Most people dream of traveling to all the countries, how does it feel to have actually done it? We speak with Carlos Useros Moyano who is in the UN Master List of Individuals who have visited all 193 countries. He shares what it takes to accomplish this feat, the frustrating challenges and the crazy adventures involved. In this episode, we talk about changing perspectives and personal growth from traveling.
- 05:50: Immediate feeling of completing all countries
- 14:10: Bureaucracy as the greatest hurdle
- 18:45: How long to stay in each place
- 24:20: Wrong place at the wrong time
- 34:05: Putting faith in strangers
- 37:10: Precautions when traveling alone
- 48:10: Seeing the world differently with age
- 55:10: New travel motivations
- 1:00:30: Travel – a healing journey or an escape?
- 1:06:20: Favourite destinations
- 1:12:13: How companionship affects the experience
- 1:18:05: Best tips and the future of travel
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The following is an extremely summarized version extracted from the transcript of the full conversation. I strongly recommend listening to the podcast for all the valuable insights. You will also hear more detailed and contextualized stories from the guest(s), as well as pointers from me in a two-way conversation.
Please introduce yourself and tell us about your background?
My name is Carlos, and I was born in a village called Heras, Spain, and I’ve lived most of my life in Roses, a fisherman village in the northeast part of Spain. We have the Mediterranean seas that we can swim in. I can ski in the mountains on the same day. Also, the gastronomy; is fantastic—the Mediterranean gastronomy. We have a very fabulous bay, the Bay of Roses, in my area. When I’ve been traveling for a few months, I always come back feeling good with my family and friends. Talking about my childhood, I was a crazy guy in school. I wasn’t the best student, but I loved atlases, geography books. But with my personality, when I feel a bit tired, I move to another place; I have to do it. I can go on a Bay tour or go to the National Park it’s less than half an hour from where I’m living. I’m glad to be here.
You live near the French border, so do you get many French tourists?
Yes, we are 45 minutes driving from the border; I am living it’s around 60/70 kilometers. The French are the most common tourist because we are neighbors. We also receive a lot of tourism from Europe because of the sun. Also, it is cheaper than other places, that’s why it is a perfect place to come for gastronomy and other activities.
The winters are so light; they are not winters like many years ago. I can hike and swim in the Mediterranean Sea every day. It’s not very cold weather. So, you can stay here and have no problem.
How did you feel immediately after completing the feat of visiting every country in the world?
It was a relief, a significant relief, not going to a dangerous country or difficult situations. Also, the bureaucracy, so not having to do more paperwork, and having to wait and be patient for the visas. When I finished, I was pleased to have completed something in my life. I knew that it would be something extraordinary if I could finish it. To visit all the countries, you need time and to stay focused. Sometimes there are challenging moments where you think about giving up. In my case, it was best not to plan because, for me, it took me more than 20 years. People who complete this challenge all move at different speeds because of their passions. It was a little bit rough because I worked during the summer to save enough money for me to accomplish the journey. I would carry a backpack, take some euros, but not many plans. You get one visa, one guidebook, and then decide to go. The most powerful thing is your feelings and your thoughts. You want to go, and you want to do it.
Does your first experience of countries differ from what the media portrays them to be?
Absolutely. Usually, when you go to places, they are better than you were expecting because people were talking about that place badly. Sometimes, you hear about money getting stolen and people getting robbed, but it can happen in any country; people like that are everywhere. It’s true that the first impression count, but you have to be there, take some time, and see what happens. It’s better when you are in the place, and you get the feeling, it’s not as bad as what you see in the movies. When we go to different countries with different cultures, it is not that bad.
Talk to us about the real challenge of traveling to other countries?
People don’t realize the challenges of visiting some of the countries. People who have finished or seen all the countries are a small family of around 300. The challenge is enormous, and I was not thinking about finishing. Still, when you have fewer countries, you say why not continue. Also, the countries you are leaving in the list are countries that have something adverse going on, that’s why you keep those countries to the last, it is the worst thing. Sometimes you have to wait. You may not go to certain countries because they don’t want any tourists or want you to pay money, so you cannot go with an economic visa; you need to pay a business visa or possess an invitation letter. So that’s a problem. It’s not easy and takes time. Another thing right now is it’s easier than before because of the local’s reliance. If you are an influencer, they pay you in sponsorship, hotels, flights, insurance, and even visas. It’s like marketing; traveling is a business. If you are good, you can make money. You can sell yourself to companies because you are everywhere. I know people that have been to Antarctica, but the journey is expensive. Many people that go there have gone for free, but I’ve not. I’m not complaining; it’s a different way of traveling. Many people are traveling fast, and they use that to make money. But for me, it’s essential to stay in the places for a bit; then you can feel that you have got something from the area.
What do you think is a reasonable period to stay in a particular place to better understand the culture?
To understand the culture and get a taste, you should live there. But if you don’t live there, I rent a motorcycle and go around the islands taking pictures and visiting different places to eat. Also, see the main attraction like the beaches or mountains, or go on a hike or, swimming or snorkeling. It depends on the size of the country or island. A normal-sized island would take one to two weeks. In countries the size of China, or Russia, you need lots of time. I’ve been to China three times and Russia a couple of times, crossing the Trans-Siberian and not just doing the Trans-Siberian in three to four days. I did the Trans-Siberian for a month, and then I get a minibus. I would go three or 400 kilometers north, or west, or east.
I like to go to remote places. But of course, you need to visit the capitals, and you sometimes need to visit museums; I’m not a big museum person. But I like the national history museum or the museum from that country to see the history. I keep maintaining; I want to go to places where I can enjoy myself more because everything’s the same when you are in the big cities. When you go to remote locations, you get the best days because you see how people behave and live. I think it’s essential. So, to your question, I did the islands in the Pacific Ocean or the Caribbean, under two weeks. I take three months in the countries, the duration of the passport issue they give.
Tell us about one of the most exciting stories from your travels?
I try not to go when there is a war or when something is going on. When I was in Afghanistan, there was a terrorist attack that killed 18 United National soldiers. They didn’t tell me anything when I was crossing the border. I sensed something was going on because the police were in a bad mood. I saw people with guns and thought there was a civil war going on. I tried to get someone to drive me to Mazar-i-Sharif it was 10 kilometers from the border. It said you should pay 10 USD in my guidebook, and I was like complaining with a driver thinking he wanted to rob me because he thought I was a tourist. So, I have to go with this man as there was nothing else around. And when he was driving around, I saw that it was like a war. When I arrived at the hotel, he told me that I was lucky because nobody was there around, and it would be dangerous for me if I were staying there for a while. When I got to the hotel, they tried to charge me more money.
On TV, I saw a big explosion that had happened in Kabul three or four hours ago. I realized I wasn’t safe there and I have to leave as soon as possible. I met a businessman trying to get to Kabul, so I joined him. Unfortunately, we didn’t get far as we crashed the car into a donkey. We took it to a garage to repair it; it took 18 hours. The next day there was a curfew. We had to sleep in a tunnel one night. The following day, we arrived in Kabul. I stayed there for ten days, hiding in an office building with this man. Two days later, I could leave the country.
We needed to get to Kabul, so I was driving kilometers every day, and we weren’t stopping for dinner or lunch. Then in Kabul, a friend of this guy took care of me. The main point of visiting Afghanistan was going to see the Bamiyan area, but I couldn’t stay there. It is better to leave and go another time.
How do you gauge who to trust and who to take precautions from in situations?
What works for me, it’s my view; I have something in my brain where I can notice things that are not working. For example, I’ve had a few taxi drivers asking me many questions. I see something in their eyes, and I will stop and take other transport. There are scams where they want to get more money. I will often take the bus.
What are other precautions that you generally take while you’re traveling?
I carry money in a money belt, and I try to always have it with me. You can leave everything in a safety box in your room, but the boxes can be broken into. Don’t take a lot of cash with you; consider credit cards or debit cards. Many years ago, when I was traveling with a lot of money, plenty of people wanted to rob me of my belongings, so it is a handicap. It can be a local or another traveler. You can be sleeping in your dorm, and they take all your money from your locker.
How has travel changed your perspective? How do you see the world differently now you have been to many countries and experienced many different and exciting things?
When I started traveling, I was 23 years old. I was very different; I was younger with plenty of energy. I was looking at a world map choosing my start and endpoints. I needed to get a passport and a little bit of money. I knew I wasn’t bad in English and French, so I thought I would try it. I was not scared, but I was inquisitive. But once I started, I don’t want to go back; I want to discover. When you go somewhere different, you’re challenging yourself. You have to maintain your itinerary. Your goal is to see the world and find rich things to do.
Because you are speaking a different language, you are meeting other people. You want to keep going with that for the rest of your life. That’s the feeling at the beginning. You want to earn more money and go again; it is always the same. It is like addiction, but when you are older, you go slower.
What are you looking to do these days when you’re traveling?
Right now, what I’m doing is going to the countries I’ve been to but the areas I missed. So, what I’m doing is visiting people and staying longer. All the islands are the same, but they have different names. We see the places we go to because of UNESCO, or because they’re tourist points, we have to visit them because they are the main things to do. I enjoy being with the people more than the places; if you have seen one island, you have seen all of them. But the people on the island are what makes it different. You have a different experience because of the people, not because of the place. Many old travelers don’t like these kinds of paradises, like, India, Goa, Indonesia, the Georgian islands in Thailand. For many years they picked these places to skip the winter; they have been going there for a long time. In the beginning, I think I was traveling because I was not very stable. I was escaping from my family situation; this is the same story for many travelers.
You could talk to each other because you trust them; it’s like going to a psychologist. If you say you go to a psychologist, they think you’re mad in my country. So that’s what we do when we are traveling, and that’s why when we come home, we feel better. When you are traveling, you are in a bubble and think things will be better because you left the lousy situation behind. That’s why people stay in many places and try to restart and have a new life or think of their next move.
Which is your favorite country?
If we talked about countries and had to choose one, it would be Papua New Guinea, in the Pacific Ocean. I choose two countries per continent; they would be Spain in Europe. Spain mainly because I am from there and I like gastronomy; then I would also pick Iceland; it’s a fantastic place. In Asia, I choose Yemen; it’s a great country, and the island of Socotra is paradise; it has one of the best beaches. India, you either love or hate, I think it is fantastic, and the shock of seeing people traveling by train which is a whole experience. Then in America, I pick Alaska and Brazil because of the Amazon River, and it’s a vast country to explore and discover. That’s more or less the country, but if I had to pick one, it would be Papua New Guinea. People, there are still barefoot. There is 20 Bird of Paradise, they have giant clams, shipwrecks, and you can go diving. You can put your feet in places that have never been touched before. You can also explore and find new species of trees, insects, or animals that no one knows exist. You can put your name to it because many biologists and scientists can label new species.
Do you think that your experiences depend on the people you meet or travel with?
You go to the places because of what you think the area is like, but you discover something else when you’re there. Persian people are amazing. Muslims give you three days of food and accommodation; the Holy Book of the Quran says they have to do this. Iran is a beautiful country; the people are amazing, maybe not the government, but the people are amazing. In Saudi Arabia, there is no freedom, and you have to be careful what you do, where you go, and who you talk to. In Asia, people help you and make your journey better because if the people are friendly, you want to stay longer. It is more about the people than the countries because countries are countries, concrete jungles are concrete jungles, natural is natural. When you go to places overcrowded like cities, there are plenty of thieves. The children from these areas have nothing, so they steal to make money. It’s a universal problem across all countries. The primary key to feeling okay when you’re traveling the country and sightseeing are the people that make you feel safe or feel better.
What do you foresee as the future of travel based on the current situation with Covid?
We need the vaccination, but people will change their mentality and habits with the restrictions. The beginning will be a little bit hard because we will maintain the distance and not touch things. In the end, we’ll be okay, but we have to handle the changes. Also, I think they will increase the prices because they will not run at total capacity. Also, I see many companies are going to close. We have to do things because we want to explore and go to places. I believe that traveling will be different, but you cannot stop people from traveling; that’s impossible.
What is the one crucial tip that you will give to everyone traveling?
There is a saying; if you want to travel far, travel alone and travel light, you have to carry all your stuff with you. You can buy things when you arrive in a country. Focus on what you need because the main problem is bringing a lot of weight. If you are traveling to countries with changeable weather, pack a jacket that fits your luggage. Be strict with what you are carrying because you will suffer if you are going on long journeys. You have to organize all your documents. They have to be in a file in your email or cell phone in a place that you can access easily.
Another thing that happened to me was I lost my passport; if you already have a copy, it speeds up replacing it. The most important thing to take with you is your cell phone because of the camera. If you carry a camera with a big lens, the thieves will target you. Phones have the whole universe in them.