Meet James Asquith, the youngest person to travel to every country on earth
By the age of 24, James Asquith had done what no one else had, and that is to travel to all 196 sovereign countries in the world. The feat earned him the Guinness World Record for being the youngest person to travel to all sovereign countries. He visited Lithuania, the first country outside of his home in United Kingdom, between 26 and 31 May 2001. Asquith then visited every other sovereign country from 4 July 2008, and arrived in the Federated States of Micronesia, his final country, on 8 July 2013.
How did your love affair with travel start?
To be honest, it didn’t for a long time. My father was a pilot and I loved flying because of that from a very young age, ever since I can remember, but I never really picked up the travel bug until I was 18. I’m sure I always had it in me because my parents were adventurous, but it wasn’t until I joined my best friends on a last-minute trip to Southeast Asia. From there, there was no looking back – I was hooked!
Some people might say you’ve come from a position of privilege to be able to travel like you have, especially since your father is a pilot. Do you think this is fair?
I would probably say never judge a book by its cover. Just because my father was a pilot it didn’t mean I got to fly around the world for free. I started working three jobs from the age of 15, and at 18, I got quite lucky with an investment at the depth of the global financial crisis. I worked hard and also had a bit of luck, but that didn’t mean I wasn’t living on a shoestring on my travels and grafting along the way to get as far as every dollar would take me.
Which was your favourite destination of them all?
Cartagena in Colombia. It’s amazingly beautiful there. The perfect setting of old town with cobbled streets and vibrant daily life, mixed with Caribbean beaches, it’s easy to see why some of history’s most revered writers and poets called Cartagena their home, from Gabriel Garcia Márquez to Ernest Hemingway. The people are passionate and it is visible and audible at almost every corner.
What was your most memorable experience?
That’s a tough question. I think any one of us would struggle to pick out just one experience. If I really have to pick just one, I would certainly say that watching the sunrise in Kiribati was one of the most memorable experiences. Not necessarily for the actual sunrise itself – I’m more of a sunset person so I don’t have to get up early! – but for what it represented. Kiribati is the easternmost inhabited island in the world, and their flag is even the rising sun from the ocean, so when I watched the sunrise from the easternmost beach and took a look around me, I realised – with the beach all to myself – that I was the first person in the world to watch the sunrise that day. It was incredibly memorable more for what it represented, which is how big the world is, but also how small at the same time, how we can still find our own little peace and tranquillity still. This was certainly a moment that will always stick with me.
What lessons have you learnt from your travels, especially about yourself?
There are so many, and by embracing travel, it largely made me into who I am today, I think. When I started out, I was a naïve 18-year-old who lacked respect and understanding for different cultures, traditions and ways of life. I spent a while volunteering building houses in Vietnam shortly after I began my travels, and although we couldn’t communicate in the same language as those working with us each day, it was an eye-opener how similar we are as people, even with huge diversities and language barriers, and our differences as individuals. It’s what makes travel rewarding – the diversity of the people and the places. It was apparent that the same little jokes are funny to all of us in any given language that we are so similar. I’m still learning every day, but travel has certainly been my biggest single contributor in learning.
What advice would you give to someone who would like to travel like you have?
Take your own time, enjoy it, do what suits you. Competitive travel has become quite popular recently, and I was lucky in that there was no official ‘youngest’ record to beat with Guinness World Records at the time, so I travelled at my own pace over five years, and I still feel like I’m only just starting, with so much of the world to discover. Also, if you’re nervous, try not to overthink. Have confidence and common sense and a good amount of preparation will go a long way.
You recently travelled Business Class with Malaysia Airlines on their A350 from London to Malaysia and back. Tell us about your experience.
Where to start?! Awesome food, good films, a great bed to get some rest and a friendly crew – pretty much everything anyone would be hoping for a more than 14-hour flight, right? And oh, I love the A350! It’s one of my favourite aircraft. The windows are huge so you get some great views!
What are you doing these days? Are you still travelling actively?
Yes, I’m still travelling quite a lot at the moment. I’m not too sure what time zone my body clock is in most of the time! It’s mostly for work as I started Holiday Swap to allow people to travel more cheaply. This app has been referred to as the Tinder of travel – although there is no actual dating involved! – and allows us to swap accommodation for just USD1 a night in all corners of the world. Accommodation makes up one of the largest costs for travellers, along with transport. Most of us are lucky enough to have a place to sleep at night so we at Holiday Swap thought why not swap what we already have, even if we are renting, and save more money for actual experiences and flights instead of a place to rest our heads? Who knows, you might match with that awesome villa in Barbados or a penthouse in New York City!