Born in Detroit to Ugandan parents, Jessica Nabongo a UN employee turned travel blogger, has become the black woman to visit all 195 countries in the world.
Nabongo’s epic odyssey hasn’t just been about getting her name in the record books. She’s hoping to pave the way for women and people of colour to do the same.
Although she felt like she’d achieved “the American dream” by landing a six-figure job at a pharmaceutical company after college and buying her own place in the Motor City, the work didn’t satisfy her.
She began renting out her condo to make money, then hit the road — first, teaching English in Japan, then grad school at the London School of Economics, followed by a job at the United Nations that took her to Benin and then Italy. But that wasn’t enough to satisfy her travel bug.
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JORDAN APPRECIATION POST I first visited Jordan (139 of 195), last September. I immediately fell in love!! The amazing people at @visitjordan connected me with @experiencejordanadventures and our love story was solidified. We had the time of our lives exploring Amman, Petra, Wadi Rum and Aqaba, and found family in our guide Maha and our driver Ahmad. Fast forward to a couple of days ago and I returned to Jordan for a few hours to catch a flight home. I crossed into the country from Israel and was stopped because of my drone. They told me that it is illegal and I couldn’t take it, but they would keep it for 90 days for me to come back and get it. 🙃 I explained I was in transit to the airport and I begged and begged but to no avail. Ayman from @experiencejordanadventures and several other people worked with the very kind border officer Ziad Daaja, to assure them the drone was leaving with me! During this 2.5 hour process, I dealt with no less than 15 people, my passport changed lots of hands and no one really spoke English. But we managed to tell lots of jokes, I showed them a article about me in Arabic that had just been written in Algeria, then one officer laughed and said I was CIA. We bonded over my love of Jordanian food and when I called out one of my favorite restaurants in Amman they really got happy. Dropping the few Arabic words that I know and using google translate to convince them to let me take my drone, a good time was had all around. I say this story to say I truly love Jordanian people, and I said this when I left the first time. Here I was bringing something illegal into their country and no one ever yelled at me or became aggressive. They were stern and explained the process, but treated me with dignity and respect. If you go to Jordan I highly recommend @experiencejordanadventures. Special shoutout to the wonderful @WAmmanhotel for hosting me super duper last minute. There’s no place I’d rather stay in Amman! I am heading to Jordan in 2020, hosting a trip with @globaljetblack, head to our website and sign up so you can be the first to know! #catchmeinjordan
A post shared by Jessica (🚫Jess) Nabongo 🇺🇬🇺🇸 (@thecatchmeifyoucan) on
As someone who is a person of colour in a crowd, she stood out from the pack whether she wanted to or not. Nabongo also has dark skin and shaves her head. To date, there are about 150 known people who have been to every country, the majority of whom are white men traveling on European passports. The ones who have the option to “blend in” in more places than her.
As an influencer, she also works with hotels and hospitality brand. Some of whom offer up free stays in exchange for social media posts. She also accepts donations on a GoFundMe page.
“Navigating the world as a woman can be very difficult,” Nabongo told CNN Travel in 2018. “I have had a pretty wide range of experiences, and have also been accused of being a prostitute. I’ve had men chase me before and assaulting me in the street.”
In one particularly horrible incident, a driver/fixer Nabongo had been working with and had grown to trust invited her to an “Easter orgy” just before he was due to pick her up to go to the airport. “That is something a man will never have to deal with.”
Ultimately, Nabongo says her quest was not just about crossing countries off a list. It was about changing the perception of female travellers of colour. She wanted to help anyone who doesn’t have the option of passing for a local in a given travel community.