JUBA, SOUTH SUDAN — A British man, Graham Hughes, says he has broken a world record by traveling to every sovereign state in the world without flying. VOA’s Hannah McNeish caught up with him as he entered South Sudan; the world’s newest country and the last on the list for Hughes.
Brandishing an overstuffed passport from all the visas he collected while making what he calls his “Odyssey", Graham Hughes celebrated his self-proclaimed record for being the first person to travel to 201 sovereign states.
The 33-year-old Briton, who hails from Liverpool, has been on the road for almost four years. Remarkably, he made the journey strictly by land transportation and by sea.
“Today is the 1,426th day of the Odyssey expedition, which is my world-record-breaking attempt, which is to be the first person to visit every country in the world without flying," he said.
On a shoestring budget funded by donations from family and friends, he says he hitchhiked, stayed on people’s couches, and only ate local food on his journey.
Wearing a cowboy hat and saddled with three small bags in tatters, Hughes said when he first announced his plans, no one was convinced he would make it this far.
“Most people thought that I was a bit mad, a lot of people thought it was impossible, a lot of people thought it could not be done. Most of the questions involved how are you going to get to Iraq, how are you going to get to Afghanistan and Somalia, to be honest those were the easy countries to get to," he said.
He said officials on the Turkish border waived a visa requirement and let him in to Iraq for 10 days.
It was getting to Pacific islands like Sao Tome and Nauru that were often served by only one monthly cargo ship that proved the most difficult. But Hughes had imposed rules on himself that he had to set foot on dry land in each country to complete his task.
Highlights included watching the last space shuttle launch in the United States and traveling around Africa. The lowlights included his detention for six days in the Democratic Republic of Congo on suspicion of being a spy. He was also detained in Cape Verde.
But Hughes says it was the people, not places that topped the list.
“The main highlight I have to say in this trip, has just been for me, has been the reaffirmation of my faith in humanity and the fact that people I have met on the road have been so friendly and hospitable," he said.
His low points were flying home last year after finding out his sister had a terminal illness and carrying on after she died, then breaking up with his girlfriend of 10 years in the final months.
Hughes broke a world record the first year of his trip by visiting 133 countries. He then knocked off all 193 U.N. member states, as well as places like Palestine, Kosovo and Taiwan that are widely considered if not officially recognized as sovereign.
Hughes said his early inspiration came from British comic Michael Palin of Monty Python fame, who presented an '80 Days Around the World' TV show in the 1980s.
But Hughes says he always wanted Palin to live up to the show’s title.
“I wanted him to go everywhere, and as I grew up the more I traveled myself independently the more I realized that it was a feasible thing to do. I thought with the right determination you could do it, and I have proved it right. I have managed to do it," he said.
One day, Hughes would like to settle in Liverpool. But for now, he is not ready to hang up his travel hat in what he says has become the best job in the world.