- The Ugandan-American started her ambitious mission partly, in 2009.
- She fully committed to visiting all the 195 UN member countries in 2017.
- With 195 countries down on October 6, 2019, Nabongo is now the first Ugandan and ‘first’ documented black woman to visit every country in the world.
Jessica Nabongo set out to become the first black woman to visit all the 195 UN member countries in February 2017. She was in Bali, Indonesia at the time. She had already travelled to 60 countries nations before committing to this ambitious quest.
This wanderlust started at a young age for the first-generation American, who was born and raised in Detroit, Michigan. At age six, her Ugandan parents took to London and Uganda.
“My parents normalized it in advance. I think this turned into wanderlust because my parents never made a big deal out of travel. It was like, “It’s summer, we’re going to go to Mexico,” or “We’re going to go to Jamaica,” or “We’re going to the Bahamas.” Sometimes they left us and went and travelled. So travelling wasn’t a big deal or something to be fearful of,” she said in an interview with Airbnb Magazine.
Jessica Nabongo in Goree Island in April 2018 (left) and at the Tegalalang Rice Terrace in Bali, Indonesia in February 2017 (right)
Once she committed to her quest, Nabongo decided to take a step back from her full-time job as the founder of a boutique travel agency called Global Jet Black.
Explaining why her mission is so important to her, she told BBC, “I think representation is important. We see Instagram, the travel industry and we are just not seeing enough people who look like me travelling as extensively as I am. So I think its really important for me to be doing this for other people that look like me.”
She also told CNN Travel, “It’s about changing the perception of female travellers, of travellers of colour and of anyone who doesn’t have the option of passing for a local in a given community. 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.”
The self-proclaimed travel influencer also uses her adventures, shared via her Instagram page (@thecatchmeifyoucan) and blog, ‘The Catch Me If You Can,’ to create awareness on important causes like endangered species and the harmful effects of plastic on the planet.
She initially planned to complete her mission by May 15, 2019, which is also her 35th birthday. The deadline later changed to October 6, 2019, her late father’s birthday.
“My Dad passed in the city in 2003. What I decided is that for my last country which is Seychelles, we’re going to land on Oct. 6 which is his birthday,” she said. “He hasn’t been here for most of this journey but we’re able to bring him in the fold by getting there on his birthday. The reason I picked Seychelles is because it is in Africa. The significance is the date.”
Nabongo became the ‘first’ documented black woman to visit every country in the world when she got to Seychelles, her 195th country, on October 6, 2019.
How did she travel across the world?
Nabongo started with her money and miles. She later created a gofundme page.
“I have a number of income sources, I work with brands, I do brand partnerships through social media. I’m a freelance writer, content creator, a United Nations consultant, I run my own travel agency and beyond that, I have built such an amazing community that I have had over 500 people who have actually donated to my travels as well,” she added in an interview with BBC.
Is Nabongo really the first black woman to visit all the countries of the world?
Woni Spotts claims to be the first black woman to travel across the world. It took her 40 years but she completed her trip in September 2018.
Woni Spotts in Antarctica (Woni Spotts)
Her claim was further legitimised when she got a certificate from the Travelers’ Century Club (a non-profit organization for people who have visited 100 or more countries and territories) in April 2019.
Spotts received the Gold Status reserved for people who visit over 200 countries and territories. However, her unusual story, inadequate “receipts” of her trips and zero presence on social media has raised red flags for some people.
Woni Spotts gets verified by Travelers Century Club (Woni Spotts)
Unlike Spotts, Nabongo has a strong social media presence, several photos of her trips and is actually the first to announce her plan to become the first woman to travel across the world.
Reacting to Spotts’ claim in a press release, Nabongo said, “I have read some of her interviews and it has become clear that Ms Spotts has not visited every country in the world…she has not visited the current list of UN member countries, recently noting on Twitter that she visited the USSR and Yugoslavia, but not the independent countries as they stand today.
“In 1982, there were not 165 countries and between 1983 and 2018, the UN gained thirty-five (35) new member countries…Based on Spotts’ press release, written by her and released in April 2019, she only visited four of these new member countries as part of her last 30.”
According to Matador Network, a digital media company focused on travel, Spotts is working to verify her claims with three black historical archivists for encyclopedia and Wiki submissions. Public verification of this achievement has not been published yet, as of October 2019.