The FIRST Black Woman to Travel to Every Country
In the harmonizing voices of Destiny’s Child, “Say her name, Say her name.”
Now, before you belt out the lyrics and pose dramatically around your living room, let me tell you why you should know Woni Spott’s name.
Woni Spotts IS the first black woman to travel to every country. She came forward humbly and quietly in April 2019 after officially claiming the title in September 2018.
When her first press release circulated, I scrambled the internet for her story. To my surprise (well sort of), no one was talking about the actual first black woman to travel to every country. (Note: Because someone else was (currently still is) on a quest to become the first.)
While this news is fascinating and admirable, there’s been, as Woni describes it, “pushback.” Woni’s claim has been disputed and surrounded by controversy. Many have doubted her. Including her story, timing, photos and the manner in which she verified her travels.
In fact, Woni states, “it made me feel like I shouldn’t have put [my story] out there.”
Let’s be clear. This piece isn’t slated to investigate, poke holes, or reveal whether Woni Spotts IS or IS NOT what she claims to be. I believe her, which is why I chose to interview her and share her story.
If you’re seeking an investigative story, travel writers like here and here have uncovered the validity of her story. They shed light on the doubts, concerns, and questions behind her travels and examine “the evidence” so that we can judge for ourselves what’s true.
So, if you plan to continue reading this article, you agree to acknowledge:
- Woni Spotts is the FIRST black woman to travel to every country
- All of Woni Spott’s accomplishments and story regardless of YOUR desired proof of travel (i.e. passport stamps and social media posts).
- That we can learn something new, positive, and inspiring without denouncing her or her story
- Drama has no place here. Let’s keep it cute and kind.
So what do you say? Do you agree to the above terms?
If you do, continue reading.
Instead, this article is to shed light on the “so what.” So, what:
- does this mean to travelers, especially travelers of color and black women?
- will we make of this accomplishment and how will it affect the future of travelers?
- can students of color learn while navigating different cultures and travel spaces while facing challenges through this time?
Instead of guessing or postulating, I asked Woni herself about what she thinks about her extraordinary feat, her past travels, its significance in the future and to students of color, and more.
Congratulations on becoming the first Black Woman to travel to every country! How does it feel to be (finally) recognized for this accomplishment?
I did not anticipate this level of excitement. I’m a private person but it’s fulfilling to share my experiences with a wider audience. I’ve already met a lot of supportive people.
My close circle of friends is ecstatic especially since they are responsible for helping me to get the story out. I hope the black community is encouraged by my lifelong never-ending explorations.
So speaking of your lifelong explorations, what inspired you to start traveling?
My parents were entertainers so initially, I traveled with them. As a teen, I had an opportunity to travel for a documentary. I liked seeing new places but I didn’t have wanderlust. Later, I explored countries searching for a new place to call home. And at that point, I developed a deep desire to travel. Finally, I decided to visit the countries and territories I always wanted to see.
And, how has your perspective of the world changed traveling in the 80s and 90s versus the 2000s? How was the transition between these decades traveling around the world?
Well, believe it or not for some places, and I don’t remember because I was a teenager, but the adults handled the visas and passports. I didn’t even have to have a passport. I just had to use a birth certificate in some of these places.
Yeah, and they had this thing called group passports. So, if you were doing something in a group like a family, you could actually have a group passport with multiple people on one passport to make it simple.
At this point, babies have to have passports to do anything. But, we didn’t at that point.
Also, TSA wasn’t there. They had issues with hijackings. So if someone would hijack a plane, then you would have more security at the airport.
But really, [traveling] was fun! You could play with the pilots and you go into the cockpit and fiddle around with the dials.
It was fun for a kid to be on a plane. The flight attendant would play with you and have all kinds of fun. She’d sit next to you, and babysit you if you were traveling alone.
It’s totally different now. It’s very tense. Everybody is a suspect. Like I said in one interview, I have been felt up, x-rayed and everything else. I’ve taken hair products and deodorant and stuff, and they don’t take it. Also, all kinds of food and they don’t take it. But, the guy behind me gets his hair product snatched and slammed dunked into the trashcan. [TSA] make it very uncomfortable.
It used to be nice. You would dress up to go to the airport. You would want to look nice. It was a definitely a relaxed place to be, but now it is a nerve-wracking place where somebody can just decide they don’t like you and take you off to the side and make you miss your flight.
So, speaking of some of these experiences with TSA and the changes over the years, what would you recommend for students who are traveling abroad for the first time? What are your recommendations to help them get through this process with as much confidence and ease as possible?
Well, I would say lower your vibration. Just try to be invisible and go along with pat-downs and x-rays. Don’t make faces, don’t grimace, and don’t say, well, this didn’t happen to this person and feel picked on. Try to be invisible, if you know what I mean?
Just try to keep a low profile and just go along with whatever they say. Don’t push back, say anything, or give them any kind of reason to single you out or target you. Just get through the airport. Also, follow the local customs even if they don’t make sense.
Also, set aside your normal expectations and absorb what’s happening. But, don’t resist at the airport or have an attitude. Because, I did that early, not in the 80s. But when I started traveling again in the 2000s. I was like, oh, this is just unbelievable.
They don’t follow their own rules. That’s what’s so annoying. I have the right size carry on bag and they still try to take my bag. And they will take your bag if they want to and you have all of your stuff in it that you don’t want anyone to handle. So a lot of this stuff I would get mad. But, I suggest not getting mad.
Do you think that it is a competing idea for one to keep a low profile while traveling and being proud of being black? You know, not allowing TSA, or anyone else, to take advantage of you or to profile you at all?
You know, that’s a good question. I have let it be known that I was angry about getting taken into a room.
A TSA agent asked one time: “Do you want me to do this in front of the line or do you want to go into a room and let me pat you down extra?”
And I said, “Take me to the room.”
She knew I was mad. I didn’t have anything on me and she knew I didn’t have anything on me. But for some reason, she just had to take me over to the room. I let it be known that I was mad, but I cooperated with what she was doing. Because if you really get mad and say, I want to speak to a supervisor or I want to do this, they’re just going to band together. And, I’ve seen them band together against people and those people end up in federal custody over nothing. I’ll give you an example.
This guy said, “I want my eye drops out of the bag.”
And the lady said, “No, you can’t have them.”
And, he said, “I need them for the plane.”
She said, “No.”
So, he said, “I need to speak to your supervisor.”
Well, he spoke to the supervisors who advised her to give him the eye drops. Then she said, “He said he had a bomb.” Just to get back at him. And, he got in trouble because she lied on him because she didn’t want him to go over her head and make her look stupid. It was just as simple as that. And she completely messed up what he was doing and his trip. And, he had to do some fast talking to the feds to explain he didn’t say that.
So I don’t want to get into a fight with them or ask for their superiors or anything. So you can still be proud, yet say, you know, don’t violate me. But do what you have to do to catch your flight. Really, there is a fine line.
So, speaking of some of these experiences, what are some of the challenges you faced while traveling?
I’m used to being in my clean, quiet, uncrowded, insect-free home with vegan food at my fingertips. Obviously while traveling in certain places, avoiding dirt, noise, crowds, and insects will be a challenge. I always research the hotel and make sure the tour company knows my diet. Despite the dirt roads, beeping horns, crowds, and insects, I would do it all again in a heartbeat!
What do you think travelers can (i.e. black, women, students) learn from your journey across the world? What are some of the takeaways?
I’ve traveled for many reasons. Lately, I’ve traveled for pure enjoyment. My travel style is animal and nature-based with a big splash of history. I would encourage anyone interested in travel to find out what they enjoy and get the most out of the destination. Hopefully, anyone reading will consider traveling out of their comfort zone.
If you were to speak to young students of color, whether in K-12 or college, what would you advise them about taking the opportunity to travel? How would YOU encourage them?
Travel can be educational, emotionally healing, transformative, and awe-inspiring. The surprises around every corner truly change your perception of the world and the people in it. Travel can be challenging and challenges create growth. I would encourage young people to always be respectful of local customs and to keep themselves safe.
Also, I think the world is happy to open their arms and their minds to African American students. I have many close friends that have traveled extensively for pleasure, entertainment, sports, education, work, and through the military. Overall the experiences have been positive. Some of my friends are now expats, living all around the world.
Is there excitement about traveling since you’ve seen every country? Where do you, the first black woman to travel to every country, travel to now?
Yes!! I can always visit the same country with a different focus. I can always visit new territories.
And, do you have any final words or thoughts about your 40-year travel journey and how it will impact future travelers?
People of African descent need never feel “foreign” while traveling.
This will be taught in the future. Britain has decided that they’re going to start teaching that black people were the first Britons. For example, in Britain, there will be a General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE) that will teach that Africans were in what is now called Britain, far before the English.
These places that have admitted that black people are the roots of their civilization:
In Europe and Russia:
The Grimaldi Man (African skeletons) were found in what is now know as Europe and Russia. Credit: Black History and African Education
A study conducted by a DNA specialist in 2005, concluded that Black Africans were the first inhabitants in China. Credit: Indian Country Today
“1.4 million Mexican citizens who identify as “Afro-Mexican” or “Afro-descendant.” Credit: Fusion
Africans are the roots of civilization and have a right and a duty to explore.
We belong everywhere!