One of Kristin Braswell’s sharpest childhood travel memories is a family road trip up the California coast.
They had started from Los Angeles, her home city, and Carmel was their destination. “I can remember it so clearly,” she says. “Being in the backseat, my dad blasting music, and looking out the window at the beautiful ocean as we went up Highway 1.”
Braswell loved every minute of it, of any of the frequent road trips she took with her brother and parents—so excited to throw her suitcase in the backseat and to just be in the car, even if it was for hours.
That love of moving from place to place never dissipated and, as an adult, Braswell channeled it into a full-fledged career in travel—as a writer, a community leader, and founder in 2016 of CrushGlobal, a travel company that creates international guides and leads trips around the world. By the time 2020 rolled around, she’d been to 20 countries and was traveling once or twice each month, focusing primarily on international destinations. Those U.S. road trips were a thing of her past.
Then came the great grounder: the pandemic.
Braswell, like everyone else, was quarantining at home (for her, L.A.). She knew she needed to pivot away from international travel, at least temporarily. But how?
The solution came to her in July, as the United States approached the six-month mark of the pandemic. She recognized that everyone was going to be staying close to home for a lot longer than they’d planned—and that demand for road trips was beginning to skyrocket. At the same time, the most recent Black Lives Matters protests were continuing to unfold, and Braswell wanted to put inclusivity front and center.
“I thought, this is a great way—especially with all the different calls to diversity this year—for me to launch my own road trips,” Braswell says, “that are inclusive of the LGBTQ community, that are inclusive of Black travelers, who have historically not felt safe on the road.”
Braswell and her team of three got to work. For the latest on COVID-related restrictions and protocols, as well as tips on the best outdoor experiences and minority-owned businesses around the country, she mined her own travels and reached out to her many contacts in the travel world. In late August, CrushGlobal launched eight itineraries in some of the most popular parts of the country.
California gets the most love (for now), with five guides covering various aspects of the Golden State, including two nature-focused trips, a wine and food celebration of Northern California, and a coastal wine trip that begins in L.A. There are two guides to the South—one that begins in New Orleans and the other that sets off from Atlanta—and one for the Northeast, starting in New York City and ending in Rhode Island. And each guide is packed with businesses that reflect the United States: a queer-owned bakery, a restaurant run by a Nigerian chef, a woman-led sparkling wine house.
Braswell also reached out to businesses—tour companies, restaurants, hotels—to create partnerships, which even resulted in some special discounts or perks for travelers who purchase a guide. Think 20 percent off a hotel booking, or a $100 food and beverage credit.
“I thought, this is a great way—especially with all the different calls to diversity this year—for me to launch my own road trips that are inclusive of the LGBTQ community, that are inclusive of Black travelers, who have historically not felt safe on the road.”
The CrushGlobal guides aren’t merely collections of places, as you find in many free online guides. The four- to nine-day trips are carefully arranged to make logistical sense. Take, for example, Braswell’s two California wine country road trips (which she recently traveled in one two-week stretch—her first solo road trip). Her “City to Wine Country + Food” trip begins in L.A. and ends in Napa, but every day is plotted out with mile-by-mile suggestions about where to stay, where to eat, and what to do along the way, such as a stop at a Japanese-style day spa and a vineyard dinner prepared by Napa chef Aaron LeRoi. (Note that the Northern California guides have been updated to avoid places affected by the recent fires.)
Everything is spelled out for travelers, from the time they wake up until the moment their head hits the hotel pillow. “We’re laying things out as a daily itinerary,” she says.“If you’re starting from Carmel at this hotel we’ve recommended, the coffee shop [we recommend] is a 5-minute walk away, and then the lunch experience you’re going to have is 10 minutes away.”
The guides also take into account COVID-19 guidelines—“I’m not going to send you anywhere where everyone’s maskless and partying at a pool party,” she says—as well as safety concerns.
“I’ve been very, very aware and intentional, both [in terms of] the people I partner with and the routes that we’ve selected,” she says. “If you’re a Black person or a queer person, I’m not going to have you in the middle of Mississippi in a town that has confederate flags.”
The response from travelers and partners has been overwhelmingly positive. In addition to the premade guides, her team has seen increased demand for personalized trips. Most recently, they curated a road trip for an interior designer who wanted to do a design-focused trip through North Carolina and assembled a cocktail-focused trail through Charleston, Charlotte, and Atlanta for a group of friends. The personalized trips cost a little more, but in these confusing times, who can put a price on such ease?
Eventually, Braswell imagines she’ll add more itineraries, though much of that hinges on the election. (“Depending on how that goes, I don’t know if anyone should be on the roads,” she says wryly.) In the meantime, given the number of people who may drive instead of fly this holiday season, her team is hard at work on holiday road trip itineraries, likely in the same destinations, which will roll out by November 15. One holiday itinerary might include a stop at a local Christmas market; another might suggest a champagne tasting to find a bottle to pair with a holiday meal.
With every guide she produces, Braswell wants to change the narrative of the Great American road trip.
“There’s this American dream of being able to hit the great wide road,” she says. “And that idea, and the packaging of it, has always been very monolithic, from movies to even advertising.”
The dream just hasn’t always been inclusive to nonwhite, nonstraight travelers. That doesn’t mean those travelers don’t want to be behind the wheel on a cross-country trip, of course. It’s that they haven’t been represented. So Braswell has made it a mission to show businesses in the travel industry, “whether they’re POC-owned or not—that there is a demand from nonwhite travelers who want to be on the road.”
Ultimately, “it’s about making sure that everyone feels safe, celebrated, and seen,” she says. “When you feel safe, when you feel centered, you really do realize that the United States is a beautiful country.” This is the point, after all: to celebrate the United States—and to mirror the country accurately, not monolithically.
“[The guides] aren’t just for Black travelers—they’re for everyone,” she adds. “You can be an ally, but what you’re ultimately doing is supporting businesses that reflect our world.”
Travelers interested in purchasing a guide can explore them on CrushGlobal. The guides, which range from $30 to $60, are delivered in PDF format—easy to download and use on your phone. Braswell and her team update the guides at least one to two times per month with the latest information (new COVID protocols, recent openings or closures) and offer updated guides for free, upon request.