Global first: Brit visits all 201 states without flying

Graham Hughes says Iraq and Afghanistan were easy. Islands like Nauru were the real challenges.

By , Correspondent

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    Graham Hughes flashes his South Sudan visa while walking past a South Sudanese ministry building. Hughes has spent the better part of the past four years traveling overland to every country in the world, with South Sudan - the world's newest country - being the last on his list.
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A British adventurer has become the first person to travel to all 201 sovereign states in the world without flying, ending his four-year odyssey early Monday when he arrived in South Sudan, the world’s newest nation.

Graham Hughes has used buses, boats, taxis, trains, and his own two feet – but never an airplane – to travel 160,000 miles in exactly 1,426 days, spending an average of less than $100 a week. 

“I love travel, and I guess my reason for doing it was I wanted to see if this could be done, by one person traveling on a shoestring,” Mr. Hughes tells the Monitor Monday by telephone from Juba, South Sudan’s capital. “I think I also wanted to show that the world is not some big, scary place, but in fact is full of people who want to help you even if you are a stranger.”

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Hughes, 33, set out from his home in Liverpool in northern England on New Year’s Day 2009. 

Since then, he has visited all 193 United Nations member states plus Taiwan, Vatican City, Palestine, Kosovo, Western Sahara, and the four home nations of the United Kingdom.

Guinness confirmed

Guinness World Records have confirmed that Hughes, who has been filming the trip for a documentary and raising money for a charity called Water Aid, is the first person to achieve this feat without flying. 

“The main feeling today is just one of intense gratitude to every person around the world who helped me get here, by giving me a lift, letting me stay on their couch, or pointing me in the right direction,” Hughes said Monday. “There were times, sitting in a bus station in Cambodia at one in the morning, riding some awful truck over bad roads, when I thought, why am I doing this? But there was always a reason to keep going.”

Highlights were swimming in a lake of jellyfish in the Pacific archipelago of Palau, watching one of NASA’s last Space Shuttle launches, and dancing with the jungle tribes of Papua New Guinea

“People asked me how I was going to get to Afghanistan or Iraq or North Korea, but they were the easy ones, you don’t even need a visa for Iraq, you just walk across the border from Turkey,” he says.

“The really tough ones were places like Nauru, and the Maldives and the Seychelles, island countries where there were also sometimes pirate threats.”

To cross oceans, Hughes hitched lifts with cargo ships. He spent four days in an open fishing canoe from Senegal to Cape Verde, and was then arrested when he arrived. 

Later, officials in the Democratic Republic of Congo jailed him for six days believing he was a spy.

“None of this put me off, it just made me more bloody-minded to succeed,” he says. 

Death in the family

The hardest point, “when I just wanted to give up,” he remembers, was after his older sister, Nicola, died from cancer two years ago at the age of 48. Hughes rushed home to see her before she died. (The original article misstated the age of Hughes' sister.)

“She told me not to stop the trip, but I was at a real low point. I’d done 184 countries and had only 17 to go and I thought why not leave it there,” he says. 
The memory of his sister spurred him on, as did the people that he met as he traveled and the money he was raising for Water Aid, which works to bring clean water to people in the developing world.

“If you take everything that you know of the world from the news, it’s all the bad stuff and you get very paranoid that everyone is out to get you,” he says. 
“But the most amazing thing to me is that everyone I met looked after me and I didn’t even know them.” 

Hughes plans to stay in South Sudan only until Wednesday. But he will not then be flying home. 

He says to “keep in the spirit of the adventure” he will continue through Africa and across Europe by bus and boat, aiming to return home to Liverpool by ferry from Ireland in time for Christmas.

“Someone wrote to me and pointed out that this would be the trip of a lifetime for most people, but for me it’s essentially just the bus home,” he says. After a long rest, he says he will then begin exploring options to continue with a career in film-making.

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