It’s the Millennial Dream, isn’t it? Travel the world on a shoestring and turn your experiences to profit. There’s a host of twenty-somethings out there doing just that, blogging, vlogging and Instagramming their way round the globe on their parents’ savings in the hope of building a career out of what is, basically, an extended holiday. That’s not James. Admittedly, he’s of the generation. He’s adept at social media, and is certainly monetising his experiences. But the Guinness Record Holder of ‘Youngest person to visit every country in the world’ has a very different story to tell – a story which saw him spend seven years paying his own way round all 196 sovereign nations before his 26th birthday…
Personable, articulate and the very definition of well-travelled, James Asquith is still only 29. But his world travels (and consequent launch of the Holiday Swap app, which allows users all over the world to swap their homes for a dollar a night) have already made him a doyen of the travel community.
“I started travelling properly when I was 18 years old. My parents took me on holiday once a year when I was younger but it wasn’t until I volunteered in Vietnam for three months that I really picked up the travel bug,” the self-confessed nomad reveals. “I was hooked. I really got to see and feel how we as people are both so different but so similar.
“My mum grew up all around the world, and would tell me travel stories when I was little. And my father was a pilot who took me along to lots of countries in Africa and the Middle East, so I was in love with the world around me from a young age,” James explains. “They both inspired me,” he adds, “but though my family did everything they could for me, they didn’t have that much money when I was younger.”
Financing the dream was no easy matter, but with such a strong drive to see the world already instilled, James knew it was just a matter of time – and timing. “I started working three jobs from the age of 15, saving all the money I could. Then, when I was 18, I was lucky with investing the money…” And off he went to Vietnam, the start of a personal odyssey which has saw him take in all 196 world nations over the next seven years. “I was fairly naive when I started my journey around the world,” he laughs. “But I not only learnt a lot about myself, I learnt so much about the world in which we live…”
From Tuvalu – “super cool! It’s a tiny atoll in the South Pacific: the runway takes up most of the land, so the locals use it for anything from motorbike races, to sports matches and even to sleep on when it’s too hot inside!” – to the Vatican; from Andorra to the final stop on his world tour, Micronesia – “so beautiful!” – James has criss-crossed the globe. But it hasn’t all been palm trees and piña coladas: what with potential kidnappings in East Africa and earthquakes in Bali, you’d think he’d have had his fill of itinerancy by now. Yet, underlying his every story is the idea that there’s so much more to see…
Away from home for up to five months at a time, most often solo – “great as you are free to go where you want, though it does mean there’s no one to hold your bag at the airport when you need the loo!” – James estimates he’s spent the most amount of time in America. “I’ve been to 30 states, spending overall probably a year of my life in the country, and yet I think there’s so much I haven’t seen there! And there are so many global places still on my list. Just because I’ve been to every country it doesn’t mean I have seen the world! I like to take it all in: the local customs, people, culture, food, everything. I love immersing myself in a destination to understand how we have so many differences and similarities at the same time. The time in each country completely varies. Just because I may have seen one destination in one country, it doesn’t mean there’s not lots to go back for.”
Of course in the process, any number of places cropped up more than once: half-Cypriot, James has visited Cyprus on more than one occasion. “My grandmother was from Paphos, so I not only visited the island a lot as a child, I feel very at home in the Cypriot culture. I even stopped in Larnaca during my world travels, and can’t wait to return next year to get to know more about this great country!”
These days, with his official travels over and Holiday Swap app taking off, James is pretty busy: the work ethic which got him round the world still going strong! “I worked as hard as I possibly could, and I still do. Instagram shows off a life of a few moments a day, but maybe not the 12-14 hours of work seven days a week in the multiple jobs which paid for my travels. Plus the volunteering when abroad, which often covered the cost of food and accommodation.”
While James’ top travel hacks include using credit card points for air miles, and packing light – “you never know where the adventure might lead you!” – he admits accommodation is often what racks up the cost. “That’s why,” he explains, “I came up with Holiday Swap. I wanted to change the way we travel. Make travel cheaper and more accessible for all of us; build our sharing community to save users money on accommodation, which can then be spent on things like flights and tours. Personally, I can’t wait to see more of the world, and I’m lucky enough to have a job that allows me to do that. In fact,” concludes this veteran journeyman, “I feel like I’m only just getting started!”
For more information on James’ journeys, visit the Instagram account @jamesasquithtravel, or check out his book, Breaking Borders: Travels in Pursuit of an Impossible Record, on Amazon.co.uk. For more information on the Holiday Swap app visit www.holidayswap.com