Jessica Nabongo, of Detroit, will become first documented black woman to visit all countries

Follow her travels @thecatchmeifyoucan

By Alex Atwell - Photojournalist

DETROIT - Jessica Nabongo has been traveling internationally since she was 4.

Her parents are both Uganda immigrants. They showed her the world was hers to explore.

So far, she has visited 193 United Nation countries and two non-member observing states -- Palestine and the Vatican.

Nabongo is a geography nerd. She's always been curious about other cultures, food, and how other people live around the world. She decided in 2017 to try to visit all of the countries in the world. At that time she was already at 60 countries.

Coming from Detroit, she has felt blessed that she came from such a diverse city. She said she feels lucky to have a place like Dearborn so close. Places like Greektown and Southwest helped her have an open mind.

"The thing about traveling a lot and especially being off the beaten path is about being positive. Because when you're very positive you bring good things to you. And it's about trusting strangers," she said.

What she's learned on her travels

The two things she's learned of highest note:

1. Most people are good.
2. We are more similar than we are different. We're all human beings. We all want food, water, shelter, to be happy and see our kids grow up happy. People are good.

Some of her best experiences have been visiting places that people in America might have negative impressions of, such as the Democratic Republic of Congo, Iran, Pakistan, Yemen, Jordan, and Palestine. She's been introducing characters and new friends to her social media followers. It's a way to shift the narrative and help people learn about the world.

She loved architecture and pension history of Iran. She was surprised by Uzbekistan, where she said the people were great.

Sierra Leone gave her a big welcome.

"I'm not afraid of strangers," she said. "I'm a good person so why would I assume you're a band person just because I don't know you? I've never used a hotel safe. Not once. And I've never had anything stolen from me."

She has visited 135 new countries in just 2.5 years.

"I always say for me you have to lose my trust. You don't have to earn it. The only difference between us is I just haven't met you yet," Nabongo said.

The scariest thing ever happened to her was back here in the states when a Miami police officer held her at gunpoint. Iraq, Afghanistan, North Korea all felt very safe to her.

Spreading word on harmful plastics

Her main goal is to spread the word on plastics -- single-use plastics and the problems they cause around the world.

"Plastic is really an issue. It's really a global issue. We have national borders but at the end of the day we all live on the same planet. It's damaging the ecosystem," she said.

She uses a refillable water bottle and Takes her own cup to use on planes. Not using plastic bags at supermarkets.

"Even though it may not seem like it is an issue in your neighborhood, your city, your state, it is a huge issue globally. We are going to have some reckoning to do if we don't all do our part," she said.

She's preparing for a Venezuela, Algeria, and Syria trip now. Her final trip is Seychelles (Say-shells).

"My Dad passed in the city in 2003. What I decided is that for my last country which is Seychelles, we're going to land on Oct. 6 which is his birthday," she said. "He hasn't been here for most of this journey but we're able to bring him in the fold by getting there on his birthday. The reason I picked Seychelles is because it is in Africa. The significance is the date."

When she travels, she always connects with locals. She has Instagram followers in over 100 countries.

Follow Jessica Nabongo at @thecatchmeifyoucan

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