I was watching Graham Hughes Ted Talk, and in that he mentioned that when he was 8 or 9 years old he was watching “Around the world in 80 days with Michael Palin” and even as a child he thought to himself, wow, this is great but why doesn’t he go to every country? Thus, the fact that Hughes visited every country on Earth should come as no surprise. But there is a pretty big surprise, so, fasten your seat belts! Or don’t because neither did the subject of this article. What I meant to say is that Hughes travelled to every country in the world, without taking any flights! And yes, he is the first and foremost person to have achieved this feat.
Hughes set out to fulfill his lifelong dream on a shoe string budget and started his “Odyssey Expedition” from the Caribbean. The adventurer had to take one too many boat rides to reach his destinations. And before you start picturing fancy cruises, let me tell you that that wasn’t the case. There were a lot of fishing boats also that he journeyed it. Hey hey, adventure isn’t glamourous, adventure is raw, unfiltered and that is precisely where its beauty lies, because if you have a dream that big then you literally do whatever it takes.
The Odyssey Expedition, the name coined for his achievement, took him 1,492 days, i.e., roughly 4 years and a month. I know while we often hear that someone did something so incredible on a shoestring budget, there is still a part of us that still wonders just how small a budget could it be realistically. Well, Hughes has candidly stated that he spent only $150 per week. That’s right! It wasn’t easy of course and Hughes often attempted unknown routes or help from passers-by. He found himself in jail not once but multiple times, in different countries!
With the true soul of an adventurer, Hughes doesn’t simply mention reaching a country and looking about, when he pens his expedition. He narrates experiences with the ones he met. From Senegalese fisherman whose wooden pirogue he boarded in the open ocean of Cape Verde, nuns of Gaborone whom he interacted with, Iraqis with whom he had a snow-fight and even the experience of meeting the president of East Timor, Nobel Prize winner, Jose Ramos Horta. While an adventurer is believed to be uber cool or strong, the charm in Hughes’ narrative is how candidly he talks about his lows and fears too. For instance, he got mobbed by school children in Afghanistan and how the freeways of Nigeria felt like a Mad Max road rage experience! Hughes speaks of his adventure as not just epic or daring but even hilarious. And that is where the tales of this television presenter, filmmaker and Guinness World Record holder, get you enraptured because travel never was and never will be simply about picturesque locations, it is also about the good, bad, and the oh so thrilling stories that you end up walking out of them with.
But even with all the bad, travelling does show you that more often than not there is good in the world. Hughes too experienced the kindness of people across the world. One particularly endearing moment is from his time in Iran where he boarded a bus and was sitting behind an 80 something year old woman. She was talking in the local language over the phone for a bit when she suddenly handed the phone too Hughes. On the other end of the line was the old lady’s grandson who was an English teacher. He informed Hughes that his grandma was worried as the bus would be reaching its destination at 5am and she feared that this Britisher would have nowhere to go or no food to eat at the ungodly hour. And guys, guess what, it isn’t just our Indian mummies that our always going “Beta, kuch kha toh lo!”, because the sweet old lady just wanted to ensure Hughes too got some breakfast after the tiresome journey. Tell me you went aww, I mean how could you not. Hughes himself stated that, “It was one of those moments where you just think, actually, the vast majority of people on this planet are all right. They really are, and you really can’t judge people by their governments.” His website proudly states “One Man. Every Country. No Fights.” And I would like to emphasize the last part because while the world outside may seem scary, here was a man who achieved all this, over the span of 4 years without a single fight. Somehow the good will always surpass the bad.
With so many experiences to pen, the man authored multiple books. When Hughes had commenced this elaborate expedition in the year 2009, the country of South Sudan did not even exist! So, he concluded this journey in the world’s newest country in the year 2012. And I think to myself that while he was chasing a record, he was also writing the experience of a lifetime.