Peter Welcome to our travel podcast. We’re specialist travel writers, and we’ve spent half a lifetime exploring every corner of the world.
Felice So we want to share with you some of our extraordinary experiences and the amazing people we’ve met along the way. This week, we’re traveling the entire world. Well, we’re not, but Harry is. London-born nomad, Harry Mitsidis, has already done the entire globe. He’s visited every country in the world. And what’s more, he’s been to each of them at least twice. And he’s still travelling. We caught up with him in Azerbaijan on his way to South Korea…again.
Peter So, Harry Mitsidis, you are the most travelled man in the world. How do you ever get to that stage? What happened? How many countries have you been to?
Harry Well, I feel a little bit awkward being called that, to be honest. Some people have said it, but I never really say that about myself. I have been to every country in the world, twice, and as far as I know, there’s only another two people who’ve done that. Guess I’m pretty well travelled. Whether I am the biggest traveller in the world, I don’t really think there’s a criterion. I mean, how do you even start measuring who is the biggest traveller? Do you talk about days on the road, destinations explored? I guess, you know, there’s methodological issues here. It’s not like who’s the tallest man or something like that. But yes, I travel a lot.
Peter Well, how many countries officially are there in the world?
Harry Officially, if you go by the United Nations, there’s 193. But then that’s then starting, you know, to open Pandora’s box because you need to wonder, is Taiwan a country? Is Palestine a country? Is Kosovo a country? And then, you know, there’s all these political difficulties. So we’d like to go with 193 because this is United Nations. But from there on there are a few others which may or may not be countries. And then then you start with the issue of what is Gibraltar? I mean, is it a country? Is it a territory? Does it count as something different from the UK or not? So, you know, there’s a lot of different combinations and numbers you can come up with.
Peter When did you start doing this?
Harry In my mid-20s, but initially it wasn’t conscious. So I just wanted to see more of the world. And at the time I was on a budget. So I started with Europe, which was accessible and easy. I went off to Moldova in like the year 2000 and really no one, I mean, even now very few people go to Moldova, but back then really nobody went think so. But I think gradually as I hit 30 around 2002, 2003, I realised that I’m really trying to visit every single country, and I did that pretty quickly the first time around.
Felice And how do you count islands like the Caribbean, for example? Do you go to just one or do you go to the British ones? The Dutch ones? How do you work that one out as well?
Harry For completion’s sake, I like to do all the islands. Of course, if we’re talking from a UN perspective, then it’s only the independent ones that count as countries. So St Lucia, St Kitts and Nevis, Barbados, they are the countries, then the British ones, the French ones, the Dutch ones. They are territories. I have been to all of them, that’s for completion’s sake.
Felice So do you travel from one place to the other, or do you come home? Do you have a home, a base that you come back to every now and again?
Harry Yes, I do have a home. It’s in Kent. I think I spend more or less a third of the year there, and then I’m off for about two thirds. I do try to plan my travels so that I combine places. It’s unlikely that I’d go off to one country and then come back to the UK and then off to another country. Usually there is an itinerary which will include a number of places. Some trips are longer, some are shorter.
Now, for example, I’m in Azerbaijan after having been to Ukraine and then North Macedonia and Kosovo and then Turkey, and then from here from Azerbaijan. I’m going to go to Korea, South Korea and Japan. And I don’t think I’m going to be back in the UK until after that. So after Japan, I’m probably going to return to the UK, but that’ll already be in 2024.
Peter How do you finance all this? Because it’s getting increasingly expensive around the world. Do you get some help from the airlines?
Harry No, I don’t get any help from the airlines, apart from trying to accumulate air miles and then use them wisely on routes that are expensive and tickets that are obscure. So, you know, I would, for example, use my air miles on a trip to Greenland because flights to Greenland are notoriously expensive or on a very long haul rather than using it for short hauls.
I’m quite good at managing the funds I have. I think one of the key things when you try to travel, or when travelling is so important to you, is that you’re going to have to sacrifice other things. So I don’t have a car and that’s quite of an inconvenience when I am in the UK, but I have to live with that. I don’t have the flashiest phone. I stick with the same model for three and a half years or more. By now my phone barely works. There are sacrifices to be made.
Other than that, let’s just say I’m one of the lucky people who has some constant income coming in, and thanks to those I am able to travel. Let me also say that many of the countries I visit are cheaper than the UK, so in fact it’s cheaper for me to spend a month in a place like Albania than it would be to just live in the UK with the daily expenses of being there.
Felice So you said that you do without a car. What about a partner?
Harry Yes, I do have a very understanding partner. Let’s say that we have a deal that I’m never away too long. Sometimes we do travel together and yes, we learn to live with one another. I think when you have a partner, it’s all about compromise. And I think when we got together, I was very clear about the fact that I am a nomad. This is what I do. I travel almost constantly, and I’m not going to be able to stop because this is more important than the air that I breathe.
So I think that’s very important if you are going to be sharing your life together. Having said that, many of the people in the travel community who I know are single or they’re divorced, I think for many people it’s difficult to handle someone who travels all the time. And I can totally understand that.
Peter When you make an airline pilot seem like child’s play, it’s not the same thing at all.
Harry But I think it’s different if you travel for work and income and if you travel as a hobby and because you want to rather than because it’s a job.
Peter So what about jet lag?
Harry I find that as I’m getting older, I have a worse time with jet lag. I think I was more adaptable when I was younger. One of the reasons that my itinerary now is what it is, is because of jet lag. So instead of flying UK-Korea, I’m breaking the trip and gradually going east and I think really even 1 or 2 hours less makes a big difference. Eight hours’ time difference that kills my system. It takes me ten days to recover.
Having said that, when I go to the States and I have jet lag and wake up at two in the morning there, I kind of love it because in the States you’ve got all these Walmart places which are open for 24 hours, and I get a kick about going to Walmart at three in the morning, and I’m the only person there and I’m like really awake and that. I don’t mind that. I think as a child, when I travelled to the States at three in the morning, I’d always love watching cartoons and stuff on TV because back in Europe like that didn’t exist. So I think I’m conditioned to enjoy that. But yes, jet lag definitely is a problem, and it’s not something that a traveller of my calibre is immune to. I wish, but no.
Felice Do you have any tips for people? Anything special you do – like do you sleep straight away or stay awake in the new time zone?
Peter Or take melatonin or shine torches on your ankles or all those funny things people do?
Harry I don’t take any medicine or anything. No, I don’t really have any tips. I think I’m a little bit more chaotic than systematic as a character. I’m very good organisationally in terms of planning a trip, but in terms of the sort of little knickknacks that one can do to make a trip easier, I’m not really very systematic. So sorry, guys, no advice from me. I mean, if you can break the trip in the middle somewhere, that’s my advice.
Felice What about luggage? Do you have a suitcase packed permanently?
Harry I have no suitcase, I’m a backpacker. I’m not a backpacker in the classic sense. I don’t stay in hostels, for example, but I do only have a backpack almost always. And it’s literally the bare essentials: a laptop, mobile phones, a camera and a few clothes. And then I get the clothes washed and things like that. I take nothing more than the absolutely necessary things.
Peter Oh, are you talking about taking just hand luggage?
Harry Just hand luggage, yes.
Peter That does save a lot of hours at airports looking for a suitcase.
Harry First of all, it saves money because there’s more and more airlines charge for luggage. Second, it does save a lot of time both before and after once you’ve landed. And it also allows me for example, sometimes I may be transiting a city for a few hours, and sometimes it’s not even easy to find a place to leave one’s bag. And so I might just see the city with a backpack, and that’s fine. If I had a suitcase to take around, that would be almost impossible.
Felice Have you ever had any problems with theft?
Harry Only once. But that might be because I’m generally reasonable and I don’t flaunt anything. Usually when I’m in places that are considered dangerous, I try to either hide my money and my wallet or dress down and look pretty miserable if I can, and blend in. I have the kind of face which helps me in places like Latin America, which can be dangerous.
I don’t think people necessarily feel I’m a foreigner, and I think it’s also how you behave. If you’re walking confidently and don’t look lost, then people will not assume that you’re an easy victim. Once I left, stupidly, I left some money in my hotel room. This was in Croatia, and I then discovered that a bit of it had gone missing. But yes, that’s the only time I’ve actually been robbed.
Felice And what about injury? Have you had any injuries that made the travel difficult?
Harry No, that’s a good question. No, I’ve been extremely lucky with that. I have had a poisoning, though. I’ve had one very acute case of food poisoning, and I literally thought I wasn’t going to make the night. It was really bad. That was in the Dominican Republic and I was all alone. I generally travel alone, and I think that was one of those miserable moments when you are all alone, you’re feeling awful. You have no one to help you. You’re in an unknown place. I kept on thinking, should I go to the hospital?
But in a place like Dominican Republic, that that could be a mixed blessing. So I thought, ‘Let me try to get through the night.’ I was in a sort of decent hotel and I raided the minibar, had all the Coke I could find, and then everything that had, you know, Sprite and water and everything. And by the morning I was a bit better. But yea, that was, I think, my worst medical experience while travelling.
Felice Are you careful about what you eat, or do you eat the local cuisine or what? Street food? Street food?
Harry That depends a lot on the place. I don’t think there’s a universal rule to that. So I think in the more developed countries I’m totally relaxed. Then of course, if I’m in countries which are less developed, I am going to take care. I wouldn’t eat street food in Africa, even though that’s actually part of the fun. I mean, often if you want to live like a local, then you really need to go and do all sorts of extreme stuff. But because I travel alone, I think I’m quite cautious. In countries like Africa and some places in Asia, I’m going to be very careful.
The one thing I’m really careful with is water. That is the number one. So only bottled water, and also very careful in terms of vegetables that they need to be cooked rather than fresh. Very careful with drinks, especially in tropical climates, you always want to have cool drinks because it’s so hot. But I’m always careful to have something which is like a Coke, which is from a can, rather than fresh things which might then have ice. And that could then be a problem. I think these are little things that have made my trips much safer, and the reason why I haven’t had really big problems.
Felice Have you been to all kinds of really dangerous destinations when you say you’ve just been or going to Ukraine?
Harry Yes, I was just in Ukraine two weeks ago. So I’m the founder of a of a website called NomadMania. We are a travel community of avid travellers and we had our annual travel awards in Ukraine. We did that as a sign of solidarity with Ukraine. And before that we also ventured to the eastern regions of Ukraine, Kharkiv, and then also to Kiev. In a small group of people from NomadMania. Again, we attached ourselves to NGOs. We went to a village where some aid was given, so we were part of that. It was partially educational and partially an eye opener.
Obviously we were scared. We did the utmost to ensure security, but if a rocket falls on you, there’s not very much you can do. So I would say as an individual traveller, I am quite the risk taker that way. Maybe very careful in the way I travel. So I’ll be careful not to drink the water, but I will go to Mogadishu. I will go to Kabul. You know, I’m not going to be scared that way. And I’ve actually done all these places two times or more. So I think that is part of being a traveller. Many people are fascinated by danger. I wouldn’t say I’m attracted to it specifically, but I want to go everywhere. I want to see the world that includes the safe places and the quiet places, and it also includes the Afghanistans of the world. So it’s all part and parcel of exploring every corner.
Felice What do you do when you get there? Are you actually enjoying yourself or just ticking off countries?
Harry Now I’m enjoying myself. I think when I I was doing the countries the first time around, there was an element of ticking at some point, sweating it out and walking down, I don’t know, Lomé in Togo. There were moments when I was asking myself, ‘Why? Why am I doing this?’ But now the older I get, the more I realise that I really enjoy it. I enjoy, first of all, I enjoy the diversity, the change, the fact that you arrive in a different place and the languages are different, the smells are different, the people are very different.
Also, my experiences tell me that people are really kind and curious and interested in you in general. I haven’t had bad experiences with people and so I think that motivates me to explore more and to always see more. So I really, really enjoy the change. I think even though I’ve been to every country, when I arrive to a country again, I almost feel like I’m visiting an old friend because I partially know what to expect. But then I’m going off and exploring new places so that that’s great.
Felice Do you ever feel lonely because you haven’t got good friends there?
Harry Occasionally, yes. I think especially before I was partnered, there were times when I got rather lonely on my trips. I think there are ways to deal with that, though, you know? I’ll never let myself go down a spiral. First of all, I remind myself how fortunate I am to be able to do what I do. I know that there’s very few people out there who can. You remind yourself of that.
Then one way to do it is just to go out. And in most cases, you’re going to have a bustling city, or even if it’s a smaller place, you’re going to just see street scenes. You’re going to see some children playing in the park, things that make you smile. So you will regain that feeling of belonging even in a place where you don’t belong. Nowadays, I don’t really feel lonely anymore, because being partnered means that even if I’m travelling, there’s always contact and I feel emotionally very safe.
Peter And the obvious question: do you have a favourite country in the world?
Harry Yes, that’s a question I love to hate because it’s so difficult to pinpoint one which I can really say is a favourite above all the others. I prefer to answer this question in a different way to kind of way – split it in in two different or three different questions, if you don’t mind.
One of them is which country would I recommend to go to if you couldn’t go anywhere else? If you had to pick one, which one? And I always say North Korea, not because it’s a favourite in the classic sense, but because it’s so totally outlandish and it’s the one country where you’re never sure if what you’re seeing is staged for you. If it’s real, you just don’t know what the dynamic is. And everything in North Korea, it’s like an anachronism, it’s going back 80 years. So I would say that’s the country that is perhaps the most unusual.
Another country which I find incredibly diverse culturally, I think uniquely diverse, is Afghanistan. It’s the only country where someone blonde and someone Asian-looking are both native to the country. And I find that totally fascinating. I remember once I was in Herat, in the west of the country, and there was a group of men sitting on a ledge and I actually took a photograph, and everyone looked different. You could have sworn it was people from totally different countries, but they were all Afghan.
So I think that’s a fascinating country. It’s a difficult place. Of course, there’s always this danger of going there, but I think that sense of foreboding makes it even more amazing. Afghanistan ranks very highly on my list of interesting places.
Then I have a sort of emotional favourite. I really like Romania. I think it is totally underrated, very unfairly. And when people hear about Romania, they only think of Dracula. And again, Romania has some amazing villages, especially in the west, some beautiful towns with colonial architecture, places like Oradea or Timisoara, I would say are gems. Then you’ve got beautiful nature, especially in the north where you’ve got the Unesco wooden churches, which are unique and. Really architectural marvels.
new zeland tourismThe whole atmosphere of rural Romania is like living 100 years back. People on horseback, carts, things you’re not going to see every day elsewhere. So it’s a country I enjoy going to because I feel their modernity hasn’t quite taken off everywhere in Romania. And it is in the EU. So I often have to think, ‘Look, I’m in the EU, but people are still on horseback.’ I think that’s great.
Felice And what about the most beautiful country?
Harry Scenically ok, well that one is again a difficult one. I’m going to go with New Zealand for that one. I do think that New Zealand offers some incredible scenic beauty, especially the southern island. It is overly touristy now because of that, so it may be a bit difficult to enjoy it fully because usually you’re sharing it with a lot of other people, but it’s really stunning. New Milford Sound and all that area, it’s truly beautiful. So I can see why it’s on most travellers’ itineraries.
Felice We have a friend whose aim was to ski in every country that had skiing in the world and in every state in the United States, and he succeeded in this, and he’s in the Guinness World Records because he skied every day of the year. Do you have an aim to be in the Guinness World Records?
Harry No, I don’t again, there are some people in our community who are I think one of the people tried to visit the most countries in a day, and I think they managed to do 18 in 24 hours, something like that, which is impressive. No, I don’t have any such aims. For me, it’s all about the experience. I do have my lists, quirky lists which I go through on Nomad mania. We divide the world into 1,301 pieces or regions. I do hope to visit them all eventually. I want to, for example, spend more than a week in as many countries as possible. Now that I’m getting older, I’m finding the beauty of slow travel.
I do have travel aims. One of the quirkier ones is that I want to use every commercially-served airport in Europe, either by landing or departing from it. That is a very difficult goal. But, you know, it’s not one that I will achieve, probably, but it’s one that I aim for. And sometimes I choose quirky flights. Ryanair helps on that one, but no Guinness World Records. No, not really, it’s not part of my plans.
Felice And do you ever want to travel in different methods like not just flying, maybe go everywhere by train in Europe or everywhere by boat? Do you ever try to do something like that?
Harry Well, of course, I mean, flying is just the means. It’s not an aim in itself. I have been on a number of boat trips, both within countries. I remember in Sierra Leone I was there recently, a very memorable experience. One of the highlights was crossing from Freetown across the bay to Lungi on the local ferry. And that is an amazing cultural experience. Unmissable, I would say.
So obviously these are things I want to do. I’ve also taken a few expedition trips by ship down to Antarctica and one also doing the Arctic, the Russian Arctic. That was a few years back. So these were very memorable trips. I do like trains a lot, to be honest. I’ve travelled more by train in China and Russia than anywhere else. When I get older, maybe I’d like to try a sort of luxury train trip, one of those Orient Express type things, but I’ve never done that so far. They are a bit expensive, and usually that is about the trip rather than the destination.
For now, I think I’m still focusing on the destinations a bit more. I think through NomadMania, people can find out about how big the world really is and think, ‘Oh, you know, just going to Paris doesn’t mean I’ve actually done the whole of France because there’s all these other regions there’. So I think that the aim is to illustrate how many travel options there may be. There’s no actual types of membership. It’s just about motivating you and educating you and entertaining. So enjoy it.
Peter Now you speak ten languages. Is that correct?
Harry I destroy ten languages. A I think I can converse in ten languages in varied degrees of fluency. Yes.
Peter That must be very useful.
Harry It really is. I think French and Spanish have really made a difference for me. French in Africa? Not so much in France. I mean, you can get away with not speaking French in France, but in the former French-speaking colonies there, you really need French. And it really makes a difference in approaching people and talking to them.
In Latin America, I would say Spanish is an absolute must and my Spanish is really quite good. So I always find one of the nicest things is to be able to have a conversation with the local taxi driver. You learn so much about their perspective of the world, the issues of the local town. The better you speak the language, the more you can get out of that. And then they’re obviously very curious about you.
So I feel there that I’m a bit of an ambassador of my country there. I give them a perspective because for many of these people, I may be the first English person they’ve ever met. I do think languages make a big difference in understanding a place, culturally, and obviously meeting the locals.
Felice Do you have to be very organised about visas? Because some of them you don’t get instantly and you need to have them. And also, does your passport get full or do you have several passports?
Harry Yes, yes to both of that. Well, yes, one does need to be organised with visas. We are very fortunate and we need to realise this. We from Western countries, we only need visas for, say more or less 50 countries. If you think of someone with an Iraqi passport, they need visas for everywhere. So I think it’s important to understand how privileged we are.
It does take some organisation. It’s mostly for Africa that visas are needed. Some of them are not that hard. Nowadays, more and more countries are turning to e-visas, which has made it even easier now.
Back in the day, when I was trying to do every country, it was harder and I really had to plan my trips. Sometimes I would risk it, so I would, say, go to Mali and then I’d think, ‘Well, I’m going to try to get the visa for Niger in Mali and let’s hope it works.’ And in most cases I got lucky and I would manage to get the visa. My passports do tend to expire pretty quickly because they run out of pages. I’ve got a jumbo in the UK which has an extra 16 pages, and yes, the one I’ve got now has lasted three years, but it’s filling up. I think soon I’m going to have to get a new one.
Felice And being half Greek, do you have a European passport?
Harry Yes. I’m fortunate. What I do sometimes is I use the Greek one for slightly more obscure countries, and then the British one is for the more tourist-friendly countries. Let’s put it that way.
Felice Yes, I’m the same. I have an Austrian passport and a British passport. So that’s useful nowadays.
Harry Yes. Oh well, nowadays definitely. And I’ve only realised that when, on the few occasions when, say, I haven’t had my Greek one and I’m stuck in the queue in some European airport with my British one and I think, ok, the passport definitely matters.
Felice It’s been fascinating talking to you. Can you tell us where people find NomadMania?
Harry Well, it’s NomadMania.com, and we also have the app version both for Android users and for Apple. I would say that the desktop version is more complete in the sense that when you make a profile on the desktop version, you can also see the other people’s profiles. The apps are meant to be used when you’re traveling, which means that it’s more useful for yourself to find places to go to tick things on the list you’ve got. It’s a much simpler version of the full site.
Peter Thank you very much indeed for coming on the show, and we wish you the best of luck with your future travels.
Harry Thank you so much for having me.
Felice Thank you very much for coming on our show. It’s been fascinating. That’s all for now. If you’ve enjoyed the show, please share this episode with at least one other person! Do also subscribe on Spotify, i-Tunes or any of the many podcast providers – where you can give us a rating. You can subscribe on Spotify, Apple Podcasts or any of the many podcast platforms. You can also find us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. We’d love you to sign up for our regular emails to pe[email protected]. By the way, we’re no 7 in the Top 20 Midlife Travel Podcasts.
© Action Packed Travel
- Join over a hundred thousand podcasters already using Buzzsprout to get their message out to the world.
- Following the link lets Buzzsprout know we sent you, gets you a $20 Amazon gift card if you sign up for a paid plan, and helps support our show.