The way we travel has changed dramatically in the last decade. We’ve been inundated with travel media that touts seeking “authentic” experiences, yet many of us, strapped to the rigors of our everyday lives, find these types of itineraries difficult to plan with limited resources and time.

Some folks have no idea where to start at all. You may be a brand new recipient of your first passport and are unsure how to put an international trip together. Or maybe you’re just looking for something different, and the usual travel media has led you to hunt down different resources.

Kristin Braswell, the founder of CrushGlobal, seeks to identify these types of issues that have left so many unsure or unsatisfied with travel planning. We spoke with Braswell about how she created the brand and where she intends to take it now.

“I have always been incredibly inspired by people I’ve met around the world: chefs, tour guides, historians, a seller at a market,” Braswell expounds on the underlying “people-first” ethos of her travel brand. “I created CrushGlobal with the aim to connect my clients directly with local people around the world, as well as educate my clients with intimate experiences like salsa lessons in Havana, a private wine tasting at a family-owned vineyard in Bordeaux, or a tour of Tokyo through the eyes of a Black tour guide.”

After years of working at publications such as CNN and ABC News, Braswell realized the life of breaking news just wasn’t for her. The crush of a constantly rotating news cycle wasn’t the life she had envisioned for herself. “I began to think about how I could make an impact as a journalist without reporting constant doom and gloom,” she says, “and realized that travel could be that ticket.”

CrushGlobal was born from the desire to share her experiences in a new way; she wanted to take a step further, to build relationships with people that journalism alone couldn’t offer. “I wanted to move beyond just reporting and find a way to make an impact on people by offering the same experiences I was having around the world,” she says of this decision.

Now, five years after launching her travel site, CrushGlobal is thriving. Much more than simple guides, Braswell carefully curates holistic travel experiences that are self-directed, so users can go at their own pace and tailor their trip to their own budget. “I believe that travel should be accessible for everyone,” says Braswell, “and this has always been why I work with almost anyone reaching out for trip services and try to find a way to make it work within their means.”

Currently, Braswell provides seven different international guides for Havana, Tokyo, Marrakech, Los Angeles, Grenada, South Africa, and Thailand. Each one is a collection of destinations, recommendations, images, inspiration, and contacts for folks offering curious experiences that travelers wouldn’t always encounter naturally abroad. Everything you find in one of her guides Braswell herself or someone on her team has experienced personally, from where you sleep to where you eat.

As with most companies in the travel sphere, CrushGlobal was also faced with having to pivot when the pandemic broke. “With international travel at a sudden halt,” Braswell says, “I decided to shift gears to domestic travel opportunities. Road trips became very popular last year, so that became my next venture.” Her Road Trip Guides feature eight thematic guides for road trips spanning three different US regions.

And if you can’t find one you love, she and her team are well versed at putting together custom itineraries for wherever you want to hit the road. “Last year, we created a road trip for a couple through Savannah and Charleston,” Braswell explains. “They wanted to focus specifically on wine tastings and supporting as many Black- and women-owned businesses as possible, which we were able to provide.” Using her vast connections that she has garnered in her years in the travel industry, she put together this custom itinerary with a specific theme. This is a service she offers anyone with something very specific in mind, or with a destination that isn’t covered by one of her pre-established guides.

Being a Black woman informs all of her guides — from highlighting Black-owned businesses to tailoring itineraries with experiences that support Black people — but with her Road Trip Guides, it was particularly important that she remain cognizant of the specific struggles that Black people can face on the open road in the US.

“Though the ‘great American road trip’ has been around and romanticized for a long time, the marketing narrative and actual logistics of such trips are often not inclusive of or safe for all people,” Braswell explains. “So my aim was to create road trips where people of color and LGBTQIA+ people felt as safe as possible on the road.”

While her itineraries can be enjoyed by anyone, her specific take, with POC and LGBTQ+ people in mind, offers more value than simply including things she herself thinks they might like. There’s the element of assuring their safety, as well, and it’s a responsibility she takes seriously. “I specifically wanted to market them as guides for people who historically may not have felt safe on the road or were looking for ways to support more diversity in travel,” Braswell says, “especially in wake of the pandemic and how greatly so many businesses suffered.”

Safety is, in many ways, the cornerstone of her road trip guides. Be it making sure that members of traditionally marginalized groups will feel safe following her itineraries or making sure that the hotels she recommends are adhering to proper COVID-19 protocols, her clients’ health and wellbeing are always at the forefront of her product.

Braswell’s goals are lofty. While her product is a series of travel guides, her overall onus is about changing the industry completely, and much of that is about diversifying the travel far beyond simple tokenization. “It’s exhausting to have to talk about challenges being both a woman and Black,” she explains about how her own personal experiences have informed her work, “I, and many Black women, simply want to travel freely like other people.”

Working to achieve this, for Braswell, is about forcing the travel industry to have its own reckoning with its internal practices, and she aims to accomplish this by empowering travelers to divest from companies and corporations that don’t take the interests of Black people to heart. “My hope is that the travel industry will make it a priority to diversify their staff and marketing narratives so that people in both the US and around the world see people of all backgrounds included.”

For Braswell, being able to direct a client to a locale where they can create their own stories is as satisfying as telling the story herself. “There’s really nothing more gratifying than knowing you have impacted someone’s life with connection or opened up their perspective of the world.”

This is why she is so determined to grow CrushGlobal — more than just a travel company, she sees it as a conduit to bring people together and to find common ground. “It’s always about the people I meet abroad, that magic of connection, and my desire to share their stories and expertise with as many people as possible,” says Braswell. “I want people to experience their gifts first hand.”