In October 2019, Detroit-based Jessica Nabongo became the first documented black woman to visit every country in the world. Born to Ugandan immigrant parents, Jessica fell in love with travel at a young age. She and her family made travel an essential part of their lives by taking trips every summer to destinations around the world.

Now, over a year after accomplishing an amazing feat, she is opening up about her experiences with acceptance and racial tolerance during her journey.

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“I’m often asked what I consider the safest countries for black people or the most welcoming for black travelers. But I can’t answer those questions,” she says in her essay to ARAF.

Jessica sites that there is a growing fear among black travelers of racial profiling when traveling abroad, impacting people’s decision to travel. The survey she references states 15% of African Americans said fear of racial profiling will impact their decision to travel in the next 12 months.

“Many black travelers also want to know what I consider the safest countries for black people or the most welcoming for black travelers,” she says. “After traveling to every country in the world, what I’ve learned is that the majority of people are good. Most are not racist or misogynist, and the greater part of my experiences have been positive, largely because of the strangers that I’ve met along the way. We should take negative stories with a grain of salt.”

Jessica also encourages people to bring a positive energy to their travel experiences. She recalls one trip to Russia when many of her black followers warned her about visiting the country due to their own negative experiences or feelings that Russians don’t like Africans or Black people. Instead of consuming herself with these negative comments, Jessica arrived in Russia with an “open mind and positive attitude” she says. The result? She was met with kind energy and never felt an ounce of discomfort.

In parts of the world not familiar with seeing Black people, Jessica does recall being met with curiosity, but not aggression.

“While visiting India’s Taj Mahal, one of the modern seven wonders of the world, people lined up to take pictures with me. I had to laugh: Many of them had come from far away to see the majestic building, and there they were, taking photos with me. This was a lesson I’ve found to be true elsewhere: that every acknowledgment of your race is not always racism—sometimes, it’s rooted in curiosity and admiration,” she explains.

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But Jessica can admit that racism certainly exists and she experienced her fair share of it. From a restaurant in Vienna refusing her service to a U.S. immigration officer asking for another form of identification because she didn’t believe Jessica’s U.S. passport was real, Jessica refused to let these negative experiences define her overall journey.  

“After visiting every country in the world, despite the hurdles that I’ve faced, I can confidently say that anyone—no matter who you are, no matter what you look like—should feel free to travel the world as you see fit,” Jessica encourages.  “You don’t need permission. You don’t need a blueprint. All you need is a plane ticket and an open mind. The world will be waiting with open arms.”

And her final word of advice: “Do not allow someone else’s impressions to shape yours. All of us experience the world uniquely, and there is so much beauty in that. “

Check out AFAR to read Jessica’s full essay.