It’s not out of the ordinary to see striking photos of Black travelers on Instagram these days, their backs against colorful walls in vibrant hues in Mexico City, against the backdrop of an electric Tokyo skyline or a cerulean ocean. It all seems commonplace now, but Jessica Nabongo is arguably the pioneer in documenting Black travel on this scale digitally. The travel influencer space hasn’t been the same since Nabongo decided to quit her six-figure corporate job to pursue her dream: to become the first Black woman to visit every country in the world. And this Ugandan-American has never looked back. Her Instagram handle, @catchmeifyoucan, is proof.
“I began my journey to every country in the world because I am a geography nerd, curious about other cultures, and want to show the world through a lens that we rarely view it from—that of a black woman,” she tells OkayAfrica. Reaching her own historic goal isn’t her only motivator in traveling; part of that narrative, she says, is changing the perception “that many countries are dangerous, that people are miserable, that you cannot have nice, luxury, vacations on the continent.”
Traveling as a Black woman doesn’t come without challenge, however. Last year, Nabongo found herself at the receiving end of thinly-veiled racist rhetoric when Four Seasons Resort Nevis refused to collaborate with her, writing in an email that her social media “demographic was not in line” with their brand. (Nabongo said that she had not offered any information to the resort about her demographic.) She didn’t stay silent—an article she wrote about the incident went viral and eventually, Nabongo began working with Four Seasons corporate to increase representation of black women in their marketing, advertising and social.
In recent months, Nabongo has taken her travel bug beyond the pages of her own digital footprint. She has successfully launched her boutique travel agency, Jet Black, which focuses on travel to Africa, Central and South America and the Caribbean. “I started my own company because I felt that there should be a focus on tourism in these regions that are not receiving high rates of tourism,” she says.“What brings me joy is showing people places that they've never heard of and changing the narrative about African countries.”