Travel guru Jessica Nabongo has literally been all over the world. In two years, she visited 195 countries and 9 territories, and in 2019, she became the first Black woman to pull off that feat. Not only does she have a bunch of stamps in her passport, but she’s a writer, entrepreneur, and public speaker.
A first-generation American, Nabongo was born and raised in Detroit, Michigan to Ugandan parents. After attending St. John’s University in New York, where she earned her undergraduate degree in English literature, she took a job in corporate America. Eventually, she forged a new career path that included her passions for travel, writing and photography.
In the spirit of Earth Day, Nabongo hosted Nat Geo’s Earth Day Eve virtual concert, a virtual celebration (held on Wednesday, April 21, at 8:30 pm EDT...check out the virtual event below) that featured performances from José González, Ziggy Marley, Angélique Kidjo, AURORA, Maggie Rogers, Rostam, Valerie June, Willie Nelson, and Yo-Yo Ma, premiered new music video from My Morning Jacket.
BET.com caught up with Nabongo to discuss her partnership with Nat Geo, how she became so passionate about environmentalism, her upcoming book, and why the best time to travel is right now.
BET.com: You traveled to every country and you’ve experienced so many different cultures. What have you learned about how other countries are taking care of the Earth, as opposed to America?
Jessica Nabongo: Oh, that's a really good question. I think outside of the Western world, I mean, America is particularly bad. But I think it can be coupled with many countries in Europe, Australia, and other nations, as far as the degradation that we're doing to the environment. When you're in Asia, Africa, many islands in the South Pacific, in East Asia, Japan, in particular, you see that there's just a sacred respect for the earth that I don't think we have in the West, if that makes sense. So, you know, people are just a lot more conscious in terms of ways, whether that be water waste, food waste, or waste in general, you just aren't seeing it as much outside of the Western world.
BET.com: I read that traveling actually made you more of an environmentalist. What’s one experience that was eye-opening to you that really kind of changed your mind about the environment?
Jessica Nabongo: Yeah, for sure. I lived in Japan for one year back from 2008 to 2009 and it was my first time living outside of the U.S., it was the 10th country that I visited and that trip really made me fall in love with nature, be more respectful, and more appreciative of nature. But I would say one experience that really opened my eyes is definitely when I was in Naru, which is one of the least visited countries. It’s in the South Pacific. I was there with a friend playing with my drone. So I put my drone up and we saw dark spots in the water. We assumed that it was coral or something to look at underwater. But when we got in, we saw that it was plastic waste and other kinds of waste.
It was just so sad because here we were in one of the least visited countries in the world and seeing all this waste. That really changed my thoughts about things. That's what really led me to start like encouraging other people to use less single-use plastic and to be more conscious of what they're doing when they travel and it requires great sacrifice and inconvenience but I think in the end, that it'll be worth it.
BET.com: You hosted Nat Geo’s (National Geographic) Earth Day Eve virtual concert. How does it feel to partner with such an iconic brand on such an important day?
Jessica Nabongo: It’s exciting to work with National Geographic. Not just for the Earth Day event, but also for my upcoming book because obviously, National Geographic has been inspiring people in the travel space for such a long time, and also our shared love of the planet. So, it just feels like a perfect marriage.
BET.com: Lastly, what advice would you give to those who want to travel but may be putting it on the backburner?
Jessica Nabongo: I would say just go. If 2020 has taught us anything is that nothing is promised, right? People are like, ‘Oh, I'm gonna do this in five years or I’m gonna do that in 10 years.’ What if you're not able to do that? A lot of people were on my feed were like, ‘Oh, I have been waiting for this trip to Italy for so long and it got canceled because of COVID.’ I think you have to just go, what are you waiting for? Obviously, there can be certain barriers but I think if you're able to go. Don't always wait for someone else, because people will say, I'm gonna go with you and then you're waiting three, four years for a person who's never gonna go with you. So my advice is always to just go.