Jessica Nabongo: What touring to each nation on this planet taught me


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

Not solely was she about to turn out to be a member of a prestigious membership made up of the only a few individuals who’ve traveled to each nation on this planet, 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 together with her.

It had taken greater than 450 flights and over 1,000,000 air miles, however she’d made it to all 195 UN-recognized nations on the globe.

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

“There have been numerous occasions the place panic set in and I used to be like, ‘oh my god, is that this going to lead to 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 this planet.

Wintta Woldemariam

Nabongo has since written a e-book, “The Catch Me If You Can,” detailing her experiences transferring from nation to nation through the epic problem.

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

“I am a geography nerd,” Nabongo says of her determination to tackle the problem, explaining that it was one thing she’d been eager to do not less than a decade earlier than she truly 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 capable of 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 convey him into the fold in that method.”

Based on Nabongo, who was born in Detroit, one of many key causes she felt compelled to jot 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 this planet.

“We’re so used to seeing the world by the lens of white males,” says Nabongo, who has used her personal pictures within the e-book. “And that is totally different. There’s clearly some uniqueness within the experiences that we’ve, as we exist on this planet, as very totally 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 e-book, launched on June 14, noting that such illustration is vastly essential.

Creating house

The travel influencer has released a book,

The journey influencer has launched a e-book, “The Catch Me If You Can,” showcasing 100 of the nations she visited.

Wes Walker

“It’s about normalizing our existence, as a result of, sure, even in 2022, I’m usually the one Black individual on a airplane 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 symbolize locations that are not essentially vacationer hotspots as sensitively as potential to problem preconceptions.

“That is actually essential 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 constructive mild than we normally see.

“I discovered plenty of magnificence in plenty of locations that folks most likely would not have anticipated.”

These locations embody Afghanistan, the place she was entranced by the Shrine of Hazrat Ali, often known 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 at present.

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

“After 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 would have completed to that forest.”

“Being an influencer or somebody of affect, you must be extremely cautious with the way you share. For me, it is actually essential 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 concerning the notion of “touring blindly,” noting that this has turn out to be nearly unimaginable within the fashionable world.

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

“After I received to Machu Picchu, I used to be like, ‘Oh, it appears to be like identical 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 folks do not assume are worthwhile 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 nations particularly.”

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 record.

However the journey had turn out to be about way over 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 other people have been emailing and DMing me, I used to be realizing that the journey was turning into a lot larger 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 capable of journey to over 40 nations 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 capable of get a visa on arrival with a purpose 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 Individuals to go to Iran.

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

“That was my secret weapon. If I solely had an American passport, I most likely would not have completed once I did.”

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

Earlier than jetting off on such a quest, Nabongo stresses that vacationers ought to actually query why they need 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 goals, no matter they is perhaps.

“I do not assume everyone seems to be interested by going to each nation on this planet,” she says. “However what I do need folks to know is that they’ve every part within them to do no matter it’s that they need to do in life.

“And if I may go to each nation on this planet, 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 nations on this planet off her bucket record.

Elton Anderson

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

“I undoubtedly have associates from everywhere in the world,” she says, earlier than expressing her delight at how writing the e-book 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 most likely conversations going throughout 20 nations.

“Individuals, in fact, will all the time begin out as strangers. However for those who’re open to it, you’ll be able to shortly make associates and in some instances, even household.

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

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

However she hopes the e-book will encourage extra kindness on this planet, explaining that she’s observed a shift within the conduct of others, notably whereas touring, for the reason that 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 preventing on planes and being simply actually imply.

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

Nabongo admits that this has left her feeling quite disheartened at occasions.

Nevertheless, she stays inspired by her personal experiences of human kindness and continues to search for magnificence on this planet 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 “pleased place,” and finally plans to tick off one other aim. 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 explicit job, “once I get to it.”

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