You’ve probably never heard of Woni Spotts. She hasn’t posted any photos on Instagram. She’s not engaged in the many Facebook travel groups. And she only recently became active on Twitter. But she’s accomplished two historic feats: she was recently recognized as the first black woman to travel to every country and continent in the world and she did so quietly without much social media exposure, crowdfunding or corporate sponsorship. We caught up with the 55-year old eCommerce professional and entrepreneur to congratulate her on her accomplishment and learn more about her travels, especially her travels in Africa. Here’s what she had to say:
TAM: Tell us about yourself.
Woni: I was born in Los Angeles, California. I traveled with my parents as a child. Most of my travel was with the friends of my father doing a documentary. From 2014-2018, I traveled alone with a local guide. I work in eCommerce.
TAM: When did you decide to tackle the goal of being the first black woman to travel to every country?
Woni: My early travel was with my parents. Later I hosted a documentary that allowed me to travel to many countries. I learned recently that someone was claiming they were going to be the first black woman to visit every country. I knew I was close to visiting every country. Once I finished, I let it be known that I visited 195 countries, 7 continents, and 22 territories.
TAM: How long did it take you to complete that goal?
Woni: From 1979 to September 2018
TAM: How does it feel to hold that title?
Woni: It’s a shock to the system. The other people that traveled to every country received minimal coverage so I had no idea there would be interest.
TAM: What was the first and last country you visited?
Woni: I traveled as a child but I began recording my travels in 1979. The 195 recorded countries began in Central America and the last country was Turkey. As a result of my travels as a child, I have visited many countries twice.
TAM: In this era of social media where people post everything they do online, you accomplished this amazing goal without much social media fanfare. Was this intentional and if so, why?
Woni: I began my travel before the internet was widely available. As for my travels in the 2000s, I never thought anyone was interested in my personal travel.
TAM: Did you film your travels and do you plan to do more media engagement and publicity in the future?
Woni: Photography and film were used. I don’t have any solid plans for the future. I have written about the global African presence around the world and their ancient roots in every major civilization. I have also written about my personal travels. I’d like to continue writing.
TAM: Tell us about your travel in Africa. When did you first travel to Africa and which country did you visit first?
Woni: My first documented travel took place in the early ’80s. South Africa was the first.
TAM: What was your first impression and how did you enjoy it?
Woni: The people that I met were very hospitable and happy that we were there. I could genuinely feel they were touched that we placed a value on visiting them.
TAM: How long did it take you to visit all 54 African countries?
Woni: 1980 – 2014. I began around 1980 and visited Tanzania, Egypt, and Morocco in 2014.
TAM: Was most of your travel in Africa overland or by air? Which method of travel do you prefer and why?
Woni: I prefer air when possible. I think a cruise could be nice. In order to see wildlife, bumpy roads are always involved at some point. It’s a dilemma, some interesting things are missed while flying while some interesting things can’t be seen while driving.
TAM: Which African country was your favorite and why?
Woni: I have enjoyed many African countries and have always been embraced. I don’t like to compare countries but I love desert landscapes along the West African coast and the elephant family that visited me daily during my stay in Tanzania.
TAM: What was your favorite attraction or experience in Africa?
Woni: Seeing animals in their natural habitats, flying over desert landscapes, tribal people living traditionally, and waterfalls.
TAM: Did you have any especially interesting or dangerous experiences in Africa?
Woni: [On safari in Tanzania] a Maasai had to escort me to the dining room because lions were known to be on the property.
TAM: What tips would you offer to travelers visiting Africa for the first time?
Woni: It depends on which region and their interests. I think it’s important to visit the ultimate motherland. I always visit the main cities, museums, and nature. There are so many experiences in nearly every African country, especially today. Visit for the desert landscapes sculpted by the wind, beautiful beaches, bird abundant lakes, legendary rivers, massive waterfalls, sacred mountains, gorilla viewing, incredible animal migrations, heart-stopping safaris, vibrant drumming ceremonies, the colorful Gerewol festival, and so much more. Many beautiful destinations in Africa are widely unknown but each country has its own treasures.
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Click here to read more about Woni’s travels
Click here to see a list of Woni’s travels