The Therapy for Black Girls Podcast is a weekly conversation with Dr. Joy Harden Bradford, a licensed Psychologist in Atlanta, Georgia, about all things mental health, personal development, and all the small decisions we can make to become the best possible versions of ourselves.
Happy New Year y’all! It’s January and although a new year might not necessarily mean becoming a new you, it most definitely means new opportunities for you to do things to astound and impress yourself. We’re kicking off our year with our annual January Jumpstart mini-series. All month long we’ll be speaking with lauded and recognized women across industries about how you can activate the personal goals you might have been putting off for a while.
Today I’m joined by Jessica Nabongo, global citizen, master storyteller, and travel expert, who is the first black woman to have traveled to every country in the world. In our conversation Jessica spoke about assessing your travel style, how to dress to the nines while traveling, how to get the most out of travel credit cards, and her best selling book, The Catch Me If You Can: One Woman’s Journey to Every Country in the World.
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Executive Producers: Dennison Bradford & Maya Cole Howard
Producers: Fredia Lucas, Ellice Ellis & Cindy Okereke
Session 288: Setting Your Intentions for Travel
Dr. Joy: Hey, y'all! Thanks so much for joining me for Session 288 of the Therapy for Black Girls podcast. We'll get right into our conversation after a word from our sponsors.
Dr. Joy: It's January, and although a new year might not necessarily mean becoming a new you, it most definitely means new opportunities for you to do the things to astound and impress yourself. We're kicking off our year with our annual January Jumpstart miniseries. All month long, we'll speak with lauded and recognized women across industries about how you can activate the personal goals you might have been putting off for a while. If you've been holding back on doing you, this is your sign to jump headfirst into the possibilities of a new year.
Today I'm joined by Jessica Nabongo, global citizen, master storyteller and travel expert, who is the first black woman to have traveled to every country in the world. In our conversation, Jessica spoke about assessing your travel style, how to dress to the nines while traveling, how to get the most out of travel credit cards, and her bestselling book The Catch Me If You Can: One Woman’s Journey to Every Country in the World. If something resonates with you while enjoying our conversation, please share it with us on social media using the hashtag #TBGinSession or join us over in the Sister Circle to talk more in depth about the episode. You can join us at Community.TherapyForBlackGirls.com. Now, please fasten your seat belts and secure all baggage underneath your seat or in the overhead compartments. We also ask that your seats and table trays are in the upright position for takeoff. Please turn off all personal electronic devices, of course excluding the ones listening to this podcast. We appreciate you for choosing Therapy for Black Girls Airlines. Please sit back, relax, and enjoy your flight. Thank you so much for joining us today, Jessica.
Jessica: Thank you for having me. I'm so excited to be here.
Dr. Joy: So excited to have you. You are a part of our January Jumpstart series, a lot of people have traveling on their list, things to do for the year are upcoming, and so we definitely wanted to get someone in here to give us some of the confidence and information we need to start our traveling. I would love for you to start by telling us, if somebody is unfamiliar or kind of getting started with their “bitten by the travel bug,” how do they decide what kind of trip they want to have?
Jessica: I think it's so important to focus on your preferences and your desires and what you enjoy doing. If you enjoy the beach, then focus on beach locations. If you enjoy cityscapes, then do that. I think it really has to come from a place of what are you most interested in doing? And if it's like one of your first trips, definitely what you're going to feel most comfortable doing, that's the most important thing.
Dr. Joy: What kinds of things do you feel like people should assess for comfort?
Jessica: I think especially if we're talking international travel, think about language. If you only speak English and this is your first trip, then you probably want to look at countries that are English speaking countries. Maybe a trip to London, or if you're feeling really foggy and you want to go all the way down under to Australia, but it's a long flight. Places like Ireland, Scotland, there are so many English-speaking countries that you can try. I think if it's your first venture outside of the US, that's going to be the easiest to do. Or a country like Mexico where it's so conducive for tourism that even if you don't speak Spanish, you can survive traveling for the first time in Mexico.
Dr. Joy: Okay. I think most people know that you need a passport if you're traveling internationally, is there any other documentation that people should have if they're traveling abroad?
Jessica: I think right now, most of the COVID restrictions have been removed. You definitely want to check on the country because a lot of countries do require a COVID vaccine, so having your COVID vaccination card is important. And then if you're traveling to certain countries, you also may need a yellow fever card and to get the actual yellow fever shot. You definitely want to use websites like IATA, you can just Google IATA and then the country, and then it will pull up what the requirements are for that country, just so that you're prepared in advance.
Dr. Joy: And there are other immunizations that are needed for visiting other countries, correct?
Jessica: It really depends on the country, so you have to look at the requirements for the country that you're visiting. Definitely, there's less requirements than there used to be. I've been traveling internationally since I was four and there was a longer list before, but now there's not as many immunizations needed.
Dr. Joy: Okay, yeah, so that's something to think about. If you are thinking like, okay, I'm going to pick up and do this next week or in two weeks, some of them require immunizations that take longer for you to complete the series.
Jessica: Yeah, absolutely. Definitely try as far out in advance as possible. The last thing you want is to show up at the airport and you're missing something. That's what we don't want to happen.
Dr. Joy: How would you encourage people to set intentions for the kinds of trips that they want to have?
Jessica: I think the biggest thing is being positive. It sounds so simple, but when I tell you this has really changed my life… For example, I've never had food poisoning. And when I tell you I've eaten everything in every country that you can think of… And I've never had food poisoning, so I'm always like, oh, my stomach is coated in positive energy. A lot of people hear about India and Delhi belly - never happened to me. I think being positive is the first thing. Especially if you're a woman and you're deciding to do solo travel, we hear people are like, oh, you have to be extra careful. I think keep your wits about you the same you would at home. Take that with you, no matter if you're traveling domestically or internationally, but don't focus on the negative. Don't focus on what might happen. We don't have to always be overly prepared for what might happen. Someone might rob me, someone might do this or that - don't focus on that. Just focus on I want to travel, I'm going to have an amazing time, this is going to be incredible. Really setting those intentions, I believe it helps keep the negative at bay.
Dr. Joy: Thank you for that. Jessica, on top of being an expert traveler and a global citizen, you also used to have a travel agency. I would love to play a little game with you where I will give you some scenarios of possible travelers and trips they're wanting to plan, and see if you could make some suggestions for where they might want to go.
Jessica: Yes, let's do it.
Dr. Joy: All right. Here's the first one. Funke and Taylor are best friends and they're planning a girl's trip to celebrate Taylor's 35th birthday. They want a travel destination where they can stay at a top- notch hotel and not break the bank, it's a warm climate and there's an abundance of spas and healing centers to enjoy.
Jessica: Okay, I'm going to send Funke and Taylor to Bali. Now look, it's far but it is so worth it. And when I tell you accessible luxury, you can go and spend a day in the spa and spend under $100. Bali is definitely a great place, it's a tropical climate, you're going to get tons of healing centers, yoga, beaches, amazing customer service, like great staff at hotels and beautiful Airbnb. So I'm sending them to Bali.
Dr. Joy: All right, so here's the second one. Jamika is planning a two-week solo trip that she's taking before she starts a new job at a new company. She's looking for a destination where she can enjoy a calm countryside, immerse herself in the small-town life and enjoy fresh foods like fruits, meats and veggies on a daily basis.
Jessica: Oh, okay. I am sending Jamika to Mexico, and I'm going to send her to Oaxaca. That's because Mexico is affordable. Especially if you're doing a two-week vacation and I'm assuming that you want to be conscious about spending, I just think like Oaxaca is a great blend of like small town, but you still get access to a lot of Mexican culture and it's one of the best cities in Mexico for delicious food.
Dr. Joy: All right. And then finally, Denise and Eleanor are planning their first romantic getaway as a couple. They're planning a three-day trip and are looking for a destination where they can see and feel nature surrounding them, it's easy to get around via car in a place with an incredible view of the stars.
Jessica: Oh, incredible view… I was going Costa Rica. You know, I'm going to still go Costa Rica. I think Costa Rica is great if you're into nature. They have rainforests, obviously both sides of it, North and South are on the coast. Very, very beautiful. I would say I'm sending Denise and Eleanor to Costa Rica.
Dr. Joy: All right, we love that. What are some other places that maybe you want to put on the map that people still haven't quite discovered or not as many people are visiting yet?
Jessica: I'm always going to point to a lot of African countries that I think people aren't thinking of. I love Namibia. I think Namibia is great, beautiful landscapes, you can do safari there, and just the desert is stunningly gorgeous. Also, thinking about the stars, the great views of the stars, it is probably the most beautiful nightscape that I've ever seen. I'd never seen the Milky Way before until I was in Namibia. Outside of that, Uganda. I'm Ugandan, I think it's an amazing country. Again, you can do safari, you have Lake Victoria, you have the Nile River so you can go whitewater rafting on the Nile. Great culture, delicious food. A third place, I would say Rwanda. Rwanda is really tiny and a lot of people know it from the genocide, but it's bounced back in such an amazing way. It's one of the cleanest countries in the world. Not in Africa - one of the cleanest countries in the entire world. Really kind people and you can do gorilla trekking there.
Dr. Joy: What is gorilla trekking?
Jessica: There's only three countries in the world where you can actually hike into like little forests where mountain gorillas live, and you get to just engage with the families. You're obviously with a guide and it's all safe. But you can do that in the Congo, Rwanda and Uganda.
Dr. Joy: Got it, okay, very unique thing to put on your list if you're looking for something like that. Looking at the pictures that you shared from the places that you’ve visited, you're obviously very stylish, lots of great fashions. What tips would you give for people to maximize their wardrobes and like tips for packing, especially if you want to have a carry on or not bring a lot of checked luggage?
Jessica: Number one, fabrics that do not wrinkle. I appreciate polyester and rayon and all of those sorts of fabrics because they don't wrinkle. And I think also you want to think about bringing items that you can mix and match so that you can get more wear out of the same items. Beyond that, I love packing cubes because it just helps keep everything organized for me. So like one cube will have my underwear and my workout clothes, another cube will have tops and bottoms. And so that way, I always know exactly where everything is and if one of the cubes is missing, for me, it helps me realize like, oh, wait, I didn't pack this or I'm missing that. So that's what I recommend.
Dr. Joy: You mentioned workout gear, a lot of people really enjoy having that as a part of their schedule. What kinds of things do you take into consideration where you're looking at where you're going to stay? Are you looking specifically for places with gyms, are you bringing workout gear? How do you work around that?
Jessica: I definitely look for hotels that have gyms, just because I don't love running so I'm not a person who's going to run around a city. But if you are a runner, I think that's great, to like even call ahead and ask the hotel, hey, is this a neighborhood that I can run in? If you enjoy running. Even just walking around the neighborhood, so I like to stay in places that are very walkable, just because I feel like I can experience a place more if I'm walking around. I also sometimes travel with a jump rope and resistance bands as well.
Dr. Joy: Things that can also pack easily.
Jessica: Yes, and light.
Dr. Joy: Right, right, right. You encourage people who want to travel more to prioritize their travel. Can you say what this looks like in a tangible sense?
Jessica: I think what it looks like is, if you're preparing for a trip, it's putting money away every paycheck. In the same way that you would put away money for a car, put away money for a house, if you really want to start traveling and make it a part of your regular life, you have to put that money away. That might mean that you're cutting back on other things. If it’s the expensive coffee that you're not having every single day. Or you're going out with your girlfriends and you usually have three drinks, maybe just have one so that you can save that money. I think that's important. The other thing that I do is I use credit cards with travel rewards. I don't pay cash for anything in my life unless it's like tips or they only accept cash. I use my travel cards for every single thing because then I get all of those points. And I'm like gimme my points. And when you're spending at restaurants. For example, the Chase Sapphire, if you're spending at restaurants, you get three or five times the points. If you're spending on travel, which includes Ubers and everything, then you get like, it's either three or five times the points. Those sorts of things are just great because the money that you're spending anyway on groceries, on your Uber, turns into free travel. So that's another way.
Dr. Joy: Okay, so this is a secret gem. You mentioned the Chase Sapphire, are there other cards that you would suggest for people who want to be more serious in turning points into travel?
Jessica: I also like American Express Platinum. Because you want to look for credit cards that like multiply in specific categories. Like I know my Chase Sapphire multiplies in the food category, so I always use that for food. The AMEX multiplies in the travel category, so I use that for plane ticket purchases and things like that, or rental cars. You really want to look into the details before you get the credit card. You can even just Google “compare travel credit cards” and there are so many websites that will put them side by side and that will allow people to choose the card that's right for you. I think it's important. Another thing when it comes to budget, I always say chase the deal, not the destination. If you just want to travel and you're pretty open, you can sign up for websites like TheFlightDeal.com, SecretFlying.com and AirFareSpot.com and you'll get daily emails with discounted tickets. It might be Chicago to Peru, 350. That's cheaper than flying some places in the United States. So it can be an opportunity to let the deal drive where you're going to go and that way you can also save money.
Dr. Joy: I think you make a good point. Sometimes when we think about travel, we're only thinking international, but there are lots of places in the US.
Dr. Joy: What tips would you give for people for US travel?
Jessica: Yes, do it. That's my number one tip. Just do it. I love traveling within the US and I've done it for years, I've been doing road trips with my family. But during the pandemic, because we couldn't really leave the country, I ended up doing a US road trip, I drove 12,000 miles in four months. We take the US for granted because we live here, but literally rent a car and just start driving around. Go to the states within your region. Some of my favorite states: Utah, people don't think about that. Wyoming, Montana, Maine, Rhode Island, so beautiful. And if you're on the East Coast, everything is so compressed. If you're in like the DMV, you can drive up to Maine and that's not super far, and you can visit all of the states in between. I just think it's really important that you just start by exploring your region. Go to some of the national parks, so many beautiful museums. And then even no matter where you are in the country, there's different cuisine as well. So I feel like traveling within the US could really feel like you're traveling to different countries.
Dr. Joy: Of those 12,000 miles, what's a route that people might want to start with if they're wanting to do US travel?
Jessica: I am obsessed with New England. But again, I think the East Coast is great because it's so compact. One thing I did was I had a long layover. I flew into Boston and I rented a car, and then I drove all the way up to Maine which was just a couple of hours. And then I stopped in New Hampshire on the way back down, you can go to Vermont, Rhode Island has amazing seafood - Connecticut, Massachusetts. And then you end up, you can just go down into like New York, Delaware, Maryland. And then you can keep going down, like North Carolina, South Carolina. But that whole corridor, to me, if you really start in Maine and you can make your way all the way down to Florida, literally, you feel like you're going through different countries as you're moving further south.
Dr. Joy: Yeah. More from our conversation after the break.
Dr. Joy: One of the things that a lot of people like to do when they're traveling is buy gifts and things for friends and family members. How can we make the most out of our money when we are spending on trips?
Jessica: That's a good question. I'm a haggler. I'm Ugandan so I enjoy a good haggle in a market. But I think really try to get things that are thoughtful, but also connected to that place. I think don't focus on, oh, I need to spend $100, if it's cheap, they won't like it. Really, I think focus on something meaningful. Because a lot of times you can get things that are meaningful to people that aren't very expensive. So rather than thinking about price tag or how somebody would view it, think about something that's meaningful. And then write a beautiful card to go with it, like why did you get this from this place for this person? For me, I enjoy those gifts where people put a lot of thought into it more than like the money. It's easy to buy an expensive gift and give it to someone. But really figuring out the connection with your relationship, that place, and doing that little trifecta.
Dr. Joy: So what do you feel like is a gift that you either gave or received from someone traveling, that you feel like really was special?
Jessica: A gift I received, so my tour guide in Jordan, Maha, she was one of the first female tour guides in Jordan and we did like a week-long road trip so we became really close. And the day that I was leaving, I stopped at her house to say goodbye and she gave me a dress from her closet, which I was like… am I going to cry? But it's so beautiful. I can wear it as a cover-up over a swimsuit and that's how I've worn it, but like super beautiful embroidery and I just thought that was so sweet. And you know, it cost her nothing, she literally just took it out of her closet, but it means so much to me.
Dr. Joy: Yeah, more than anything, probably she would have purchased. Let's talk a little bit more about relationships with tour guides. Can you say a little bit about the value they've added to you as a traveler? And how might we connect with tour guides for places we're looking to travel?
Jessica: I think I trust tour guides because I'm like, number one, this is your profession. And number two, you have to think most people are excited that you're in their country, so I think you have to go and be open minded. Don't be suspicious of them or think that they're trying to get over on you or anything like that. Just be genuinely open and go with an energy of curiosity, and the energy of a student. I don't go into places trying to confirm what I think I know about it; I go and I'm asking a million questions because I want to hear from them. Like tell me about your culture, tell me what's important, why are these things important? Then also ask about things. Like I used to do this thing where I would ask people what does love feel like? Because I just think it's really interesting to connect on a human-to-human level because it helps you to realize that we're more similar than we are different. No matter the language, race, gender, none of that matters. We're all more similar than we are different.
So just go into it being open minded and thinking, okay, at the end of this, I want this to feel like a friend. If you go in with that energy, I think it just makes the entire… even if it's one day or a couple of hours, I think it just makes it more impactful. And I think ultimately, you'll learn more about the culture. As far as how to get guides, literally, I use Google. Usually, TripAdvisor comes up as a top-ranking thing that helps me find guides, but I really just Google tour guides in X country and then I'm a crazy review person, so I read all the reviews. But I'll just read different reviews until I find someone that I feel like will be a good fit.
Dr. Joy: Do you tend to leave reviews after you've had good or not so good experiences as well?
Jessica: Not as much as I should. If I have a really great experience, I do leave reviews. Like if it's phenomenal, I do leave reviews.
Dr. Joy: You mentioned earlier when we were talking about shopping that you sometimes try to haggle with the markets and stuff like that. I would love to hear more about social responsibility when traveling. I can imagine that in some markets and some countries, that is expected that you will haggle, but in some places, that might be seen as disrespectful or like you're not honoring the crabs(?). Can you say more about how you can tap into what kinds of things are okay and not okay in a certain country?
Jessica: I think that's where guides come in handy. Or talking to people at the hotel, you can ask them. Because typically, if you're going to a market, I would go downstairs and say, hey, what's the best market in the city? Are the prices negotiable or how does that work? For me, if there's something specific I'm looking for, I'll ask a local person, how much should I pay for this? Because I know I'm not going to pay the local price, but I'm also not trying to pay triple so I’m like let's find a happy medium. And I think that's okay. Of course, we should be paying more than locals pay because typically our currency is stronger, and we probably have more money. So I'm fine with paying more than the local price, but I'm not trying to like pay your whole month's rent because I just don't know any better. I think definitely tap into local people to figure out what's right and what may not feel good to the people that you're buying from.
Dr. Joy: In addition to shopping at the markets, are there other ways when we're traveling abroad, that we can make sure that we are using our dollars in a way that supports the local economy?
Jessica: Tip, tip, tip. I think tip your housekeepers in the hotel, tip your drivers, doorman, you know what I mean, when you eat. Because in most countries outside of the US, tipping is not standard. Especially in restaurants, it's just not standard. I think just find ways to tip because that's putting money directly in someone's pocket. And I think when it comes to travel agencies and tour guides, try to find locally owned companies. Especially in a lot of African and Asian countries, you'll find that “French people own it” or “British people own it,” so really try to dig a little deeper and find places that are locally owned. Because that means that money is staying in the country versus like you're spending your money and it's going back to Paris or London.
Dr. Joy: Got it. And this may be a bit of a novice question. But usually, if I've traveled internationally, money exchange happens in the airport. Is that typically how we are switching dollars into whatever the local currency is? Or are there other mechanisms for doing that?
Jessica: I always use an ATM because the bank rate from an ATM is always going to be the best rate because, typically in airports, they're charging commissions. But now, it's a question of like who do you bank with? For example, I have a Charles Schwab checking account that I only use for travel because there's no foreign transaction fees, and any ATM fee I pay, they refund me. So you know, you go to an ATM and it's like this ATM is charging you $3. At the end of the month, they'll give me all of those fees back and they don't charge a foreign ATM fee. Whereas my Chase account charges, I think, $3 for every non-Chase ATM that I use, plus that ATM is charging me a fee. So then every time you go, you might be spending $6 which is a lot. You can't just go and get money as you need, then you have to like plan, how much money do I need, so you're minimizing it. So I would say look into like a Charles Schwab or any other bank that refunds ATM fees.
Beyond that, if you're using a traditional bank like Chase, then just plan how much money you're going to need so that you can just do it in one single go. But using an ATM is definitely going to be the best exchange rate for you. Last thing is, that’s if you need cash. Other than that, I use my credit cards when I travel because there's no foreign transaction fees. And so if you're in restaurants and things like that, you can always still just use your credit card. Just make sure your credit card doesn't have foreign transaction fees. Because if it does, then it's like an extra 3% and you don't want to pay that either.
Dr. Joy: Some people talk about if you travel from Atlanta to New York, sometimes your card will get flagged because they don't expect you to be in New York. So I can imagine if you're traveling abroad, you want to let your credit card company know that you're going to be somewhere else.
Jessica: Absolutely, definitely let them know. You do not want to be in a situation like what happened to me in Hong Kong years ago. They cut my credit card off and I had no money. Thank god, I had a friend who lived in Hong Kong. He was dropping me at the train station and luckily he was able to pay for my train ticket because I had no money. And I mean, that bank saw the worst of me when I got home because I had been using the card, they just suddenly cut it off. So please make sure you call your bank and your credit cards, and you let them know where you're traveling. Usually, they'll ask you what countries you are going to, so that they put it on your account.
Dr. Joy: Got it. What are some countries that you feel like have a really strong tourist infrastructure that supports and empowers the local people?
Jessica: That's a good question. I think Kenya is quite good. Kenya has been in the tourism game for a really long time and I think they do a really good job. I think Mexico is pretty good as well. Obviously, in Mexico, the tourism industry is one of the largest providers of jobs in the country. It comes down to thinking about every single person you're interacting with. Even if you're giving them a dollar, that dollar could change their life. You know what I mean? So really thinking about that.
Dr. Joy: You talked about this a little bit in terms of some of the stories that people have around solo travel. What do you feel like is most often misunderstood about solo travel?
Jessica: I think most often misunderstood is that it's scary. I really want people to release that fear. I've been to every single country in the world. I did 89 countries solo, and a lot of the ones I did solo are countries that were on the like State department’s do not travel this. The reason I survived and thrived in my travel is because of the kindness of strangers, so the biggest thing that I've learned traveling to every country in the world is that most people are good. Even in my book, The Catch Me if You Can, I talk about the kindness of strangers. Because we have this idea of, if we travel abroad, something's going to happen, especially if you're a woman. No. Release that fear. Nine times out of 10 or like 9.9 times out of 10, you're going to have an amazing time, so release that fear because it is safe. Yes, something might go wrong but it's super unlikely that anything is going to go wrong. So I think the safety of it all is something that people overplay.
Dr. Joy: What's a tip that you would share for any of our community members who are shy or more introverted, but they are really seeking these authentic kinds of experiences that you've talked about? What kinds of things would you suggest for them putting themselves out there?
Jessica: One thing I think about is like pretend to be someone else. Like you're traveling abroad, you're outside of your comfort zone already, no one knows you - pretend to be someone else if that's going to give you a little more confidence. Me and my friends did it in Cuba where literally we made up new names, we made up personalities, and we just were different people, and it was really fun for the night. But I think that might be a way for people to just practice stepping outside of themselves. I think the most beautiful thing about travel is it gives you a sense of freedom. A lot of times we remain the people we are and we find it hard to change because we're constantly around the same people. You know, you're used to those relationships, and you react a certain way in those relationships. But when you're traveling, you have a newfound freedom so it's like you can be somebody completely different when you're abroad.
A lot of people when they solo travel, don't want to sit down and have dinner by themselves. Eat at the bar. Because then if you eat at the bar, you can chat with the bartender, usually somebody else will come and sit and they might be alone so you can chat with them. Even I'm in LA, I go out to dinner by myself and sit at the bar and sometimes I end up chatting with couples. I think that's a really good way to put yourself out there. I think also, if you're trying to build up your confidence for solo travel, start in the US, start near your home. Take yourself out to dinner at home in your hometown and so then you can start to build that confidence of being out, being alone. Go to the theater by yourself. Start doing those little things so that it helps you to build your confidence a little closer to home.
Dr. Joy: More from our conversation after the break.
Dr. Joy: I know for a lot of people, part of the fun of travel is sharing all of the beautiful pictures and letting people know what you've been up to, but I also understand that there's a safety component to that. What tips would you share for people about how to safely share about their travels online?
Jessica: I don't post in real time, typically, like you said, for safety. I don't post in real time, I think that's important. I think as far as geotagging, you can definitely geotag but be careful that you're not still at that place. And also, I would say about geotagging, be selective. If you're somewhere out in nature and it's really beautiful and there's not a lot of people, maybe don't geotag it. Because what we don't want to happen is that places that are beautiful end up getting destroyed because there's too many people coming. Like for me, obviously I have a large platform, I've had to not geotag places sometimes. People get upset with me and I'm like we need to preserve some things. We've seen what's happened in Morocco and New Zealand and a lot of other places where there's so much tourism, it's kind of started to destroy certain things. So I think with geotagging, you just want to be selective so that you're not flooding a place. But yeah, I think as long as you delay your posting, I think you should be fine.
Dr. Joy: What does it mean to be a nomad to you?
Jessica: To be a nomad, to me it's just to be a citizen of the world and to look at every stranger as a potential friend. It means to me that you're living a borderless life and really allowing the universe and humanity to support you on your way. Not financially, but just like be your guides, be your friends, and just sort of help you to live the richest experience you can in that moment.
Dr. Joy: You already have two homes - one in West Hollywood, one in Detroit. What two new locations are on your list for possible new home bases?
Jessica: I definitely want to get a place in Senegal. That's my little happy place so I'd love to build a house there on the coast. And Cartagena in Colombia, I really love it. There's just something about Cartagena that I love so I'd love to get a place there as well.
Dr. Joy: You've already given us some great stories, but we love a good story here on Therapy for Black Girls. Because you've had so many adventures, I'd love for you to share (if you're comfortable) a story of a place you traveled to and met someone and kind of instantly became a great friend or somebody who became a close part of your circle.
Jessica: Actually, I have a really good story. My friend Nana Konama, she's Ghanaian and we actually met at Nelson Mandela's house in Johannesburg. I remember seeing her and I was like, oh my god, this girl is so stunning. She's very tall, she's like six feet tall, super dark skinned and just stunning and she had on this bracelet. I was like, oh my god, your bracelet is so beautiful, whatever. Every time I saw it, I was like, oh my god, it's just so beautiful. And she was like, you can have it. I was like, what? And she gave me her bracelet. Fast forward to today, that's one of my closest friends. She came to the Seychelles, which was my last country. I've spent time with her and her family in Ghana, we've hung out in the US, we've traveled to Brazil together, Egypt together. And it all came from we were at Nelson Mandela's house in Johannesburg, and I liked her bracelet.
Dr. Joy: That's a great origin story there. You mentioned your book, so we definitely want to talk about that, The Catch me If you Can. You’ve visited all of the countries, like you mentioned. How has traveling the world impacted how you see and understand yourself as a black woman living in America?
Jessica: That's so interesting. For me, I understand how much freedom is outside of the United States. I think that's the biggest thing and I try to maintain that even when I'm in the US. What do I mean by that? I feel like in the United States, people are making us constantly think about the fact that we're black. We have to constantly be reminded, like, I'm black, I'm black, I'm black. Like I get it. Okay, guys, I get it. You know what I mean? That's reminders from rude people in stores or people who don't want to help you, people who don't acknowledge you when you walk into rooms, like those constant reminders of your blackness. When you're abroad, I would say in my experience, that goes away for the most part. I'm African appearing so I still have issues with immigration 1,000%. But beyond that, you realize it just doesn't matter.
A lot of people, I hear, “oh, which countries are safe for black people?” I don't subscribe to any of that. I believe you should go where you want to go. And again, I believe go and be positive. I don't have a lot of memories of being super negatively treated because I'm black, outside of immigration because they just give me the blues. But once I'm in the country with people, sure, maybe here and there, there's somebody rude at a restaurant or whatever. But for the most part, people are welcoming and they embrace you, and no one cares what you look like. And so I think for me, being back in the US primarily now, I try to keep that in mind. Obviously, it's a different context but I don't allow my race to be a hindrance. For me, I'm like I'm dope and I'm black - you’re welcome. You know what I mean?
To me, my blackness is a benefit for whatever company that I'm working with. I'm like, oh my god, how lucky are you? You get somebody who's dope and you get to check the box of diversity because I'm black. I think, to me, it's like it's a bit of a superpower because it is an opportunity to stand out. Because I exist in a lot of spaces where I'm the the only black person and I'm fine with that. It doesn't make me uncomfortable. Again, I'm like, you're welcome. Look at all of this joy that I’ve brought in here just from my being. I really think that's how it's affected my thinking about being black in America.
Dr. Joy: I wonder if you could give us a little bit of some insight into how you want people to engage with the book. Because it is such a beautiful presentation. There are over 300 images, the book is also available as an audio book, and you're speaking over 75 languages in the audio book. So how do you want the readers and listeners to actually engage with the book?
Jessica: Thank you for asking, I really appreciate that. Please read it cover to cover. Because a lot of people, they'll pick it up and they're like, “okay, I'm traveling to this country, I'm going to read this story.” But there really is a narrative that’s the through line throughout the book. So I just ask, please read it cover to cover and then you can use it as a reference book later. A lot of people told me they enjoyed listening to the audiobook because with books it's easier to just listen to them. But then, obviously, with over 300 images, you have that to look at and I think it's really beautiful. And one of my favorite things about this book, it was designed by a black woman. There were not a lot of black people involved in the making of this book, it's with National Geographic, but it was designed by a black woman. It's the first time a National Geographic book has had gold foil on it, that was all her idea. So everything you see in it, obviously they are my pictures, but it's her design that got us here. I'm just so happy that it was designed by a black woman. It's really beautiful, it's great for your coffee table, but I just ask that you please read it cover to cover at some point.
Dr. Joy: Thank you, thank you for that history. You also on your blog wrote a really powerful blog post entitled My 10 Favorite “Shithole Countries” where you detail the incredible beauty and magic of countries, some of the ones you've already talked about, like Haiti, Sudan and Tanzania. Why was it important for you to write that? And why do you think it's important for us as travelers to disengage with this kind of rhetoric, and experience countries for themselves and form our own opinions?
Jessica: You know, that guy who used to be in office who was making all types of crazy remarks, I said it after the comments that he made that came out. The thing is, and we're seeing it clearly now… Before, people didn't quite understand the bias in the media, now it's just incredibly clear how biased it is. But I always say, just unplug from all of that. It's okay if you don't watch CNN, nothing will happen in your life. But I think it's really important that you go to places before you make judgments about them. Or talk to guides in advance because they're always going to know more about their country than a CNN, or a Fox News, or whatever it is people are listening to and watching. But I really hope, through reading the book - because the book has a lot of countries that aren't on the traditional tourism path - I really hope that this book and my journey in general, just helps people to think differently about certain places.
In the book, there's a picture of a beach in Yemen. Who has ever seen a beautiful picture from Yemen? It's just not something we see. So even in writing the book, I was so intentional about the countries that I included, because I only included 100 of the 195. I was super intentional about it because I remember reading this book years ago, it was a book that had an image and an entry for every single country in the world. I'm a geography nerd, I was excited. And I go to Uganda, and there was a picture of a little dirty boy in the market and that's the only picture that was representing my country. And I'm like, what? You have Lake Victoria, you have the source of the Nile River, you have other lakes, mountains, animals, beautiful people and gorgeous textiles, and this is the singular image that you pick to go into a book to represent Uganda?
That stuck with me all these years. That was probably like 15 years ago. So when I had the opportunity to work with National Geographic, I'm like I want to share beautiful images of places. We don't see pictures of people that give them their dignity. There's a picture of a man in South Sudan in a market and I think he's so beautiful, right? And he was just literally sitting in the middle of the market. Someone who doesn't look like me might take his picture and it's like, oh god, this poor man is sitting in the market on the floor. But I take it and it's like look at the beauty of this man. And then I got his story and actually he was retired, and all his children had grown, and were in school and were gone, and so he just sat there to entertain himself all day. But we make assumptions about people. Especially people who are not African going in, they make assumptions and make things appear the way that maybe they actually aren't. So yeah, I just think we have to give places a chance and sort of tune out the noise before you go.
Dr. Joy: Jessica, where can we stay connected to all of the amazing things that you have going on? What’s your website as well as any social media handles you'd like to share?
Jessica: My website is TheCatchMeIfYouCan.com and then you can find me, I hang out mostly on Instagram @JessicaNabongo.
Dr. Joy: Perfect, we'll be sure to include that in the show notes. Thank you so much for sharing your wisdom and expertise with us today, Jessica. I think this will help lots of future travelers, so I appreciate it.
Jessica: Thank you so much.
Dr. Joy: I'm so glad Jessica was able to join us to share her expertise with us today. To learn more about her and her work or to grab a copy of her book, visit the show notes at TherapyForBlackGirls.com/session288. And don't forget to text two of your girls right now and tell them to check out the episode. If you're looking for a therapist in your area, be sure to check out our therapist directory at TherapyForBlackGirls.com/directory.
And if you want to continue digging into this topic or just be in community with other sisters, come on over and join us in the Sister Circle. It's our cozy corner of the internet designed just for black women. You can join us at Community.TherapyForBlackGirls.com. Thank y’all so much for joining me again this week. I look forward to continuing this conversation with you all real soon. Take good care.