Why did you do this?
Well obviously because I’m bonkers. And it was my dream for years.
I wanted to set a brand new Guinness World Record™ (or two!), to raise money for WaterAid, show that the outside world isn’t such a scary place, have some great stories to tell the grandkids, prove it was possible and have some fun, damnit!!
How on Earth did you get Lonely Planet, National Geographic and the BBC on board?
The planets aligned! I’m a video director in my day job, making music videos and stuff in Liverpool. One day I got a call from Mark Bowness, the joint founder of the excellent www.tribewanted.com (and fellow scouser). He wanted me to help him out with a couple of videos. I told Mark of this crazy plan I had to visit every country in the world in one year without flying and he suggested I put a pitch video together for an online adventure competition, which I duly did.
I didn’t win the competition, but soon afterwards I learned that the BBC had acquired Lonely Planet. Fired up by the possibility, I sent the pitch video to Lonely Planet, just as I happened to be in Melbourne for my girlfriend’s sister’s wedding. They called me in for a meeting. So I went round and met up with a top bloke called David who was Head of Development for Lonely Planet Television. He asked me if it this madcap scheme was possible – I showed him my 17-page itinerary and said an emphatic YES.
That’s all he really wanted to know. They checked out my other travel vids that I had made for YouTube and liked what they saw. Lonely Planet looked to National Geographic for the commission for the television show, which was duly granted at the end of November 2008. The BBC also came in on the deal, and the stage was set for the most epic adventure of my life!
So did they pay for everything?
I wish! No – I paid for all the travel myself out of my own pocket (plus 3 credit cards and a hefty overdraft!!) I also have to pay for all my own visas, insurance, medical bills etc. I basically gambled everything I own on successfully completing this adventure. I only gamble when I know I’ll win.
Blimey! This must have cost you a fortune! Are you rich?
Again, I wish! Look, public transport is not really that expensive except in Europe and there you can get an Interrail pass pretty cheaply. I CouchSurfed where possible, I didn’t stay at hotels that cost more than $10 a night and I slept a tremendous number of nights on whatever mode of transport I was on. Nearly all of the cargo ships and cruise ships that were good enough to take me didn’t charge me for my room and board, I tend to only eat cheap street food and, if you look closely, you’ll see I only travel with one pair of jeans and one pair of shoes.
I don’t own any property, I don’t have a mortgage or any dependants and I don’t smoke.
IN SHORT – YOU COULD DO THIS!! Backpacking is NOT expensive! Give up the cigs, buddy – that’ll save you a tenner a day (£3,650 can get you LONG way in Asia!), don’t waste your money on DVDs that you’ll never watch, mobile ringtones, lottery tickets, porcelain figurines, clothes that you’ll never wear or expensive bottles of cheap lager in swanky nightclubs. Get onto www.moneysavingexpert.com and check out how to live life on the cheap, save up a few grand and hit the road – if you’ve got a European, American, Australian, New Zealand or Canadian passport you’ve already got an Triple A pass to the WORLD. USE IT!!
What was the toughest thing about doing The Odyssey?
The hardest thing was getting to islands. If you haven’t got your own private yacht, it’s tremendously tricky and time consuming to reach places like Cuba, Sao Tome, Comoros and Cape Verde without flying.
The next hardest thing was visas. Travelling around the Americas and Europe on a British passport is fairly straight-forward, but once I got into Africa and Asia, working through all the paperwork needed to get from one country to another was an absolute nightmare.
What else was tough was not seeing my girlfriend Mandy for months on end. She waited for me to finish for 3 years and 8 months before we mutually called it a day. We’re still good friends though.
Because clean water and sanitation should be a basic human right. I can’t stress this enough. 2.5 BILLION people do not have access to a toilet. Water-borne diseases are the BIGGEST killer of CHILDREN on the PLANET. Unfortunately, we in the West are more interested in saving the lives of animals (in the UK we give more money each year to the DONKEY sanctuary in Cornwall than we give to the NSPCC) than kids.
Whenever I hear of some batty old woman who’s given a million pounds in her will to the cat’s home, my stomach turns over.
I know building toilets and sewers aren’t as cool and right-on as tackling the AIDS crisis or calling for Debt Relief, but those causes have already got a zillion people (and celebrities) fighting the good fight – I wanted to champion a cause that is politically and religiously neutral (I don’t own the sky-armour or BFG-9000 necessary to take on The Vatican over condom use) and fails to receive the media attention it deserves.
The world is desperate for toilets. And you can help.
So when you get a minute, head on over to www.justgiving.com/theodysseyexpedition and throw a fiver into the pot. You might just save a real actual baby human’s LIFE. Seriously.
Were you scared going to all these crazy places?
Not really. And that’s not naivety, I’ve travelled to some proper basket cases before. The vast majority of people mean no harm whatsoever and will fall over themselves to help you get to where you need to be. Over four years and more than 200 countries I didn’t get mugged, I didn’t have anything stolen, I didn’t get into a fight… I never even got ill. I’m either the luckiest badger in the multiverse, or the world isn’t such a bad place!
You’re just passing through these places! You’re not really experiencing them!
This comes up a time and time again. Three points to consider:
1. When Dame Ellen MacArthur travels around the world in a yacht to break a world record, ALL SHE SEES IS WATER!
2. I’m the first to admit that I just dipped a toe in some places to “tick them off the list”, but others I stayed for a few days or even weeks, and wherever I was I travelled with locals, stayed with locals and ate with locals… apart from taking photos of some landmarks (that I’ve usually already seen) I don’t know what else I need to do to ‘experience’ a place!!
3. Unlike other travel bloggers I wasn’t paid by the tourist board of your country to come visit for a week and say nice things. But now I’ve done all this, who knows?! Hint hint!
Can you speak any other languages?
I try my best, but I have to admit I have absolutely no aptitude for languages. I speak a bit of Spanish and a bit of French. Sorry, my brain is just not wired that way. The fact that I got a B in GCSE French just goes to show how dreadful the British Education System is at actually teaching you anything useful (or handing out grades that reflect one’s abilities).
To be honest, in most places all I need to say is that I’m from Liverpool and that makes most people smile and shout “Steven Gerrard”! Even for an Evertonian like myself, it’s one hell of a useful ice-breaker!
What did you miss most about home?
The obvious stuff – friends, family, lazy days, crazy nights, going the flicks, live music, summer festivals… I also missed my awesome city of Liverpool, proper fish and chips, decent cheese, Adbul’s kebabs, and Caramel Milk Chocolate Digestives.
Who are your influences?
My Dad, Michael Palin, Douglas Adams, Ernest Hemingway, Hunter S. Thompson, Louis Theroux, Steven Fry, Dave Gorman, Charlie Brooker, Toby Amis, Derren Brown, Penn & Teller, James Randi, JJ Abrams, Rod Serling, Richard Dawkins, Sir David Attenborough, Ben Goldacre, Chris Morris, John Safran, Tim Schafer and Ben ‘Yahtzee’ Croshaw.
From the world of fiction: Odysseus (obviously!), Phileas Fogg, Sherlock Holmes, Bilbo Baggins, Dr. Who, R2-D2, Manny Calavera, Indiana Jones and Yossarian.
What were your favourite places?
Madagascar! Or Uzbekistan. Or maybe Iran. And Key West. Palau! And, er, Colombia. TOO MANY TO CHOOSE FROM! I like places that surprise me… in a good way!
If you had to strap somebody to a chair and force them to watch a movie, what would it be?
What's next for Graham Hughes?
How exactly do you get around the world without flying?
Read my blogs! All the countries I have been to so far I have reached overland on a bus or train. I’ve taken a combination of ferries, cargo ships, yachts and fishing boats to the islands of the Caribbean, getting from Canada to Iceland to Europe, getting to Malta, Cape Verde, Sao Tome, Comoros, Madagascar, Mauritius, travelling up the Red Sea from Djibouti to Egypt, Cyprus, across the Caspian Sea, from Dubai to Pakistan to India and all around Indonesia, East Timor and Papua New Guinea.
But there are so many countries!
There are a lot of countries, but not so many that it is impossible to visit them all. There’s 50 states in the US, and there are some nutters(!) who have been to every one, right? Well, 50 of the world’s 200 countries are in Europe and Europe is smaller than the United States. You can get around them all in about three weeks on public transport if you’re keen enough (I know, I did!). The planet is much smaller than we think.
Don’t you have to be a millionaire to travel the world?
NOOOOOOOOO! I don’t own a house, or a car, or even a TV – everything that’s mine I fit into a backpack – and it’s a pretty small backpack!! I saved up about $7500 to travel and I got $15,000 from the TV people which I spent on visas and rickity old boats. Backpacking around the world is not expensive — CouchSurfing is free, public transport is inexpensive and food (and drink) is cheap… so long as you’re not in Norway, Japan or Australia!
How come you’re not dead?
Living dangerously comes with the territory, but I quite enjoy being alive(!) so I also try to minimise the risks. The best way to do that is to read up extensively about a place before you turn up… forewarned is forearmed. But generally speaking everywhere I’ve been most people are just trying to get on with their lives don’t present a threat. There was a TV show about this guy, Mark Beaumont, who cycled around the world, through Iran and Afghanistan and all sorts… and ended up getting mugged… in the USA!
How do you know who to trust?
I don’t and have been right royally ripped off as a result! But, so far, I haven’t been messed around too much (except in Cape Verde), as I say, most people just want to get on with their lives… they’re not interested in doing you any harm. It’s only as safe as trusting your bus driver, gym teacher or the guy in selling you kitchen tiles in Home Depot. There are obviously cases of abuse of this trust, but in general people aren’t out to get you. Ex-girlfriends are more likely to cause you problems and heartache than some dude you ask for directions in Cambodia!
Where’s the best country in the world?
Difficult one. Travel is tremendously subjective, but my Top 20 countries would have to include Egypt, Bolivia, Thailand, Madagascar and Iran but for a full list check out my witty and informative League of Nations.
What’s the best travel agency in the world?
STA Travel. Cheap as chips. I’m not getting paid to say that… if I was I’d tell you.
I’m a single female. Where shouldn’t I go?
I would advise against going to countries in the Middle East, Africa and India on your own, because the hassle you will encounter from the local men will be intolerable. Having a buddy or two tag along would be a very good idea. But Europe, Latin America, East Asia: you shouldn’t encounter too many problems so long as you follow the same sensible precautions that you would at home.
Eek! I’ve lost my hotel!
Mark where it is in your Lonely Planet. Also pick up a business card from reception before you go out on the lash. Oh and don’t drink so much in future.
Should I travel or should I go to university?
Well, you’ll learn more travelling than you will on any given humanities course and travel has GOT to be cheaper than universities these days. Unless you’re studying something useful like engineering, science or medicine, I’d be getting my backpack on if I were you.
But how am I ever going to get a proper job?
Proper jobs are over-rated! Sod the rat race, you’ve got loads of time to watch soap operas when you’re old and your brain stops working…
I want to go to Yemen and Saudi Arabia. Am I mad?
Naaaaah. Well, maybe a little… For Yemen you don’t need a visa, however when I went there they had barred entry to all western tourists for the rather sensible reason that we keep getting murdered by mad bastards who are often/always outraged about something or other. Having said that, a female friend of mine went to Yemen in 2009 and utterly loved it and it seems that if you’re looking for culture in the Arabian Peninsular, Yemen is the top treat (followed by Oman) so I’m sad I missed it.
The real dangerous area of Yemen is around the border with Saudi, which I doubt you’d get across for love nor money. If you are planning to get into Saudi overland from Yemen, you’re probably best swinging around Oman and then UAE to get there. As for the ferry between Djibouti and Yemen, to my best knowledge it doesn’t actually exist. You could try winging it on a cargo boat or a dhow: but be aware that it’s pretty dangerous and you might not be the only merchandise on board…!
Saudi visas are like the golden ticket at Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory. Basically you need to get a company in Saudi and another (corresponding) company in your home country to sponsor you, and you need to get your visa at home (I had to Fed-ex mine back and forth to Kuwait – hence my delay there for 6 weeks). Once you have your Letter of Invitation you need to take it to the embassy in your home country: they may not accept personal applications, you might need to do it through an agency.
All the other countries in the area are visa-free, but you need a Saudi visa to even pass through the place.
If you can get a one-month business visa it should (these days) be multiple entry and you’ll be able to move around the region freely. All you really need a friend who is high up in a company that trades with Saudi who’ll say you work for them. If you haven’t got one you need to make one!!
I want to overland it to Central Asia. Any tips?
Istanbul is a (fairly) good place to pick up a visa for Iran, but you’ll have to jump through a ton of hoops beforehand!
Your best bet is to go to Georgia first from Turkey. No visa required. However, with a UK passport you do need a visa for Azerbaijan, DON’T get it in Istanbul, get it from Tbilisi in Georgia. If you go to a travel agency they can get your Azerbaijan visa SAME DAY.
Once in Baku, you can (fairly) easily get a visa for Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan. Head down to the port (warning – they speak NO English!!) and ask about the sort-of weekly ferry over the Caspian to Kazakhstan (or fly). Uzbekistan (Tashkent) is good for visas for Kyrgyzstan (two day service, Afghanistan (overnight service if you’re feeling fruity) and even Turkmenistan, although Turkmenistan is a proper fortress.
A good place to get your visa for Tajikistan is Bishkek in Kyrgyzstan. Only takes two days.
Oh – and when you’re in Uzbekistan DON’T FORGET TO REGISTER every night at a hotel (you don’t actually have to stay there). Otherwise you’ll be deported. They don’t have too much of a sense of humour about stuff like that.
What’s the best way to make $$$ on the road?
Prostitution! But if that fails, Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) is a bloody good idea. You don’t even need to speak the language of the people you’re teaching, or English for that matter! They’ll stop somewhere for a few months, teach, then move on somewhere else. Sounds like a bloody good larf to me.
How can I make money as I travel out of YouTube?
First up, try to be more sexy. YouTube pay out $1 for every 1000 unique views that you get (so you can’t just blag it by using a auto-refresh program – bah!). BUT you have to be a YouTube partner to get the dosh: this is the tricky bit – they won’t ask you to be a partner until you’ve got like 100,000 views or something, and you can’t get the money for the views that you received before becoming a partner.
Epic Meal Time has got a combined total of 130,000,000 hits in their first seven months: that’s a good $130,000 they’ve made…. just from YouTube… good work if you can get it! I’ve only made 60 quid. But then I am a backward-talking swamp lizard from Dagobah.
Should I take a tent?
Not unless you’re camping. When I’m backpacking I never carry a tent: too heavy. I use CouchSurfing to stay at people’s houses – which is brilliant – you never know what you’re going to get. One day you might be sleeping on a hammock outside a jungle shack, the next you might be staying at a penthouse at the top of a skyscraper… HELL YEAH!
Is eating street food dangerous?
Yeah, street food can play serious havoc with your innards: my rule-of-thumb is to only eat stuff that is piping hot. Prawn salads are a big no-no, at least until you build up some bionic-soldier-like resistance over the years. If all else fails, there’s always McDonalds…
Doesn’t Travelling On Your Own Get Lonely?
You’re never alone for long. Travelling solo allows you to meet more people, engage in more conversations and get into more interesting situations. It also allows you to travel much faster! I haven’t come across any big problems that have come about because I’m on my own, and in some cases – such as when I got thrown in jail – it was better that I was on my own. Travelling in large groups is a nightmare as nobody can ever make a damn decision. Also – never travel in threes. Not a good number.
What do you do if there are no internets, googles or phone coverage?
Every country has internet access and phone coverage in the major cities and most towns and villages, although some places (like Eritrea) don’t make it easy! But if you’re going to find yourself halfway up a mountain or out on the open ocean in a wooden canoe, might I suggest a sat-phone?
I only speak English! Is that going to be a problem?
Not at all. Body and sign language is pretty universal and I haven’t been anywhere I couldn’t (somehow!) get across what I was trying to say. A working knowledge of French and Spanish is helpful, but not essential – anybody who says otherwise is lying. Although I would caution against taking on the world if you only speak Welsh.
How difficult would it be to beat your world record?
If you don’t waste your time getting to islands like Cape Verde, Sao Tome and The Seychelles, you could quite easily beat my record of 133 countries in one year. So what are you waiting for…?