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.

Be Prepared

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.

THANK YOU!!!

This Post Has 16 Comments

  1. Leah

    Well Sir, you have beat me to my own grand plan of visiting every country of the world… Oh well, I guess I have even more motivation to catch up with you now! 🙂

    Good luck on your travels, your story is amazingly inspiring!!! I hope my own “grand plan” works out as well and I will be able to go to every corner of this Earth as well! And blessed be Cassey for spamming those students when once stuck in Iceland (I’m sure you’d know what I’m referring to 😉 ), for it’s making such journeys possible indeed!

  2. Rory

    Graham,

    I think your pretty awesome,

    At eightteen I really just want to go and explore around the world and think your trip and laid back attitude is inspirational.

    I have a couple of questions, how did you plan your route and how much did you plan before you set off? Would you do the trip again and have you any other plans since your journey is coming to an end?

    Good luck! Only three to go!

    Rory.

  3. Joseph

    Dear Graham,

    I’m 17, in Grade 12 and I live in the USA. I don’t know if I should go to college or travel the world. If I go to college, I feel like I’m going to waste money learning things that I can already learn on the Internet, but then if I don’t go to college, I feel like I’m going to have a difficult time finding a job.
    You said that you were given money by Lonely Planet, which is probably not going to happen to me. So…how do I get money to travel without flying and without going to college?
    Also, since I have a US passport, would I have trouble in certain countries, or is it pretty much the same with a UK passport?

    1. Graham

      Hmm… that’s a tricky question. My advice would be this: the world isn’t going anywhere, so go to college if you’re able and once you graduate go travel the world. You don’t need to earn money ‘from travelling’ so to speak, better to earn money as you go working for instance, teaching English as a foreign language in South Korea or even fruit picking in Australia. You could work for 6 months (preferably in a nice hot foreign country with great food!), save your money and then travel for 6 months. I’ve met loads of people who do this and have no intention of ever stopping!!

  4. NozOLeary

    Hope you are enjoying the opening ceremony mate. You are a select group who has been to most of the countries represented. Lucky git! All the best for the rest of the journey mate. All the best. Noz.

    1. Graham

      Ha! I know… but nowhere was showing it here in Hikkaduwa last night, cos it didn’t start until 1.30am!! I’m currently downloading it… 0.6%, ETA 4 days, 3 hours!!

  5. Nomadic Samuel

    This is an incredible idea and a very inspiring way to travel. I just heard about your site from a friend and I want to wish you the best of luck with your project.

  6. Dan

    amazing.

  7. Pete

    You absolute saint. I got back from 6 months travelling last year from Russia to India and I just stumbled upon this website by accident; now I’m telling everyone about it. It’s always a pleasure to hear others talk about how good people can be to each other if they just have a little faith. Really cannot praise you enough good sir, and I hope your story and message keeps reaching people all over!

  8. Rafael Batista

    Hi Graham.

    Its been a week or two that Im thinking about making a travel to every country in the world. So I just discover your website right now.

    I am 30 years old, living in Brazil and at the moment I am pursuing my PhD in biometeorology. My plan is to finish the PhD around 2016 and begin the trip in 2017. The main reason to do a trip like this is to known the world we live. We can die tomorrow just knowing our own country, our own culture, when there is so much to see, actually a whole world to see.

    So I have tons o questions for you. It would be nice if you keep in touch and answer some of them.

    To begin, I would like to know what route did you follow (I mean the sequence of countrys). I guess that this is important when you think in “spend less money as possible”, right? I know that you began in Uruguai ( pretty close to where I was born ), them you go to where? Is there some place where I can find your route?

    1. Renata Conti

      Anyone else preparing a round world trip in 2017?
      Rafael Batista, maybe we’ll meet, I’m also from Brazil!
      Graham, you’re amazing, thank you for sharing your experiences, they are extremely important for others to be able to also realize their dreams.

      1. gabriel

        I´m preparing a round world trip for that time too, i´m from mexico

  9. Respect man! It’s nice to see that there are more like minded people around the world! I managed to travel 954 days without plane, and eventually I had to give up because my health got worst. But the challenge is still not finished 🙂

  10. Danielle

    You visited Somaliland, a breakaway state, why didn’t you visit similar states like Transnistria or South Ossetia?

  11. Aldana

    would you be willing to coordinate someone who wants to travel around the world? even someone from another country? or advise, not including TV shows or advertising?

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