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