Jessica Nabongo’s life is full of bucket list-worthy moments. The writer and entrepreneur lives by the principles that the world is one big neighborhood, people are inherently good, and everyone has the power to create the life they want. So it’s no surprise that the 38-year-old became the first Black woman to travel to all 195 countries in the world. After chronicling her adventures in her popular travel and lifestyle blog, ‘The Catch Me if You Can,’ Nabongo is preparing to share those experiences in a new way. Her debut memoir of the same title, The Catch Me If You Can: One Woman’s Journey to Every Country in the World, is set to be released June 14.
The travelogue, published by National Geographic, highlights 100 of her favorite destinations. Whether she’s recounting whizzing through the dirt roads of Uganda on the back of a boda boda or dog sledding in Norway, her experiences offer an alternate perspective of global travel and adventure, because they’re coming from the lens of a Black woman.
“It was my personal journey to visit every country in the world. But close to the finish line, it became so much bigger than me,” Nabongo tells ESSENCE.
She says that traditionally, the global travel industry has been dominated by white men. One of her goals is to change that to encourage other Black women to push past any fear they may have of solo travel, and to also make it more common to encounter women who look like her seeing the world.
“I am a Black woman, but beyond that, my travels have been shaped by the fact that I’m visibly African,” the Ugandan-American globetrotter says. “To that end, I’ve had some issues with immigration with people thinking that my passport is fake.”
But according to her, the good experiences far outweigh any bad.
“Overall, I’ve had 99.9 percent amazing experiences,” she says. “I don’t feel like my race hinders me in my travel. I move with positive energy, and I truly believe that the world is my oyster.”
Nabongo’s infectious optimism is reflected in each page of the memoir, allowing readers to gain insight into her journey through each colorful excursion.
“I want people to read this book and ask themselves if they are really living the life they want to live,” she says.
It’s the question she’s pondered in the past, spurring some of her most audacious decisions — leaving a high-profile corporate job, moving across the world many times over, and ultimately making it her mission to visit every country.
Nabongo, at one time, climbed the corporate ladder, working for a pharmaceutical company. It was work that provided a six-figure salary and perks, but was also accompanied by depression.
“If anybody looked at my life, they would have said that I was successful, but I was so unhappy,” she recalls.
In 2008 she quit her job, shaved her head, and moved to Japan, the place she credits for changing the trajectory of her life.
After a year-long stint working as a teacher in a small suburb outside of Kyoto, Japan, she decided she no longer wanted to return to the United States to work a 9-to-5. Instead, she aspired to continue exploring the world.
“I traveled until I ran out of money,” she says with a chuckle.
Encouraged by friends to start a GoFundMe, she raised $20,000 dollars from her community, allowing her to continue her travels. She also found remote employment that provided her the opportunity to work from any location.
“One of the misconceptions people have is that traveling was my full-time job, but it wasn’t” she says. “It was important to me, so I made it work while also working a job that provided me with a salary.”
In 2015, she turned to entrepreneurship, founding Jet Black, a luxury travel company.
Nabongo’s story is undoubtedly remarkable and full of firsts that are shared in The Catch Me If You Can; but to her, the memoir is more than a travel guide to tout her worldly adventures. Although filled with page-turning tales of foreign excursions, swoon-worthy photos, and practical tips for every type of tourist, she hopes readers gain more than just wanderlust after reading her debut work.
“It’s really a beautiful story of humanity,” she says. “The book isn’t about convincing people to travel to every country in the world. It’s to show people that their dreams are valid and achievable.”
It’s been more than two years since Nabongo checked off the 195th country on her list: The Seychelles, which she did surrounded by friends and family. Although she’s accomplished one of her biggest feats, she says more is still to come, because her life is all about “dreaming, creating, and achieving the impossible.”
The Catch Me if You Can: One Woman’s Journey to Every Country in the World is available June 14 at all major retailers.