LONDON – He visited all 196 countries by the age of 24, covering most countries within five years. Last year, he received a Guinesss World Record for becoming the youngest person in the world to travel to all sovereign countries.
However, for James Asquith, now 28 and working at Deutsche Bank in London, that was never the plan.
“It was never the purpose to race around and hop into every country to tick it off,” he told Business Insider. Instead, he got the idea after he began travelling with his father, a pilot for BMI.
“I thought, ‘I want to see more,’ and eventually decided I wanted to go everywhere,” he said.
From an early age, Asquith, who was born in Sussex but has spent most of his life in London, has been saving his money, starting with “hoarding cash and doing little jobs where I could” such as washing neighbourhood cars at age 12 to asking for money instead of presents at birthdays and Christmas.
With “a decent amount of cash saved up” at the age of 18, he took a gap year before starting university to travel to Southeast Asia with friends.
What started as a three month trip sparked an around-the-world tour that lasted five years, leading Asquith to visit Afghanistan during a war and travel by jeep into Somalia.
From getting lucky on the stock market to working in bars and hostels in South America, scroll down to see how Asquith became the youngest person in the world to visit every country.
Meet James Asquith, the 28-year-old London banker who became the youngest person to travel to all 196 countries at the age of 24.
Having saved “a decent amount of cash” by the age of 18, Asquith took a gap year to travel with friends before starting university, spurring him to continue travelling around the world.
“When it started, I remember going to get our backpacks and the guy in the shop saying, ‘Get this one, you’ll catch the travel bug and it will be durable.’ I thought, ‘No, it’s just going to be a three-month trip.’ Two days after I came back I booked my first solo trip and went to Egypt.”
Asquith’s Dad was also a pilot working for BMI (British Midland International), meaning he got to tag along to destinations he otherwise may not have visited.
“They went direct to Sierra Leone, Ethiopia, Iraq, Kazakhstan – places that were pretty expensive to get to and that I’d normally never have gone to,” he said.
“I started going away with my Dad when I could, or even without him, on these weird route networks. I thought, ‘I want to see more,’ and eventually thought, ‘Now I want to go everywhere.'”
He managed to continue traveling during his time at The London School of Economics, where he studied a BSc in Economics.
“Initially I was living with my parents, so I saved money on rent there,” he said. “I worked three jobs at one point, and I started up a student events business in my second year which turned out to be lucrative – that’s what made it happen.”
Some of his most memorable trips include visiting Middle Eastern countries like Jordan and Syria.
“Syria was lovely when I went in 2011,” he said. “I stayed in the Sheraton in Damascus and it was a completely different place back then. So many places have changed massively – I went to Kurdistan in north Iraq, which from what I hear in the press is now an awful place, but my photos of it are beautiful.”
Some of his loneliest days were spent in Africa, which he says he has “fond, strange memories” of.
“It was probably the loneliest place – I broke up with an ex-girlfriend the day before I went there, and I went for four month by myself. I didn’t speak a word of English for about the first two months – there was a large aspect of solitude and a lot of self-reflection.”
He tried to spend a least a day or a night in every country.
“There were obviously some that I spent less time in – I went to Afghanistan during a war – but some I spent months in. I got a flavour of every country.”
However, finding the funding to keep up his hobby wasn’t always easy, so when the financial crisis hit, Asquith took his chances on the stock market.
“I didn’t have a clue what I was doing but I bought a few stocks from UK banks when they were on their knees and I got really lucky,” he said. “I managed to make a fair amount of money from that and basically spent it all traveling.”
He also become obsessed with finding deals.
“A lot of people write articles about how you can trick the system – I wouldn’t read too much into that, just keep looking for deals all the time,” he said. “The first thing I do is search on Skyscanner ‘London to Everywhere.'”
He added that it’s important to “be smart on FX moves” and stay on top of what currencies have depreciated.
He also suggests signing up to airline emails to take advantage of their sales. “They obviously use their cheapest, super-discounted seats to promote their sales, and there are very few tickets that are at the price that they advertise, but they do have tickets at those prices.”
Becoming familiar with different, cheaper airlines also helped him reach his goal.
“Older legacy airlines from Europe and the US are, in my opinion, way behind the curve of the Middle Eastern three,” he said. “The Asian airlines and the Middle Eastern airlines are absolutely spot on.
“European budget airlines work for sure, but Asian budget airlines are amazing. Air Asia got me just about everywhere for so little.”
“A lot of people assume I had rich parents who gave me money,” he said, adding that this was never the case.
“My parents helped me as much as they could in various ways, but I certainly didn’t get any handouts. It obviously helps when you get financial help with the airfare, but a lot of the places I went for five months or something like that and was on a shoestring to get by.”
“I worked in bars and hostels when I was in South America so I got food, drink, and accommodation for free – when you’re backpacking, there’s not really much else you’re spending money on.”
After university, he started working for HSBC in London. It was during this time that he visited his last country, Micronesia.
“I probably took about six different trips that were four or five months in length,” he said. “I was 18 when it started, and finished when I was 24 and some amount of days.”
On setting foot into his final country, he said: “It was a really weird feeling – I felt quite empty. I always joked that I would have a mid-life crisis at a young age, but it almost felt like that.”
One of his friends put together a video on his story in 2014, which began to receive attention.
“It got quite big quite quickly,” he said. “I got a lot of weird requests like, ‘Come and DJ on our radio station in Sydney,’ or ‘Come on the ‘The One Show.’ That was certainly not for me.”
RecordSetter, which Asquith calls the second most recognised after Guinness, even officially recognised his achievement, although it took a few years for him to hear back from Guinness.
The long vetting process involved providing visas, passports, tickets, witness statements, photos of himself in every country, and even returning to a lot of the countries he had already visited to beg for stamps in his passport.
“There were times when I went to five countries in a day just for the purposes of getting a stamp,” he said, adding, “I didn’t have tickets from everywhere. I paid people in a jeep to take me to Somalia – it’s not like I was going to turn around and say, ‘Can I have a receipt please?'”
Then, last year, he finally received his Guinness World Record.
“I got an email saying ‘Congratulations, you’ve got a Guinness World Record.’ It was amazing.”
With the record under his belt, he began writing his book, Breaking Borders.
“Everyone can write a travel book and there’s lots of travel blogs out there, so I needed it to be official,” he said. “I spent pretty much all of last year writing it – I started to do it while I was at work, but I realised it wasn’t conducive to sitting in meetings talking about financial markets then coming home to write about the most amazing thing I’ll probably ever do in my life.”
“So I took loads of trips and basically just got in the mindset of writing while I was on them – I spent three and a half weeks in the South Pacific just sitting on the beach writing.”
As far as choosing a favourite country, Asquith says the US stands out because of its diversity, and is also the country he has travelled to the most.
“If Europe was a country, it would be Europe because of the difference between Spain, Italy, Scandinavia… it’s massively diverse, but it’s the same from New York to Texas, Las Vegas, Alaska, and Hawaii. I think I’ve been to 29 states.”
Next, Asquith says he would like to visit the North and South Pole, and has a trip to Puerto Rico planned within the next few months.
“I want to do something more extreme now, some sort of crazy marathon or something,” he said. “I’m not going to be in a sail boat going across the Atlantic any time soon, but something a bit more edgy I guess.”
“I’m an expert on very few places,” he said, “but I still get really excited.”
“There are going to be so many other places that amaze me. There’s so much more to see.”