Jessica Nabongo (Sarah Waiswa)
Article Words : Nora Wallaya | 20 February 2019

In 2019 Jessica Nabongo will become the first black woman to visit every country

With 154 countries down and 41 to go, Jessica Nabongo is en-route to becoming the first black woman in history to visit every country in the world. We caught up with her to find out more.

On a cattle camp in Juba, South Sudan. (Jessica Nabongo)

On a cattle camp in Juba, South Sudan. (Jessica Nabongo)

Jessica, an American-born Ugandan travel influencer, is blazing a trail for black and minority ethnic group travellers who she believes are underrepresented in the travel and tourism industry. She's set herself the mission of visiting each of the 195 UN member states by October 2019; an odyssey which for the most part began in 2009. "Funnily enough, many Africans do have the desire and the money to travel," she told me. "Something has to change - we need more representation, and that's what's driving me forward."

Over the years, Jessica’s Instagram account has swelled to a global fan base of over 80,000, with individuals and brands faithfully following her quest through words of support, advice, recommendations, and even through crowdfunding.

I asked her how she prefers to get under the skin of each country she visits. Passionate about people and culture, she said she travels to open her mind and observe. "I once spent three hours on a cattle camp in South Sudan, just to hang out and be present," she reflected. "I'm not too interested in being entertained or made a fuss of. I just want to be there. A favourite recent experience was in Malawi, where I spent a lot of time at the local market, watching the men play bao - I found it fascinating."

Norway is Jessica's top recommendation for the adventurous traveller. She recalled one of her favourite experiences; navigating fjords and whale-watching in Tromsø, spotting humpback whales and orcas.

On her blog, Jessica insists that she’s keen to give a realistic representation of the travel experience. To avoid displaying what many of us have come to call a social media ‘highlight reel’, Jessica gives details of airport run-ins, long delays and unfriendly locals on her blog, and in her Instagram posts and stories.

In one example, she discusses being denied access to the First Class area of an aircraft despite having a First Class ticket, which she believes was on the grounds of her race. In another blog post, she explains to her readers that her life isn't just one long holiday. In fact, she writes, "I work more now than I ever have in my life."

Jessica's decision to embark upon her journey came after an affluent career in international development, including a position with the United Nations. She went on to found the boutique travel agency Global Jet Black encouraging tourism to Africa for the African diaspora, which she's temporarily taken a step back from.

Hiking a glacier in Iceland. (Jessica Nabongo)

Hiking a glacier in Iceland. (Jessica Nabongo)

On safari in Zambia. (Jessica Nabongo)

On safari in Zambia. (Jessica Nabongo)

I asked her how the travel industry could help to promote people from a B.A.M.E. background as travellers with cash to spend. She said she believes more representation could be achieved through marketing: "Advertising could be targeted at Africans, showing them enjoying the continent, Europe or Asia," she said. "Africans are almost always portrayed in positions of service, carrying things or guiding people." 

As both an American and Ugandan passport holder, Jessica's travel benefits from joint passport power. She informed me that she'll always use her Ugandan passport in the first instance, which reinforces her aim of promoting the African traveller; however, sometimes she'll have to offer her American passport.

Of her 41 remaining countries, she's most looking forward to absorbing Persian history and architecture in Iran. Jessica's trip will eventually come to an end in the Seychelles. "I’m spending my last day surrounded by family and friends," she said. "So I’ll certainly be finishing on a high.”

When asked how she’ll feel upon completion of her journey, she said, “I hope to feel empowered! This is just the beginning. I really have no idea what I'll do next. At this point, I just want to do nothing for the next two months, and especially no more laundry!”

Some of Jessica's favourite countries so far...

Follow Jessica's journey on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, or on her blog thecatchmeifyoucan.com.

Main image of Jessica Nabongo courtesy of Sarah Waiswa.

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