The Sundaytimes Sri Lanka

Never on a plane, but been to 198 countries

Meet Graham Hughes, who decided to give up a life of comfort and see the world

He’s been to 198 countries without boarding a single flight. Smack in the midst of a Guinness World Record attempt to be the first man to visit every sovereign nation on Earth without flying, Graham Hughes is a hard man to pin down. But as he’s currently stranded in Sri Lanka, his 198th destination, with no way of getting over to the Maldives, we sit down for a conversation with the ‘ginger headed scouser’.
Born in that city of ships, Liverpool, Graham Hughes is a British film-maker, television producer, presenter, writer, Guinness World Record holder and above all-adventurer. In his 33 years he has travelled more and met more people than most men can hope to in 33 lifetimes, and he’s got the stories to show for it.

Graham Hughes

His love for travel began with ‘mad camping trips’ his family would take around Europe. “My dad-he’s the original loafer,” Graham grins. “He would drag the entire family not just to the cheesy tourist destinations -we’d visit East Europe, the off-the-map locations no one sane would take a holiday in! So when I went back to school, I was the cool kid who had holidayed in places nobody could even pronounce, let alone have heard of.”
So by the time he hit 20, he had already been to over 70 countries. And it was on this tour that he ‘picked up’ his sassy Australian girlfriend Mandy from Egypt, when they met in front of the pyramids.

The decision to travel the world, and do it without leaving the ground came from the realization that he could, says Graham. Leaving behind a life of comfort for roughing it out is no easy decision to make. His film company Hydra Studios was just getting off the ground and life in general was good. To drop it all and travel is exactly the kind of impulsive decision that he was being warned against. So drop it all and travel he did.
The expedition that started on the first day of 2009 has taken him to places and people over great continents and across stormy seas. Starting off in the great landmass of the Americas, he toured South America in just under two weeks (having already holidayed there before, it was just a matter of stepping one foot over a border, getting his passport stamped and then making his way onto another country!). There on followed Canada, Iceland, and Europe-fairly ordinary excursions for the seasoned traveller.

The fun began, so to speak, when Graham reached the African continent. There was a little incident in Cape Verde when he spent a cozy week in a five-star…jail. Arrested for coming over on a Senegalese fisherman boat, he recounts that experience as a ‘rather scary time’. “Being in jail when you’re miles and oceans away from home, under foreign police who don’t speak the same language as you; nothing compares.”

In travel, you often encounter the unexpected. Certainly, the ridiculous is not far behind. He remembers a travel companion hell-bent on finding Diet Coke in Ethiopia; a bus ride in Nigeria which (unbelievably) surpassed even Sri Lankan public transport in terms of madness and the feverish gleam in the driver’s eye. A 4000-mile trek across the Saharan deserts just to update a slightly outdated visa is one he’d rather not remember.
More than anything, the past three and a half years have reaffirmed his faith in humanity, he smiles. “You learn that the stupidest thing you can do is to judge a country by its government.” Iran, proved to be one of the friendliest places to be. “I was given the best of treatment by perfect strangers,” he says, recalling a breakfast he was treated to by a kind old lady simply because she saw him alone.
How can he afford it all ?

Graham’s answer is quite simple; savings and a willingness to rough it out. “It costs more to rent a flat and buy a car in London,” he explains. “When I travel, I take public transport, rough it out on cargo ships when I have to cross over seas, and depend on CouchSurfer (an online site that offers travellers accommodation in the form of ‘hosts’ in other countries). It’s not expensive at all, when you do it that way.”
A partnership with Lonely Planet, National Geographic and the BBC also means his travels will be documented for humanity. “And well, I get paid a little for it,” he laughs. The television series ‘Graham’s World’ is being screened right now on the National Geographic Adventure channel.
The ‘Odyssey Expedition’ will also raise funds for WaterAid, a registered charity that seeks to alleviate diseases associated with water contamination in developing countries. Visit www.theodysseyexpedition.com for more.

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