When I interviewed Jessica Nabongo, she was just four countries away from being the first documented black woman to have travelled to all the countries in the world; as recognised by the United Nations. Born to Ugandan parents in America, the 35-year-old talked about what sparked her passion to travel the world, how she funded her travels, her favourite countries in Asia, and why she can’t wait to unplug and catch up on sleep after reaching her goal in October. By Charu Chowdhary

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to not be safe on the earth⁣ simply⁣ because ⁣ of the color of your skin.⁣ how does a being survive this ⁣ — trayvon martin ⁣ poem from @nayyirah.waheed ⁣ A lot of people ask me which countries are safe for black people to travel; this question typically comes from black Americans. The US has perfected racism in a way that I’ve not seen in other countries, so I would urge you to travel WHEREVER you want to, no matter who you are and what you look like. I did it! 🤷🏿‍♀️ And just because you hear one or two negative stories from someone doesn’t mean you should write a country off of your bucket list. We all will have different experience and you shouldn’t allow your race to hinder you. While I don’t always feel safe in America simply because of my skin color, that feeling generally doesn’t travel with me. ⁣ ⁣ Of all of the world’s countries – I’ve been to ALL of them (still processing that 🤯) – there are very few where I did not feel welcomed, less than five. I have had my fair share of issues with immigration, but once I’m actually inside of the countries most people are welcoming and excited to have you in their country. Yes, sometimes there’s staring and excessive picture taking 🙃 but 9 times out of 10 you will be met with open arms! ⁣ ⁣ For my black travelers out there, do you have countries that you recommend for your fellow black travelers?! ⁣ ⁣ 📷 @christa.shoots #catchmein195 #catchmeinseychelles #catchmeintheseychelles

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1.What inspired you to go on a quest of becoming the first black woman to have travelled to all 195 countries in the world?

I’ve been travelling internationally since I was four. I’m a bit of a geography nerd and have always been curious about different cultures, reading about them in encyclopaedias and going over atlases, and eating out at restaurants of various ethnicities. My love to know more about each place is what inspired me to travel the world.

2. How do you fund your travels?

I did a lot of my travelling when I was working full-time. Just like anybody else, I work. It’s just that I’ve created a life where I don’t have to work from a specific location. I get my income from the different business ventures that I have; I’m a content creator and I work with brands and also run my own business. You definitely have to work to make money, but you also have to prioritise. Some people prioritise clothes or drinking expensive coffee everyday. I don’t prioritise any of that; for me, it’s travel.

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JORDAN APPRECIATION POST⁣ ⁣ I first visited Jordan (139 of 195), last September. I immediately fell in love!! The amazing people at @visitjordan connected me with @experiencejordanadventures and our love story was solidified. We had the time of our lives exploring Amman, Petra, Wadi Rum and Aqaba, and found family in our guide Maha and our driver Ahmad. ⁣ ⁣ Fast forward to a couple of days ago and I returned to Jordan for a few hours to catch a flight home. I crossed into the country from Israel and was stopped because of my drone. They told me that it is illegal and I couldn’t take it, but they would keep it for 90 days for me to come back and get it. 🙃 I explained I was in transit to the airport and I begged and begged but to no avail. ⁣ ⁣ Ayman from @experiencejordanadventures and several other people worked with the very kind border officer Ziad Daaja, to assure them the drone was leaving with me! During this 2.5 hour process, I dealt with no less than 15 people, my passport changed lots of hands and no one really spoke English. But we managed to tell lots of jokes, I showed them a article about me in Arabic that had just been written in Algeria, then one officer laughed and said I was CIA. We bonded over my love of Jordanian food and when I called out one of my favorite restaurants in Amman they really got happy. Dropping the few Arabic words that I know and using google translate to convince them to let me take my drone, a good time was had all around. ⁣ ⁣ I say this story to say I truly love Jordanian people, and I said this when I left the first time. Here I was bringing something illegal into their country and no one ever yelled at me or became aggressive. They were stern and explained the process, but treated me with dignity and respect. ⁣ ⁣ If you go to Jordan I highly recommend @experiencejordanadventures. Special shoutout to the wonderful @WAmmanhotel for hosting me super duper last minute. There’s no place I’d rather stay in Amman! ⁣ ⁣ I am heading to Jordan in 2020, hosting a trip with @globaljetblack, head to our website and sign up so you can be the first to know! #catchmeinjordan

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3. Does that mean you worked round the clock to balance both travel and earning your bread?

I wouldn’t necessarily say that I work round the clock, but yes, I work a lot. The common misperception about entrepreneurship is that you have your freedom and you have more time. While you do have your freedom, you do not have more time. I’m working more than I ever did when I was working for someone else. Which is fine, because I’m very happy to have my freedom.

4. You’re just four countries away from reaching your goal. Is it true that you will have covered them by October this year? What are your plans after that?

Yes, the four countries left are Syria, Algeria, Seychelles and Venezuela. It’s true that I will have them covered by October 2019.

After that, I have plans to take a lot of naps and relax. Honestly, I’m super excited to slow down and enjoy a slow-paced life. Also, I’m launching my e-commerce website very soon and re-launching my travel agency ‘Jet Black.’ When we originally launched Jet Black in 2015, our focus was to encourage tourism in Africa, Central and South America and the Caribbean. But I have decided now to expand that to the entire world.

5. What are your thoughts on travelling to Syria?

The over-arching thing is that there is no country in the world that is completely unsafe or safe. I’ve been to a lot of countries despite a lot of people having warned me against visiting them. Syria will be no different. While there is a lot of political turmoil and violence happening in the country, there are people who still live there and have a wonderful life. So, I’ll be travelling to parts of the country that are safe.

6. Your favourite city in India?

I’ve been to Jaipur and Udaipur in Rajasthan, Agra in Uttar Pradesh and of course, Delhi. My favourite was Udaipur – I really like the people there, everyone was really open, nice and welcoming.

7. Top 5 countries in Asia you’d love to re-visit again?

My top in no particular order would be Japan, Bhutan, Indonesia, Uzbekistan and Philippines.

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“Ordinary life does not interest me. I seek only the high moments. I am in accord with the surrealists, searching for the marvelous.” – Anais Nin⁣ ⁣ Yesterday, I hiked up to Tiger’s Nest, a buddhist monastery that sits at 3120 meters. It was not easy. Between the altitude, rough terrain and the 900 meter ascent, I struggled a bit, though had great conversation and encouragement from my amazing guide @drukpaman got me through. Plus look at how glorious it is, totally worth it! ⁣ ⁣ I had a lot of time to reflect on previous adventurous at high altitudes, like my hike to the top of Mount Fuji in Japan in 2008 (2400 m to 3776m), surviving the world’s highest capital La Paz in 2018 (3640m), hanging out in the beautiful city of Cusco, Peru with @jefro5 and @eltonandersonjr (3399m), and exploring Addis Ababa on multiple occasions since 2013 (2355m). ⁣ ⁣ During our hike I also reflected on visiting 190 countries which honestly blows my mind. I have been hyper-focused on finishing and enjoying the present moments that I hadn’t reflected on how far I had gotten. Like, WOW, 190 countries and 9 territories over the last 31 years. Its hard to process even though I have actually lived it. I’ve had so many beautiful, fascinating experience and met so many people who have graciously shared with me the best parts of their countries and cultures. I am forever grateful for the universe for allowing me to create this life. I am immensely grateful to my body which hasn’t given out on me, though yesterday it told me its taken a break in October. And I am grateful to my friends and family who respond to my texts at random times from random countries and actually answer my FaceTime calls! And I am SOOOOO GRATEFUL to our global community right here in our little corner of the internet. This is OUR journey and WE are almost at the finish line! Knowing that I have so many people all over the planet supporting me has kept me going more than you know!⁣ ⁣ Thanks to @b.h.u.t.a.n for hosting me here in Bhutan and giving me these moments to reflect and to @lemeridienparo for providing me with the perfect place to lay down my weary body. Only five countries left! 📷 @drukpaman #catchmeinbhutan

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8. Being a woman traveller, do you ever deal with feelings of fear and insecurity?

I have been travelling solo for more than 10 years now. I think studying International Development from London School of Economics and then working with the United Nations for three years just gave me a very good understanding of the world. And I’m not afraid of strangers. I have been to enough countries in the world to know that most people are good. A lot of the fear that we have is the fear of the other, the unknown. I feel lucky because I don’t have that. As far as my strategy is concerned, I listen to my gut and intuition. But a lot of it is also moving with positive energy and always expecting the best out of situations.

9. What do you do when you’re not travelling?

I read a lot and love hanging out with my friends. I have a week in Detroit, and it’s just fun to have people over, to cook for them, and spend time chatting with them.

10. What would you like to tell people who never consider visiting countries such as Pakistan and North Korea? 

People should go visit places that they are curious about. In terms of the warning, for most countries it is politically motivated, and so I’m all about going and seeing for yourself. Something bad can happen to you anywhere. The worst experience that I have ever had travelling was in Miami, where a police officer pointed a gun at me. That, to me, was the scariest situation I’ve even been in.

When I was in North Korea and Pakistan, I felt very safe. I would encourage people to dig a little deeper and reach out to people who actually live in those countries and are very aware of what the reality is, because unfortunately, there are a lot of people in the world who want us to think badly about specific countries.

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