Jessica Nabongo wants to become the first black woman to travel to every country. Here's what she packs.

Dana Oliver
·7 mins read
Jessica Nabongo is slaying out on the sea in Sri Lanka. (Photo: Elton Anderson)
Jessica Nabongo is slaying out on the sea in Sri Lanka. (Photo: Elton Anderson)

Jessica Nabongo is expected to accomplish a feat I never considered possible for me: She will become the first black woman to travel to every country in the world.

While communities such as Travel Noire, Soul Society 101 and Nabongo’s very own boutique luxury travel company Jet Black have illuminated the fact that black millennials do journey near and far, there is still a misconception that we aren’t globetrotters. I’ve heard a list of reasons, including not being able to afford a week-long voyage to being afraid to venture to destinations where they aren’t people who look like us. Well, this 34-year-old has more than enough stamps in her passport to dispel that myth.

Jessica Nabongo is lush living in Bali. (Photo: Elton Anderson)
Jessica Nabongo is lush living in Bali. (Photo: Elton Anderson)

“The world is mostly black and brown — let’s be clear about that,” Nabongo told Yahoo Lifestyle. “People are definitely curious, but I always say, every acknowledgment of your race is not racism. I think black people, of course, we’ve been super oppressed. I know... I’ve been there... but we have to let that go when we travel abroad.”

And I couldn’t agree more with that statement, especially when I’m met with screwed-up faces when I tell people that I often travel solo. In fact, I first stumbled across Nabongo via her Instagram account @thecatchmeifyoucan when preparing for my annual birthday trip to Tulum, Mexico. I needed guidance from a self-proclaimed “wanderlust” on how to better pack my rolling suitcase. I was amazed by how much of her belongings she could fit inside tiny Spacepak compression bags — not to mention how the Detroit, Mich. native managed to organize so much in so little time while rocking the fiercest of red lipsticks!

Jessica Nabongo is a red-lipped cutie in Cuba. (Photo: James Bland)
Jessica Nabongo is a red-lipped cutie in Cuba. (Photo: James Bland)

Knowing how to pack is truly half the battle, but Nabongo offers up advice that will carry anyone even further. “I go everywhere like I belong or like everyone will want to be my friend and that’s literally the energy that I move with and that’s what I’m met with.”

I recently caught up with Nabongo just as she crossed country 164 out of 195 off her travel list — she’s since visited 167 — to discover her long-flight essentials, the shoes she can “walk in for hours” and her latest Amazon Prime purchases. Be sure to have your credit card ready if you want to follow suit!

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The sneakers you’ll find in her suitcase: Allbirds

Allbirds Wool Runners (Photo: Allbirds)
Allbirds Wool Runners (Photo: Allbirds)

Shop it: Allbirds Wool Sneakers, $95, allbirds.com

“Allbirds I believe to be the most comfortable shoes in the world. I swear by them. I can walk in those for hours. I can work out in them. I love them.”

Go-to brand for jackets: J.Crew

J.Crew Washed Leather Motorcycle Jacket (Photo: J.Crew)
J.Crew Washed Leather Motorcycle Jacket (Photo: J.Crew)

Shop it: J.Crew Washed Leather Motorcycle Jacket, $495, jcrew.com

“My go-to for fall and winter jackets is definitely J.Crew and that’s been my go-to for 15 years. I definitely don’t buy a coat every year but I probably have three from [the last] 15 years. And the oldest one I still wear and I bought that coat in 2005.”

Skin care products she’s loving: Black Girl Sunscreen and raw shea butter

Black Girl Sunscreen SPF 30 (Photo: Target)
Black Girl Sunscreen SPF 30 (Photo: Target)

Shop it: Black Girl Sunscreen SPF 30, $16, target.com

“Sunscreen... I don’t wear it as often as I should but I have been using the Black Girl Sunscreen. I went on a press trip and they gave us one and I was like, ‘OK, I can rock with this!’ Beyond that, I just use raw shea butter. Everybody’s like, ‘What is your skincare routine?’ I almost never wash my face unless I’m in the shower because I don’t wear makeup. The only thing I wear is lipstick. Raw shea butter for everything: for my hair, for my face, for my body. No. 1 it keeps me soft. And it just helps with blemishes and all that jazz.”

Her top four red lipstick brands: The Lip Bar, AJ Crimson, Bite Beauty and Make Up For Ever

Bite Beauty Amuse Bouche Lipstick in Gazpacho (Photo: Bite Beauty)
Bite Beauty Amuse Bouche Lipstick in Gazpacho (Photo: Bite Beauty)

Shop it: Bite Beauty Amuse Bouche Lipstick in Gazpacho, $26, bitebeauty.com

“Those are my four reds that obviously work for dark-skinned people but can also work for people across all color spectrums.”

Must-haves for long flights: Bose Noise-Cancelling Headphones and Vim & Vigr Compression Socks

Bose QuietComfort Wireless Headphones (Photo: Amazon)
Bose QuietComfort Wireless Headphones (Photo: Amazon)

Shop it: Bose QuietComfort Wireless Headphones, $349, amazon.com

“Noise-cancelling headphones by Bose because babies, babies, babies.”

Vim & Vigr Compression Socks (Photo: Amazon)
Vim & Vigr Compression Socks (Photo: Amazon)

Shop it: Vim & Vigr Compression Socks, $20-$43, amazon.com

“And compression socks! Let’s talk about health because it isn’t that much, especially in travel. Compression socks are so important, and I used to deal with my legs swelling because obviously I spend a lot of time on planes. Anytime I’m on a flight over five hours, I use compression socks. I’m going to give you the brand because they’re cute and they don’t look like Granny socks. The brand is Vim & Vigr. I think definitely over five hours people should be wearing compression socks and just get up and walk around.”

The smart way she’s helping to save the planet: Hydro Flask reusable cup

Hydro Flask Cooler Cup (Photo: Hydro Flask)
Hydro Flask Cooler Cup (Photo: Hydro Flask)

Shop it: Hydro Flask Cooler Cup, $25, hydroflask.com

“I’m all about reducing my use of single-use plastic and hopefully encouraging everyone in the world to do that. So one thing that I always travel with is a reusable bottle, and one thing I’ve added to my repertoire in the last three months is this reusable cup from Hydro Flask. The travel space is definitely like one of the biggest culprits in terms of single-use plastics, specifically airlines, because you’ll be on an 8-hour flight and they’ll give you like four plastic cups. I’m like, ‘I can reuse my cup.’ But now I take my cup and am like, ‘Please, put it in here.’ And they’re like, ‘What?’ And I’m like, ‘Put it in the cup!’”

Carry-on bag you’ll spot on her shoulder: Lo and Sons The O.G.

Lo and Sons The O.G. and O.M.G. (Photo: Lo and Sons)
Lo and Sons The O.G. and O.M.G. (Photo: Lo and Sons)

Shop it: Lo and Sons The O.G. and O.M.G., $165, loandsons.com

“I’ve been using that bag for easily five years and I don’t switch it out. I’ve tried other bags to try something new, but I always come back to this like, ‘Why did I try something new?’”

What’s always in her Amazon Prime shopping cart: Cottonelle wipes

Cottonelle Freshcare Flushable Wipes (Photo: Amazon)
Cottonelle Freshcare Flushable Wipes (Photo: Amazon)

Shop it: Cottonelle Freshcare Flushable Wipes, $10, amazon.com

“I never leave without those, especially if I’m on my period. Like I’ll always have them in the bag that I’m going out in for the day. But even I bring those in general when I’m traveling because in a lot of countries they don’t have toilet paper in the bathrooms. That’s just how it is. I’m often like, ‘How do people wipe?’”

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