Liverpudlian Graham Hughes took an epic trip around the globe. What makes his quest unique is that he did so without boarding a single plane. His feet remained on terra firma for the entirety of this extraordinary journey.
Traveling on a shoestring budget of just £100 a week, Hughes would have to rely on the kindness of strangers to give him a ride, offer him a place to say or give him a meal to eat. Any doubts he had about the citizens of the world’s generosity were dispelled by his contact with them. He realized that humanity was a common currency that you could earn and spend regardless of borders and boundaries.
So, how do you travel around the world without hopping on a plane? Hughes reckoned that since our ancestors could do it, so could he. He traversed the globe on boats, buses, trains and taxis. There were times when he had to rely on his own two feet to reach his next destination.
He accepted lifts from strangers and was not above using animal-driven modes of transportation. All in all, he traveled 160,000 miles like this.
His time on the road allowed him to visit the 193 sovereign states of the United Nations. In addition to this, he visited territories such as Palestine, Kosovo, Taiwan and Western Sahara. These are regions seeking autonomy from the countries whose borders they fall under. Hughes included all four nations of the United Kingdom: England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Island. He also included the Vatican City in his trip.
Hughes began his trip in Uruguay and finished it in one of the world’s newest states, South Sudan. He had to add South Sudan to his itinerary while his trip was in progress. It hadn’t even existed when he departed! It took him four years to accomplish his goal, but he maintains that every minute made it worthwhile.
The 1,426 days he spent on the road completing his journey left an indelible imprint on him as a person. His trip was suspended at one point because his 39-year-old sister died of cancer. He rushed home to be by her bedside.
By that time, Hughes had another 17 countries to visit to achieve his goal. He was distraught by his sister’s illness and thought about giving up. But her final wish was for her brother to finish what he started, so that is what he did.
Hughes has had some close calls along the way. He says that people are usually interested in knowing how he managed to get into a country like North Korea. His reply is that it was one of the easy ones. Even conflict hotspots such as Iraq and Afghanistan didn’t pose too many problems for this intrepid traveler.
He said the hardest countries to travel to are those in the middle of the ocean, such as the tiny island nation of Nauru. His stories include week-long incarceration in the Democratic Republic of the Congo as an alleged spy. The Russians arrested him for trying to infiltrate their borders illegally. And a Filipino ladyboy had to rescue him from a group of Muslim fundamentalists. It was certainly a journey punctuated by some interesting highlights.
Another popular question is how Hughes managed the sea voyages he needed to undertake to accomplish his goal. He recounts traveling on a leaking boat to reach Cape Verde. For the most part, however, he hitched rides on cargo ships. He even lucked out with a free trip aboard a cruise ship when he traveled to the Dominican Republic.
Like with any journey, there were some low points as well. The weariness of walking must have been one of them. And there were times when Hughes questioned his goal and wondered what he hoped to achieve. But meeting different people along the way who supported his journey and opened their hearts to him made up for all the discomfort and doubt.
One thing that struck Hughes was how many different and unique settings he found himself in. From the bright lights and glitzy glamor of Hong Kong to the open plains of the Kenyan savannah, each one offered a new experience. He was fortunate to see a great many wild animals in their natural habitats. He also got to observe and learn the customs and rituals of many indigenous people in the countries he visited.
Hughes recorded his journey and would later use that footage to make a documentary. He also raised funds for WaterAid, a charity. His accomplishment was recognized by Guinness World Records as the ‘most countries visited in one year by scheduled ground transport.’
Hughes remains grateful to each person he met on his journey. Whether they offered him a place to stay or a welcoming smile, they made his journey special. His gratitude for the opportunities he’s had remains his core takeaway from his once-in-a-lifetime experience.