Jessica Nabongo: ‘What traveling to every country in the world taught me’

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(CNN) – As her plane began landing in the Seychelles on October 6, 2019, Ugandan-American travel influencer Jessica Nabongo peeked out the window, preparing herself for the important event that was to take place.

Not only was she supposed to be a member of a prestigious club made up of very few people traveling to every country in the world, she would be the first black woman to document doing so.

Nabongo was accompanied by 28 friends and family who went on the last flight with him.

She flew more than 450 flights and more than a million air miles, but she made it to all 195 UN-recognized countries in the world.

The experience was boring – Nabongo took over 170 flights a year, and says she almost gave up on several occasions.

“There were times where panic spread and I thought, ‘Oh my God, will this lead to public failure?'” She tells CNN Travel.

Epic challenge

In 2019, Jessica Nabongo became the first black woman to document travel to every country in the world.

In 2019, Jessica Nabongo became the first black woman to document travel to every country in the world.

Jessica Nabongo

Since then Nabongo has written a book, “The Catch Me If You Can,” Details of his experiences moving from country to country during the epic challenge.

Named after her popular blog, she describes her record-breaking journey, focusing on 100 of the 195 countries she visited.

“I’m a geographer,” Nabongo says of her decision to take up the challenge, explaining that she was eager to do something at least a decade before she actually tried.

“In 2017, I kind of decided I wanted to do that by my 35th birthday,” she tells CNN Travel.

So, was she able to meet her deadline?

“I’ve been overshooting my birthday for five months,” Nabongo explains. “But I ended up on my dad’s birthday. They passed [away] Just two days after my 19th birthday, so it was great to be able to fold it this way. “

According to Detroit-born Nabongo, one of the main reasons she was forced to write “The Catch Me If You Can” was due to the fact that the 400 or more tourists included very few black people. Country in the world.

“We are so used to seeing the world through the lens of white men,” says Nabongo, who uses his own photo in the book. “And this is different. Obviously the experiences we have have some uniqueness, like we exist in the world, as very different people.

“But, also in terms of how I view humanity. My respect for humanity. I see a lot of difference.”

Nabongo touches on her experiences of traveling as a Black Woman in a book published on June 14, noting that such a presentation is very important.

Creating space

The travel influencer has released a book, "Catch me if you can" An exhibition of 100 countries she visited.

Travel Influencer has released a book, The Catch Me If You Can, featuring 100 countries she has visited.

Jessica Nabongo

“It’s about normalizing our existence, because, yes, even in 2022, I’m often the only black person in the 300’s plane,” she writes.

“I can travel for days and never see anyone on the same end of the color spectrum. My mission is to create space. To shake it. To say, we are here and we are.”

She feels obliged to represent places that are not tourist hotspots as sensitively as possible to challenge the hypotheses.

“It’s really important to me,” she admits. “Most people can’t use my platform to tell stories about places they can never travel to and really put these places in a more positive light than we normally see.”

“I found a lot of beauty in a lot of places that people probably didn’t even expect.”

These places include Afghanistan, where she entered through the Hazrat Ali’s Dargah, known as the Blue Mosque, in the northern Pakistani city of Mazar-e-Sharif, where she could not find enough street food, and Iran, where she visited the ancient city of Yazd.

Social media was definitely around when Nabongo first started traveling extensively, it wasn’t as impressive as it is today.

The former UN activist notes successful blogs and more than 200,000 Instagram followers She has been granted many privileges, especially when it comes to travel, but she cares deeply about the content she shares, acknowledging that the impact of social media is entirely positive when it comes to sensitive locations. Has not been.

“When I was in Maui [Hawaii]I found this really wonderful forest, “she says.” I didn’t geotag [add the geographic coordinates of the location] Because I know what he could have done to the forest. “

“As an influential or influential person, you have to be incredibly careful about how you share. For me, it’s really important to make sure that the places I visit are maintained.”

Influential effect

Nabongo during a trip to Bali, Indonesia in 2017.

Nabongo during a trip to Bali, Indonesia in 2017.

Jessica Nabongo

Nabongo is excited about the idea of ​​”traveling blindly”, noting that in the modern world this has become almost impossible.

“It’s definitely something I especially missed,” Nabongo admitted, citing Peru as one of the destinations.

“When I got to Machu Picchu, I thought, ‘Oh, it looks like the pictures,'” she admits. “It simply came to our notice then.

“You think of places like Bali and Morocco, everyone goes to the same places and does the same things. And that’s not interesting to me.

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“But there are Yemen, Afghanistan and South Sudan. There are a lot of places that people don’t consider valuable in terms of tourism, where I had a wonderful time.

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“I really hope that by telling my story, the prejudice against black and brown countries in particular has diminished.”

During some of her toughest moments on the road, Nabongo began to question whether she would make it to the final country Seychelles on her list.

But the trip became much more than achieving her goal by then – she knew she was exhibiting in places her followers had never thought of visiting.

When she reached her breaking point during a visit to the landlocked country of Mali in West Africa, it was the words of some locals that convinced her to continue.

“Someone said, ‘It’s not for you. It’s for us.'” She says. “It was a really big turning point. Because as my audience grew and people were emailing and DMing me, I realized that the journey was getting a lot bigger than me. Those guys really helped me get to the finish line. Done. “

While Nabongo notices that having a US passport gives her privileges that tourists of other nationalities cannot afford, she explains that she was able to travel to more than 40 countries on her Ugandan passport.

Secret weapon

Nabongo was able to obtain a visa on arrival to visit Iran because of his dual citizenship.

Nabongo was able to obtain a visa on arrival to visit Iran because of his dual citizenship.

Jessica Nabongo

“Having both American and Ugandan passports really worked in my favor,” she admits. “Because it is very difficult for Americans to go to Iran.

“And the US government forbids Americans to go to North Korea[exceptionsaregranted[અપવાદોઆપવામાંઆવેછે[exceptionsaregranted“In very limited circumstances”But I had a Ugandan passport so I could go.

“It was my secret weapon. If I only had an American passport, I probably wouldn’t be able to finish.”

Her success, along with other tourists like hers, will undoubtedly inspire others to travel to every country in the world, but she is keen to point out that this particular goal is not for everyone.

Before embarking on such a quest, Nabongo insists that tourists should really question why they want to start this challenge, “because it is the motivation that will take you to the finish line.”

She hopes her story will inspire others to pursue their dreams, whatever they may be.

“I don’t think everyone is interested in going to every country in the world,” she says. “But I want people to know that they have everything inside them to do whatever they want in life.

“And if I could go to every country in the world that is wild, I think everyone’s dream is achievable.”

Worldwide network

Nabongo's thirst for adventure has been strong since all the countries of the world were removed from its bucket list.

Nabongo’s thirst for adventure has been strong since all the countries of the world were removed from its bucket list.

Jessica Nabongo

In “The Catch Me If You Can”, Nabongo shares various stories of strangers who were especially kind to her during her travels, including a travel guide named Maha in Jordan who gave her a dress as a symbol of their friendship.

“I definitely have friends from all over the world,” she says before expressing her delight at how writing the book has helped her get back in touch with the many people she met along the way.

“It’s been really great,” she adds. “At any one time on my WhatsApp, there are probably conversations in 20 countries.

“People, of course, will always start out as strangers. But if you’re open to it, you can quickly make friends and, in some cases, even family.

“For me, home is not about people. I think that’s why I feel so closely connected with people when I travel. Because it feels like I’m building small houses all over the world, if you will. “

When she found the process of visiting every country in the world difficult, Nabongo confessed that writing “The Catch Me If You Can” was more difficult “under the hand”.

But she hopes the book will inspire more compassion in the world, explaining that she has seen changes in other people’s behavior since the early days of the epidemic, especially when traveling.

“It was all love and kindness, and then it became madness,” she says. “Now you see people fighting on the plane and that really makes sense.

“So, I think, unfortunately, that initial bump of love and humanity that we got in the first four to six months has faded.”

Nabongo admits that this often disappoints her.

However, she is encouraged by her own experiences of human kindness and continues to see beauty in the world wherever she goes.

And now that she has visited every country, Nabongo’s passion for travel has grown stronger.

At the time of writing, she is going on another trip to Senegal, which she describes as her “happy destination” and plans to finally tick off another goal. Visit every state in the US.

“I have six left,” she explains, adding that she’s in no hurry, and will complete this particular task, “when I get it.”

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