All photos via: Jessica Nabongo
By all accounts, 33-year-old Jessica Nabongo had achieved the “American dream” once she graduated from college, landed a six-figure job with a pharmaceutical company, and bought a home in her native Detroit. Yet very quickly she realized that her work wasn’t fulfilling. Born to Ugandan parents and already a holder of two passports, she also longed to travel the world and experience various cultures first hand. With her unique perspective and determined spirit, she set her sights on becoming the first Black woman to visit every country.
She first began to rent out her condo to make money while she moved to Japan to teach English. She then completed graduated school at the London School of Economics and obtained a job working for the United Nations that took her to Benin and Italy. She noticed that oftentimes she was the only person of color in a crowd during her travels.
There are roughly 150 documented people who have been to every country, most of whom are white men who travel on European passports and quite frankly have the option to “blend in” in with native people in more places. She realized that her travel ambitions posed a unique and possibly daunting goal for other persons of color who she would hope to inspire to travel more but may be opposed to it for safety concerns.
There are about 193 recognized countries in the United Nations, and an additional two with “non-observer status.” Since Nabongo began her travel project in 2016, she has visited 156 of them. Her initial goal was to reach 172 by the end of 2018 and then visit any remaining countries by summer 2019. She’s also founded a company called “Jet Black,” which organizes custom trips for small groups to Africa and sells branded travel gear like passport covers and t-shirts. She also partners with hotel and hospitality brands who sometimes offer her free stays in exchange for favorable social media posts and ratings. She often travels alone and seeks out accommodations where there will be 24-hour front desk attendance to help her feel more secure. When possible, she has friends join her as well.
“Racism is a thing. There’s nothing we can do to get around that. History has made it that way. I exist as a Black person in this world and I’m not going to let that hinder me from going anywhere I want to go. Namely, everywhere.”
Nabongo serves as a cultural ambassador of sorts as she is engaged all over the world about her experiences as a person of color in America. With each exchange, she has the opportunity to speak candidly around issues of race and culture to broaden perspectives of people of color who may be afraid to travel. Nabongo hopes to complete her mission to travel to all 195 countries by the summer of 2019.
Click here to follow Jessica and her latest travels.