Need to borrow a (passport) stamp? Lee Abbamonte has a few to share. The 33-year-old is the youngest American to visit every officially recognized country in the world – from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe – and is 19 territories away from visiting all 321 countries and territories recognized by the Travelers Century Club. The former Wall Street whiz and entrepreneur has appeared on NBC, CNN, ESPN, Fox News and has been featured in the New York Times, Washington Post, Slate and OK! Magazine.
While relaxing in French Polynesia, Lee answered our questions about his adventures.
1. What made you decide to visit every country in the world, and when did you decide to do this?
I didn’t start traveling until I was 20 years old when I went to study abroad in London. That time in Europe visiting many countries changed my outlook on life, and made me want to see the world. I never envisioned visiting every country in the world, it just kind of happened. I know that sounds made up, but it’s true. Sometime in 2006, a friend sent me an email about the youngest person to visit every country and I thought it was pretty cool. I never thought I would actually get everywhere but the world becomes a lot smaller as you learn to maneuver your way around it. I really love to travel, to see new places and learn about and meet new people; that is basically why I continue to travel as I do.
2. What advice (about budgeting, trip planning, etc.) do you give to people who are interested in traveling extensively?
I decide a country or more likely a region I want to go to and do extensive research on what I want to see and do. Then I figure out what I think it will cost. I make sure I have available at least three times that amount because everything costs a lot more than you think it does, even if you’re on a really tight budget. Things pop up unexpectedly, sometimes you’ll need to buy a flight instead of a bus ticket. Maybe you’ll splurge on a nice hotel, meal or a side excursion you didn’t foresee. The best part of traveling is the surprise factor. You never know what will happen, so I never plan too rigidly. If you plan too much, you’ll miss the fun. I usually buy my skeleton flights into one country and out of another and figure the rest out on the ground.
3. What have been some of your favorite experiences from all your travels?
There are so many it is hard to say but some of my favorites are entering Libya illegally during the civil war and ducking gunfire upon entry. Summitting Mt. Kilimanjaro. Any of the numerous bungee jumps I’ve done. Following the old silk road through Central Asia. Traveling overland through much of Africa. Camel racing in Kenya on the beach and just being able to meet so many amazing people along the way because that’s what makes travel exciting and fun, the destination is secondary. But my favorite is when I get to travel with my uncle and some of my best friends and share the experiences with them.
4. What is the hardest part about traveling so frequently?
I don’t travel nearly as much as I used to, but it’s always tough being away from home. I love being home in New York City; I love where I live. I miss my friends and family, of course, and sometimes you miss things you wish you could be at. I am usually pretty good at being around for important events, things and holidays. Also, there can be a lot of down time and time in transit, which can weigh on you.
5. What are some of the most unusual or unexpected things you’ve encountered?
The unexpected things make travel worth it and it keeps coming back to people. I can think of two vivid images of being in both Libya and Armenia and being taken in by kind locals who shared their houses, their lives and their families with me when they didn’t know me at all. Heartwarming stories of kindness remind you how great our world really is. I also ran into Zimbabwean President Mugabe twice in six months in Angola and Ethiopia, strangely enough. I’ll leave some of the odd witch doctor fetish markets I’ve seen in West Africa out of this.
6. How many countries do you get to in a single trip?
It depends on where I am going, how long I have to travel and what I am doing but I’ve done 16 in one trip before.
7. What is your one must-have travel accessory or gadget?
Just my laptop to post to my website and keep up with sports. I travel super light and don’t bring anything else electronic except a converter.
8. How many frequent flyer miles have you racked up?
I’ve racked up well over 3 million miles on various alliances but now since the Continental merger with United I am focusing on the Star Alliance (not because I love United) because of their Newark hub as I live in New York City and they have the best foreign partners. (Editor’s Note: Wow, 3 million miles. That’s enough to get to the moon and back six times, or circle the globe 120 times.)
9. What’s next after having visited everywhere?
I still have some travel goals which I aim to achieve in the next year or two. I aim to visit all 321 Travelers Century Club destinations and become the youngest to complete that list. I am less than 20 away and actually on a trip in Polynesia right now visiting a few new places and loving it. Plus , I enjoy going back and visiting some of my favorite places as I go along … it never gets old.
10. Window or aisle?
Window generally, I like to sleep against the wall and I hate dealing with people getting up and down several times if you’re on the aisle.
To keep up with Lee and his travels, check out: