When Evita Robinson talks, I imagine it to be very similar to how she lives life—a little fast, but full of zest and excitement. No pauses in between, just ready for whatever is thrown at her next.
Right now she’s explaining to me why her upcoming vacation to Belize is oh-so necessary for her sanity. The previous weekend she joined about 500 of her fellow Nomadness Travel Tribe members for their first #NMDN conference—a day of panels, workshops, food, and more—as well as celebrating the anniversary of the beloved travel tribe that she started four years ago with no blueprint and barely even a plan.
“I didn’t know what it was, so I know they didn’t know what it was!” she says referring to the group of 40 individuals who, back in 2011, showed up at Horus Café in Manhattan’s Alphabet City for their first meet up. This was three weeks after the official launch of the tribe, mind you, and after weeks of engaging conversations with stand out personalities, Robinson was determined to meet these people who, like her, had a insatiable appetite for travel.
“When I saw how many people came out just at a call of action to meet one another and, how like a family, just meshed together naturally, I realized that we were on to something, and we were on to something big.”
That’s exactly the best way to describe the Nomadness Travel Tribe—a family. Except unlike those pesky cousins that come around looking for a handout, the tribe is all about extending hand ups. They plan vacations together, meet ups, offer places to sleep in their respective countries, and, in times of struggle, even a shoulder to lean on.
“One of my members is terminally ill and I haven’t seen her yet,” Robinson says. “She opened up to the tribe about it and I want to see her while she’s alive. She was given a very short time period, so I’m making it a priority to see her so on my way back I’m actually stopping by her house to spend some time with her before I head back to New York.”
Growing up in Poughkeepsie, New York, Robinson never imagined that she would one day build a family separate from her own, and certainly not one that was centered around travel. The extent of her jetsetting as a kid were 14-hour road trips during summer breaks from Long Island to Camden, South Carolina to visit her paternal grandparent, and Montego Bay to visit her stepfather’s family. While she may not have caught the travel bug from her relatives, her fascination with other cultures came from her mom’s side of the family, due, in part, to what she describes as her “culturally ambiguous” look.
While many African-Americans struggle to trace their family lineage, ironically Robinson can easily link her father’s family back to 1800s (they even have their own cemetery), but with her mom growing up in the foster care system and having limited contact with her own relatives, the topic of her ethnicity is one that she can’t avoid nor quite answer, all she knows is that her grandmother was of Western European descent—a blend of Irish, Dutch, German and Italian.
“To be honest with you, I think there is a part of me that, on that side of the family, I’m kind of searching for some insight on it, because I don’t know them. So I think that kind of goes into my whole quest for different cultures, too.”
If you thought she wouldn’t go all out to find her family, guess again.
“I would totally be the one to pop up at some random cousin’s house and be like ‘hi, you don’t know me but we’re family, so let’s figure this out!’”
One thing about Evita is that she’s fearless—it’s evident in her approach to business and to traveling. After graduating from Iona, College with a degree in television and video production, she signed up for a filmmaking workshop with the New York Film Academy and jetted off to Paris the summer after graduation, crashing in a small flat with her best friend who was also studying abroad in the City of Light. The experience sparked her interest in travel, and she was determined to bridge together her art and her inner nomad.
It wasn’t until three years later when she got laid off of her freelance television gig that she had the opportunity to revisit the thing she fell in love with in Paris years prior. Turning her crisis into a convenient excuse to get back into traveling, she applied for a teaching abroad position in Nagasa, Japan, and in 2009 packed her bags and hopped on a plane to Asia. Although it was an experience of a lifetime, Robinson doesn’t sugarcoat the struggles of living abroad in a foreign country where the only thing she had in common with the locals was their inability to communicate with one another.
“You have to think what it’s like to not have a fluid conversation with somebody over the course of a 24-hour period. It starts to play tricks on your mind,” she says. “I had a girl that was in my area, that became one of my best friends while I was out there, we would talk for like two or three hours every day. And I remember one day I was like, why do we do this, every day? And it hit both of us, it’s because we haven’t been able to just talk to anyone fluidly all damn day! And I swear if it wasn’t for her, we would’ve lost it. We would’ve lost our minds out there.”
It was part of the reason why Evita felt the need to share her experiences with others. She grabbed her camera and started shooting footage of herself traveling around Japan. Like the Nomadness Travel Tribe, she would launch her Nomadness web series with no real plan but to capture her journey as a 20-something Black girl living alone in Asia. Check the Nomadness website and you can still see early Evie documenting her life abroad. “It’s like a time capsule for me,” she says.
[Tweet "It’s very important to never really lose touch with where you come from."]
A couple of months after returning from Japan she was cast on a travel web series called Jet Set Zero—it was like the travel edition of the Real World, where she would live and work in Thailand and Cambodia for 90 days with three male roommates and a camera crew capturing her every move. A month before completing the filming, she was stung by a mosquito and caught dengue fever, spending two weeks in and out of the hospital before finally returning back home to the states.
But she didn’t return to the loving boyfriend who saw her off just months prior, instead she came back home broke, sick, and to a relationship that was in shambles.
“There was a lot of shit going on. And I was like, I need a community where I feel like I can talk to people about this. None of my immediate friends travel, none of my family members travel. I need people that understand that this isn’t just a thing that you do every once in a while, this has now become a part of my lifestyle. Travel is always going to be something that I do.”
Evita did what any entrepreneur would do and created a solution to her problem. She had already launched the “Nomadness” web series, but now it was time to take it to the next level and build a platform that was beyond just sharing her personal experiences.
In 2010 she launched her Facebook group, and soon after, the Nomadness Travel Tribe, which quickly amassed a large following, going from a humbling 100 members to close to 11,000 members to date. About a month after their first meet up, Nomadness launched their first Kickstarter campaign for their first travel series “Nomad-Ness Travel Series: Berlin or Bust,” raising over $6,000 to shoot the pilot for the 15-episode series. To put it in perspective, this was back when Kickstarter was used for more than just paying people’s dental bills or for get-out-of-jail-free cards. To successfully initiate a crowdfunding campaign five years ago when it was still relatively new was a testament to the amount of authentic support Nomadness has garnered, and to the power of grassroots marketing.
It also showed Robinson that Nomadness was more than just a fan club, but a legit business. She began monetizing the brand through merchandising, events, advertising and sponsorships for the various programs that they would do throughout the year. In 2013 she raised over $25,000 to image-wrap an RV and drive to seven HBCUs speaking on the importance of travel and diversity, stopping in major cities along the way to meet fellow tribe members.
Being at the forefront of Black travel put Robinson and her nomads on the map, capturing the attention of major publications such as Ebony, Essence, Marie Claire, and more recently, the New York Times. The notoriety has opened up doors for additional projects, including her partnership with Issa Rae for “The NOMADNESS Project” web series.
“Issa’s one of those people who’s doing amazing things, and she’s not so far into everything that’s coming her way that she’s forgotten what it’s like to be starting. She’s so supportive of creatives, and you see it across the board. You see it in the way that she deals with you and the people that she brings on, down to the contract—allowing you to keep 100% creative control over your content even with her co-executive producing. She really, really understands what it’s like for the artist, and we absolutely couldn’t have partnered with anybody better for online.”
With more eyeballs tuning into the urban travel movement, I ask Robinson if she thinks more travel shows dedicated to people of color will soon make its way to cable television. She believes that the change is coming soon and says production companies are definitely interested, but how soon will be determined by the networks ability (and desire) to capture Black people in the most positive light.
“We all know what the images of our people are right now in mainstream media. And my whole thing is, I’m not saying to completely shift to the other side of the paradigm, what I’m saying is, can we balance it out a little bit? Give us something that shows us in an educated manner. And that’s been my big hang up with this.”
Robinson has no plans to sell out just to sell her show. Though she’s been approached by production companies and networks, she’s firm on maintaining her integrity and upholding her brand of showcasing beautiful, intelligent, and well-traveled people. To be clear, Robinson is first and foremost an artist, and she’s sensitive about her shit—especially when it comes to the perception of her tribe.
“I have to be able to look in the mirror and know that my integrity is in tact in a way that when I look back at myself, I’m okay with that person,” she says. “My background is television production, so I know the game. I’m not new to this camera stuff. Nothing about this phases me. You’re not going to railroad me—not in your content nor in your contract, either.”
[Tweet ""I have to be able to look in the mirror and know that my integrity is in tact." - @evierobbie"]
Well there you have it. You won’t be pimpin’ this boss chick for the paper.
In the meantime, she plans to continue building and refining the Nomadness brand. The team is currently working on developing an app as well as a new site to mimic the community that has been built of Facebook.
Although it appears that she’s living the good life, jetsetting and living on her own terms, the 31-year-old also knows the importance of balance. Though she’s not currently tied-down, she definitely interested in dating, and believes she will find her future husband in one of her fellow tribe members, which would be most fitting given her active lifestyle. And by active I don’t mean hopping on every hot guy that she encounters across the globe.
“Being an entrepreneur is difficult. I think, for me, there’s this thought pattern with guys where they think they know what my life is like, but it isn’t like that. I don’t hook up randomly when I go abroad. And because I’m in a space where I’m really looking for a relationship; I want my husband. So I’m not doing anything casual, whether it’s abroad or in the states. I’m really looking for something special and something long term.”
And for the guys who write her off just because she’s her own boss and they assume she doesn’t have the time for something steady, she has this to say:
“Women are natural born multitaskers. If we want to, we will make time for the things that are special and important in our lives. Point, blank, period. So this premonition that someone doesn’t have time before giving them a chance I think hinders certain men from even saying anything, and I think that’s unfortunate. But then I also think it weeds a lot of the weak one’s out. Because if you can’t even approach me, then I just feel like you wouldn’t be able to handle me once you were in it.”
In other words—go hard, or go home.
For those who are ready, she enjoys spas, journaling, and the occasional trip or two for some really good food and good people, whether it’s Pata Pata in Johannesburg or Jamboree on a Friday night in Barcelona.
In fact, it’s the people that she’s met along her journey—outside of the tribe of course—that have greatly impacted her life. She remembers back to her last night in Paris when a director from the New York Film Academy program pulled her aside after a film screening.
“He was like listen, I don’t know what your whole life plan is; I know you’re young, but I just want to let you know that you have it. Whatever that “it” factor is that they talk about, that’s kind of not tangible and you don’t understand what it is you just know it when you see it, you have it. And don’t ever lose it.”
For a young girl from a small city in upstate New York who had only just begun to dream of travel, it was all that she needed to hear to follow her heart and be who she was destined to be—a fearless nomad who would become one of a few pioneers of the Black travel movement.