When I used to get asked which countries I’d like to visit, my answer would usually be all of them. I never really thought and don’t expect to visit every country in the world but my point has always been that I am pretty much open to visiting and experiencing as much as possible (in terms of travel).
Around 2 years back I heard about Lee Abbamonte- the youngest American to visit every country in the world. Talk about an amazing feat and accomplishment to be proud of! I started following Lee on Twitter and his blog to find out what interesting things he is up to.
You’d think after accomplishing the goal of visiting every country, you’d take an extended break!
Not Lee. He’s turned his experiences and expertise as a traveler into a career as a travel writer and television personality. Lee has also been hosted by various countries/ tourist boards and is one of Kensington Tour’s Explorers in Residence.
I got to hear Lee talk at the New York Travel Fest in April 2013 where he seemed like an encyclopedia when it came to information about the world.
I figured that it would be interesting for myself and you, the readers to get to know Lee so I reached out to him and he was happy to answer a bunch of questions.
Since Lee is based in NYC, maybe one of these days we’ll meet up so that he could join me for one of my famous jumps!
Here is the interview:
Let’s start with the big one. How old were you when you completed visiting every country in the world?
I was 32 years old.
When did you get the idea to visit every country in the world and become the youngest American to do so? Once you thought about it, how long was it before you got serious and how long did it take to achieve the goal?
I got an email back in 2006 telling me of such a record and I was already at about 125 or so and I decided then to try to do it. I was never in a big rush and achieved it in 2011. However, I must say that if I knew about it when I was 20 I probably would’ve finished a lot earlier because I am pretty competitive!
What was the final country you visited?
What was the hardest country to visit/ get into?
Angola without a doubt!
Can you tell us why?
Angola is the hardest visa in the world to get because they don’t want tourists and they make the processs of getting a tourist visa difficult, expensive and convoluted with a ton of hoops to jump through. The government only wants oil business coming into the country and oil dollars so the corrupt government can get rich while their own people are starving. They don’t want tourists because they don’t need their dollars nor do they want the story of their corruption getting out.
Did you run into many visa issues?
Visas can be a pain, time consuming and expensive. The only visas I had serious issues with were of course Angola where I was denied a few times; plus North Korea, Pakistan, Algeria, Iran and Turkmenistan.
Travel is not a cheap hobby although using miles & points can sure help. What strategies (in a financial way) did you use to help achieve (afford) your goal?
I worked hard and saved my money my whole life. Additionally, I did a lot of research to try to save money where I could especially on flights, visas and accommodation but I never skimped on experience for money. That’s the cardinal sin in my view.
Can you tell us about a new goal you are working towards- completing the Travelers Century Club list.
I aim to complete the 324 country TCC list and become the youngest to do so. The record is now a little skewed because I will be completing 324 but the current record holder only had to do 315 so who knows how that will shake out but I do intend to finish the list regardless!
The TCC is a more comprehensive list of countries that includes unique territories and destinations. For instance Puerto Rico counts separately from the US or French Guiana counts separately than France.
When it comes to countries, do you count the UN list or Travelers Century Club list as the benchmark?
The bench mark is the UN list and to my knowledge only about 93 or so people have claimed to complete it. To my knowledge only 12 people have completed the TCC list but the TCC has some silly inclusions that may prevent it from ever becoming the true benchmark for the general public.
The governing board uses a rather archaic approach to what counts and are remiss to take silly inclusions off the list to make it more legitimate. Some members have gone to extraordinary lengths to get to places where nobody lives and there’s nothing to see or do and they don’t want to see that effort go to waste so to speak.
However, in theory, in the spirit of travel that shouldn’t matter but again; to each their own. But either way it’s still fun to try to complete it and really helps with your geography skills!
What do you believe constitutes visiting a country? For me, I wouldn’t count transiting an airport as a visit while others would. Thoughts?
I believe a visit is whatever satisfies you. There’s nobody standing there judging what you do or don’t do or how you do it. However, travel is expensive and time consuming so if you want to waste time and money just to transit then go ahead. I don’t care what people do or count. For me, if I only had a short time in a place which happens of course and I want to go back-I do. I have been to 135 UN nations at least twice. There are a few I’d still like to go back to and hope to soon…I’m also considering becoming the first to go to every country twice!
Do you have any tips for those wishing to visit every country in the world?
Save your money and budget your time while planning on visiting regions at a time. Learn the basics in the native language to endear yourself to locals and do a lot of research!
I’m not sure if you know about this, but you might have some competition aiming for your title. My son, Lucas Miles just turned 2 in January and has already been to 15 countries. Feeling threatened? 🙂
Haha big time!!! I wish him all the best!
What were you up to prior to making travel into a career?
I worked on Wall Street in finance.
Do you have a favorite & least favorite country? region?
I don’t have a favorite, it’s an impossible question to answer not really a least favorite but I had my worst experience in Nigeria although I’d like to go back and give it a second chance someday. I love traveling in Africa, Australia and South America the best.
What are your favorite things to do while visiting new places? Any dislikes?
I love walking around the city I am in and eating the local foods as long as they look edible! I also love to do outdoor activities like hiking or climbing. But I always try to do whatever there is to do…I know that sounds vague but that’s true because there’s different things to do in every place.
What do you like to do when you are home/ not traveling?
Sitting on the couch doing nothing! Hanging out with my friends, working out, playing golf and basketball, trying new restaurants and going to Yankee games in New York. I like to just try to have a normal life and be with friends and family when I am home!
Any final thoughts?
I am really pumped for baseball season to start!!!
Same here- Let’s Go Mets! :)
I want to once again thank Lee for taking the time to share his thoughts, opinions and experiences with us. Make sure to check out his blog and follow Lee on Twitter- @LeeAbbamonte.
Lee Abbamonte is the youngest American to visit every country in the world. He’s visited 312 total countries and is one of the world’s most-traveled people. Lee is a travel writer, travel expert, travel television personality and global adventurer. He appears regularly on Fox News, HLN, Travel Channel, NBC, CBS, CNN, BBC, AJAM, ESPN and many others. He has also been featured in the New York Times, Washington Post, Conde Nast Traveler, Huffington Post, Bloomberg, Discovery, Today, Travel Zoo, Smart Money, Slate, OK! Magazine, Peter Greenberg radio and many others.
Lee is also attempting to become the youngest person to visit all 324 countries and unique destinations in the world per the Travelers Century Club list. The record is 37 years, 9 months and 17 days and he aims to beat it as Lee is only 35 and nearly there. Lee is an active member of the Travelers Century Club, a fellow of the Royal Geographic Society and a member of the Circumnavigators Club. He’s also a sports fanatic and loves the New York Yankees.