Born in Detroit to Ugandan parents, Jessica Nabongo a UN employee turned travel blogger, has become the black woman to visit all 195 countries in the world.
Nabongo’s epic odyssey hasn’t just been about getting her name in the record books. She’s hoping to pave the way for women and people of colour to do the same.
Although she felt like she’d achieved “the American dream” by landing a six-figure job at a pharmaceutical company after college and buying her own place in the Motor City, the work didn’t satisfy her.
She began renting out her condo to make money, then hit the road — first, teaching English in Japan, then grad school at the London School of Economics, followed by a job at the United Nations that took her to Benin and then Italy. But that wasn’t enough to satisfy her travel bug.
As someone who is a person of colour in a crowd, she stood out from the pack whether she wanted to or not. Nabongo also has dark skin and shaves her head. To date, there are about 150 known people who have been to every country, the majority of whom are white men traveling on European passports. The ones who have the option to “blend in” in more places than her.
To support her travel habits, she founded a company called Jet Black, which organises custom itineraries for small group trips in Africa. She also sells travel gear like branded T-shirts and passport covers.
As an influencer, she also works with hotels and hospitality brand. Some of whom offer up free stays in exchange for social media posts. She also accepts donations on a GoFundMe page.
“Navigating the world as a woman can be very difficult,” Nabongo told CNN Travel in 2018. “I have had a pretty wide range of experiences, and have also been accused of being a prostitute. I’ve had men chase me before and assaulting me in the street.”In one particularly horrible incident, a driver/fixer Nabongo had been working with and had grown to trust invited her to an “Easter orgy” just before he was due to pick her up to go to the airport. “That is something a man will never have to deal with.”
Ultimately, Nabongo says her quest was not just about crossing countries off a list. It was about changing the perception of female travellers of colour. She wanted to help anyone who doesn’t have the option of passing for a local in a given travel community.