to be happening with an increasingly rapid pace- a testament to how valuable your voice is!) Can you tell us a little more about what inspired this?
Remember those basic travel bloggers I was talking about earlier? They dress up in the same flower dress and take the same photos. (No disrespect to flower dresses, I love them equally.) But those “types” had this sense of superiority about them. I would often see them criticize other women saying things like, “Jen has 12 million followers only because she posts pictures of her butt. It’s sad that’s all she has.” Or “I don’t post bikini pics because I want people to take me seriously.” Or “She only gets granola bar endorsements because she’s half naked in the pictures, selling her body for likes.”
And here I am thinking I’m a whole doctor, with four degrees, traveling the world, being mostly nude and in my bikini A LOT. In Spain, I’d go to the beach and get shamed for even having a bikini on let alone a full coverage bathing suit. I totally embraced the freedom in being comfortable in my body and have since mostly not worn clothes. It also saves a ton of money on luggage fees. Yet I was flabbergasted that people had these preconceived notions about my brain because of my butt? It didn’t make sense to me. So I started posting ass shots ever since I got my first 1,000 followers just to counter the stereotype that nudity means anything else other than having a body and being proud of it since it’s the only one we have. You can be nude and be intelligent at the same time. You can also be modest and be intelligent. There is no correlation between clothing and intellectual capacity.
I think it’s so important for travel to be about mutual benefit and exchange. I loved learning that the publication HNTTLABB started its own non-profit, and that it is truly committed to giving back. Tell us more about the Healthy Eating Project and how it came about.
So the Healthy Eating Project is a project started in Guanajuato, Mexico as part of a larger community project. Basically it provides nutrition and cooking lessons to a community that is not recognized by the Mexican government and has difficulty accessing health resources. Since I have a PhD in Nutrition, I was invited to come and do a program related to my field. So I started the program, which started with just the kids and provided a nutrition lesson, worksheets, and a fun quiz at the end. Then we sent them home with a week’s worth of groceries so they could continue practicing what they learned in the lesson.
It has since evolved into having a consistent community educator that gives them recipes and lessons on healthy eating. And every time we send them home with relevant groceries for the lesson. Just to clarify that the Healthy Eating Project is not a registered non-profit, but 100% of what is donated to that page was handed directly over to my community organizer in Guanajuato who keeps an expense sheet.
What’s your favorite country for food?
Ohhhh hard question. I think a tie between Mexico and Haiti.
What country that you’ve visited has had the biggest impact on the way you view the world.
Cuba. Cuba totally changed how I understood world politics, perspective, and propaganda in the United States.
5 quick tips for how not to travel like a basic b*tch.
- Invest in local communities by “voting” for locals with your tourism dollars,
- Don’t take pictures with Black and Brown children for social gain or expose their nudity.
- Acknowledge Indigenous peoples.
- Avoid country counting and value experiences and depth of connections.
- Don’t be that basic bitch that rushes off the plane when they haven’t even opened the door yet.