One final journey is required for a British adventurer to complete his “around the world without flying” record, after 1,426 days surfing sofas in every country on earth.
In November Graham Hughes, from Liverpool, became the first person to travel to all 201 “countries” in the world without travelling by plane. But his Guinness World Record was deemed invalid because he entered Russia illegally and without a visa, wading across the River Narva from Estonia.
Tomorrow, with a visa in his passport, the 33-year-old returns to Russia to complete his three-year mission.
Since New Year’s Day 2009 he has visited all 193 nations recognised by the United Nations and entered every sovereign nation in the world, including Vatican City, Palestine, Taiwan, Western Sahara and Kosovo, which do not have seats at the UN.
Speaking to The Independent yesterday ahead of a 25-hour train journey from London Victoria to Gdansk, Poland, and on to Russia, Mr Hughes, who cited Michael Palin and his father Graham as his inspirations, said he would encourage anyone to emulate his journey.
He said: “It is not the lonely experience that you might think. You’re forced to make conversation with people. When you’re on your own you talk to more people. Very often it is money that seems to stop people travelling. They think it will be really expensive. But it is cheaper to go and travel than to go to university. It’s cheaper than having a flat in London.”
The three-year trip was conducted on a meagre budget of about £10 a day. Mr Hughes said he spent less than £7,000 a year in the first two years and only about £3,000 after that. Costs were kept down by sleeping on sofas across the world.
The Guinness rules for the record attempt included not using private transport over large distances or hitchhiking. Mr Hughes said he used a combination of trains, taxis and cargo ships to travel around the world.
He was arrested twice, in the Congo and Cape Verde. Congolese police held him for six days in solitary confinement without giving any cause, after he was arrested at a checkpoint.
“I was too angry to be scared. I had done nothing wrong and had all the correct paperwork in place but they thought I was some sort of spy,” he said. “I was shouting at the guards and beating on the cell door. Eventually I was told that I would be taken outside and shot in the head if I didn’t stop.”
Mr Hughes, who filmed his trip for National Geographic Adventure and raised money for the Water Aid charity, said the longest leg was a 32-day trip from Australia to the Pacific island nation of Nauru, the world’s smallest republic. He also spent four days in a leaky wooden canoe crossing the Atlantic Ocean to Cape Verde.
He said he “blagged” his way into Eritrea, met the Prime Minister of Tuvalu, “ran around” Iraq with an AK-47 assault rifle and “tip-toed” into communist North Korea.
Among other highlights were swimming in a lake full of jellyfish in the Pacific archipelago of Palau and watching one of the last Space Shuttle launches from Cape Canaveral in Florida.
He also cited dancing with the highland jungle tribes of Papua New Guinea in September 2011 as a “defining moment” of his journey.
“The more you travel, the smaller the world seems,” he said today as he contemplated putting down roots in London.
For him, as he prepares to set out on one last journey tomorrow, it must seem positively minuscule.