Catch Me If You Can: The First Black Woman to Visit Every Country is Detroiter Jessica Nabongo

By Sean Copeland, Contributing Writer

When we think of female pioneers of color, many names come to mind: Shirley Chisolm, Ida B. Wells, Sojourner Truth, Madame CJ Walker, and Rosa Parks, amongst others. As a community, we are forever indebted to the bravery, strength, and courageous acts of these women as they have changed the way we experience life on an everyday basis.

While there are classic examples of women making their mark in innovations or being the first to obtain certain accomplishments, there are women who are still making history today in the modern era. There are women today who are making history in their respective fields: Beyoncé in music, Ketanji Brown Jackson and Kamala Harris in politics and government, Simone Biles in sports, and there are many more examples.

Additionally, social media has completely revolutionized the way we view, experience, and appreciate life. It has taught us that careers, lifestyles, hobbies, and interests can be valuable and memorable in so many ways. In fact, social media has given birth to so many careers, often being the catalyst for success for many. In the travel sphere, there are many citizens who scroll countless hours on Instagram and TikTok with hopes of traveling to the countries they see in their timelines. One Black woman decided to take on the daunting task of traveling to every country in the world, and she accomplished it.

Catch Me If You Can

In 2019, Jessica Nabongo became the first Black woman to visit every United Nations-recognized country in the world: an accomplishment that saw her make a journey to a total of 195 countries. Nabongo is a travel blogger, speaker, writer, author, and social media influencer.

Upon visiting her Instagram account at @jessicanabongo, within a few minutes, you will develop a serious case of wanderlust by looking at her beautifully curated feed. And, if she has it her way, that’s exactly what she wants you to feel. Nabongo, who has been traveling for all her life, has a fearless spirit that transcends to others in conversation when she speaks. As an author, Nabongo discusses her own experiences as well as advises others on how to find joy in travel with her book Catch Me If You Can.

In 2022, she embarked on an extensive tour to support the book, inspiring others to live a life filled with memorable excursions. As a youth, she started traveling with her parents – visiting various countries, making memories, and planting an indelible desire for world travel.

By the time she graduated from Renaissance High School in Detroit, she had already been to seven countries and one territory. Over time, Nabongo has developed a love for the many countries that she has visited and can’t necessarily pick a favorite country or destination. Making connections with the people she encounters is what makes her feel at home.

“I’ve lived in five countries, four outside of the U.S. I’ve been to 53 countries more than once. I’m someone who can go somewhere and fall into place very quickly,” she said.

“For me, it’s the people and how they’ve received me. I do a good job of making friends. I travel solo a lot; you really get time to spend with local people in a way that you don’t when you travel with other people.”

After making her historical accomplishment of traveling to every world country, Nabongo has since come back to Detroit. She first bought a place in Detroit in 2017. Nowadays, she isn’t as much of a nomad and has been back in the city full-time since December 2023. While Nabongo has had much success in travel, it hasn’t always been smooth sailing. She has dual citizenship between the U.S. and Uganda and has faced some questions about the validity of her identity.

“I would say for the most part, the things that I dealt with were at border control. Typically, I wear my head shaved and look very African, if I use my U.S. passport, they’ll think it’s fake. If I use my Ugandan passport, they’ll think I’m overstaying my visa,” she said. “For the most part, I’ve never really experienced things that would hinder my travel. I hope that people of color can realize that it’s our world to travel and explore the world the way everyone else does without fear.”

A Complicated History

Nabongo’s accomplishments are especially notable considering the historic travel limitations African Americans have had because of systemic racism and segregation. Due to these practices, some in the Black community haven’t traveled as well as other groups.

Today, lingering concerns such as unemployment, lack of information and resources, and more contribute to many not being able to travel as freely. The Negro Motorist Green Book, a travel guidebook for Black travelers, was published to help guide motorists to safe spaces during the Jim Crow era. It was published annually from 1936 to 1966 by Victor Green and inspired the film Green Book, which starred Mahershala Ali and Viggo Mortenson. Additionally, Green went on to open a travel agency.

While times have certainly changed, and Black travelers can go pretty much anywhere, there are still concerns that permeate throughout the Black community even today. Perhaps one of the lingering concerns, even in modern times, is a dangerous one: fear. Nabongo advises that it’s time to evolve when considering international travel.

“With Black people, we have to get out of our own way. Being Black in America, this country thrives off of our fear. Our fear of racism, we have to let that go. The rest of the world isn’t America and you won’t be treated the same way as here. We have to focus on getting out of our own way. Go do the thing you want to do. Stop asking for permission”, she says.

Fear continues to hinder many from finding and discovering new terrain, often limiting one to their usual surroundings. There are many benefits to travel and studies have shown that it can improve mental health, social empathy, and can even provide access to career advancement. There’s a certain benefit that comes with exploring new areas in that you can often discover and strengthen inward qualities like resilience and problem solving.

Travel boosts creativity, often allowing one to be inspired and moved by different surroundings that can translate into everyday life. Fear is an emotion that seems to strike a chord with Nabongo. It is one that she encourages people to get outside of their comfort zone. Her safety tips include the importance of embracing a positive attitude. “It may sound crazy but one of the biggest things is positive energy. When you go and you have this negative attitude, you’re magnetizing this energy toward you,” she advises.

For those who may be interested in finding out more information on how to travel, there are many resources for minority travelers. There are travel groups and websites like Green Book Global, born in a similar concept to the The Negro Motorist Green Book. There are even websites like Black Travel Alliance that work to support Black travel professionals with knowledge, training, and vast resources. As for Nabongo, she recommends reading and taking advantage of social media.

“Read my book, Catch Me If You Can. Follow your favorite travel blogger. There are so many resources all around you. Social media will probably make people feel the most comfortable as you can see someone who looks like you and is doing what you want to do.”

As for what’s next for Nabongo, she doesn’t really have an answer. While she is asked the question often, she says that she is simply working to live a life that brings her happiness and joy. However, she has plans to work on her next book and finish traveling to every U.S. state. Most importantly, spending time with friends and family is on her bucket list. “I want to feel good and enjoy my life. I want people to focus on what matters and not accolades.”

About Post Author

From the Web

Skip to content