She’s visited each nation on this planet. This is what she realized


(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 this planet, she’d be the primary Black lady 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 together with her.

It had taken greater than 450 flights and over 1,000,000 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 give up on a number of events.

“There have been numerous 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 grew to become the primary Black lady to doc touring to each nation on this planet.

Wintta Woldemariam

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

Named after her standard 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 choice 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 form of decided that I needed 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 carry him into the fold in that means.”

In accordance 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 resulting from the truth that only a few Black individuals are among the many 400 or so vacationers thought to have visited each nation on this planet.

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

“But in addition, simply when it comes to how I see humanity. My respect for humanity. I see an enormous distinction.”

Nabongo touches on her experiences touring as a Black lady within the e book, launched on June 14, noting that such illustration is massively vital.

Creating area

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 e book, “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 usually the one Black individual 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 area. 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 attainable to problem preconceptions.

“That is actually vital 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 gentle than we normally see.

“I discovered a whole lot of magnificence in a whole lot of locations that individuals most likely would not have anticipated.”

These locations embrace 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 this moment.

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

“Once I was in Maui [Hawaii], I discovered this actually wonderful 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 executed to that forest.”

“Being an influencer or somebody of affect, you must be extremely cautious with the way you share. For me, it is actually vital 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 in regards to the notion of “touring blindly,” noting that this has develop into nearly inconceivable within the fashionable world.

“It is undoubtedly one thing that I miss particularly,” 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 bought to Machu Picchu, I used to be like, ‘Oh, it seems to be identical to the images,'” she admits. “So it was disappointing.

“You concentrate on locations like Bali, and Morocco, all people’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 individuals do not suppose are helpful when it comes to tourism, the place I had a completely wonderful time.

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

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 record.

However the journey had develop into about way over simply attaining her goal by then — she knew she was showcasing locations her followers would doubtless 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 stated, ‘It isn’t 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 folks had been emailing and DMing me, I used to be realizing that the journey was changing 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 to be able to go to Iran due to 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 laborious for Individuals to go to Iran.

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

“That was my secret weapon. If I only had an American passport, I probably wouldn’t have finished when I did.”

Her success, along with that of other travelers like her, will no doubt have inspired others to attempt to travel to every country in the world, but she’s keen to point out that this particular goal isn’t for everyone.

Before jetting off on such a quest, Nabongo stresses that travelers should really question why they want to embark on this challenge, “because that’s the motivation that’s going to get you to the finish line.”

She hopes her story will encourage others to go after their dreams, whatever they might be.

“I don’t think everyone is interested in going to every country in the world,” she says. “But what I do want people to know is that they have everything inside of them to do whatever it is that they want to do in life.

“And if I could go to every country in the world, which is wild, I feel like everyone’s dream is attainable.”

Worldwide network

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

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

Elton Anderson

In “The Catch Me If You Can,” Nabongo shares various tales of strangers who’ve been particularly kind to her during her travels, including a tour guide named Maha in Jordan who gave her a dress as a symbol of their friendship.

“I definitely have friends from all over the world,” she says, before expressing her delight at how writing the book has helped to put her back in touch with many of those she’s met on the road.

“It’s been really great,” she adds. “At any given time on my WhatsApp, there’s probably conversations going across 20 countries.

“People, of course, will always start out as strangers. But if you’re open to it, you can quickly make friends and in some cases, even family.

“For me, home isn’t about people. I think that’s why I feel so closely connected to people when I travel. Because it’s like I’m building little houses all over the world, if you will.”

While she found the process of visiting every country in the world grueling, Nabongo confesses that writing “The Catch Me If You Can” has been harder “hands down.”

But she hopes the book will inspire more kindness in the world, explaining that she’s noticed a shift in the behavior of others, particularly while traveling, since the early days of the pandemic.

“It was all love and kindness, and then it became madness,” she says. “Now you’re seeing people fighting on planes and being just really mean.

“So, I think unfortunately, that initial bump of love and humanity that we got in the first four to six months has dissipated.”

Nabongo admits that this has left her feeling rather disheartened at times.

However, she remains encouraged by her own experiences of human kindness and continues to look for beauty in the world wherever she goes.

And now that she’s visited every country, Nabongo’s passion for travel has only grown stronger.

At the time of writing, she’s about to take another trip to Senegal, which she describes as her “happy place,” and eventually plans to tick off another goal. visiting every state in the US.

“I have six left,” she explains, before stressing that she’s in no rush, and will complete this particular task, “when I get to it.”





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