Why did you want to 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, corporate vids, actor’s showreels, live event videography, short films etc. 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 had 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 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 a 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.wateraid.org and throw a fiver into the pot. You might just save a real actual baby human’s LIFE. Seriously.
How exactly did you get around the world without flying?
Read my blogs! All the countries I visited overland I reached on a bus or train. For island nations and across oceans I took a combination of ferries, cargo ships, yachts and fishing boats. That’s how I got to the islands of the Caribbean, from Canada to Europe via Iceland, 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, Papua New Guinea and around the Pacific Ocean.
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.
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!
No but seriously, how are you 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. 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 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. Your exes are more likely to cause you problems and heartache than some dude you ask for directions in Cambodia!
Could a woman do this?
Yes. At the risk of mansplaining, there have been women who have visited every country in the world on their own. No woman has done it without flying yet, but I have no doubt they could. You’d have to take more precautions than I did, and you’ll probably receive an infuriating amount of attention from the local men in places like the Middle East and India. You’ll have to keep your wits (and smart phone) about you, try not to stray too far from the beaten path, and let the world know where you are and where you’re going at every opportunity.
You’re just passing through these countries! You’re not really experiencing them!
This comes up a time and time again. 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, ate with locals and stayed 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. I wasn’t paid by the tourist board of your country to come visit for a week and say nice things. But if you’d like that to happen, feel free to get in touch!
4. They don’t hand out Guinness World Records for “experiencing” a place.
How difficult would it be to beat your world records?
If you don’t waste your time faffing about getting to islands like Cape Verde, Sao Tome and The Seychelles, you could quite easily beat my record of 133 countries in one year.
As for “the big one” — every country without flying in four years and one month — the honest answer is I don’t know. I lucked out when I did this journey, the world was fairly peaceful, but since then we’ve had insurrections, invasions, revolutions, wars, a global pandemic, you name it. Not to mention the worrying increase in natural disasters. If you want to give it a go, I’ll help you out, so long as you’re not a total dick about it.
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?