My love of adventure comes from not having the privilege to travel much when I was growing up. I’m from a small town in the US, so when I turned 18, I took off to fulfil my dream of exploring the world.
I set myself the challenge to travel to every country because I was fascinated by the Middle East. I wanted to promote peace and positivity in countries skewed by negative press, and I wanted to learn about different cultures. Before embarking on my trip, it took me three and a half years to plan it.
I prepared for the trip by practicing Krav Maga (a type of military self-defence) so I could learn how to protect myself if I got into any tricky situations – and I did! I also carried around a heavy backpack to get used to it, readjusted my sleep schedule, and made sure I was as fit as possible. The mental preparation involved secluding myself and sacrificing family time and my social life. I had to be okay doing everything on my own, from planning my flight schedule and applying for visas, to managing my anxiety.
Of all the countries I visited, it’s too hard to pick a favourite to go back to. Next year, at a push, I’d love to go back to Afghanistan, Iraq, the Maldives, Canada, Sweden and French Polynesia. Mexico and Italy were also big highlights – they had the best food.
The countries that proved most challenging were Yemen, South Sudan, Somalia, Turkmenistan, Pakistan, Iran, North Korea and Syria. Before visiting these countries, I had to contact the ministers for tourism and non-profit organisations who helped me stay safe along the way.
The only time I felt afraid for my life was in Burkina Faso – I felt extremely vulnerable there. Other lowlights would have to include the times strangers (specifically men) were knocking at my hotel room door or breaking into my room at 2am.
Ultimately, I stayed safe by carrying a satellite GPS with an emergency SOS function. Luckily, I was sponsored by a company which had contacts in most countries, so if an emergency occurred, I’d be able to seek help. I also took out kidnap and ransom insurance, and exercised in my room every single day to ensure I stayed fit and healthy.
During my trip, I mostly stayed in Airbnbs, hostels and budget hotels. Some of my favourite places were the local homestays and houses off the beaten track in Libya and Cuba. The Maldives also have some of the best sustainable hotels in the world – Soneva Fushi was definitely a highlight.
There were several difficulties during the trip, but one of the most challenging things was securing the funding. I reached out to several organisations and managed to crowdfund some of it, but it proved more difficult than I thought. I had to constantly prove myself and my efforts in order to secure the money, which was a massive challenge. However, one of the worst things was the sleep deprivation. There were times when I went up to 64 hours without sleep.
The level of online hate from fellow travellers took me totally by suprise. I was doing something against the grain and I think other people were – and I hate using this word – envious, and really voiced their opinions. This actually lead to a lot of depressive and suicidal thoughts. It made me want to distance myself from the travel community, which I have to this day.
Sustainability was at the forefront of my mind, and I offset my carbon footprint by planting trees in several of the countries I visited. I also supported carbon offsetting programmes with airlines, and made sure I relied on public transport, rather than renting cars or boats. I knew the trip would involve lots of flights, so I tried my very best to counteract this where possible.
Believe it or not, I’ve never enjoyed flying – it actually gives me anxiety. I’m not a fan of cramped spaces filled with strangers and it’s not great for the environment either, but it was something I had to overcome during my trip.
My favourite countries to visit were Bhutan, Mongolia, Mexico, Argentina, Pakistan, New Zealand, Oman and Tunisia. I love finding out about new cultures and really interacting with the people – it’s such a privilege to be able to do that.
I love to photograph nature, especially mountain ranges, beautiful oceans and vast forests. The west coast of the US has some beautiful landscapes, but I always go out of my way, whatever country I’m in, to photograph the nature. As someone who’s been everywhere, I can say with confidence that there’s beauty in every single country.
When I’m not on an expedition, a normal day in my life starts at 4am or 5am. I’ll go on a walk and listen to a podcast before getting a couple hours of work done. Around 11am, I head out for my morning swim, bike ride, or run – I’m currently training to compete for the Ironman Triathlon. The rest of the day is spent working, and depending what my schedule looks like, I’ll try and fit in another workout in before dinner. I eat quite early, then head to bed by 9pm.
If I had just two nights abroad, I’d go to Lhasa in Tibet. I’d love to experience that part of the world a bit more. I’d also go back to Pyongyang in North Korea – it might not be everyone’s first choice of holiday but there’s so much to explore. Normal holidays don’t really exist for me but if I’m going away to relax, I like to go somewhere totally remote without any phone reception.
Before the pandemic, I had lots of plans that had to be cancelled, but I’m okay with it now. I haven’t had a break from travelling in over a decade, so at the moment, I’m grateful to be able to focus on myself and prioritise my mental health. Aside from the Ironman next year, I’m working on my second book, a documentary and my non-profit, as well as a new land development business. I'm also in line for a space flight with Virgin, which I can’t wait for.
Top of my list for 2021 is Afghanistan, Iraq and Somalia, but I’d be happy to just get back on a plane to anywhere right now.
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