- Lawrence Phillips is the founder of Green Book Global, a travel review site for Black travelers.
- After suffering burnout from his consulting job, he quit and traveled the world for a year.
- He found differing experiences as a Black man during his travels and saw a need for a modern-day Green Book.
This is an as-told-to essay based on a conversation with Lawrence Phillips, who founded Green Book Global, a Black travel review site, in 2018. The essay has been edited for length and clarity.
My love for travel came from Boston, where I joined a high school program that worked with underserved youth in the city. I’d never camped a day in my life, but went hiking for 30 days on a wilderness trip to Olympic National Park.
My mom was freaking out because I forgot my toothbrush, but I found one on the ground, boiled it to sanitize, and used it. The program really taught me the importance of resiliency and grit, especially when you’re traveling.
I was lucky that I didn’t experience any prejudice in my early travels, which also included a monthlong stay in Spain as part of the high school program. I’m a “glass half full” type of person, and, as a kid, you don’t really realize what’s happening in the world. The bubble didn’t break until I was in my 20s.
After graduating from Georgia Tech, I landed a job at a consulting firm where I worked for eight years. As a consultant, you have to learn the ropes and understand the business really fast. The job also meant I was flown all across the country — California, Ohio, New Jersey, Texas. I’m not going to lie, being flown on the company dollar was also pretty nice, too.
But then I started to get burned out. I was working on a project which involved me flying back and forth from Atlanta to San Diego every week for two years: I’d fly in on Monday, work from eight in the morning to eight in the evening, and then fly out on Thursday or Friday. Then, rinse and repeat.
I did well and got promoted. I got to fly on a private jet with one of my clients to a site, and I remember thinking, “Wow, I think I’ve made it.” It helped mold me into the person I am today. But it also made me tired. Two months later, I quit.
Traveling as a Black man
I decided to travel around the world for a year. I hit more than 30 countries on all seven continents during that year.
I was nervous going to certain destinations as a Black man. It’s just the reality of the world: I’d heard and knew that certain places are more welcoming to Black people, while in others, they’ll be less welcomed. So you’ve just got to be careful about it and do your research. But I couldn’t find a platform with reviews of a particular destination, let alone one specifically tailored to Black travelers.
While I was traveling, I came to realize that people looked at me differently. When I was in Paris, I ran into a Black woman and started talking about chocolate. I told her how much I loved chocolate, and she said, “You should go to Brussels. They have great chocolate.”
I said, “Is it okay for us?” And she said, “You’ll be fine.” She understood.
There were more challenging experiences, too, though I don’t know if it was because of race or just a bad circumstance. When I was in China, people randomly took photos of me or pointed at me. But otherwise, I didn’t have many bad experiences. I’d done a lot of research to make that happen.
Starting the modern-day Green Book
I decided to start my own review platform for travelers and started getting it coded in 2015, when I was traveling in Thailand. It was originally geared toward young professionals of all races, but I think Black, I speak Black, and whenever I wrote about something, it attracted a Black demographic. I thought back to that encounter in Brussels, and that was the cosign I needed to lean into a Black-specific travel site.
Green Book Global officially launched in 2018, and now has more than 6,000 reviews. I like to describe it as a modern-day Green Book or a Black TripAdvisor. We cater specifically to Black travelers. We know our experiences are different.
Unlike other travel sites, we rate destinations, not activities. Each destination has a score from one to five for nightlife, history, local food, romance, and, most importantly, what it’s like to travel while Black. We don’t want to encourage or discourage anyone from going anywhere, but instead help people make informed decisions.
One thing I want Black travelers to know is that the world is our oyster, too. There’s a lot of fear and concern about traveling while Black, particularly in the United States. But be open to the world. Be informed. You’re entitled to see every destination out there.