THE ODYSSEY EXPEDITION
An Adventure Like No Other
As far back as I can remember I always wanted to be a backpacker. The road at my feet, a song in my heart and 500 miles to the horizon. On January 1 2009, I took a ferry boat over the River Plate from Argentina to Uruguay and thus began one of the most daring, most epic and certainly most hilarious solo travel adventures of all time.
I had been told over and over again that it couldn’t be done, it was impossible, a fool’s errand. But I knew it could be done – and I was determined to prove it, or else die trying.
Nobody had ever attempted this before, probably because the concept alone is quite simply insane. As well as the 193 member states of the UN, I had to visit Vatican City, Western Sahara, Taiwan, Kosovo, Palestine, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland… 201 nations by land and sea. Needless to say, it was an adventure of epic proportions.
Blood, Sweat & Beers
THE ODYSSEY EXPEDITION spanned 1,493 days and 218 countries and territories. I did it alone, with no professional support (save that of my wonderful friends and family) and on a shoestring budget of just £100 ($150) a week.
In the first year of my adventure I watched one of the last space shuttles blast off into space, I had to sneak into Cuba from Key West without the American authorities realising, I was arrested on the Russian border for wading across a river and I was forced to backtrack over 2,000 miles through the Sahara Desert to get a visa.
I paid a group of local Senegalese fishermen to take me on their wooden ‘pirogue’ over 600km of open ocean to Cape Verde… no radio, no sat phone, no distress beacon, just an outboard motor and the good will of King Neptune… and was promptly thrown in jail for a week upon arrival on suspicion of people smuggling.
I braved the Mad Max-esque freeways of Nigeria, joined a tribe of hallucinogenic tree-bark worshippers in Gabon and found myself imprisoned again, this time in Congo.
I met the Nuns of Gabarone, grabbed a beer in the highest pub in Africa in Lesotho, won on the horses in Mauritius and reached Egypt at 6 minutes past midnight on New Year.
Knocked For Six
In the second year, I got into a snowball fight in Iraq, was mobbed by schoolchildren in Afghanistan and enjoyed the Breakfast of Champions in Iran.
I watched Ghana beat the US in the World Cup while drinking Asmara beer in Eritrea, I sailed around The World in Dubai and hung out with Frankincense farmers in Oman and Maoist rebels in Nepal.
I crossed the rooftop of the world into Tibet, tucked into a dish of dancing octopus in South Korea and met the Nobel-prize winning President of East Timor.
As I crossed the final frontiers I danced with the bare-breasted highlanders of Papua New Guinea, shared kava across Polynesia and had Jellyfish Lake in Palau all to myself… well, aside from the billion stingless jellies surrounding me.
I braved a voyages in the High Risk Area for Somali pirates, discovered the joys of Takamaka Rum in The Seychelles and was welcomed into South Sudan – a country that didn’t exist when my expedition began – with sandwiches and a bottle of champagne. For my last hurrah on my way back to England (overland) I scaled the Great Pyramid of Giza under cover of darkness with three guys called Mo(hammed).
It would be 4 years, 31 days and two hundred countries after Uruguay that I crossed my final frontier – and entered the record books.
Specifically, these record books:
The Big Idea
I had the idea of doing something like The Odyssey Expedition since 2002 while I was backpacking around South East Asia. I had wanted to visit every country in the world since I was a kid and it excited me that I had the opportunity to visit off-the-beaten-track places like Bangladesh, Burma and Brunei – it dawned on me that with a British Passport, I could – if I tried hard enough – visit every single one of those weird and wonderful places. The only thing stopping me was the fact that several countries at that time were still at war.
Just Do It
After clocking up a total of 70 countries on various backpacking adventures and fielding the idea of The Odyssey Expedition to people in the media, in 2008 I decided it was time to stop talking about it and DO IT. I managed to get a meeting with the head of television development in Lonely Planet – they liked the idea, and what’s more they thought that it was doable. The stage was set.
Over the following six months I prepared as best I could for the journey, getting the necessary vaccinations, learning to sail (kinda), getting in touch with Eimskip to help me cross the Atlantic, arranging a mobile internet dongle with Vodafone so I could keep the website updated on the road and filming stuff for Lonely Planet of my ‘preparations’.
I contacted the good folk at Guinness World Records™ so we could be clear about the ‘rules’, and they requested that as well as not flying, I not drive myself or take private vehicles over large distances – they can’t support any kind of road race.
Truth be told though, there wasn’t much to prepare. I travel fast and I travel light and most of this couldn’t be set-up in advance. Visas only last for a month or two, there was no way of knowing when cargo boats or private yachts will be leaving six months in the future. You can’t predict you’ll get thrown in an African jail or blag a ride on a cruise ship – you just don’t know. But as far as getting around overland is concerned, one late night with a large stack of Lonely Planet guidebooks was all I needed to consult. The world is surprisingly accessible!
With a British Passport you don’t need a pre-bought visa for hardly any country in the Americas or Europe and although the roads in Africa are pretty damn awful, you can always find some sort of public transport trundling along them.
Something else that is quite surprising is how cheap this is to do! If you’re registered on CouchSurfing your accommodation will be free, public transport in most countries is remarkably inexpensive (if you’re prepared to rough it) and you can feed yourself for just a couple of pounds if you know where to look.
Faith in Humanity
Here at theodysseyexpedition.com you can read my raw, uncensored blog entries from the adventure and access my videos, photos, maps and the occasional wild tangent.
If the adventure taught me one thing, it’s that you can’t judge the people of a country by the actions of their government. It also taught me that the world isn’t such a bad place – it isn’t going to hell in a handcart, although it might seem that way if the only experience you have of a given country comes from the media.
During the entire journey I was not mugged, robbed or even fell ill. It gave me a new-found appreciation for this beautiful planet of ours and positively restored my faith in humanity.
I hope that my journey has inspired you to go out and see the world for yourself. Yes it was difficult at times, but then so is life!! Most of the time The Odyssey Expedition was, quite simply, a bloody good laugh. Here’s to all the incredible people — people from every country in the world — who helped make it happen.