HomeTravelJessica Nabongo: 'What traveling to every country in the world taught me'

Jessica Nabongo: ‘What traveling to every country in the world 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, getting ready herself for the momentous event about to happen.

Not solely was she about to develop into a member of a prestigious membership made up of the only a few individuals who’ve traveled to every country in the world, she’d be the first Black girl 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 nations on the globe.

The expertise was exhausting — Nabongo took greater than 170 flights in one 12 months, and says she almost give up on a number of events.

“There were a number of times where panic set in and I was like, ‘oh my god, is this going to result in public failure?'” she tells CNN Travel.

Epic problem

In 2019, Jessica Nabongo turned the first Black girl to doc traveling to every country in the world.

Jessica Nabongo

Nabongo has since written a e book, “The Catch Me If You Can,” detailing her experiences shifting from country to country throughout the epic problem.

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

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

“In 2017, I sort of made a decision that I wanted to do it by my 35th birthday,” she tells CNN Travel.

So, was she ready to meet her deadline?

“I overshot my birthday by five months,” Nabongo explains. “But I ended up finishing on my father’s birthday. He passed [away] just two days after my 19th birthday, so it was nice to be able to bring him into the fold in that way.”

According to Nabongo, who was born in Detroit, certainly one of the key causes she felt compelled to write “The Catch Me If You Can” was due to the reality that only a few Black individuals are amongst the 400 or so vacationers thought to have visited every country in the world.

“We’re so used to seeing the world through the lens of white men,” says Nabongo, who has used her personal photographs in the e book. “And this is different. There’s obviously some uniqueness in the experiences that we have, as we exist in the world, as very different people.

“But additionally, simply in phrases of how I see humanity. My respect for humanity. I see an enormous distinction.”

Nabongo touches on her experiences traveling as a Black woman in the book, released on June 14, noting that such representation is hugely important.

Creating space

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 e book, “The Catch Me If You Can,” showcasing 100 of the countries she visited.

Jessica Nabongo

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

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

She feels a responsibility to represent destinations that aren’t necessarily tourist hotspots as sensitively as possible to challenge preconceptions.

“That’s actually essential to me,” she admits. “To inform tales about locations that most individuals could by no means journey to and actually use my platform to put these locations in a extra optimistic mild than we often see.

“I found a lot of beauty in a lot of places that people probably wouldn’t have expected.”

These locations embody Afghanistan, the place she was entranced by the Shrine of Hazrat Ali, often known as Blue Mosque in the northern metropolis of Mazar-i-Sharif, Pakistan, the place she could not get sufficient of the avenue meals, and Iran, the place she visited the historic metropolis of Yazd.

While social media was definitely round when Nabongo first started traveling extensively, it wasn’t fairly as influential as it’s in the present day.

The former UN employee notes that having a profitable weblog and over 200,000 Instagram followers has afforded her many privileges, significantly when it comes to journey, however she’s very aware of the content material she shares, acknowledging that the impression of social media hasn’t been completely optimistic when it comes to weak areas.

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

“Being an influencer or someone of influence, you have to be incredibly careful with how you share. For me, it’s really important to ensure the preservation of places that I’m visiting.”

Influencer impression

Nabongo during a trip to Bali, Indonesia in 2017.

Nabongo throughout a visit to Bali, Indonesia in 2017.

Jessica Nabongo

Nabongo is wistful about the notion of “traveling blindly,” noting that this has develop into nearly unimaginable in the fashionable world.

“It’s definitely something that I miss in particular,” Nabongo admits, citing Peru as certainly one of the locations that she felt barely underwhelmed by just because she’d seen so many pictures of its historic sights beforehand.

“When I got to Machu Picchu, I was like, ‘Oh, it looks just like the pictures,'” she admits. “So it was disappointing.

“You take into consideration 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.

“But there’s Yemen, Afghanistan and South Sudan. There are so many places that people don’t think are valuable in terms of tourism, where I had an absolutely amazing time.

“I actually hope that by way of my storytelling, there is a discount in bias about Black and Brown nations in specific.”

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

But the trip had become about far more than just achieving her target by then — she knew she was showcasing places her followers would likely never have considered visiting.

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

“One of the guys mentioned, ‘It’s not for you. It’s for us.'” she says. “That was actually an enormous turning level. Because as my viewers was rising and folks had been emailing and DMing me, I used to be realizing that the journey was turning into a lot larger than me. Those males actually helped get me to the end line.”

While Nabongo notes that having a US passport grants her privileges that aren’t afforded to travelers of other nationalities, she explains that she was able to travel to over 40 countries 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 ready to get a visa on arrival in order to go to Iran thanks to her twin citizenship.

Jessica Nabongo

“Having each an American and a Ugandan passport actually labored in my favor,” she admits. “Because it is tremendous onerous for Americans to go to Iran.

“And the US authorities forbids Americans from going to North Korea [exceptions are granted “in very limited circumstances”, however I had a Ugandan passport so I may 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, along with that of other travelers like her, will no doubt have inspired others to attempt to travel to every country in the world, but she’s keen to point out that this particular goal isn’t for everyone.

Before jetting off on such a quest, Nabongo stresses that travelers should really question why they want to embark on this challenge, “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 dreams, whatever they might be.

“I do not assume everyone seems to be in going to every country in the world,” she says. “But what I do need folks to know is that they’ve every part inside them to do no matter it’s that they need to do in life.

“And if I could go to every country in the world, which is wild, I feel like everyone’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 robust since ticking all the nations in the world off her bucket checklist.

Jessica Nabongo

In “The Catch Me If You Can,” Nabongo shares numerous tales of strangers who’ve been significantly variety 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 definitely have friends from all over the world,” she says, earlier than expressing her delight at how writing the e book has helped to put her again in contact with a lot of these she’s met on the street.

“It’s been really great,” she provides. “At any given time on my WhatsApp, there’s probably conversations going across 20 countries.

“People, in fact, will all the time begin out as strangers. But if you happen to’re open to it, you may shortly make associates and in some circumstances, even household.

“For me, home isn’t about people. I think that’s why I feel so closely connected to people when I travel. Because it’s like I’m building little houses all over the world, if you will.”

While she discovered the technique of visiting every country in the world grueling, Nabongo confesses that writing “The Catch Me If You Can” has been tougher “hands down.”

But she hopes the e book will encourage extra kindness in the world, explaining that she’s observed a shift in the conduct of others, significantly whereas traveling, since the early days of the pandemic.

“It was all love and kindness, and then it became madness,” she says. “Now you’re seeing people fighting on planes and being just really mean.

“So, I believe sadly, that preliminary bump of affection and humanity that we received in the first 4 to six months has dissipated.”

Nabongo admits that this has left her feeling rather disheartened at times.

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

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

At the time of writing, she’s about to take another trip to Senegal, which she describes as her “pleased place,” and eventually plans to tick off another goal. visiting every state in the US.

“I’ve six left,” she explains, before stressing that she’s in no rush, and will complete this particular task, “after I get to it.”

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