INSPIRATION

JESSICA NABONGO: A Journey Around The World and Back to Herself

JESSICA NABONGO: A Journey Around The World

Jessica Nabongo is a writer, photographer, travel expert, entrepreneur, public speaker and the first black woman to travel to every country in the world. She shares her journey around the globe in her book, ‘’The Catch Me If You Can’’, a collection of personal stories of adventure, culture, travel musts, and human connections.

You describe yourself as an American-born Ugandan, a native Detroiter, and an unmistakable African. How has your sense of identity evolved since you decided to travel to every country in the world?

Growing up, I had a very strong Ugandan identity instilled in my siblings and me by our parents. They spoke to us in Luganda, took us home to Uganda for the holidays and made sure we ate Ugandan food. Anyone who knew me knew I was Ugandan. 

Nowadays, although people can't tell where I'm from, my short hair, dark skin and African features are recognised as unmistakably African. I have a Global African perspective and feel comfortable throughout the continent. In Ghana they call me, “African Princess”, so even to them, I’m stereotypically African.

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What did you hope this journey would teach you?

I didn't have a specific goal. I'm naturally curious; curiosity drives everything I do. Travelling to every country was appealing because I wanted to see and learn how people around the world live.

You recently moved back to Detroit after 22 months in LA, and have previously lived in Italy, Japan, Benin and the UK. What does home mean to you?

Home to me isn't a place; it’s in people, so I find home anywhere I find my people. It's also in the energy of a place, so I feel comfortable where I feel calm, in places that bring me peace like Havana, Dakar, Lamu and Zanzibar. Detroit certainly is home, as is Uganda and the rest, but where I feel connected to people, I feel at home.

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The book has had a massive impact on travellers. What do you hope they take away from your journey?

Not necessarily to visit every country in the world but to see the possibility of creating the life you want, whatever that means to you. To see how I allowed myself to dream big and create the life I wanted. I believe every person has what they need inside of them to create this for themselves.

Visual elements play an important role in the book. Why was it important for you to not just show, but also tell?

Years ago, I read a book showcasing every country in the world. Uganda was depicted by an image of a dirty, little boy in a market, overshadowing its beauty. This stuck with me because as much as I knew of my country’s beauty, most who read the book had never been and would only identify Uganda by that image. 

In my book, I was intentional in showcasing that beauty thrives in every country. I think of Yemen, for instance, which many don't consider beautiful, or have no image as a reference but I can show you pictures of a beautiful beach there.

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Why share such personal, honest and immersive stories about the countries?

I wanted people to feel like they were travelling with me. I used a casual narrative because I wanted people to experience the different places exactly how I did.

How do you achieve consistency and quality in your photos in such diverse destinations?

It's about finding an aesthetic that works for you. I like having short hair, making it easy to travel. I love bright colours and patterns, so I'll always wear something vibrant. My aesthetic is all that I am, and if you come to my house, it will feel like me. 

What photography tips can you share with solo travellers?

I've been a photographer since 2005. All the pictures I’m not in, I took myself, and for those that I'm in, I asked people around me like a tuk tuk driver, a guide or someone walking down the street to take. I've been in front of the camera often, so I’d just frame the shots, ask them to take a bunch of pictures and then I’d pick a good one. 

Tips I would share: learn your poses, refine your eye and use the Rule of Thirds while framing.

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Does imposter syndrome come up for you within the travel space?

No, I truly don’t. I've met and spoken to many people in my lifetime and been in rooms that people dream of being in, so I recognize that I am a true travel expert. Beyond visiting every country, I have my Master's from The London School of Economics and a pretty solid understanding of global economics and political history.

It frustrates me, however, when people make lists like "20 Best Beaches in the World”, but have only visited five countries.

What’s next for Jessica?

Rest, which I'm constantly chasing. 2024 is about prioritizing my personal life, working less,  finding romantic love and making sure everything I do is in alignment with my life's purpose. I'm also working on a new book, and mostly excited about travelling to Antarctica this month.

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