What you can learn from visiting every nation on Earth

Jessica Nabongo, the first Black woman on record to go to all 195 countries, now advocates for travel that supports diversity and sustainability.

Jessica Nabongo never set out to be an advocate. But after visiting all 195 countries and 10 territories, that is exactly what the 38-year-old Detroit native has become. Author of the new National Geographic book The Catch Me If You Can, Nabongo was inspired in part by her well-traveled parents when in 2017 she decided to attempt a daunting feat: being the first Black woman to document having gone to every country around the globe.

By 2019, the former United Nations consultant and boutique travel agency owner had completed that mission. But seeing firsthand some of the problems facing the planet, such as discrimination and the way poorer countries have been left to handle the world’s waste, prompted a new mission—to advocate for ethical and sustainable travels.

Nabongo reclines on the black sand of Waianapanapa State Park in Maui, Hawaii, one of her favorite beaches in the United States.
Nabongo reclines on the black sand of Waianapanapa State Park in Maui, Hawaii, one of her favorite beaches in the United States.
Photograph by Wes Walker

Today’s travelers should embrace humility, she says, instead of going to faraway places to confirm what they think they already know. Developing an inclusive and curious mindset deepens journeys for individuals and encourages support of the diversity that makes travel so rewarding in the first place. “We all need love. We all need community. No matter who you are, where you’re from, those things don’t change,” she says. Travel helps show us that “we’re more similar than we are different.”

This story appears in the July 2022 issue of National Geographic magazine.
Podcast: Where in the World Is Jessica Nabongo?
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(In this episode of our podcast Overheard, Jessica Nabongo shares her unique journey to become the first documented Black woman to travel to every country in the world. Listen now on Apple Podcasts.

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