Detroiter becoming first black woman to visit all 195 countries

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A lot of people enjoy traveling. But then there's Detroiter Jessica Nabongo.

"I still have my childhood globe in my house now, so I had always traveled," she said. 

The self-described geography nerd has turned her love of travel into a lofty goal: to become the first African-American woman to visit all 195 countries. It's a goal she's determined to accomplish.

"For me travel was always a part of my life and I'm super curious about other cultures," she said. "So by the time I decided to attempt to be the first black woman to visit every country in the world, I had already been to 60 countries."

A child of Ugandan immigrants, Jessica grew up in Detroit's Grandmont neighborhood. She headed to New York for college and then found herself under the corporate umbrella.

"I came back home right after college and I worked for pharmaceutical company for two years. Wasn't fulfilled," she said. "So I decided to quit my job, cut my hair and move to Japan to teach English."

Her love of travel and new cultures took over. Jessica lived in five different countries and soon began her mission to literally travel the world. 

Jessica is a writer, photographer, public speaker and these days, best known as a travel influencer. She is known on social media as @TheCatchMeIfYouCan. Her thousands of followers track her travels on Instagram and also often times become her host when she visits their country.

"That way I have this opportunity to see the country through the eyes of a local person as opposed to making sure that I'm hitting all the touristy spots," she said. "Once I arrive there, I rely on them. So to me, If you are not nervous or scared for me, why should I be afraid? I'd rather just go and be open."

So far, at the age of 35, she has visited 170 countries - which as you can imagine can get expensive.

"I do have a bajillion [airline] miles," she laughs. "That is the exact number."

Among her top countries to visit are Iran, Jordan and Kenya. Jessica has tried exotic cuisine from the locals and amazingly has never had food poisoning, but admits her palette forced her to pass on a few delicacies.

"We were at a Yerk camp on top of a mountain, no electricity and no running water," she said. "They had fermented horse milk."

Jessica plans to complete her challenge visiting her final country of Seychelles on Oct. 6, 2019, the birthday of her late father, who first came to the United States in the 1950s with a scholarship at Western Michigan University. He was a double major in chemistry and biology, which led to his successful career with Marathon Oil.

"If he didn't have that opportunity I wouldn't be here," she said. "I would definitely still be living in Uganda. And so, he passed 16 years ago and being able to finish this journey on his birthday, for me, it is like allowing him to be a part of it."

Of course there will be a big celebration as Jessica completes her travel challenge. When it's all over, she does plan to settle down. Sort of.

"Sleep," she laughs. "Definitely sleep."  

She's also working on a book and a documentary, and says she hopes she can get into the TV business and host a travel show.