Changing the Travel Narrative

Jessica Nabongo is many things: writer, blogger, entrepreneur, pub-lic speaker, travel influencer. She is also a woman, a Ugandan, and a first generation American. In February 2017, Nabongo was inspired to begin her journey to every country in the world, with 60 countries already under her belt. As of June 2019, she has visited 175 of 195 countries. 

“Most things have already been done, but they have not been done by you. I am not the first person who is going to travel to every country in the world,” says Nabongo, who was greatly inspired by the journey of Cassie De Pecol — the fastest person and first woman on record to visit every country in the world.

For Nabongo, traveling has always been a lifestyle. “From a very early age, my parents opened up the world to me, and it was normalized,” says Nabongo, who first left her childhood home in Detroit at age four to travel abroad. “I’ve always wanted to visit every country in the world.”

She is often asked why she choose to embark on such a time-consuming, life- altering journey. “Number one, I wanted to do something that no one else has done. But beyond that, it is about representation. The travel space is super white and very male, so it’s important for me to do this,” says Nabongo, who wants to use her plat-form as an African woman to change the travel narrative.

“The world is not as scary as [the media] wants us to believe, and that is what I love about social media. I really want to change the narrative about the black traveler, and to show women, black people, and everyone else that you can do any-thing you want to do.” 

Riyadh. Saudia Arabia. Photo courtesy of Jessica Nabongo. 

Nabongo says she often experiences judgement from others when she speaks about traveling to “controversial” countries such as Afghanistan, North Korea or Iraq, and what she does or does not see in those places.

“I am traveling to every country in the world,” she jokes. “North Korea is a country … I have never visited a prison in the United States, so why would I visit a labor camp in North Korea?”

“The world is not as scary as [the media] wants us to believe, and that is what I love about social media. I really want to change the narrative about the black traveler, and to show women, black people, and everyone else that you can do anything you want to do.”

Nabongo encourages travelers to keep an open mind and stop visiting places to affirm assumptions. “Travel with an open mind, not to confirm what you think you already know. And, stop taking advice from people who have never been there,” she says. “You can find beauty anywhere; it is how you choose to look at places.”

China.

Barbados.

Yazd, Iran. Photos courtesy of Jessica Nabongo.

“I love using my platform to help teach people about the world, and also to break down these stereotypes and ideas that people have about different countries,” she adds.

Nabongo talks about understanding the “power of a post” and trying to use her “influence for things that matter,” such as changing the narrative about black and brown countries, advocating toward the reduction of single-use plastic, and empow-ering women to travel freely.

Krygyzstan. Photo courtesy of Elton Anderson. 

Meroë, Sudan. Photo courtesy of Elkhair Balla. 

Nabongo talks about understanding the “power of a post” and trying to use her “influence for things that matter,” such as changing the narrative about black and brown countries, advocating toward the reduction of single-use plastic, and empowering women to travel freely.

“I am not here to convince anyone to travel to every country in the world, because it is ridiculous,” she jokes, “but what I do want people to get from this story and this journey is that your dreams are valid. Dream big, make a plan and go after your dreams.”

Nabongo, referred to as The Catch Me if You Can on social media, tries to paint each country she visits in a positive light, while prioritizing honesty. “If there is going to be a single story, I believe that that single story should skew positive, especially about a country that is not my own…. Maybe I didn’t like a country, but that is not a reflection of what your experience will be.”

Ultimately, the biggest lesson Nabongo has learned: “people are mostly good.”

With horrific things happening around the world everyday, Nabongo acknowledges that it can be difficult to find the positivity in everyday life. “There are all of these negative things going on in the world, and it can really make people feel depressed… The fact of the matter is, 99 percent of my travel experiences are positive. I move through the world with positive energy, therefore I attract positive things to me.”

Yemen.

Myanmar. Photos courtesy of Jessica Nabongo. 

Armenia. Photo courtesy of Elton Anderson. 

Whether it’s borrowing cell phones in Nepal, or asking for directions in Japan, Nabongo says strangers are “always” ready to help her. “I have too many examples of the kindness of people during my travels,” she says.

With less than 20 countries remain-ing, Nabongo hopes to end her journey on October 6, 2019 in the Seychelles, on her father’s birthday to celebrate his memory.

Reflecting upon her journey, Nabongo notes that being an entrepreneur has proved a challenge, often testing her strength and dedication. Nabongo advises, “Whatever it is you are seeking, whatever it is you are creating, be careful not to quit too soon.”

8 Rules for Life, From Jessica Nabongo

  • You have one life to live.
    Don’t live it for anyone else.
  • Trust the universe. It conspires in your favor.
  • Discover what makes you happy.
    Question why it makes you happy, and find a way fo fill your life with whatever it is.
  • Be yourself, love yourself and know that you are enough.
  • Be fearless. Fear has no place in this one life we have to live.
  • Know when to move on and when to let go.
    Then move on and let go.
  • Create teaching moments and learning moments everyday.
  • Take the time to listen to each other.
    Talk to people who are nothing like you, because each
    and every one of us is living a completely different life and there is wisdom in that. 

*As of October 7th, 2019, Jessica Nabongo had reached her final goal of traveling to every country in the world, finishing her list in Seychelles.

The busy summer season is coming to a close, but here are a few unforgettable destinations around the world that should be shared! These curated experiences are opportunities to immerse yourself in new cultures, taste new foods, appreciate art, design, history and enjoy time for yourself to rejuvenate.

Photo courtesy of São Lourenço do Barrocal

Wild Terrains — Portugal

As the only travel company leading women-only group trips that partner exclusively with local, female-owned businesses, Wild Terrains has expanded and launched their second destination – Portugal. This new eight-day/seven-night journey takes women travelers to Lisbon, Alentejo, and Porto, where the dynamic history, delicious food, and breathtaking landscapes are just the beginning. Guests stay at stylish women-owned hotels like The Lisboans in Lisbon and Duas Portas Townhouse in Porto. Experience a Lisbon street art tour designed by Vanessa Teodoro, a South African street artist. Enjoy a tasting menu dinner at women-owned Prado with wine pairings by Portugal’s top female winemakers, and so much more!

Other activities:

Foraging with Portuguese mixologist Constança Cordeiro, private mixology lessons, biking through the countryside of Alentejo Visit. Travelers will learn more about Portuguese food history with cooking classes and eating your way through Porto with a food crawl. Another option is to take a day trip to Douro Valley to meet some female winemakers in the region, and so much more!

Photo courtesy of Prado Restaurant                                                                                                                                              Photo courtesy of  The Lisboans

Photo courtesy of Wild Terrains

On Foot Holidays — Catalonia

The hills of Catalonia are perfect for a fall getaway, with the grape harvest in full swing in September. On Foot Holidays’ self-guided hiking vacation will take you through the terraced vineyards of the famed Priorat winemaking region to the town of Porrera, where there are, of course, plenty of opportunities to sample the local wines in celebration of completing your walk. Starting at Montsant, only an hour from Barcelona, the route through quiet hills with magnificent vistas also passes two fine abbeys – Poblet and Escaladei – the former thriving and active, the latter now being restored as an archaeological site of major significance. 

Did you know?

All of On Foot Holidays’ 32 routes throughout Europe are designed by a local – someone who lives near every route and is responsible for the upkeep of the route, hotel liaison and providing telephone support for all walkers during their trip. For this route, the locals recommend a stay in Barcelona at the end (or start) at one of On Foot Holidays’ hand-picked hotels or B&Bs.

Photos courtesy of On Foot Holidays

Les Ilets de la Plage – Saint Barth

The sixth edition of the Saint Barth Gourmet Festival takes place November 6-10, 2019 on the island of Saint Bathélemy. Now considered a major culinary event, the Festival’s cast of participating chefs is once again star-studded and comprises iconic figures of haute French cuisine. The Saint Barth Gourmet Festival is counted as one of the major events in the world of culinary excellence and one of the best gourmet festivals on an international scale. 

In addition: 

The intimate, family-owned beach resort offers 12 private villas with direct access to the white sand beach and azure sea. Secluded yet central, Les Ilets has been a well-kept secret for years, combining the privacy and serenity of a villa with a hotel concierge service at an affordable price. 

Photo courtesy of Pierre Carreau

Photo courtesy of Gerald Tessier

Ignacia Guest House — Mexico City

Stay in the beloved Colonia Roma neighborhood at Ignacia Guest House, a trendy eco-friendly bed and breakfast. Featuring just five unique suites, the hotel’s namesake is Ignacia, the housekeeper who took care of this 1913 colonial mansion for more than 70 years. In celebration of Dia de los Muertos, the chef will bake the traditional holiday bread for breakfast that week – Pan de Muertos or “bread of the dead,” a slightly sweet, brioche-like bread covered with orange blossom water and anise seeds. 

In addition:

Foodies will love Eat Like a Local Mexico City’s special Dia de los Muertos food tour where founder Rocio Vazquez Landeta shares her personal approach to the celebration. Start the day with coffee, sweet bread, and street tacos with a visit to the flower market to enjoy delicious food while shopping for candy skulls, flowers, candles, colorful papers, and more. 

Photo courtesy of Jaime Navarro

The Liming — Bequia 

To Caribbean locals, liming means ‘the art of doing nothing.’ At The Liming Bequia, this leisurely way of passing the time comes with added luxury. Set on the tiny island of Bequia, this boutique hideaway is refreshingly off the beaten track compared to larger islands. With lush gardens, a private marina and views towards Canouan and Mayreau, The Liming instantly rewards you for going that bit further. 

Did you know?

Reopening after the off-season on November 9th, 2019, The Liming Bequia recently announced a special offer for travelers –

stay for 7 nights, pay only for 5” – so guests can enjoy liming for even longer. 

Photos courtesy of The Liming, Bequia

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