The globetrotter: Jessica Nabongo

Born and raised in Detroit, Michigan, Nabongo became the first documented Black woman to visit all 195 UN member states in October 2019, as verified through NomadMania, an online community for competitive travellers. We talk to Nabongo about how to travel mindfully, decolonising the travel industry, and what it means to be a traveller and not a tourist

By Trisha Andres

A woman in a vintage car
In her book A Small Place, Jamaica Kincaid uses the tourist’s perspective to illustrate inherent escapism in creating distance from the realities of a visited place. How can we move away from being a tourist and avoid othering the locale?
‘The way to overcome simply being a tourist is to go to a place with humility and an open mind. I believe that to travel is to ask questions, rather than confirm our expectations of a place. When I travel, I want to meet local people; I want to allow them to guide my experience. I’m interested in their history and how they live.’
How do you think we should approach travelling in an unequal world?
‘Tourism can be a huge driver of economies. I believe understanding that tourism is twofold is the right approach: for travellers to be able to visit a new country and for the local economy to be able to benefit from this business. It’s important we tip taxi drivers, the people cleaning our hotel rooms, the people who make our stay possible. We need to remember that our travels benefit the local economy. On the flip side, we also want to make sure we’re telling beautiful stories about the places we’re visiting.’


A woman standing under some arches
A far away shot of a woman floating in an ocean

‘Most people are good. After visiting every country in the world, I know this for a fact’

A woman at a temple
A woman sat in front of a temple
A woman posing in a marketplace surrounded by men

What are some steps we can take to decolonise the travel industry?
‘For me, decolonisation begins with showing more diversity of the traveller and more diversity of the places we’re promoting. Travellers shown in travel marketing, brochures and magazines are typically White people, so we’re not seeing much diversity in terms of who the traveller is. Also, major media outlets still focus much of their coverage on North America and Europe. We need to decentre this and redirect coverage to destinations in Africa, the Middle East, even Central America and the South Pacific.’

What’s the most hopeful thing you’ve discovered during your travels?
‘That most people are good. After visiting every country in the world, I know this for a fact. I’ve had strangers bring me into their home when I’ve run out of cash while travelling. It didn’t matter whether they spoke the same language as me, or whether they looked like me, or even whether they were the same gender, people all over the world showed me kindness. It was my confirmation of humanity.’

A woman in front of a colourful background
A woman stood in front of some snow-capped mountains

Top tips for female solo travellers:
- Don’t tell anyone you are travelling alone.
- Stay in hotels if possible. A 24/7 front desk adds an extra layer of security should anything happen.
- Err on the conservative side when choosing what to wear until you figure out the vibe of the place. 

A woman sat on a couch in a colourful lounge
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