By Alyssa Haduck
Robin Tillotson considers travel the ultimate teacher, so when she learned there were few international group travel opportunities for women over 50, the Chicago native became a student of the world and began organizing trips herself.
Tillotson started her travel agency, This I Do For Me, in 2015 as a part-time project, and has since taken travelers to every continent but Antarctica. In 2019, she began reaching even more women through the “This I Do For Me: Over 50, Black and Fabulous!” podcast, which celebrates the outstanding achievements of everyday Black women.
Ahead of group trips to Africa and Mexico this fall — her first since the start of the pandemic — Tillotson discussed the untapped potential of the Black travel market, the need for self-care and -empowerment, and the joy of building a community miles from home.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
How did the idea of curating travel experiences for women 50 years and older come about?
I told a friend that I was trying to figure out what I wanted to do when I retire, and he said, “Oh, Robin, that’s easy — it’s travel and culture.” So I gave myself a year to do research, and at the time, I hadn’t come across any other companies that worked specifically with women 50-plus around international travel. Companies were doing travel with women in general, but most of those companies were geared toward women in their 20s and 30s.
This I Do For Me is more than a moniker — it’s a mission statement. What’s the story behind it?
My father passed away when I was 7, so we were then my mom’s sole responsibility. And like with most mothers who spend a lot of time caring for their kids, she sacrificed. A lot of times, my mother — like many mothers — put off a lot of things that they need for themselves, or even some of their dreams. So one day, my mother purchased a purse, and she showed it to me and my brother and said, “Now this, I do for me.” I couldn’t have been more than 10 or 11 at the time, but that always stuck with me. Years later, when I was thinking about what to name my business, given the mission, it came automatically.
Black travelers — especially Black women — can face unique challenges when visiting foreign places. What have your experiences been like, and how have things changed since your first trip abroad?
There’s something about our culture that engenders communal connection. I have a friend who is a digital nomad in Albania, and when African Americans see each other, they stop and talk, whereas you wouldn’t necessarily do that in the United States.
I think it’s important to note that African Americans are traveling more and more, and traveling to more and more places. They’re moving and becoming expats in places like the Netherlands or Albania or the country of Georgia. Everything is not Africa. Everything is not an island. African American travelers are going everywhere.
Over the last seven years, you’ve led countless small group trips to destinations around the world. A highlight of the itineraries planned for 2022 and 2023 is a tour of Ghana. What makes this trip so special?
We’ve been to northern Africa before, but this is our first trip to West Africa. If any of my Black travelers tested their DNA, a lot of them would probably find that their roots are connected if not to Ghana, then to somewhere in that region. West Africa is where the trans-Atlantic slave trade started, and so as a result, most of my travelers have a connection to this area.
How does your podcast complement the other work you do with women over 50?
The goal of the podcast is to expose its audience to the phenomenal things that African American women aged 50-plus are doing. This past fall, for example, I interviewed a woman who, at age 76, started an event-planning business. I mean, who does that? So it’s just a reminder to everyone the great contributions that Black women are making.
How would you describe the impact This I Do For Me has on members of its community?
When we’re traveling, I often stand back from the group and watch the women interact. They were wonderful women to begin with, but you can see the growth, even during the trip, because there’s just something about travel. When they come back, they are so grateful, because they know they are a different person as a result.
Alyssa Haduck is a sports media graduate student at Medill. You can follow her on Twitter at @Alyssa_Haduck.