I tried from about seven different places in the world to get to the Seychelles before I actually cracked it.
Just last week, Graham Hughes became the first person to visit every country on earth without flying. After almost four years of travel, the 33-year-old from Liverpool, England, set foot in his 201st and final country, South Sudan. When he began his challenge, the country did not even exist, but now it represents the crowning glory of a long and frustrating journey.
It started as a mad dash, one-year trip, back to Australia to be with his girlfriend, captured on the TV show, Graham’s World, on the National Geographic Adventure Channel. But things did not turn out quite as planned. Hughes broke up with his girlfriend, the show ended, and the journey took almost four times as long as intended, but he has finally achieved his goal.
Hughes caught the travel bug early, visiting Eastern Europe with his family as the Iron Curtain was coming down, and has not really stopped since. He does not, however, really have the look of a modern day adventurer. There’s no army physique or weathered features, just a typical looking English guy in a fedora, the hat made famous by Indiana Jones. Indeed, Hughes has dubbed himself the "Thinking Woman’s Indiana Jones," but it is another one of his fictional role models that he most resembles, Phileas Fogg. The 19th-century protagonist of Jules Verne’s Around the World in 80 Days was an unflappable charmer and schemer, able to think on his feet and talk his way around the world. Like Fogg, Hughes will return to Liverpool by boat, having succeeded in a scheme, very much in the vein of a late Victorian adventurer.
Here, Hughes tells us why the United States was one of the hardest places to enter, what pieces of equipment have been indispensable to him over the past four years, and what he plans to do if new countries are created.
Why did you embark on this journey?
I think it’s the same sort of reason people give for Everest: because it’s there. The challenge was there and no one had done it before. It was a Guinness World Record I knew that I had the ability to achieve and I thought it was possible. I’d traveled before starting this and I wanted to do at least one amazing thing in my life—and now I’ve done it.
You’ve said it was a decade-long dream. How did it come to fruition?
I got the concept for it when I went backpacking in 2002. I’d bought an around the world ticket and went to a lot of places. I had the most amazing experience. I said after that, Would it be possible to get to every country in the world without flying?
Throughout the 2000s, as the world was getting more peaceful and wars were ending in West Africa and Central Africa, I realized the world was getting a bit more easy to get around. By 2008, I realized I could do this in the next couple of years. I spoke to people at Lonely Planet Television in Australia and they really liked it and said you could probably do it. They commissioned me to make a TV series that was on National Geographic a couple of years ago, the first year of my adventures.
It’s taken almost four years to do. Did you ever think about quitting at any point?
I never thought about quitting. I had some difficulty last year because my sister passed away. After that I didn’t want to quit, but I wanted someone to take the reins and sort of deal with the complicated stuff and arrange things for me. For the whole trip I’ve been a kind of one-man band. It was a lot of responsibility to keep it going, but there wasn’t a point where I thought I was going to give up. I felt like it would be letting so many people down, people who had helped me on the journey.