Jessica Nabongo: What touring to each nation on the earth taught me



(CNN) — As her aircraft started its descent into the Seychelles on October 6, 2019, Ugandan-American journey influencer Jessica Nabongo peered out of the window, getting ready herself for the momentous event about to happen.

Not solely was she about to change into a member of a prestigious membership made up of the only a few individuals who’ve traveled to each nation on the earth, she’d be the primary Black lady to have documented doing so.

Nabongo was accompanied by 28 of her family and friends, who had flown in to journey on that final flight along with her.

It had taken greater than 450 flights and over one million air miles, however she’d made it to all 195 UN-recognized international locations on the globe.

The expertise was exhausting — Nabongo took greater than 170 flights in a single yr, and says she almost stop on a number of events.

“There have been plenty of instances the place panic set in and I used to be like, ‘oh my god, is that this going to end in public failure?'” she tells CNN Journey.

Epic problem

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

In 2019, Jessica Nabongo grew to become the primary Black lady to doc touring to each nation on the earth.

Wintta Woldemariam

Nabongo has since written a ebook, “The Catch Me If You Can,” detailing her experiences shifting from nation to nation in the course of the epic problem.

Named after her widespread weblog, it recounts her record-breaking journey, specializing in 100 of the 195 international locations she visited.

“I am a geography nerd,” Nabongo says of her resolution to tackle the problem, explaining that it was one thing she’d been eager to do a minimum of a decade earlier than she really tried it.

“In 2017, I type of decided that I wished to do it by my thirty fifth birthday,” she tells CNN Journey.

So, was she in a position to meet her deadline?

“I overshot my birthday by 5 months,” Nabongo explains. “However I ended up ending on my father’s birthday. He handed [away] simply two days after my nineteenth birthday, so it was good to have the ability to deliver him into the fold in that manner.”

In accordance with Nabongo, who was born in Detroit, one of many key causes she felt compelled to write down “The Catch Me If You Can” was resulting from the truth that only a few Black individuals are among the many 400 or so vacationers thought to have visited each nation on the earth.

“We’re so used to seeing the world by the lens of white males,” says Nabongo, who has used her personal images within the ebook. “And that is completely different. There’s clearly some uniqueness within the experiences that we now have, as we exist on the earth, as very completely different folks.

“But in addition, simply when it comes to how I see humanity. My respect for humanity. I see an enormous distinction.”

Nabongo touches on her experiences touring as a Black lady within the ebook, launched on June 14, noting that such illustration is massively vital.

Creating house

The travel influencer has released a book, "The Catch Me If You Can," showcasing 100 of the countries she visited.

The journey influencer has launched a ebook, “The Catch Me If You Can,” showcasing 100 of the international locations she visited.

Wes Walker

“It’s about normalizing our existence, as a result of, sure, even in 2022, I’m typically the one Black individual on a aircraft of 300,” she writes.

“I can journey for days and by no means see somebody on the identical finish of the colour spectrum. My mission is to create house. To shake s**t up. To say, we’re right here and we belong.”

She feels a accountability to characterize locations that are not essentially vacationer hotspots as sensitively as doable to problem preconceptions.

“That is actually vital to me,” she admits. “To inform tales about locations that most individuals might by no means journey to and actually use my platform to place these locations in a extra optimistic mild than we normally see.

“I discovered plenty of magnificence in plenty of locations that individuals in all probability would not have anticipated.”

These locations embody Afghanistan, the place she was entranced by the Shrine of Hazrat Ali, also referred to as Blue Mosque within the northern metropolis of Mazar-i-Sharif, Pakistan, the place she could not get sufficient of the road meals, and Iran, the place she visited the traditional metropolis of Yazd.

Whereas social media was definitely round when Nabongo first started touring extensively, it wasn’t fairly as influential as it’s right this moment.

The previous UN employee notes that having a profitable weblog and over 200,000 Instagram followers has afforded her many privileges, significantly relating to journey, however she’s very conscious of the content material she shares, acknowledging that the affect of social media hasn’t been completely optimistic relating to susceptible places.

“Once I was in Maui [Hawaii], I discovered this actually superb forest, ” she says. “I did not do a geotag [add the geographic coordinates of the location] as a result of I do know what that might have finished to that forest.”

“Being an influencer or somebody of affect, you need to be extremely cautious with the way you share. For me, it is actually vital to make sure the preservation of locations that I am visiting.”

Influencer affect

Nabongo during a trip to Bali, Indonesia in 2017.

Nabongo throughout a visit to Bali, Indonesia in 2017.

Elton Anderson

Nabongo is wistful in regards to the notion of “touring blindly,” noting that this has change into virtually inconceivable within the fashionable world.

“It is undoubtedly one thing that I miss specifically,” Nabongo admits, citing Peru as one of many locations that she felt barely underwhelmed by just because she’d seen so many pictures of its historic sights beforehand.

“Once I obtained to Machu Picchu, I used to be like, ‘Oh, it appears to be like similar to the images,'” she admits. “So it was disappointing.

“You consider locations like Bali, and Morocco, all people’s going to the identical locations and doing the identical issues. And that is simply not fascinating to me.

“However there’s Yemen, Afghanistan and South Sudan. There are such a lot of locations that individuals do not suppose are beneficial when it comes to tourism, the place I had a completely superb time.

“I actually hope that by my storytelling, there is a discount in bias about Black and Brown international locations specifically.”

Throughout a few of her hardest moments on the highway, Nabongo started to query whether or not she’d make it to the Seychelles, the ultimate nation on her checklist.

However the journey had change into about excess of simply reaching her goal by then — she knew she was showcasing locations her followers would possible by no means have thought-about visiting.

When she reached her breaking level throughout a go to to Mali, a landlocked nation in West Africa, it was the phrases of some locals that satisfied her to maintain going.

“One of many guys mentioned, ‘It is not for you. It is for us.'” she says. “That was actually an enormous turning level. As a result of as my viewers was rising and folks have been emailing and DMing me, I used to be realizing that the journey was changing into a lot greater than me. These males actually helped get me to the end line.”

Whereas Nabongo notes that having a US passport grants her privileges that are not afforded to vacationers of different nationalities, she explains that she was in a position to journey to over 40 international locations on her Ugandan passport.

Secret weapon

Nabongo was able to get a visa on arrival in order to visit Iran thanks to her dual citizenship.

Nabongo was in a position to get a visa on arrival with the intention to go to Iran due to her twin citizenship.

Ali Shebani

“Having each an American and a Ugandan passport actually labored in my favor,” she admits. “As a result of it is tremendous exhausting for People to go to Iran.

“And the US authorities forbids People from going to North Korea [exceptions are granted “in very restricted circumstances”, however I had a Ugandan passport so I might go.

“That was my secret weapon. If I solely had an American passport, I in all probability would not have completed after I did.”

Her success, together with that of different vacationers like her, will little question have impressed others to try to journey to each nation on the earth, however she’s eager to level out that this specific objective is not for everybody.

Earlier than jetting off on such a quest, Nabongo stresses that vacationers ought to actually query why they wish to embark on this problem, “as a result of that is the motivation that is going to get you to the end line.”

She hopes her story will encourage others to go after their desires, no matter they may be.

“I do not suppose everyone seems to be involved in going to each nation on the earth,” she says. “However what I do need folks to know is that they’ve every thing inside them to do no matter it’s that they wish to do in life.

“And if I might go to each nation on the earth, which is wild, I really feel like everybody’s dream is attainable.”

Worldwide community

Nabongo's thirst for adventure has remained strong since ticking all the countries in the world off her bucket list.

Nabongo’s thirst for journey has remained sturdy since ticking all of the international locations on the earth off her bucket checklist.

Elton Anderson

In “The Catch Me If You Can,” Nabongo shares varied tales of strangers who’ve been significantly type to her throughout her travels, together with a tour information named Maha in Jordan who gave her a gown as a logo of their friendship.

“I undoubtedly have associates from all around the world,” she says, earlier than expressing her delight at how writing the ebook has helped to place her again in contact with a lot of these she’s met on the highway.

“It has been actually nice,” she provides. “At any given time on my WhatsApp, there’s in all probability conversations going throughout 20 international locations.

“Individuals, after all, will at all times begin out as strangers. However should you’re open to it, you may shortly make associates and in some instances, even household.

“For me, residence is not about folks. I feel that is why I really feel so carefully related to folks after I journey. As a result of it is like I am constructing little homes all around the world, if you’ll.”

Whereas she discovered the method of visiting each nation on the earth grueling, Nabongo confesses that writing “The Catch Me If You Can” has been more durable “arms down.”

However she hopes the ebook will encourage extra kindness on the earth, explaining that she’s seen a shift within the conduct of others, significantly whereas touring, because the early days of the pandemic.

“It was all love and kindness, after which it grew to become insanity,” she says. “Now you are seeing folks combating on planes and being simply actually imply.

“So, I feel sadly, that preliminary bump of affection and humanity that we obtained within the first 4 to 6 months has dissipated.”

Nabongo admits that this has left her feeling moderately disheartened at instances.

Nonetheless, she stays inspired by her personal experiences of human kindness and continues to search for magnificence on the earth wherever she goes.

And now that she’s visited each nation, Nabongo’s ardour for journey has solely grown stronger.

On the time of writing, she’s about to take one other journey to Senegal, which she describes as her “completely satisfied place,” and finally plans to tick off one other objective. visiting each state within the US.

“I’ve six left,” she explains, earlier than stressing that she’s in no rush, and can full this specific job, “after I get to it.”

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