Jessica Nabongo, Founder of Jet Black, Took the Road Less Traveled to Travel the World
By Kia Robinson
Jessica Nabongo has an Instagram page that will suck you in for hours. Her nearly 1,800 photos will give you a peek into her “catch me if you can” life where she has traveled to 35 US states, 72 countries and six continents. We are only in the fifth month of the year and Jessica has already visited two countries and five states. One would easily conclude that she has this travel thing down to a science and the truth is, she kind of does. Her business, Jet Black is living proof.
At 21, Jessica graduated from St. Johns University and got a job working in pharmaceutical sales. She was making six figures, far above the average income for a 21-year-old at the time…or even now. While the money was amazing, something just wasn’t fulfilling her. Life was definitely good. But that wasn’t enough. “I did that for about two years and then I was kinda over it. I felt like there had to be more.” With some money saved up, Jessica quit her job and moved…to Japan. Naturally I questioned, “Why Japan?” and she essentially said, “Why not Japan?”
Jessica stayed in Japan for a year teaching English and described it as one of the best years of her life. Once her year was up, she had to decide what her next move would be. She was in Japan but the rest of her family and friends were in the United States. “I told myself I was not moving back to the U.S. for three years. I don’t know why three years specifically but that was the number. I also didn’t know what I was going to do next but I was confident that I wasn’t moving back to the U.S.” And she didn’t. Instead, Jessica applied to grad school. This time she was going to London.
Her contract in Japan ended in February but grad school didn’t start until September. So Jessica had roughly seven months of free time so she traveled some more. In those seven months, she visited Costa Rica, Honduras, Fiji, Australia, did a road trip in the Western US, back to Japan for a wedding and eventually ended up in London. Jessica stuck to the plan and completed her master’s program at the London School of Economics in about one year. Upon completion, Jessica felt it was time to get a job. “I went to this really prestigious school so I just knew I was going to get a job right out the gate. But I didn’t and it sucked.” She applied to jobs, she hustled, she interviewed and she couldn’t find a job and ended up in Benin her boyfriend at the time. She worked there for six months until she made the decision to move to Europe. Jessica ended landed a job working for the United Nations and moved to Rome. She stayed with the United Nations for three years until she quit.
“I actually quit the United Nations three times but every time I would quit, they would beg me not to leave. So I ended up staying for three years. At one time for a nine-month period, they actually allowed me to work remotely. I spent some time working in South America and even some time in the United States all while holding a job with the United Nations in Rome.” Jessica was so good at her job that they trusted that no matter where she was in the world, she would get her job done and she always did. “It felt good being location independent.” Eventually Jessica had to really really quit and she was ready to move back to the United States.
Now back in the United States, Jessica landed a job in a corporate environment. She reminded me that this was her first corporate office job in America and things were very different for her. The atmosphere and the way of doing business was very different from what she was used to and she really didn’t like it. “I was depressed and I really hated it so I quit. I realized that I kept quitting jobs because I valued my freedom. Freedom of thought. Freedom of expression. Freedom of time.”
In April 2015, while working that corporate job, a close friend of Jessica’s was preparing for his wedding. He knew that Jessica had great experience with traveling and trusted Jessica to plan his honeymoon- after all she had practically traveled the world at this point. “He gave me a budget and I made it work. I would stay up all night planning his trip but still going to my ridiculously boring job. But I made it happen for him and he enjoyed it.” That friend was J. Cole. “He said it was one of the best trips he had ever taken.” That’s when she realized she was on to something.
“I didn’t have a plan. I didn’t really know what I was doing. I just went with it. I used my savings to build my website. I got business cards made. I got my LLC that summer and just tried to figure it out.” Thus, Jet Black was created. “For a little while nothing was really happening but by summer 2016, I really got into a groove. I started selling merchandise and planning group trips and providing services.”
Jet Black is a boutique travel firm that offers a variety of travel-related services for individuals, governments and brands that focus on encouraging tourism to countries in the African diaspora. The best thing about Jet Black? Jessica is doing exactly what she wanted to do and what her heart has always told her to do – travel.
I asked Jessica for advice for those who want to travel but don’t necessarily have the funds to do so. “Traveling is cheaper than most people think it is. It’s all about prioritizing your funds. Release yourself from material things. For example, I don’t have a car. I’ve never had a car. It’s not a priority for me. Yes, I enjoy hanging out with my friends but I do so frugally. It’s all about priorities.”
So the lesson here is quite simple: follow your heart and trust your passion. Jessica attending an amazing school and started out working in pharmaceutical sales. Now years later, she makes a living traveling the world and doing what she loves. As for what’s next for Jessica and Jet Black? “I really want to work with high net worth individuals. I’ve noticed that there are a lot of people with a lot of money but aren’t well traveled. I want to change that,” she expressed. “For myself? I really just want to try and see the rest of the world.”
Kia is a recent college graduate that's simply trying to grasp the concept of "adulting". She enjoys hugs, quotes, a good book, and all things motivational. Her favorite book is The Alchemist and she can watch Girlfriends all day long.