Last stop for the man who has been everywhere

Jeremy Atiyah meets the youngest person to have travelled the world
Click to follow
Not even the threat of war, nor nuclear attack, could have stopped Phil Haines from going on holiday to Iraq last week. While US and British forces menaced the Gulf, he and a few friends were cheerfully speeding towards the almost deserted Karameh border post - and a remarkable record.

For the trip to Saddam's fiefdom meant he was calling on the last and only country on earth which he had not visited. Mr Haines has now been, quite literally, everywhere, and, at just 35, claims to be the youngest person to have been to all 192 sovereign countries recognised by the United Nations.

Mr Haines is charmingly modest about his achievement. "I haven't yet been to all the dependent territories," he explained. In other words, he hasn't been to places like Pitcairn Island or Antarctica, meaning he is not quite the world's best travelled man. That honour belongs to John D Clouse from Indiana, who has done all the sovereign countries and all but six dependent territories.

Phil is not after publicity, nor has he had sponsors following him in emergency vehicles. He has done it, it seems, for the hell of it. "My parents have hardly been out of Middlesex and it was only at the age of 16 that I first went abroad," he says. "That was when I got a bit obsessive. When people were doing InterRail, I was going from Morocco to Norway to Turkey in one trip."

Ticking off the world's countries was something he started a decade ago, by which stage he already had a good 80 under his belt - all the easy ones, he admits. The last 50 or so have been "all the nightmare ones". The list of his latest holidays reads like a list of war zones: Afghanistan, Angola, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Somalia and now Iraq.

But the timing of his Iraq trip hardly ruffled him at all. "I'm used to bad situations," he says. "When I arrived in Monrovia recently, the immigration official put a gun to my chest and said, 'Welcome to Liberia'. I shook the gun as if I was shaking his hand. He liked that. I know how to avoid trouble."

Not that safety has been his main preoccupation - visas have been the thing. Mr Haines spends most of his time negotiating visa applications in stuffy consulates. "When I'm in a place like Djibouti or Albania, I'll always pop into, say, the Angolan embassy, in case they're in a good mood. Procuring visas is a job in itself," he says.

Which is just as well, because Mr Haines, who describes himself as "a bit of a bum", only works to get money for his next trip. And a "trip" can be an extensive affair; he once bought a single air ticket with 40 destinations on it. Which is not to say he never travels for pleasure. The favourite places of the man who has been everywhere are South-east Asia and Polynesia.

He has documented all his trips with immigration stamps. "You need to go through immigration," he explains. "That proves you've been to a country. Just landing at the airport doesn't count." He has got through 10 large- sized passports. Only in the case of his attempted visit to Libya does Mr Haines confess he stretched his own rules.

"I had a visa and landed in the country, but they never stamped my passport - in fact, the immigration officials physically attacked me. But I did spend a couple of days locked up in the airport before they expelled me, and I think that deserves to count."