Meet Jessica Nabongo, the Ugandan-American who is well on her way to becoming the first African to travel across the world.
Her wanderlust began when her parents took to London and Uganda. She was only six years old at the time.
Reminiscing in a 2019 interview with Airbnb Magazine, she said, “As far as my memories of London, all I have are pictures. With Uganda, my parents were like, “We’re going home, we’re going to see family.”
“My parents normalized it in advance. I think this turned into wanderlust because my parents never made a big deal out of travel. It was like, “It’s summer, we’re going to go to Mexico,” or “We’re going to go to Jamaica,” or “We’re going to the Bahamas.” Sometimes they left us and went and travelled. So travelling wasn’t a big deal or something to be fearful of.”
Her love for travelling followed her as she attended St. John’s University in New York, where she earned her undergraduate degree in English literature.
She later moved to Japan to teach English and developed her photography skills and interest in travel and writing along the way. She also bagged a master’s degree from the London School of Economics in Development.
Nabongo eventually started her blog and brand, ‘The Catch Me If You Can’, where she shares her story and builds a community. She also established Jet Black, a travel firm that focuses on tourism in Africa, Central and South America and the Caribbean in 2015.
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“Your life is precious. You’ve only got one. Don’t waste it on bad relationships, on bad marriages, on bad jobs, on bad people. Waste it wisely on what you want to do.” – Eric Idle || What is one thing that you want to do that you haven’t yet done?! 📷 @seyni_b #catchmeinsenegal #GJBSenegal
Travelling the world
The former United Nations employee, writer and entrepreneur, first got the idea to visit all the 195 UN member countries in 2017. At the time, she had travelled to about 60 countries.
She fully committed to her ambitious quest of travelling all over the world when she publicly announced her plans in March 2018.
Describing her travels, she said, “Even if I’m there for 48 hours, I link up with a local person and have them take me around. I ask a lot of questions and really just try to understand and learn about a country from the perspective of a local. A lot of the time, I don’t have a list of things to do. I’m like, “Look, I’m in your country - show me what I need to see! Tell me about your country.”
The self-proclaimed travel influencer uses her trips to promote tourism in Africa, change the negative travel sterotypes and create awareness about important causes like endangered species and the harmful effects of plastic on the planet.
Her adventures are funded with her money, miles, supportive brands and a gofundme page that is no longer active. Reacting to the support she has received since her public announcement, she said, “People have already been like, ‘how can we help, what can we do?’ People want to see me win and that has been humbling.”
So far, some of her favourite countries include Canada, Colombia, Cuba, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Jordan, Kenya, Mexico, Senegal, and Uganda.
Only 15 countries left!
Nabongo hit the 180 mark when she got to Liberia. Detailing her experience with her community of 119,000 followers on June 29, 2019, via her Instagram page (@thecatchmeifyoucan), she wrote, “With my arrival in Liberia, country 180 (UN Member and Non-Member Observing States) I officially have 15 countries left! I cannot even believe it. The road has been long, but WE are here now.”
With 180 countries ticked off her travel list, she has only 15 left. The remaining places are Algeria, Bhutan, Micronesia, Mongolia, New Zealand, Pakistan, Palau, Samoa, Seychelles, South Korea, Syria, Tonga, Tuvalu, Vanuatu, and Venezuela.
Initially, her plan was to accomplish her goal of visiting all 195 countries and observing states including the Vatican and Palestine before May 15, 2019, which is also her 35th birthday.
This self-imposed deadline has been changed to October 6, 2019, which is her late father’s birthday. She hopes to be in Seychelles spending time with her family and close friends.
Asked how she expects to feel upon fulfilling her incredible mission, Nabongo told Wanderlust Magazine, “I hope to feel empowered! This is just the beginning. I really have no idea what I’ll do next. At this point, I just want to do nothing for the next two months, and especially no more laundry!”