Behind the Budget With Travel Noire’s Zim Ugochukwu

Zim Ugochukwu has always had a thirst for the world. A first generation Nigerian-American, she moved abroad the first chance she got, joining the Henry Luce Fellowship program to work with social entrepreneurs in India.
Zim cropped

She was obsessed with travel in her personal time as well, saying, “I’ve paid rent in New Delhi, Greensboro, Bangalore, San Francisco and Dharamshala.” But in all the travel blogs and Instagram feeds she voraciously consumed, Zim realized no one looked like her. That’s when the inspiration for Travel Noire struck.

In 2013, Zim bunkered down and began working on a new site that would act as a publishing platform and communication hub for travelers of color. Now, it’s grown into a destination with hundreds of thousands of visitors a month, and even expanded into additional platforms, such as TN Experiences.

Zim has found a way to integrate travel as the foundation of her life. Going on an adventure is business and pleasure. “[These days] I probably travel two to three times a month. Most of it’s work related, though,” she explains. But living such an exciting (and inspiring) life has garnered her notice by TIME Magazine, Elle, the New York Times, Yahoo, NPR and more.

We had a chance to talk to her about exactly how to live the Zim Ugochukwu lifestyle.

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Mobile office

Because Zim is abroad so often, her office is completely mobile. Travel Noire’s corporate headquarters is basically in the cloud, accessed through her laptop, smartphone, and hard-drive. Why pay rent for an office every month when you can run your company from a few pieces of hardware that fit in your carry-on?

Laptop, smartphone and external hard drive


For Zim, documenting her travels isn’t just a way to remember the good times, it’s integral to the Travel Noire experience. “I have a photography background so I do have a few different cameras, but typically just bring one,” said Zim. “Most times it’s just me and a tripod, or me asking someone to take my picture with my camera.” If you’re going to exciting locations, splurge on a DSLR so your images can be as vibrant as the location. Zim also utilizes a drone to capture aerial videos of her adventures, and those are only getting cheaper as the market becomes more proliferated.

DSLR camera and drone


Travel Noire is a lot of things: a digital publication, a community, and even a way of life. But all of this hinges on the Travel Noire website. Currently, the TN team is doing a total overhaul of the site, complete with coders and a digital art redesign, but the original site was developed for only $50. “I did it all myself,” Zim explained during our interview. “Went and found a theme online. Set it up on Wordpress. Did the tweaking. When I first started, it was just 50 bucks and me.”

If you were able to tweak the HTML of your MySpace page all those years ago, or you currently run your own blog, you’re ahead of the curve as far as having what it takes to start your own platform.

Website theme


These days, most of Zim’s travel is related to work—be it creating social media campaigns, holding a seminar or hosting an experience. But these trips are far more glamorous than a corporate conference at a hotel in Reno. “I’m leaving for Capetown,” Zim said. “I’ll be in South Africa for about three weeks, and we’re overseeing the launch of our new destination. We host group experiences, so about 14 travelers will come from all over the world to hang with us for a week. We put together a really awesome itinerary, and I’m going to oversee the trip.” Because Zim is there on business, she’s budgeting for a rental car to make transport easy between meetings. But it’s also going to come in handy on those sightseeing excursions.

Three weeks in Capetown, South Africa

Carry-on luggage

“No matter how long I’m gone, I typically don’t travel with more than a carry-on,” Zim explained. And aside from her passport, she never leaves home without chamomile tea either. If you’re going to follow her advice and stick with nothing but a carry-on, it’s best to go with a 4-wheel spinner, so you can easily navigate airports, city avenues, cobblestone streets, and dirt roads.

Carry-on luggage

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