When Danielle Washington founded Rogue Experiences about four years ago, her stated mission was to be a travel concierge who “teaches busy women of color how to ditch the norm and discover the lives they’re meant to lead via unforgettable travel experiences.”
In serving a clientele of mostly African-American professional women, Washington draws on her own transformative journey. Burned out from a high-paying but stressful career as an event planner for a Silicon Valley tech firm, Washington ditched the norm by trying alternatives that included moving to Italy for two years and starting a lifestyle blog.
“My job was making me sick and I knew I was meant to do something different,” she said. “I started a blog, but realized that although I love fashion, I didn’t like writing about it. What really did matter to me was helping women, especially women of color, push out of their comfort zones.”
The next step was to pair that desire with her lifelong love of travel, something she enjoyed arranging for herself as well as friends.
Put Away the Superwoman cape
“People around me suggested I turn travel into a business,” she said. “My focus is to help women who are busy and overworked, I tell them to put the superwoman cape down and use travel as that vehicle.”
While glad to leave it behind, Washington found that her prior job as an event planner proved highly useful in her new venture.
“I did a lot of international events, parties, conferences and tradeshows in different countries,” she said. “That really helped me. Plus I had the skill sets to research places. I’m a very curious person — even as a child I loved reading encyclopedias and learning new things to do.”
Travel is Therapy
Working independently from home in the San Francisco Bay Area, Washington arranges individual travel and also puts together and escorts tours for small groups. Beyond basic logistics, she likes to include elements that encourage relaxation and self-discovery.
“Whenever I book a trip, I like to add in self-care activities,” she said. “You are away from the noise and the stress of your life. It’s time to recharge and take a breathing moment. I also encourage my clients to write about their feelings, to explore who are they are beyond such roles as mother or sister.”
She also encourages people to take a picture or video of what they consider the happiest moment of the trip and write about it.
“It’s important to really look at those moments,” she said. “When we’re on vacation it’s the time most of us give ourselves permission to unplug and breathe. Travel is therapy.”
Washington especially enjoys putting together tours for small groups of women in favorite destinations such as Greece, Thailand, Belize and Cuba. In two weeks she will be taking a group of five to Cuba, which will include cooking classes in a local home, salsa lessons, a visit to the historic city of Trinidad and participation in an Afro-Cuban event with drumming and singing.
“I will also a hire a professional photographer to take candid shots as well as do photo shoots,” she said. “My clients love to take pictures, but you can miss out if you do this too much.”
As a travel concierge, Washington strives to make each travel experience highly customized, something that requires a lot of research and attention to detail.
“A lot of my clients are entrepreneurs who have the money for travel, but not the time and patience to plan it,” she said. “They want to find the hidden gems, the foodie spots. They’re looking for the non-cookie-cutter experience and they don’t want chains.”
What helps is that Washington is widely traveled and enjoys the researching process.
“I also really try to get into their thought process and what they really want from a trip,” she said. “I get into their psyche first and then do the research.”
Because her clients are often looking for non-cookie cutter experiences, her biggest challenge is “finding suppliers that provide unique options in terms of accommodations and activities,” she said.
Washington charges fees for her services, which vary according to how much assistance her clients want.
“As a business person, you really have to make sure you are compensated for your research and recommendations,” she said. “I put my clients’ needs first, which sometimes means recommending something that doesn’t pay a commission.”
In building her business, Washington has found it useful to market through Instagram and Facebook, but most important have been referrals and word of mouth.
“My clientele comes from all over the place, but primarily urban areas,” she said. “A good portion are from Atlanta, where there are a lot of women of color who are entrepreneurs.
Washington noted that travel among African-Americans has really taken off during the past five or 10 years.
“Black travel influencers are doing a lot through travel channels, and magazines — there’s been huge growth,” she said. “The black community sometimes feels that the larger community isn’t considering that they have the money to spend or desire to travel. But, of course, they do.”
In fact, a black travel movement has taken shape in recent years; advocates argue that the needs of black travelers have often been overlooked. Personal development is often a component of this black travel trend, and Washington’s itineraries, as well as those of competitors, fit right in.