Interview: Air Miles with Jessica Nabongo

30 Oct 2020 by Hannah Brandler
Detroit Credit Justin Milhouse

Jessica Nabongo is a writer, entrepreneur, public speaker and travel expert. In 2019, she became the first documented black woman to visit every country in the world.

What attracted you to a life of adventure?

Initially I was looking for more fulfilment. While I was achieving success in each job role I had, I didn’t necessarily feel like I was making any impact. Since my early twenties I have wanted to visit every country in the world, and I decided in 2017 that I wanted to do it by the age of 35 – that gave me roughly two and a half years to finish 135 countries.

I have travelled internationally since I was four years old so it wasn’t anything new to me. It has been such a part of my life through my parents and I’m a geography nerd. It almost seems like it was bound to happen.

What has been your most rewarding travel experience?

Going to some of the least-visited countries in the world. There are so many amazing experiences outside of the most-visited cities – for example, when you go to Tuvalu and you’re sitting on the runway in the middle of the island and people are playing volleyball. Or when you go to Marshall Islands and put the drone up, you’ve never seen the image before anywhere.

To me that’s much more interesting and more fulfilling than going to Machu Picchu or looking at the Eiffel Tower. When I went to the former, I was underwhelmed because I’ve seen a billion pictures of it on Instagram.

And most challenging?

As a visibly African US passport holder, I have been on the receiving end of a lot of nonsense – a US customs officer asking me for a second piece of ID or UK immigration officers thinking that my US passport is fake. I use the word challenges in describing things that annoy me, but recognise my privilege in being able to move across borders with both an American and Ugandan passport.

How can the travel industry become more inclusive?

We need to get a more diverse base of storytellers – that means writers, photographers and travel experts who are not white. Beyond that, it’s about valuing every country equally. That’s what’s not happening in travel. Europe is the gold standard within the industry. But there are so many other incredible places and, to me, to travel is to explore.

Why did you start the travel agency Jet Black?

Through the lens of travel, I wanted to use the company as a springboard to change the narrative. I have a wealth of knowledge in travel to the Continent, Central and South America and the Caribbean, so decided to specialise in countries with a large African diaspora.

I travelled more than anybody I knew so people would often ask me for advice. [The idea started] when I was planning a trip for a celebrity friend of mine who was getting married, and told him to spend the honeymoon in Africa.

How do you go about travelling in a country where you don’t know the language?

My trick is look for the young person, typically between the ages of 12-15, as they usually speak some English.


How are you adapting to the current situation of Covid-19?

I have kind of enjoyed this period because this is a break that I never would’ve given myself. I became a plant mum – my plants are thriving – and I’ve found joy in it.

What are your dream destinations?

Namibia, Cuba and Zanzibar.

What's your indispensable travel gadget?

For flights, noise-cancelling headphones. I can’t imagine life without them.

What's your IFE pick?

I sleep a lot on planes, but I definitely pick movies. When I’m travelling, I love flying because I feel like that’s my only real downtime. On international flights, I try not to connect to the Internet.

thecatchmeifyoucan.com, globaljetblack.com

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