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This Travelista Went From Being Laid Off To Helping Millennials Travel The World

When you love what you do, you don't work a day in your life.

BOSS UP

In 2018, Raynetta Smith left behind her home in sunny Los Angeles and joined a group of 30 melanated millenials in Bali for an international escapade appropriately deemed #BLCKinBali2018. This would be the second trip abroad that she organized for a group of like-minded travelers who were looking for more than just a great escape. What she coined as a travel social club had doubled in the number of attendees from the previous trip, so she had her work cut out for her planning travel logistics, activities, and even fitting in a destination wedding. Yet let Instagram tell it, it was a successful trip filled with curated experiences and unforgettable conversations with friends old and new, over plenty of cocktails of course.

But almost two weeks after returning to Los Angeles with sun-kissed skin and stories to tell, she received news that could've put her nomadic dreams on ice— the local non-profit company that she worked for as a communications manager was laying her off. While the news was jarring, it was actually right on time. The budding entrepreneur had already planned to turn in her two-week notice to run her travel concierge business full-time, but was battling with her decision to leave a 15-year public relations career. The job loss came just in time to push her out of the nest so she could take flight. Shortly after, Jetsetters Link was officially born, taking Smith's desire to travel with friends to the next level as she built a business dedicated to planning unique and personalized group experiences in exotic destinations at a fraction of the normal cost.

Courtesy of Raynetta Smith

As anyone who's planned trips knows, group trips don't come without their challenges. It's something that Smith is constantly remedying while also juggling part-time jobs as a flight attendant and Uber and Lyft driver.

But as the saying goes, when you love what you do, you don't work a day in your life. And with her experience as a consumer engagement marketer producing events with budgets that span from minimal to multiple commas, Smith knows the power of having a solution-oriented mindset. Which is why her group trips to Greece, Thailand, and Bali have her clientele coming back for more.

With the allure of future trips including South Africa and Vietnam on the horizon, we chatted with this boss chick about living a passport lifestyle, and got the inside scoop on how to travel the world when you have champagne tastes on a beer budget.

What was your first international travel experience? 

By the time I hit 33, I was like I want to go out of the country and I want to do it with my friends. Although I had traveled by myself, I was really nervous to go out of the country by myself. My first international trip was my best friend's wedding. She did a cruise for her wedding to the Bahamas. After that, I decided for my 35th birthday that I was going on a trip and either you were coming or you weren't.

Originally, my first trip was supposed to be to Paris, and what I realized when I started planning Paris was that it was really expensive. And one of the things that I wanted for myself and for those traveling with me was to be able to do this journey affordably. I didn't want to break the bank. I didn't want you to feel like you were going on this trip for me and spend all of this money. So I changed it and we went to Thailand and it was probably one of the best experiences of my life. We went to Thailand for less than $1,500 per person. We stayed in two different parts— Bangkok and Phuket. And it really got me to thinking that travel could be affordable, it could be fun, and you could do it in a group.

Courtesy of Raynetta Smith

At what point did you realize that Jetsetters Link could be a viable business?

After Thailand I said, 'OK, this might be something I want to do annually.' I really wanted to connect with other black and Brown millennials who grew up like me, who didn't travel but wanted to step outside of their comfort zone, and wanted to achieve more and do more. So the next trip I planned was Bali, and the Bali trip grew organically in size. The Thailand trip had 15 people; the Bali trip ended up having 30 people. And this put me to the test in times of planning a large field trip. My background is in public relations and consumer engagement so I planned events and activations for multi-million dollar brands, but I never did something so intimate where I'm literally going to experience it with these 30 people. So that for me was something that pushed my expertise to the limit.

From there, I was like I need to turn this into a business because at that point it was still just a social group; it was still just me getting friends together and traveling. So once I came back from Bali, it was full speed ahead in terms of getting my business license and making sure that I was set up as a business.

Courtesy of Raynetta Smith

How did you transition from working in corporate to running your own travel company?  

I was laid off about a week after we returned from Bali, so I literally have been creating a company on full entrepreneurship and just hustle and fate to be honest, which is extremely difficult. It's one of those things where you're like, I need to get my LLC, but also I need to pay this bill this week. You're making sure you're managing your own expectation and meeting goals on both the ends, taking care of yourself as well as hoping that your business thrives within that process.

While planning Greece, I was 100% working for myself and then I became a flight attendant. I've always believed that if you want to do something, you need to align yourself and what you're doing with your plan. Becoming a flight attendant, the idea was that I'm trying to grow this travel company. I need some type of supportive finances, and I wanted to do something that would still be beneficial towards me growing Jetsetters Link.

Courtesy of Raynetta Smith

"I've always believed that if you want to do something, you need to align yourself and what you're doing with your plan."

What were some other things you had to do in order to get your business moving?

There is a lot of social media involved. There's a lot of marketing involved. Even while still being an entrepreneur, I went to several travel conferences last year to network with other people. I actually built my own website. I'm not going to say that it's the best, but you know, with my experience it is great for what it is. So just being able to do the backend stuff.

You went to Thailand as your first organized group trip for under $1,500. How did you find a way to make it more cost effective? 

Man, it's a hustle. I would have to credit my background in PR because a lot of what I do is research. I spent a lot of time trying to find the correct place, reaching out to those places and negotiating with them to let them know what I have going on. What sets me apart from a travel agency is that with the travel agency, you have the opportunity to make payments. You can actually still make payments on a Jetsetters Link trip; however, the travel agency making payments allows you or the travel agents to have access to vendors that I don't necessarily have that same access to because I don't have those certifications as a travel agent.

A lot of my travel happens during off-season because it's drastically cheaper than traveling during spring break or summer break. For example, when we went to Greece, the best time to go to Greece was late October and the beginning of November because it was probably 45% cheaper than what you'd be paying for the summer. Now it's a little risky because from November to January, Greece completely shuts down. It's considered their holiday season so they literally board up their walls and you might be going places that could potentially be shut down. So you have to do a lot more research in terms of finding out when is the last day that the hotel will be open? You know, things of that nature.

Courtesy of Raynetta Smith

What’s your favorite destination thus far?

I love Bali. The people were amazing. They sang in the morning, the food was great, it was so fresh. That alone is another thing that's been really big for me because just in my own individual lifestyle I'm trying to live healthier, and I've noticed that a lot of the food that we eat in America isn't as healthy for you as it should be. Then I go to another country and I can eat all of the things that I can't eat here and not have any issues.

Also being able to explore different cultures. Yes, we do go out and get turned up, but we're also there to learn about the culture.

For more of Raynetta and Jetsetters Link, follow her on Instagram.

Featured image courtesy of Raynetta Smith

ACLU By ACLUSponsored

Over the past four years, we grew accustomed to a regular barrage of blatant, segregationist-style racism from the White House. Donald Trump tweeted that “the Squad," four Democratic Congresswomen who are Black, Latinx, and South Asian, should “go back" to the “corrupt" countries they came from; that same year, he called Elizabeth Warren “Pocahontas," mocking her belief that she might be descended from Native American ancestors.

But as outrageous as the racist comments Trump regularly spewed were, the racially unjust governmental actions his administration took and, in the case of COVID-19, didn't take, impacted millions more — especially Black and Brown people.

To begin to heal and move toward real racial justice, we must address not only the harms of the past four years, but also the harms tracing back to this country's origins. Racism has played an active role in the creation of our systems of education, health care, ownership, and employment, and virtually every other facet of life since this nation's founding.

Our history has shown us that it's not enough to take racist policies off the books if we are going to achieve true justice. Those past policies have structured our society and created deeply-rooted patterns and practices that can only be disrupted and reformed with new policies of similar strength and efficacy. In short, a systemic problem requires a systemic solution. To combat systemic racism, we must pursue systemic equality.

What is Systemic Racism?

A system is a collection of elements that are organized for a common purpose. Racism in America is a system that combines economic, political, and social components. That system specifically disempowers and disenfranchises Black people, while maintaining and expanding implicit and explicit advantages for white people, leading to better opportunities in jobs, education, and housing, and discrimination in the criminal legal system. For example, the country's voting systems empower white voters at the expense of voters of color, resulting in an unequal system of governance in which those communities have little voice and representation, even in policies that directly impact them.

Systemic Equality is a Systemic Solution

In the years ahead, the ACLU will pursue administrative and legislative campaigns targeting the Biden-Harris administration and Congress. We will leverage legal advocacy to dismantle systemic barriers, and will work with our affiliates to change policies nearer to the communities most harmed by these legacies. The goal is to build a nation where every person can achieve their highest potential, unhampered by structural and institutional racism.

To begin, in 2021, we believe the Biden administration and Congress should take the following crucial steps to advance systemic equality:

Voting Rights

The administration must issue an executive order creating a Justice Department lead staff position on voting rights violations in every U.S. Attorney office. We are seeing a flood of unlawful restrictions on voting across the country, and at every level of state and local government. This nationwide problem requires nationwide investigatory and enforcement resources. Even if it requires new training and approval protocols, a new voting rights enforcement program with the participation of all 93 U.S. Attorney offices is the best way to help ensure nationwide enforcement of voting rights laws.

These assistant U.S. attorneys should begin by ensuring that every American in the custody of the Bureau of Prisons who is eligible to vote can vote, and monitor the Census and redistricting process to fight the dilution of voting power in communities of color.

We are also calling on Congress to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to finally create a fair and equal national voting system, the cause for which John Lewis devoted his life.

Student Debt

Black borrowers pay more than other students for the same degrees, and graduate with an average of $7,400 more in debt than their white peers. In the years following graduation, the debt gap more than triples. Nearly half of Black borrowers will default within 12 years. In other words, for Black Americans, the American dream costs more. Last week, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, along with House Reps. Ayanna Pressley, Maxine Waters, and others, called on President Biden to cancel up to $50,000 in federal student loan debt per borrower.

We couldn't agree more. By forgiving $50,000 of student debt, President Biden can unleash pent up economic potential in Black communities, while relieving them of a burden that forestalls so many hopes and dreams. Black women in particular will benefit from this executive action, as they are proportionately the most indebted group of all Americans.

Postal Banking

In both low and high income majority-Black communities, traditional bank branches are 50 percent more likely to close than in white communities. The result is that nearly 50 percent of Black Americans are unbanked or underbanked, and many pay more than $2,000 in fees associated with subprime financial institutions. Over their lifetime, those fees can add up to as much as two years of annual income for the average Black family.

The U.S. Postal Service can and should meet this crisis by providing competitive, low-cost financial services to help advance economic equality. We call on President Biden to appoint new members to the Postal Board of Governors so that the Post Office can do the work of providing essential services to every American.

Fair Housing

Across the country, millions of people are living in communities of concentrated poverty, including 26 percent of all Black children. The Biden administration should again implement the 2015 Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule, which required localities that receive federal funds for housing to investigate and address barriers to fair housing and patterns or practices that promote bias. In 1980, the average Black person lived in a neighborhood that was 62 percent Black and 31 percent white. By 2010, the average Black person's neighborhood was 48 percent Black and 34 percent white. Reinstating the Obama-era Fair Housing Rule will combat this ongoing segregation and set us on a path to true integration.

Congress should also pass the American Housing and Economic Mobility Act, or a similar measure, to finally redress the legacy of redlining and break down the walls of segregation once and for all.

Broadband Access

To realize broadband's potential to benefit our democracy and connect us to one another, all people in the United States must have equal access and broadband must be made affordable for the most vulnerable. Yet today, 15 percent of American households with school-age children do not have subscriptions to any form of broadband, including one-quarter of Black households (an additional 23 percent of African Americans are “smartphone-only" internet users, meaning they lack traditional home broadband service but do own a smartphone, which is insufficient to attend class, do homework, or apply for a job). The Biden administration, Federal Communications Commission, and Congress must develop and implement plans to increase funding for broadband to expand universal access.

Enhanced, Refundable Child Tax Credits

The United States faces a crisis of child poverty. Seventeen percent of all American children are impoverished — a rate higher than not just peer nations like Canada and the U.K., but Mexico and Russia as well. Currently, more than 50 percent of Black and Latinx children in the U.S. do not qualify for the full benefit, compared to 23 percent of white children, and nearly one in five Black children do not receive any credit at all.

To combat this crisis, President Biden and Congress should enhance the child tax credit and make it fully refundable. If we enhance the child tax credit, we can cut child poverty by 40 percent and instantly lift over 50 percent of Black children out of poverty.

Reparations

We cannot repair harms that we have not fully diagnosed. We must commit to a thorough examination of the impact of the legacy of chattel slavery on racial inequality today. In 2021, Congress must pass H.R. 40, which would establish a commission to study reparations and make recommendations for Black Americans.

The Long View

For the past century, the ACLU has fought for racial justice in legislatures and in courts, including through several landmark Supreme Court cases. While the court has not always ruled in favor of racial justice, incremental wins throughout history have helped to chip away at different forms of racism such as school segregation ( Brown v. Board), racial bias in the criminal legal system (Powell v. Alabama, i.e. the Scottsboro Boys), and marriage inequality (Loving v. Virginia). While these landmark victories initiated necessary reforms, they were only a starting point.

Systemic racism continues to pervade the lives of Black people through voter suppression, lack of financial services, housing discrimination, and other areas. More than anything, doing this work has taught the ACLU that we must fight on every front in order to overcome our country's legacies of racism. That is what our Systemic Equality agenda is all about.

In the weeks ahead, we will both expand on our views of why these campaigns are crucial to systemic equality and signal the path this country must take. We will also dive into our work to build organizing, advocacy, and legal power in the South — a region with a unique history of racial oppression and violence alongside a rich history of antiracist organizing and advocacy. We are committed to four principles throughout this campaign: reconciliation, access, prosperity, and empowerment. We hope that our actions can meet our ambition to, as Dr. King said, lead this nation to live out the true meaning of its creed.

What you can do:
Take the pledge: Systemic Equality Agenda
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Featured image by Shutterstock

I started dreaming about moving abroad when I was about 21 years old. I remember returning from a two-week study abroad trip to Dublin, Ireland having my eyes and mind wide open to the possibility of living overseas. This new travel passion was intensified after graduating from college in 2016, and going on a group trip to Italy. I was intoxicated by my love for Italy. It's hands down my favorite place. However, my post-grad life was one twist and turn after the next. I'm sure you can relate.

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