If anything can be said about record-breaking globetrotter Graham Hughes, it’s that – throughout his travels – he’s always kept his feet firmly on the ground.
The 33-year-old adventurer, from Liverpool, has become the first person to visit all 201 countries in the world – without using a plane.
Hughes used buses, taxis, trains and his own two feet to travel 160,000 miles in exactly 1,426 days – all on a shoestring of just $100 a week.
He spent four days ‘crossing open ocean in a leaky boat’ to reach Cape Verde, was jailed for a week in the Congo for being a ‘spy’, was arrested trying to ‘sneak into’ Russia and had to be ‘rescued from Muslim fundamentalists by a Filipino ladyboy called Jenn’.
And yesterday ended the epic four-year journey by crossing into Juba, the capital of South Sudan, which did not even exist when he set off from his hometown of Liverpool on New Year’s Day 2009.
‘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,’ he told the Christian Science Monitor. ‘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 have now confirmed that Hughes, who filmed the expedition for a documentary and raised money for charity WaterAid, has achieved the world record.
‘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 added.
While all land transport had to have either wheels, hooves or sturdy rubber soles, he made the longer-haul voyages mostly by hitching lifts on cargo ships.
He even managed to blag a lift on a friendly cruise ship to the Dominican Republic.
Other highlights include dancing with the Highlanders of Papua New Guinea, befriending orangutans in Borneo, riding through the badlands of Kenya on an 18-wheel truck, meeting the Prime Minister of Tuvalu – and ‘warning schoolchildren in Afghanistan about the dangers of men with beards’.
He says people tend to wonder how he got into the further-out countries like North Korea, Iraq and Afghanistan, but he says they were the easy ones.
Far tougher was negotiating routes into tiny island nations like Nauru, in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, the Maldives and the Seychelles ‘where there were sometimes pirate threats’.
He says there were low points on the trip such as ‘sitting in a bus station in Cambodia at one in the morning or riding some awful truck over bad roads’ when he thought: ‘Why am I doing this?’
The lowest point came when his sister, Nicole, died of cancer two years ago aged just 39. He broke the trip to hurry home to see her.
‘I’d done 184 countries and had only 17 to go and I thought why not leave it there? (…but) she told me not to stop,’ he added.
But having finished his journey, he has no intention of buying a plane ticket any time soon and says he now plans to ‘keep in the spirit of the adventure’ and travel through Africa some more before getting the ferry home from Ireland just in time for Christmas.