Jessica Nabongo Making Black History Through An Ambitious Globetrotting Journey
Black Resistance & Resilience. The theme of 2023’s Black History Month depicts a powerful remembrance of significant events and people in the history of the African diaspora.
Black History is an important month of recognition of the great efforts made by global Black communities. At TrooRa Magazine, we believe it is a great opportunity for people to be aware of the efforts being made and the impact these efforts have around the world.
In the spirit of Black History, we will take you through the journey and inspiring story of Jessica Nabongo.
Her contribution as the first Black woman to document her travels to each of the world’s countries and making her mark on the global map.
Jessica quit her corporate job and moved to Japan to teach English and has been on the move traveling the world since. In October 2019, she completed her goal while making history and gaining global recognition for traveling to all 195 countries and 10 territories. Recently, the 38- year old world traveler recently added the title of author to her resume and released her book titled The Catch Me If You Can: One Woman’s Journey to Every Country in the World, published by National Geographic. TrooRa Magazine shares Jessica’s inspiring story and her five best tips and life lessons that are too sweet to keep from our readers and followers
Dreams Do Come True
Forbes reported, “With 13 months on the clock, Jessica Nabongo has set herself up for a lofty goal: to visit every country in the world. This millennial Black woman who earned her Master’s in Economic Development from the London School of Economics first went abroad when she was four years old and has since lived on four continents in five countries.
Nabongo, a first-generation American of Ugandan descent, is known as someone driven by curiosity and freedom. Traveling to every country in the world was Jessica’s epic challenge that she’d wanted to undertake for at least a decade before she attempted it in 2017.
In her interview with CNN Travel, she mentioned she wanted to do it on her 35th birthday. She ended up leaving five months later, the month of her late father’s birthday.
The Ugandan-American travel influencer touched on her experiences traveling as a Black woman in her book memoir, The Catch Me If You Can: One Woman’s Journey to Every Country in the World, released June 14, 2022, noting that representation is hugely important.
Jessica was curious to see what it would feel like as a Black woman to travel the globe, considering she would be one of the few Black women on board most flights she took. She learned that it was possible, although not without challenges, and she learned from and enjoyed the experience. And she would like to share wisdom to inspire others.
“I wrote my memoir not to inspire you to travel the world, but to let you know that your biggest dreams are possible,” Jessica mentioned on her Instagram.
Essentially, the valuable lesson we learn from Nabongo’s life and memoir is that we can achieve great things if we do something meaningful that will help us live, learn, and grow in a larger way. Adopt a growth mindset, and understand that the big dream you end up fulfilling may be one you never even considered but discovered along the way. But you’ll never get to that big dream if you do nothing in your life to commit to expanding and experiencing yourself in a new and bigger way.
Ask yourselves, “What am I doing today to get me closer to where I want to be tomorrow?”
See the World Yourself & Let Go of the Fear
“We are so used to seeing the world through the lens of white men,” Jessica mentioned in her interview with CNN Travel. She was referring to the uniqueness of everyone’s experiences and how we exist in the world. We may come from the same species, Homo sapiens sapiens, but we all have a unique collection of knowledge, experience, talents, and passions.
She had a beautiful experience traveling to countries fewer travelers visit, including 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 amazing time,” she mentioned in her interview with CNN Travel.
“I never felt afraid. It was a reminder that you should take everything you hear from people with a grain of salt,” said the globetrotter at heart.
Jessica experienced various cultural experiences as a traveler, from visiting the community near the Hazrat Ali Mazar mosque in Afghanistan, crossing a border late at night in Guinea-Bissau, making traditional octopus balls in Japan, and learning to lasso with Black cowboys in Oklahoma.
She found much that fascinated her even in countries not known as tourist destinations and found most places less scary than she’d been led to believe from the news.
Become a Conscious Global Citizen & Show More Care for Our World
According to Global Citizen, it is predicted that by 2050 there will be more plastic in the world’s oceans than fish. Serious action is needed to keep the planet clean and healthy for all life to enjoy. As a member of the world population, each and every person must take action to support the environment.
“It was in Nauru where it really clicked for me that we’ve got to stop using all this plastic. Nauru is the world’s third-smallest country in Micronesia. It is tiny—it takes about 45 minutes to ride around the island on a motorbike, and it’s one of the world’s least-visited countries. But there was all this waste underwater. When you go to other countries where the West is sending their waste, you really see the damage all that single-use plastic is taking on waterways, lakes, rivers,” Jessica mentioned in her interview with Adventure.
It was during her visit to Nauru she decided she needed to speak out against the widespread use of plastic.
Since then, Jessica has become conscious of sustainability. “I fly with a reusable cup. I don’t ever use plastic on airplanes, and I always have my water bottle, and I fill it at the airport before I get on the plane. Little things, like carrying your cup with you, can really help to reduce that waste, which ultimately leads to more sustainability for the planet.”
Jessica explained that curbing the planet’s plastic waste problem is one thing individuals can start working toward, even at home, through small changes in their everyday actions.
Give Humanity a Chance Wherever You Go
In an interview with National Geographic UK, Jessica encourages us to travel with kindness and positive energy and without fear.
“I think what holds people back a lot of the time is fear of the unknown. What I’ve learned throughout my travels is that most people are good, and because of that, there’s no reason to have an innate fear of a stranger. Most people really want to help you. A lot of the time, people are just really happy that you’re in their country.”
“What I’m seeking is humanity. I’m seeking love. So I went anyway.”
Turns out that Jessica had more positive travel moments as a Black traveler than she expected. She mentioned in Forbes that an immigration official in Indonesia asked to take a selfie with her because he thought she was beautiful.
“Those are amazing experiences. There is racism in the world, there just is. That is what history has left us with,” says Nabongo. “But throughout my travels, I am left with the fact that most people are good.”
Your Mental Health Matters
Aside from traveling the world, Jessica has faced her toughest life challenge: depression. She mentioned in her interview with Strut in Her Shoes that she felt she didn’t fit in, yet she resolved that being herself and doing what she loved was the key to happiness.
In addition to honoring her truth, Jessica took action to maintain her mental health, such as seeing a therapist.
“That’s incredibly helpful, [and] honestly, it’s about the energy you allow into your life.” Inspired by Marie Kondo, Jessica also makes sure everything in her life brings joy.
“My space is always bright because that makes me feel alive. I wear bright colors, drink a lot of water, and try to eat healthy. Everything you’re allowing into your life is going to contribute to your mental health.”
Perspective is a way of seeing. Your way of seeing doesn’t change the world, but it shapes your approach to the world in how you want to take action. To sum it up, how you see yourself is how you see the world. See yourself as someone that can shine a light on the world in your own meaningful way.
To read about Jessica Nabongo’s travels in more detail, you can purchase her book The Catch Me If You Can: One Woman’s Journey to Every Country in the World, available in Book Shop, Barnes & Noble, Target, and UK Amazon. Theaudiobook can be found on Audible.
TROORA MAGAZINE | MARCH 2023
WRITTEN BY CRISTINA DEPTULA
PHOTOGRAPHED BY WINTTA WOLDERMARIAM | ELTON ANDERSON | NASAN FITZ HENLEY | WES WALKER |JEFF SMITH JR. | ANDRE PERRY
PHOTOS COURTESY OF JESSICA NABONGO | CNN TRAVEL | NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC