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Jessica Nabongo: What traveling to every country in the world taught me

(CNN) — As her aircraft started its descent into the Seychelles on October 6, 2019, Ugandan-American journey influencer Jessica Nabongo peered out of the window, getting ready herself for the momentous event about to happen.

Not solely was she about to develop into a member of a prestigious membership made up of the only a few individuals who’ve traveled to each nation on the planet, she’d be the primary Black girl to have documented doing so.

Nabongo was accompanied by 28 of her family and friends, who had flown in to journey on that final flight along with her.

It had taken greater than 450 flights and over one million air miles, however she’d made it to all 195 UN-recognized international locations on the globe.

The expertise was exhausting — Nabongo took greater than 170 flights in a single 12 months, and says she practically stop on a number of events.

“There have been quite a few instances the place panic set in and I used to be like, ‘oh my god, is that this going to end in public failure?'” she tells CNN Journey.

Epic problem

In 2019, Jessica Nabongo became the first Black woman to document traveling to every country in the world.

In 2019, Jessica Nabongo grew to become the primary Black girl to doc touring to each nation on the planet.

Wintta Woldemariam

Nabongo has since written a ebook, “The Catch Me If You Can,” detailing her experiences transferring from nation to nation through the epic problem.

Named after her in style weblog, it recounts her record-breaking journey, specializing in 100 of the 195 international locations she visited.

“I am a geography nerd,” Nabongo says of her determination to tackle the problem, explaining that it was one thing she’d been eager to do no less than a decade earlier than she truly tried it.

“In 2017, I type of decided that I wished to do it by my thirty fifth birthday,” she tells CNN Journey.

So, was she capable of meet her deadline?

“I overshot my birthday by 5 months,” Nabongo explains. “However I ended up ending on my father’s birthday. He handed [away] simply two days after my nineteenth birthday, so it was good to have the ability to deliver him into the fold in that method.”

In line with Nabongo, who was born in Detroit, one of many key causes she felt compelled to jot down “The Catch Me If You Can” was as a result of the truth that only a few Black individuals are among the many 400 or so vacationers thought to have visited each nation on the planet.

“We’re so used to seeing the world by the lens of white males,” says Nabongo, who has used her personal pictures within the ebook. “And that is completely different. There’s clearly some uniqueness within the experiences that now we have, as we exist on the planet, as very completely different folks.

“But in addition, simply by way of how I see humanity. My respect for humanity. I see an enormous distinction.”

Nabongo touches on her experiences touring as a Black girl within the ebook, launched on June 14, noting that such illustration is massively essential.

Creating house

The travel influencer has released a book, "The Catch Me If You Can," showcasing 100 of the countries she visited.

The journey influencer has launched a ebook, “The Catch Me If You Can,” showcasing 100 of the international locations she visited.

Wes Walker

“It’s about normalizing our existence, as a result of, sure, even in 2022, I’m typically the one Black particular person on a aircraft of 300,” she writes.

“I can journey for days and by no means see somebody on the similar finish of the colour spectrum. My mission is to create house. To shake s**t up. To say, we’re right here and we belong.”

She feels a accountability to symbolize locations that are not essentially vacationer hotspots as sensitively as doable to problem preconceptions.

“That is actually essential to me,” she admits. “To inform tales about locations that most individuals could by no means journey to and actually use my platform to place these locations in a extra optimistic mild than we normally see.

“I discovered loads of magnificence in loads of locations that folks in all probability would not have anticipated.”

These locations embody Afghanistan, the place she was entranced by the Shrine of Hazrat Ali, often known as Blue Mosque within the northern metropolis of Mazar-i-Sharif, Pakistan, the place she could not get sufficient of the road meals, and Iran, the place she visited the traditional metropolis of Yazd.

Whereas social media was definitely round when Nabongo first started touring extensively, it wasn’t fairly as influential as it’s right now.

The previous UN employee notes that having a profitable weblog and over 200,000 Instagram followers has afforded her many privileges, significantly in relation to journey, however she’s very conscious of the content material she shares, acknowledging that the impression of social media hasn’t been completely optimistic in relation to weak areas.

“Once I was in Maui [Hawaii], I discovered this actually superb forest, ” she says. “I did not do a geotag [add the geographic coordinates of the location] as a result of I do know what that might have accomplished to that forest.”

“Being an influencer or somebody of affect, it’s a must to be extremely cautious with the way you share. For me, it is actually essential to make sure the preservation of locations that I am visiting.”

Influencer impression

Nabongo during a trip to Bali, Indonesia in 2017.

Nabongo throughout a visit to Bali, Indonesia in 2017.

Elton Anderson

Nabongo is wistful concerning the notion of “touring blindly,” noting that this has develop into nearly inconceivable within the trendy world.

“It is positively one thing that I miss specifically,” Nabongo admits, citing Peru as one of many locations that she felt barely underwhelmed by just because she’d seen so many photographs of its historic sights beforehand.

“Once I obtained to Machu Picchu, I used to be like, ‘Oh, it appears to be like similar to the images,'” she admits. “So it was disappointing.

“You concentrate on locations like Bali, and Morocco, everyone’s going to the identical locations and doing the identical issues. And that is simply not attention-grabbing to me.

“However there’s Yemen, Afghanistan and South Sudan. There are such a lot of locations that folks do not assume are precious by way of tourism, the place I had a completely superb time.

“I actually hope that by my storytelling, there is a discount in bias about Black and Brown international locations specifically.”

Throughout a few of her hardest moments on the highway, Nabongo started to query whether or not she’d make it to the Seychelles, the ultimate nation on her checklist.

However the journey had develop into about excess of simply reaching her goal by then — she knew she was showcasing locations her followers would seemingly by no means have thought of visiting.

When she reached her breaking level throughout a go to to Mali, a landlocked nation in West Africa, it was the phrases of some locals that satisfied her to maintain going.

“One of many guys mentioned, ‘It is not for you. It is for us.'” she says. “That was actually an enormous turning level. As a result of as my viewers was rising and other people have been emailing and DMing me, I used to be realizing that the journey was turning into a lot larger than me. These males actually helped get me to the end line.”

Whereas Nabongo notes that having a US passport grants her privileges that are not afforded to vacationers of different nationalities, she explains that she was capable of journey to over 40 international locations on her Ugandan passport.

Secret weapon

Nabongo was able to get a visa on arrival in order to visit Iran thanks to her dual citizenship.

Nabongo was capable of get a visa on arrival with the intention to go to Iran because of her twin citizenship.

Ali Shebani

“Having each an American and a Ugandan passport actually labored in my favor,” she admits. “As a result of it is tremendous exhausting for People to go to Iran.

“And the US authorities forbids People from going to North Korea [exceptions are granted “in very limited circumstances”, however I had a Ugandan passport so I might go.

“That was my secret weapon. If I solely had an American passport, I in all probability would not have completed after I did.”

Her success, together with that of different vacationers like her, will little doubt have impressed others to try to journey to each nation on the planet, however she’s eager to level out that this explicit purpose is not for everybody.

Earlier than jetting off on such a quest, Nabongo stresses that vacationers ought to actually query why they wish to embark on this problem, “as a result of that is the motivation that is going to get you to the end line.”

She hopes her story will encourage others to go after their goals, no matter they could be.

“I do not assume everyone seems to be inquisitive about going to each nation on the planet,” she says. “However what I do need folks to know is that they’ve the whole lot inside them to do no matter it’s that they wish to do in life.

“And if I might go to each nation on the planet, which is wild, I really feel like everybody’s dream is attainable.”

Worldwide community

Nabongo's thirst for adventure has remained strong since ticking all the countries in the world off her bucket list.

Nabongo’s thirst for journey has remained robust since ticking all of the international locations on the planet off her bucket checklist.

Elton Anderson

In “The Catch Me If You Can,” Nabongo shares numerous tales of strangers who’ve been significantly sort to her throughout her travels, together with a tour information named Maha in Jordan who gave her a gown as an emblem of their friendship.

“I positively have mates from all around the world,” she says, earlier than expressing her delight at how writing the ebook has helped to place her again in contact with lots of these she’s met on the highway.

“It has been actually nice,” she provides. “At any given time on my WhatsApp, there’s in all probability conversations going throughout 20 international locations.

“Individuals, after all, will at all times begin out as strangers. However if you happen to’re open to it, you possibly can rapidly make mates and in some circumstances, even household.

“For me, house is not about folks. I believe that is why I really feel so carefully related to folks after I journey. As a result of it is like I am constructing little homes all around the world, if you’ll.”

Whereas she discovered the method of visiting each nation on the planet grueling, Nabongo confesses that writing “The Catch Me If You Can” has been more durable “palms down.”

However she hopes the ebook will encourage extra kindness on the planet, explaining that she’s seen a shift within the conduct of others, significantly whereas touring, for the reason that early days of the pandemic.

“It was all love and kindness, after which it grew to become insanity,” she says. “Now you are seeing folks combating on planes and being simply actually imply.

“So, I believe sadly, that preliminary bump of affection and humanity that we obtained within the first 4 to 6 months has dissipated.”

Nabongo admits that this has left her feeling quite disheartened at instances.

Nevertheless, she stays inspired by her personal experiences of human kindness and continues to search for magnificence on the planet wherever she goes.

And now that she’s visited each nation, Nabongo’s ardour for journey has solely grown stronger.

On the time of writing, she’s about to take one other journey to Senegal, which she describes as her “glad place,” and finally plans to tick off one other purpose. visiting each state within the US.

“I’ve six left,” she explains, earlier than stressing that she’s in no rush, and can full this explicit job, “after I get to it.”

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