Traveling internationally is no small feat by any stretch. But going to every country in the world is one impressive accomplishment. Many may have tried, but few have actually managed to visit every corner of the world. But one woman actually did it, and her name is Jessica Nabongo. In 2019, Jessica Nabongo became the first black woman to travel to every single country in the world. This is a major milestone for a young woman to accomplish, and she has done it all by the age of 35. What made Jessica set her sights on this particular journey? And how did she make it all happen at such a young age? The path that led Jessica to become a travel connoisseur of sorts is an interesting one. Read on to learn more about how Jessica became a well-traveled force to be reckoned with.
Jessica grew up in Detroit, Michigan and started her travel journey back in 2017. She has a passport for America and Uganda and actually started traveling at the even younger age of 4. Her parents exposed her to the beauty of travel when they began visiting places like Mexico, London, Jamaica, Uganda, and Canada.
“Traveling is fundamentally a part of who I am,” Jessica said. Having visited eight countries by the time she graduated high school, Jessica was off to a good start. After quitting her corporate job for a teaching gig in Japan, she began her many travels. She lived in Benin, West Africa and Rome while working at the United Nations. So when she decided to dedicate herself to her globe-trotting feat, she had already lived in or visited 60 countries.
One of the distinctions she makes about why she has enjoyed her travels is the fact that she largely does it alone. “The benefit of solo travel is that it allows you the opportunity to connect with local people better. When we travel with others, we’re there with those people, so oftentimes, we don’t get to know the local people. Solo travel allows you, in many ways, to explore a country deeper in terms of building those relationships and spending more time engaging with locals.” Although she has traveled some with family and friends, solo travel is how she feels she has made the most of her travels.
Not only has she achieved something special as a woman traveler, she feels she is an ambassador for solo black female travelers. “I’m Black, I’ve always been Black, I’ll always be Black. I can only move through the world as a Black person…what it means oftentimes, for better or worse, is that you become a representative for the people that people identify you as,” she said.
Jessica is also representative of her African heritage, which informs her traveling experience as well. “For the most part, people identify me as African – I’m not often identified as a Black American. It presents an opportunity to give people in different places an experience, and to work to normalize our existence beyond entertainment, beyond what they see on the news. It offers a chance to give people a real-life experience and hopefully help them realize, as I have, that we’re more similar than we are different.”
The intersection of her identity has fed one of her ultimate missions as a traveler as well: to break down barriers amongst varying types of ethnicities and cultural differences. In 2015, she founded a boutique travel company called Jet Black, with a tagline of “changing the narrative. Jet Black works with local governments to increase tourism in Africa, South, and Central America, and the Caribbean.
“When it comes to Brown and Black countries, we most often see negativity, and that wasn’t my experience,” she said. “I want everyone to feel like the world is there to be explored,” she said. “I want us to move away from fear, whether you’re a woman or a non-white person. I want people to realize that the world is for all of us to explore.”