Graham Hughes, a British adventurer, has become the first person in the world to visit all 201 sovereign states without flying. Early Monday, he ended a near four-year journey to travel to all the states with his arrival in South Sudan, the newest nation in the world. The 33-year-old used buses, trains, taxis, boats and other means of transport, including walking, to travel 160,000 miles in 1,426 days without setting foot on a plane. His adventure only cost him an average of less than £10 a day.
Hughes started this adventure on 1 January 2009 from his home in Liverpool. He has visited every United Nations member state (of which there are 193), as well as the four home nations of the UK, Taiwan, Western Sahara, Palestine, Vatican City and Kosovo. He filmed the journey for a documentary and has been raising money for the Water Aid charity. Some of the highlights he has made of the adventure include watching one of the last Space Shuttle launches for NASA, swimming in a Palau lake of jellyfish and dancing with tribes in the Papua New Guinea jungle.
Talking to Monitor Monday from South Sudan, Hughes said that he loves travelling. He thinks his reason for doing this was to see if it could be done by one person travelling with little funds. He thinks he also wanted to demonstrate that the world isn’t a big, scary place. In fact, it’s full of people who want to help, even if the person they are helping is a stranger.
He continued that he feels intense gratitude to everyone who helped him set this record and get to where he is today. They gave him a lift, let him sleep on their couch or just pointed him in the right direction. He thought about why he was doing this at times – when he was riding in an awful truck on bad roads or sitting in a Cambodia bus station at 1am. There was always a reason that kept him going.
Some people asked him how he would get into North Korea, Afghanistan or Iraq, Hughes went on, but those were the easy countries to visit. He explained that a visa isn’t needed to get into Iraq, as anyone can just walk across the Turkish border. The tough places to visit were Seychelles, Nauru and the Maldives. These island nations also have the threat of pirates. The adventurer hitched rides on cargo ships to cross oceans and spent four days travelling from Senegal to Cape Verde in an open fishing canoe, but he was arrested upon arrival. He was also jailed for six days by Democratic Republic of Congo officials on suspicion of being a spy. However, he says these things just made him more determined to succeed.
Hughes did recall the hardest part of his journey, when he just wanted to give up. This happened when Nicola, his older sister, passed away at the age of 39 from cancer in 2010. He hurried home, and was able to see her before she passed on. He recalls her telling him not to stop the trip, but he was in a really low place. He had been to 184 countries with only 17 left and considered leaving it at that. However, his sister’s memory kept him going, along with the people he met on the way and the money he raised for Water Aid, a charity that works to bring developing countries clean water.
Hughes is planning to stay two days in South Sudan, but he won’t fly home. He will keep the spirit of his adventure and travel through Africa and across Europe on buses and boats. His goal is to reach Liverpool on a ferry from Ireland by Christmas.
Guinness World Records has confirmed that Hughes is the first person to do this without flying. He also holds the record for visiting the most nations in one year on scheduled ground transport, with 133 countries in 2009.