I’m here with Charles Veley, who’s considered the person who has been to the most countries, territories, islands, protectorates (you get the picture) in the world. By one popular list, which is used by his global club for country collectors, he’s been to 630 distinct places. Check out his travel history here for easy stalking. His blog can be found here.
I’ve read your dispatch for International Herald Tribune from Bouvet Island. Was that the most difficult place to get to?
Bouvet is definitely one of the most difficult places. Of course, the MOST difficult places should be by definition the ones I haven’t been able to do yet. Most frustrating of this group include Paracel Islands and Nicobar Islands.
Any new territories / speck of land you’ve traveled to this year?
I was home for the first 5 months of the year, due to the arrival of our 3rd child under age 5 (Caroline Vanessa Veley), but did manage to land on Rockall in May. A short writeup of that trip is here. For the past couple of years, I’ve kept a very brief, high-level blog.
Do you ever take “normal” vacations? If so, do you have any favorite destinations?
My wife and I have settled on 2 favorite summer vacation spots for the family. The first is Hanalei, Kauai (where we are now for 3 weeks). The second is Tofino, Vancouver Island, BC, Canada (where we go at the end of the summer). We have also been to Disneyland and Disney World in the last 2 years.
How’d you manage to squeeze a million miles of travel into 3 years? You must be constantly on Orbitz booking flights?
That information is not accurate. The fastest million miles of travel I’ve ever covered is in 5-6 years. But yes, there were a couple of years when I spent 2-3 hours a day doing travel planning, and was continuously planning approximately 3 months out. This was before we had any children, and before I founded Most Traveled People, so I was traveling full-time. Now, planning is on more of a “regular” trip-by-trip basis.
Are you a walking geography book by now? Do you just have an enormous amount of useless trivia in your head? Or at least the capitals of every country in the world?
I’ve always had an enormous amount of trivia in my head (useless or otherwise). And I’ve always been interested in geography. Certainly, my geographic knowledge has been intensely strengthened in the last 10 years. I think I had memorized the capitals of the world from a young age, but certainly that knowledge is stronger from having visited them all.
How many languages do you know? When you’ve visiting these off-the-map places, how do you communicate with the locals?
I speak 5 languages (English, French, Spanish, Italian, German), although my Italian and German are out of practice. I would gladly trade Italian and German for Russian and Arabic, because Russian and Arabic can get you out of trouble. Italian and German are not as necessary in those countries, and not as widespread globally. If I had unlimited time to learn new languages, I would prioritize them as follows: Russian, Arabic, Mandarin, Portugese. I had Rosetta Stone Russian all set up on our 3-week drive across Russia last year, but the roads were too bumpy, and the laptop wouldn’t operate, so I learned at a slower rate without the software. I can greet people, order beer, etc. in many other languages.
How’d you navigate all the red-tape. Isn’t it next to impossible to get visas for Libya or Iraq or Afghanistan?
This is a matter of organization, focus, creativity, and persistence. If it were easy, more people would have done it. Libya, Iraq and Afghanistan are not particularly difficult (although Libya used to be), but Saudi Arabia, Sudan, and Angola are generally difficult for tourist visas. I’ve developed a lot of patience for third world bureaucracies.
So it seems unfair to ask you what your favorite country is. So what about least favorite?
Guinea Bissau doesn’t have all that much going for it.
How’d you get into Guantanamo Bay? What are some places that are basically impossible to ever see?
I have never been to Guantanamo Bay, although for a while, I did have a person there willing to sponsor me. I suspect that if I pursued it again, I would find someone stationed there who would be interested in sponsoring me for a visit. But Guantanamo Bay hasn’t been a recent priority. The best would be to try to enter it from the Cuban gate along with the workers, while holding a valid sponsorship!
What’s your next trip?
Tomorrow, from Kauai, we return to San Francisco. Sunday, I fly to East Central Africa for 3 weeks, with a 2-day transit in France for Bastille Day and some Belgian beer tasting. From Africa, I transit to Apia, Samoa, for a 3 week dive expedition to some of the most remote Central Pacific Islands (including Howland, where Amelia Earhart was last scheduled to land).