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Béné Bicaba joined us as a guest writer last month to examine the complexities of Blaxit and after reading the piece, we were curious to learn more about her. She currently leads the company, Empathy Travels, whose mission is to empower individuals, groups, and businesses to experience transformative journeys through the power of empathy.

Béne aspires to foster a more interconnected and compassionate world by sharing the profound connections she's uncovered on her travels. She brings a wealth of knowledge from her Master's degree in Health, Policy, Planning, and Financing to her work in DEI consulting, and her many international travel experiences to create a unique offering for people looking to expand their worlds. We're ready to book our next trip!

A multi-cultural group of people pose in clear turquoise water at a beach in Zanzibar
Béné with a group of Empathy Travelers in Zanzibar

You moved from Burkina Faso to Nebraska as a teen, that must have been quite a culture shock. What prompted the move?


My dad and stepmother's love story led us to emigrate from Burkina Faso. My stepmother, who poured her heart into the country since 1998 - first as a Peace Corps volunteer, then managing platforms for Population Services International (PSI) - felt a pull back to her family in the Midwest after nearly a decade in Burkina. This, of course, meant a move from Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso to Blair, Nebraska.


While the teenage thrill of a new adventure cushioned the culture shock, landing in a small town like Blair, Nebraska, felt like a gentle introduction to the United States. The real culture clash came with encountering American racism and navigating my place within it. It was jarring – going from feeling comfortable in my own skin to having that very foundation shaken by a place and its systems. That's been the toughest part.


Burkina Faso will always hold a special place in my heart. Not just because of loved ones there (mother, sister, aunts and uncles, cousins, and more), but because the country itself deeply influenced who I am today. For that, I'll always be grateful.


Expanding on the first question, what are your most vivid memories from your first year in the United States?


A couple of  memories come to mind:


Culture Clash:


My first year was a whirlwind of new experiences. As one of the very few Africans in a small town of 6,000 people in the middle of America, I attracted a lot of attention. At first, it was flattering, but the novelty soon wore off. People treated me differently because I looked different, often asking questions about lions roaming my backyard in Ouagadougou (unaware that, like most kids, I'd only seen lions at the zoo).


Despite my efforts to be patient, the rose-colored glasses I had on about this place started to crack. The idyllic picture I held didn't encompass the reality of someone who looked like me. Moreover, the people I encountered knew nothing of my home and for 99% of people, it was their first time hearing the words Burkina Faso.


Language Barrier:


School was a whole other hurdle. Still grappling with English fluency, science class felt like deciphering hieroglyphics. Naturally, I reached for the familiar comfort of my French novels.  et's just say my teacher wasn't a huge fan (the specifics are fuzzy now, but his disapproval was loud and clear). Talk about sink-or-swim language immersion!


When did you decide to create Empathy Travels and how has your life experience made you uniquely qualified for this role?


For years, I invested my energy, skills, and passion into supporting the visions and missions of other leaders. My journey as a DEI and fractional COO consultant honed my leadership skills, but a deeper yearning blossomed. I craved a space to champion the transformative power of travel – a power I witnessed across 30 countries. I've experienced both mainstream luxury and the need to boil water for a hot shower or drinking. From bustling hostels to serene campsites, each experience deepened my connection with diverse cultures and ignited a passion for fostering empathy through travel.


Anthropology, my academic love, instilled a curiosity for the human stories woven into the fabric of every place. My Master's degree in Health, Policy, Planning, and Financing revealed a glaring gap in the global health sector – a disconnect between the statistics and the human experiences they represent. Empathy Travels seeks to bridge this divide by prioritizing the stories behind the numbers, crafting journeys that cultivate empathy, one adventure at a time.


The vision for Empathy Travels emerged from a nagging sense that travel could be more. Witnessing the limitations of typical, surface-level experiences fueled a desire to create something deeper. My own transformative journeys, both near and far, solidified my belief in travel's potential as a catalyst for collective healing and understanding.


Empathy Travels isn't just a travel company, it's a movement. I am an expert facilitator, guiding individuals, groups, and social impact organizations on journeys of self-discovery, cultural immersion, and global connection. Through strategic planning and budget-consciousness, I empower clients to curate transformative experiences and solutions that foster empathy and understanding.

Capetown, South Africa

 You reference something called unsettled empathy on your website. Can you explain/define? How do you pick your locations?

Sure, "empathy tourism" sounds great on paper – a key to unlocking cross-cultural understanding. But critics raise a valid point – is simply "walking a mile in another's shoes" enough? My experience highlights a crucial gap: we often focus solely on the "other," neglecting the introspective power travel holds.

Think about connecting with a passionate vineyard farmer, their dedication and struggle leaving a mark on you. But then what? Does that empathy simply fade away when returning home?

I propose a deeper dive – a concept called unsettled empathy. It's not about passive understanding; it's about returning to oneself, unpacking your emotional baggage, and confronting the biases you might not even realize you have. It's a deep exploration of your internal landscape, a chance to challenge your own assumptions.  This isn't just about connecting with others; it's a transformative journey within yourself.

This introspection is the key that unlocks travel's true potential. It goes beyond surface-level understanding, fostering lasting impact and personal growth. When I choose destinations, it's driven by an internal compass – where can I embark on this work of unsettled empathy?


When you visit a new place, how do you go about connecting with the local people and discovering their culture? How do you prepare Empathy Travels travelers for a trip where they may be experiencing a new culture or continent for the first time?


Forget about checking destinations off a list. Empathy Travels curates experiences built on empathy and connection, ensuring you return not as a tourist, but as a citizen of the world. How do I achieve this on my personal travels?

  • I become a “plaque detective”, unearthing hidden stories from historical markers and other signposts in my environment.

  • I delve beyond grand museums, seeking local galleries and exhibits that capture a place's soul.

  • I bridge the language gap with local translators, unlocking a richer cultural tapestry through deeper conversations. 

  • I escape the tourist bubble, venturing into local cafes and exploring unfamiliar neighborhoods (safely and with awareness, of course!).


For our Empathy Travels adventurers, our process includes the pre, and post-trip conversation as well as on-trip reflection prompts. Below are our steps:


  1. Unmask Your Travel Persona:  Our adventure starts with understanding you. A personalized survey reveals your travel style, interests, and values – the foundation for your unique empathetic adventure.

  2. Deepen the Conversation: Based on your survey responses, we'll dive deeper into what ignites your wanderlust. What are the hidden gems you crave to discover?  Are there any anxieties holding you back? Together, we'll craft a unique itinerary that goes far beyond the usual tourist traps.

  3. Fuel Your Exploration: I curate personalized recommendations to enrich your journey. Imagine diving into a captivating novel set in your destination or getting a head start with insightful documentaries. You'll arrive prepared to immerse yourself in the local culture and create lasting memories.

  4. A Tailor-Made Itinerary with Reflective Sparks: Your itinerary reflects your personality and aspirations, but it's more than just a list of places.  We'll include reflective prompts to help you connect with your experience on a deeper level. Imagine journaling about a local craft you learned or reflecting on a cultural exchange – these prompts ignite personal growth throughout your journey.

  5. Share Your Story: The adventure doesn't end when you return home. Share your reflections and stories with us! Connect with a community of fellow empathetic travelers, inspire others, and become part of a vibrant community.

"The vision for Empathy Travels emerged from a nagging sense that travel could be more. Witnessing the limitations of typical, surface-level experiences fueled a desire to create something deeper. My own transformative journeys, both near and far, solidified my belief in travel's potential as a catalyst for collective healing and understanding."


Do you incorporate art into your travel planning? And if so, what are some of the most inspiring arts experiences you’ve had while traveling?


Art is not a museum exhibit to me. It's everywhere. I crave the abstraction of modern art, the textures of the ceramic world, and the sheer scale of installations. But the most profound artistic experiences? Those unfold in the unexpected beauty of everyday life. It's this philosophy that fuels how I craft travel itineraries, both for myself and my clients.


Take, for example, a pottery-loving client venturing to Panama. I connected them with local artisans for a history-infused pottery class. They learned not just a technique, but the stories woven into the very clay they shaped.


Personally, I found unexpected awe in the Fez tanneries of Morocco. Learning the intricate art form, with its complexities and traditions, was captivating. But what truly resonated was the deep respect for life exemplified there. They honored the animal's sacrifice by using every part in various forms, a testament to a bygone era of mindful resourcefulness.


Describe some of your favorite discoveries and adventures.


Here's a glimpse into some of my most transformative travel experiences:


Cuba: A Lesson in Cultural Humility


Cuba wasn't just about learning salsa (though that was fun!). It was a humbling lesson in cultural understanding. Excited by the parallels I saw with Black experiences in the US, I naively sought solidarity. Instead, Cuba offered a powerful shift in perspective. It showed me the beauty of Black identity existing outside of my own framework. It grounded me, reminding me that there's so much richness to learn from different cultural expressions and resistance to oppressive systems.


Ivory Coast: A Catalyst for Change


My trip to the Ivory Coast wasn't what I expected. While working in global health, I witnessed realities that diverged greatly from my colleagues' experiences. It was a pivotal moment, forcing me to confront the limitations of my own perspective-shifting abilities, patience for a broken system, and ability to remain in non-affirming paradigms. This realization sparked a new direction, ultimately leading to the demise of my career path in that sector. But from this experience, a new passion emerged, pushing me towards a more impactful and fulfilling future.


Nairobi and Zanzibar: A Celebration of Friendship


Traveling to Nairobi and Zanzibar with a diverse group of friends was an absolute blast! Witnessing the connections blossom between people from all walks of life filled my heart with joy. It's a memory I cherish to this day - the joy of watching friendships form organically, transcending cultural and geographical boundaries.


These experiences highlight the power of travel to challenge us, reshape our perspectives, and forge lasting bonds. It's a reminder that the most rewarding destinations aren't always found on a map, but in the lessons we discover along the way.

With Empathy Travelers in Zanzibar


Where would you like to travel that you haven’t been yet?


My next travel obsession? Socotra Island. Nestled in the Arabian Sea, Socotra is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, a sanctuary of serenity far from Seattle, Washington. This island paradise offers a pristine environment for introspection and a chance to immerse yourself in the raw realities of our society.


Socotra's beauty is undeniable, with otherworldly flora and fauna. But this island jewel also exists amidst the complexities of the region. At Empathy Travels, I believe in open hearts and open minds.  Our Socotra journey isn't just about basking in its splendor; it's about acknowledging the challenges it faces.  Conflicts aren't isolated events; they're part of a larger narrative where we're all interconnected.


Craving an unforgettable adventure this November?  I'm leading a unique group trip for 10 travelers to Socotra. Spots are limited, so reach out if you're interested in learning more!


What are some of your top travel tips?


Here are my top tips for infusing your travels with empathy:


  1. Explore Your Inner Compass:  True magic unfolds when you explore your internal world. After encountering new sights, sounds, smells, or conversations, take a moment to reflect. Notice how your body feels. How can you process these sensations authentically?  Is it okay to simply observe and let go? This self-awareness allows you to connect with experiences on a deeper, more personal level.

  2. Embrace the Unexpected "Yes!":  When you feel safe (based on your own comfort level), embrace the opportunity to say yes! An enthusiastic "yes" can unlock incredible experiences and forge unexpected connections. It's your chance to step outside your comfort zone and discover hidden wonders.

  3. Capture the Journey with Empathy:  Throughout your trip, take moments to document your experiences with an empathetic lens.  Consider jotting down reflections in your notes app that capture not just sights, but the feelings and stories behind them. Share snippets on social media that go beyond selfies, highlighting the connections you're making with the local culture.

  4. The Empathy Postcard:  For a fun twist and an experience of the local mail system, send postcards to yourself or loved ones from your travels.  Imagine the joy of receiving a postcard back home, a tangible reminder of the connections you forged and the empathy you fostered on your journey.


These tips will help you move beyond sightseeing and delve into a richer, more meaningful travel experience – one built on empathy and connection.


We see you have some fantastic itineraries offered to assist folks with travel plans on your website. Would you like to share any with our readers?


Unlock a Day of Mexico City Magic. Dreaming of vibrant Frida Kahlo murals, and delicious street tacos? 🇲🇽

Here's your chance to experience the magic of Mexico City for FREE!


Empathy Travels is giving away a one-day itinerary packed with must-see sights, hidden gems, and authentic experiences – all designed to make your trip unforgettable.


Here's what's included in your FREE Mexico City itinerary:


Must-See Sights: Explore iconic landmarks like the Palacio Nacional and Teotihuacan pyramids.

Hidden Gems: Discover charming neighborhoods, trendy cafes, and off-the-beaten-path experiences.

Foodie Delights: Savor the best tacos al pastor, try authentic churros, and learn about Mexico's rich culinary traditions.

Reflective Prompts: Ground your experience and make space for inner work.


How to Claim Your Free Mexico City Plan:


●           Follow us on Instagram! ➡️ @empathy_travels

●           Slide into our DMs! Just say "Mexico City, please!" OR

●           Join our mailing list! Sign up at []


Don't miss out! This offer is only valid for the next 30 days.


P.S.  Want to explore Mexico City beyond one day? I create personalized itineraries to suit every travel style.  Let us help you craft the perfect Mexico City adventure!





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