18 May 2018

Africa: Globetrotter Jessica Nabongo Is Inspiring African Travelers and Digital Nomads

Photo: Jessica Nabongo/Instagram
Jessica Nabongo

Travelling helps to broaden horizons and change ingrained perceptions which makes it a necessary endeavour for the liberated African youth. Jessica Nabongo is showing the world what African tourism and digital nomad-ism looks like. She is "on a mission to become the first black woman to travel to all of the countries in the world".

Ugandan-American Jessica Nabongo has set herself the lofty goal of visiting every country in the world and has just 13 more months to achieve it. She aims to visit the 195 UN member countries and observer states, which includes the Vatican and Palestine. She is currently down to 89, before her self-imposed deadline of May 15, 2019, which is also her 35th birthday. Should she succeed, she will be the first black woman and Ugandan to accomplish the fete. However, if she doesn't achieve the goal, at least she will have inspired multitudes of African travelers to follow suit.

Nabongo first started her travels at the tender age of six years old and has since lived on four continents in five countries. Born and raised in Detroit, Michigan, Nabongo is an American with dual citizenship, as her parents are Ugandan immigrants. From her interview with Forbes Magazine we gain a glimpse of what it is to be both an African traveler and a digital nomad.

Digital Nomads

Digital nomads are a type of people who use telecommunication technologies to earn a living and, more generally, conduct their life in a nomadic manner. This could include working remotely, crowd funding or even partnerships with like-minded companies. Nabongo has used a combination of avenues to secure funding for her travel.

The bulk of her travelling has been self-sponsored, but the costs rack up when one has such an ambitious goal. When Nabongo realized it would cost approx. $133,500 to visit the remaining 89 countries on her list, she decided to reach out to brands for sponsorship and create a gofundme page where fans can donate money to cover her costs.

The response so far has been overwhelming according to Nabongo, "People have already been like, 'how can we help, what can we do?,'" she says. "People want to see me win and that has been humbling."

Travel Limitations

Not all destinations are easy to gain entry into or safe to visit. The nine hardest countries to visit in the world that also happen to be part of Nabongo's list are: Syria, Yemen, Libya, Venezuela, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, North Korea, Turkmenistan and the Central African Republic.

But the avid traveler is undeterred. For the more dangerous locations like Yemen or Syria, that have ongoing civil wars, Nabongo intends to rely on her existing network from her time at the United Nations and during her graduate program at the London School of Economics.

There is also the issue of an extremely tight schedule. With all the countries she has yet to visit Nabongo's time in various destinations is limited to days not weeks which does not give her much time to immerse herself in the culture. To remedy this she tries to connect with locals or hire a translator to help her communicate. "There's no point in going to a country taking a pictures at the biggest tourist site and then leaving. For me the biggest part of traveling is talking to the people there. I've gone to some countries and not seen the biggest tourists sites and I'm ok with that."

Navigating as an African traveler

So as to normalize the notion of African tourism and inspire more women and citizens with less passport power to travel to off-the-beaten track destinations, Nabongo frequently uses her Ugandan passport rather than her American one. However her experiences have not been easy even in countries where Ugandans are meant to have visa-free travel. She thinks its much more difficult to travel with an African passport because of the negative perception the world has of the continent but this could eventually change if more Africans embraced the traveler spirit.

"A lot of people don't think of Africans as a consumer, they just think charity or baby," says Nabongo. "I want immigration to see, 'hey Ugandans are tourists [too].'"

For all of the unpleasant moments she's also had plenty rewarding ones. She said, "There is racism in the world, there just is. That is what history has left us with. But throughout my travels I am left with the fact that most people are good."

In the past year of her adventure, Nabongo has received encouraging words from people of color all over the world. Many say that her trips have inspired them to visit countries they thought would be unwelcoming.

Nabongo's biggest rule is that "you can't let the mere possibility of what [might] happen to deter you. I want to show that black people travel. I'm representing America and also Uganda." Her goal is to "show the possibility" and for "little black and brown girls around the world to know that they can travel."

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