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.”
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.”
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.
“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.