|THE SPIEGEL - Bhutan or Bust|
|Written by Spiegel Magazine / Moises Mendoza, edited by Sascha Grabow|
|Friday, 15 April 2011|
Ultra-Travelers Aim to Conquer the World
By Moises Mendoza
Some people collect stamps; some collect countries.
320 countries and territories are listed by the
"Part of the traveling is bragging rights," says their chairman, who is based in California. "Part of it is just the love of travel. It's a thrilling thing."
But who is the world's most traveled person? It's impossible to know -- but that doesn't keep some travelers from laying claim to the title.
Differing definitions of the word "country" certainly don't help. The United Nations has 192 member states. The Travelers' Century Club, in contrast, includes 320 "countries" on its list. While the organization admits that some places are not actually independent countries in the conventional sense, it insists that all are "politically, ethnologically or geographically different." The list includes disputed territories such as Trans-Dniester in Moldova or Western Sahara in Africa, classifies dependent territories such as the US's Pacific island of Guam as separate "entities" and also regards Alaska as counting separately from the continental United States.
Meanwhile another organization considers the world to be made up of 872 places, including countries, territories and major states and provinces, among other locations. That list breaks things down even further. It has, for example, 18 separate places to check off in Germany, including the country's 16 states, the North Sea archipelago of Heligoland and the tiny exclave of Busingen in Switzerland.
Ultra-travelers (about 30 of whom are from Germany) who spend much of their time trying to get to far-flung lands like Nauru or Bhutan are loathe to say they're in a competition to visit the most countries.
But there's no doubt that their ranks are increasing. The Travelers' Century Club has seen a rapid increase in popularity over the last few years.
It takes gumption, dedication and lots of hard work to be an ultra-traveler. But the biggest and most obvious challenge to visiting every single country is simple: money.
Others are lucky enough to have jobs that take them the world over. Work as an international tour guide helps to visit a lot of the Travelers' Century Club's countries.
Why does one keep doing it, despite being 70 years old and hearing regular complaints from one's wife? "It's in my blood," one traveler told SPIEGEL as he was getting ready to leave to escort a tour group through China and North Korea. "I get home, stay a few weeks and need to start traveling again."
The Thrill of the Unknown
Yet other travelers, like Spain's Jorge Sanchez -- who has a claim to being Europe's most traveled man -- need to find more creative ways to fund their adventures.
Sanchez, 53, spends about half the year washing dishes or working in hotels in touristy parts of his country. The rest of the time he's on the road. He's now planning his fifth round-the-world journey and a trip to obscure South Pacific Islands he hasn't seen yet.
Of course, there's an element of danger involved in ultra-traveling: Sascha Grabow, a former professional tennis player from Heilbronn in southwestern Germany, has been briefly detained by suspicious authorities in Congo and Liberia. On his website, he writes interesting anekdotes about his travel adventures. He also has had to talk his way past angry soldiers in Guinea and Kazakhstan.
But there's also the thrill of the unknown: the idea that the world is so vast and complex that there's always just one more place to visit.
'Many More Ways of Living'
For some, traveling becomes a passion -- some would say addiction -- that changes their entire outlook on the world and life itself.
Sascha says he's seen so many places over the years (about 606 of the 872) that his very concept of what it means to be German has changed.
"When you've lived in so many countries, it can be hard to see the German way. You see that there are many more ways of living your life," Grabow, 43, said in a telephone interview from Morocco, as he prepared for an excursion into Mauritania.
Rather than seeing it as a numbers game, Grabow stresses the philosophical aspects of traveling. "For me, it's not about collecting the most countries. It's about living life to the fullest and seeing and experiencing the whole world."