Lee Abbamonte is on a global quest to visit all of the world’s countries and furthermore complete this task before the age of 37 years, 9 months, 17 days. In doing so, Lee would be the youngest person on the planet to have visited all the countries in the world.
We recently had a chance to ask him about his globe trotting exploits as well as his unique advice.
Q. You are quickly becoming one of the world’s most traveled individuals, visiting 307 countries of the 321 published on the Traveler’s Century Club at the time of this interview. Tell us about your quest to become the youngest person to visit all of the world’s countries and why this is a passion for you. Are your trips self funded? How long are you “on the road” each year? When do you expect to reach your goal?
I never aimed for or anticipated becoming the youngest person to complete the list until a friend told me about the record a few years ago when I was sitting at about 120 countries or something like that. I figured out the timing and I had nearly 10 years to go and said why not?! So it has been great because I have been to so many places now I never would have normally gone to. The list is essentially a guideline as opposed to a law but I do wish to complete it for sure. My trips are self funded and I spend a few months on the road each year, it depends on what else I have going on in my life, personally and professionally. I hope to finish the list within the next 2 years but it will depend on a few things as always.
Q. When you decided to visit certain countries with “unsafe” reputations and you told people of your plans, I imagine their responses were fairly similar. How did/do you address their concerns?
Haha, yes they all think I am crazy. In the past 2 years I have been to Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran, North Korea, Congo, Liberia, Somalia, Sudan and several other rogue nations and people always gasp. I simply say I do so much research and take all the proper safety precautions that I will be fine. Additionally, I know what I am doing and stay out of trouble spots and recognize what’s safe and unsafe to do.
Q. Tell us a little about the Travelers Century Club and why this is a fairly exclusive organization.
The TCC is an organization that has been around some 50 years and is based in LA. There are 1800 members worldwide give or take and you can only join if you have been to over 100 countries. What’s cool about the TCC is that there are several chapters around the country and the world actually that have quarterly meetings wherein you get to hear presentations on destinations but more importantly, you can interact with other people who are extremely well traveled. This doesn’t necessarily happen in real life where you can talk about that Italian place you ate at in Libreville, Gabon and the person you’re speaking to has been there too!
Q. What has been the most difficult country to date for you to gain access to and why?
Angola has been and is still the most difficult place for me to gain access to. It is the hardest visa in the world to get as a tourist and a real pain in the ass. I hope to get one soon. The last time I tried was 2 years ago, the embassy in DC had my passport 5 weeks and still didn’t issue the visa and I had all the proper documentation. Many travelers have issues with this visa and I hope to get it over the summer sometime or I may go overseas to get it.
Q. You are a prolific traveler and have certainly been all over the world- are there any countries that you keep returning to again and again? And why?
I consistently go back to several countries in Europe such as Spain, France and Italy along with the UK to visit friends. Also, anywhere in South America or Southeast Asia I am a sucker for because of the great food and people and I find myself there often. Plus, being American I go to Canada and Mexico a lot as well because they are so close and easy.
Q. What advice would you give young travel writers starting their careers?
Just be honest and passionate in your writing because it will come through to your readers and that’s how you will gain followers. If you sugar coat everything, it sounds like everything else you might read in a magazine. That’s the advantage of a blog, you can say what you want and say it the way you want to say it.
Q. “Perspective” is one of the most important words in travel – what sort of perspective or insights have you gained from all of your travels, especially from your visits to countries or regions of the world that do not see many tourists?
Perspective is probably the most important single word in travel along with appreciation and recognition, meaning appreciating and recognizing how awesome what you are doing is and how lucky you are. I suppose perspective kind of encompasses both of those terms but it’s so important to keep in perspective what you are doing, where you are, what people you are meeting and interacting with. It’s important to “Get it”. I often meet people and travelers alike who don’t get it and that saddens me. If you are lucky enough to be able to travel the world and see amazing things, places and people; it is important to make the most of it and realize the power of what you are experiencing. Seizing the moments you have because you never know when and if you’ll be back and making the experience positive for the people you are meeting because they may have never seen a white person before-literally. The biggest compliment I can get from people is that I get it and that I have a good perspective and appreciation for what I am doing and have done. That makes me feel good and that I have conveyed my passion for travel to others. There is never a day when I take anything I have done for granted.
Q. Can you give us a description of a specific humorous moment (story, happening or other) from some of your travels?
I have so many funny moments that I could write a book but one really funny and PG rated moment, at least in hindsight was at the border between Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan. There was a line, although it wasn’t a line, it was a bunch of people pushing etc. People in many parts of the developing world do not understand the terms waiting in line or queuing up. I patiently waited for like 45 minutes getting bumped into by tons of these locals trying to rush their way through customs. So after a while I started to really lose my patience after getting constantly pushed and bumped into by these people who refused to simply wait in line. Since I was significantly bigger than all of the people, I’m 6’3″ 190 pounds so I literally went down into a football stance and essentially bull rushed about 15 of these people to the side and stood alone at the window and got my passport stamped immediately. Ironically, most of the people seemed to appreciate the move and just acted as if nothing had happened and they went on business as usual pushing and shoving amongst themselves. It was pretty funny and is a story I like to tell
Q. Any advice for those planning a round the world trip?
My advice is carefully map out what you want to do but always leave time for the unexpected places and things you really like and want to spend more time in. You never know what’s going to happen on the road which is best part of traveling, every day is a new day with things you’ve never seen or done before. It’s the ultimate freedom. Also, pack lightly, do the wash on the road, bring less clothes and budget more money than you’re expecting or at least have access to more money because things are always more expensive than you think.
Q. You are truly a citizen of the world but your home base is in New York City. What do you like about NYC and what are some of your favorite activities to do in “the city”?
New York is home and has been for the last 11 years, I grew up less than an hour from the city so I’ve been coming here my whole life. It has everything. It is truly the capital of the world and has the best of everything. Each neighborhood is different and people are very smart. My favorite things to do are go to Yankee games in the Bronx and head to central park along with eating at the thousands of great restaurants in the city and just hanging out with friends, especially outside at bars and restaurants when the weather is nice. I also love just sitting on my couch and watching TV but I don’t get much time to do that!
Lee Abbamonte is a travel writer, global adventurer and worldwide travel expert living in New York City. Lee aims to become the youngest person to travel to every country and territory in the world. He has currently been to 307 countries & unique destinations and is only 32 years old.
From his site you can relive his past travels, read his current trip blog and interact with him, while following his adventures in pursuit of the record. The record is visiting all 321 countries and unique destinations in the world per the Travelers Century Club list. The current record is 37 years, 9 months, 17 days and Lee aspires to beat it.
Visit: www.leeabbamonte.com for more information about Lee’s travels, as well as photographs.