Graham David Hughes was born in Liverpool at the wrong end of the seventies. If you had to define in a sentence what drives him perhaps it’s the desire that years from now schoolchildren across the land will be required to learn his date of birth.
From an early age Graham has stood out from the crowd. With his striking auburn hair and encyclopaedic knowledge of smutty jokes he was always going to be noticed and he has grown up into a person that once you meet him, he’s hard to forget.
Graham has always had a plan to make his mark and has always has a madcap scheme or three in the offing — once he finds something he wants to do he sets about it wholeheartedly. He is the one shouting the loudest, his hand is up highest, he is the squeaky wheel after the oil. He is a keen reader, and has a range of knowledge that includes (but goes way beyond) current affairs and copious amounts of pop culture. If you’re ever at a house party with him, be prepared to find yourself deep in conversation about anything from the Crab Nebula to the politics of modern Africa to the films of Akira Kurosawa, via Jabba the Hutt, monkey butlers and Viz Magazine.
Travel & Cinema
Graham’s major passions are travel and cinema, both were cultivated from childhood. He was in Eastern Europe as the map was redrawn after the end of the cold war, and partook in some eccentric summer holidays road-tripping in a Cadillac through the country lanes of Wales. Since leaving Manchester University with a degree in Politics and Modern History, Graham has taken in more of the world – single-handedly travelling around the world in 2002, and picking up his sassy Aussie girlfriend Mandy along the way. A trip to Serbia’s Exit Festival in 2007 took in Albania, Bosnia and Kosovo (amongst others) on a meandering return leg, bringing his ‘country tally’ up to a total of 70.
Since returning to Liverpool, Graham has devoted his time to a number of enterprises, specifically his company, Hydra Studios. With Hydra he has written and directed a number of excellent short films and won the inaugural Liverpool 48 Hour Film Challenge in 2006. From 2002-2008 he was heavily involved in the Liverpool Music Scene, shooting or producing videos for Hot Club De Paris, The Dead 60’s, The Basement, (We are) Performance, Peter And The Wolf, Lyons And Tigers, China Crisis, The Coral, The Real Kicks, The Sonic Hearts, Metro Manila Aide, Kaya, The White Rose Movement and filming for the release of the Arctic Monkeys second album, Favourite Worst Nightmare. He has also written numerous treatments for larger film projects and has developed scripts with the support of the UK Film Council.
Never one for the ‘normal’ 9 to 5 lifestyle, Graham can normally be found beavering away on a project or painting the town red. Or (more typically) both at the same time. He is at his best with a deadline and a plan of how to get it done. Forever plunging headfirst into new experiences — he’s the guy who always says ‘yes’ and then worries about how he’s going to do it afterwards. Anywhere he lays his head is home for the night. It is this spontaneous and unpredictable attitude that has shaped his life so far, given him some of his funniest stories and his incredibly eclectic group of friends.
THE ODYSSEY EXPEDITION is the culmination of his decade-long dream to travel to every country in the world, set a new world record, raise money for a worthy cause and entertain people along the way. Christ knows he’s been banging on about it long enough.
– Dino Deasha, December 2008
The Odyssey Expedition
The Odyssey Expedition was the FIRST official Guinness World Record™ setting attempt to visit every country in the world in one journey without flying. As far as I’m aware, nobody had ever seriously attempted this before me. Many told me that it couldn’t be done. But I did it. I stepped foot in over 200 countries, every nation of The Americas, Europe, Asia, Australasia, The Pacific and Africa.
I travelled alone with no professional support and on a shoestring budget. I organised my own travel, planning and logistics, but I couldn’t have done it without the support of my friends and family who were happy to lend a hand when necessary.
I was determined to prove it could be done. There was no precedent for going to every country without flying. I couldn’t refer to a single book or call up a fellow traveller and ask them how to do it – I made it up as I went along, went with the best information I could lay my hands on and left myself at the mercy and goodwill of my fellow human beings from Timbuktu to Kathmandu.
I’m the first to admit that I made a lot of mistakes, but whenever things went wrong (which was often), I drew on the support of my family, friends and well-wishers to keep me going.
The Big Idea
I’ve had the idea of doing The Odyssey Expedition around 12 years ago while I was backpacking around South East Asia. I had wanted to visit every country in the world since I was a kid and it excited me that I had the opportunity to visit off-the-beaten-track places like Bangladesh, Burma and Brunei – it dawned on me that with a British Passport, I could – if I tried hard enough – visit every single one of those weird and wonderful places without even getting on a plane. The only thing stopping me was the fact that several countries I would need to pass through were at war. Wars which, I’m happy to say, were over when I started my quest.
After clocking up a total of 70 countries on various backpacking adventures and fielding the idea of The Odyssey Expedition to people in the media, in 2008 I decided it was time to stop talking about it and DO IT. I managed to get a meeting with the head of television development in Lonely Planet – they liked the idea, and what’s more they thought that it was doable. The stage was set.
Over the following six months I prepared as best I could for the journey, getting the necessary vaccinations, learning to sail (kinda), getting in touch with Eimskip to help me cross the Atlantic, arranging a mobile internet dongle with Vodafone so I could keep the website updated on the road and filming stuff for Lonely Planet of my ‘preparations’.
I contacted the good folk at Guinness World Records™ so we could be clear about the ‘rules’, and they requested that as well as not flying, I not drive myself or take private vehicles over large distances as they can’t support any kind of road race.
Truth be told though, there wasn’t much to prepare. I travel fast and I travel light; and much of the adventure couldn’t be set-up in advance. Visas only last for a month or two, there was no way of knowing when cargo boats or private yachts will be leaving six months in the future. You can’t predict if you’ll get thrown in jail in Africa or blag a ride on a cruise ship – you just don’t know. But as far as getting around overland is concerned, one late night with a large stack of Lonely Planet guidebooks was all I needed to consult. The world is surprisingly accessible!
With a British Passport you don’t need a pre-bought visa for hardly any country in the Americas or Europe and although the roads in Africa are pretty hard going, you can always find some sort of public transport trundling along them.
Something else that is quite surprising is how cheap this is to do! If you’re registered on CouchSurfing your accommodation will be free, public transport in most countries is remarkably inexpensive (if you’re prepared to rough it) and you can feed yourself for just a couple of pounds if you know where to look.
An Earth Odyssey
What I loved most about this adventure is having the opportunity to meet people from all over the world – people who live and love their respective countries. I loved waking up somewhere new every day, I loved not knowing what lay around the next corner, I loved the thrill of the unknown and the tremendous sense of achievement as I break through these borders and see my map of the world filled in. Most of all, I loved the support and friendship offered to me by complete strangers – everywhere, from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe and all the countries in between.
In my four years on the road I learnt more about the world than I did in fifteen years of schooling. Geography, history, politics, culture, language, film-making, writing… you name it, if I took the exam tomorrow I’d get an ‘A’.
Setting two brand new Guinness World Records™ for my travels was a dream come true. There were times when I’ll admit it was hard to want to carry on, but there are literally hundreds of people who have gone out of their way to help me on this quest and it’s for them, not me, that I continued and saw it through to the very end.
And why did I want to go to every country in the world? Because this planet is ours. It’s the only home we have known and it is the only home we will ever know. For too long the powers that be have decreed where we can and cannot go on this spinning rock of ours, our Pale Blue Dot. Their time is over – after centuries of needless bloodshed, pretty much every country in the world is now finally open for business. Let’s go see ’em!
Frequently Asked Questions
Why did you do this?
Well obviously because I’m bonkers. And it was my dream for years.
I wanted to set a brand new Guinness World Record™ (or two!), to raise money for WaterAid, show that the outside world isn’t such a scary place, have some great stories to tell the grandkids, prove it was possible and have some fun, damnit!!
How on Earth did you get Lonely Planet, National Geographic and the BBC on board?
The planets aligned! I’m a video director in my day job, making music videos and stuff in Liverpool. One day I got a call from Mark Bowness, the joint founder of the excellent www.tribewanted.com (and fellow scouser). He wanted me to help him out with a couple of videos. I told Mark of this crazy plan I had to visit every country in the world in one year without flying and he suggested I put a pitch video together for an online adventure competition, which I duly did.
I didn’t win the competition, but soon afterwards I learned that the BBC had acquired Lonely Planet. Fired up by the possibility, I sent the pitch video to Lonely Planet, just as I happened to be in Melbourne for my girlfriend’s sister’s wedding. They called me in for a meeting. So I went round and met up with a top bloke called David who was Head of Development for Lonely Planet Television. He asked me if it this madcap scheme was possible – I showed him my 17-page itinerary and said an emphatic YES.
That’s all he really wanted to know. They checked out my other travel vids that I had made for YouTube and liked what they saw. Lonely Planet looked to National Geographic for the commission for the television show, which was duly granted at the end of November 2008. The BBC also came in on the deal, and the stage was set for the most epic adventure of my life!
So did they pay for everything?
I wish! No – I paid for all the travel myself out of my own pocket (plus 3 credit cards and a hefty overdraft!!) I also have to pay for all my own visas, insurance, medical bills etc. I basically gambled everything I own on successfully completing this adventure. I only gamble when I know I’ll win.
Blimey! This must have cost you a fortune! Are you rich?
Far from it! Public transport is not really that expensive except in Europe and there you can get an Interrail pass pretty cheaply. I CouchSurfed where possible, I didn’t stay at hotels that cost more than $10 a night and I slept a tremendous number of nights on whatever mode of transport I was on. Nearly all of the cargo ships and cruise ships that were good enough to take me didn’t charge me for my room and board, I tend to only eat cheap street food and, if you look closely, you’ll see I only travel with one pair of jeans and one pair of shoes.
I don’t own any property, I don’t have a mortgage or any dependants and I don’t smoke.
IN SHORT – YOU COULD DO THIS!! Backpacking is NOT expensive! Give up the cigs, buddy – that’ll save you a tenner a day (£3,650 can get you LONG way in Asia!), don’t waste your money on DVDs that you’ll never watch, mobile ringtones, lottery tickets, porcelain figurines, clothes that you’ll never wear or expensive bottles of cheap lager in swanky nightclubs. Get onto www.moneysavingexpert.com and check out how to live life on the cheap, save up a few grand and hit the road – if you’ve got a European, American, Australian, New Zealand or Canadian passport you’ve already got an Triple A pass to the WORLD. USE IT!!
What was the hardest thing about doing The Odyssey?
The hardest thing was getting to islands. If you haven’t got your own private yacht, it’s tremendously tricky and time consuming to reach places like Cuba, Sao Tome, Comoros and Cape Verde without flying.
The next hardest thing was visas. Travelling around the Americas and Europe on a British passport is fairly straight-forward, but once I got into Africa and Asia, working through all the paperwork needed to get from one country to another was an absolute nightmare.
What else was tough was not seeing my girlfriend Mandy for months on end. She waited for me to finish for 3 years and 8 months before we mutually called it a day. We’re still good friends though.
Because clean water and sanitation should be a basic human right. I can’t stress this enough. 2.5 BILLION people do not have access to a toilet. Water-borne diseases are the BIGGEST killer of CHILDREN on the PLANET. Unfortunately, we in the West are more interested in saving the lives of animals (in the UK we give more money each year to the DONKEY sanctuary in Cornwall than we give to the NSPCC) than kids.
Whenever I hear of some batty old woman who’s given a million pounds in her will to the cat’s home, my stomach turns over.
I know building toilets and sewers aren’t as cool and right-on as tackling the AIDS crisis or calling for Debt Relief, but those causes have already got a zillion people (and celebrities) fighting the good fight – I wanted to champion a cause that is politically and religiously neutral (I don’t own the sky-armour or BFG-9000 necessary to take on The Vatican over condom use) and fails to receive the media attention it deserves.
The world is desperate for toilets. And you can help.
So when you get a minute, head on over to www.justgiving.com/theodysseyexpedition and throw a fiver into the pot. You might just save a real actual baby human’s LIFE. Seriously.
Were you scared going to all these crazy places?
Not really. And that’s not naivety, I’ve travelled to some proper basketcases before. The vast majority of people mean no harm whatsoever and will fall over themselves to help you get to where you need to be. Over four years and more than 200 countries .
You’re just passing through these places! You’re not really experiencing them!
This comes up a time and time again. Three points to consider:
1. When Dame Ellen MacArthur travels around the world in a yacht to break a world record, ALL SHE SEES IS WATER!
2. I’m the first to admit that I just dipped a toe in some places to “tick them off the list”, but others I stayed for a few days or even weeks, and wherever I was I travelled with locals, stayed with locals and ate with locals… apart from taking photos of some landmarks (that I’ve usually already seen) I don’t know what else I need to do to ‘experience’ a place!!
3. Unlike other travel bloggers I wasn’t paid by the tourist board of your country to come visit for a week and say nice things. But now I’ve done all this, who knows?! Hint hint!
Can you speak any other languages?
I try my best, but I have to admit I have absolutely no aptitude for languages. I speak a bit of Spanish and a bit of French. Sorry, my brain is just not wired that way. The fact that I got a B in GCSE French just goes to show how dreadful the British Education System is at actually teaching you anything useful (or handing out grades that reflect one’s abilities).
To be honest, in most places all I need to say is that I’m from Liverpool and that makes most people smile and shout “Steven Gerrard”! Even for an Evertonian like myself, it’s one hell of a useful ice-breaker!
What did you miss most about home?
The obvious stuff – friends, family, lazy days, crazy nights, going the flicks, live music, summer festivals… I also missed my awesome city of Liverpool, proper fish and chips, decent cheese, Adbul’s kebabs, and Caramel Milk Chocolate Digestives.
Who are your influences?
My Dad, Michael Palin, Douglas Adams, Ernest Hemingway, Hunter S. Thompson, Louis Theroux, Steven Fry, Dave Gorman, Charlie Brooker, Toby Amis, Derren Brown, Penn & Teller, James Randi, JJ Abrams, Rod Serling, Richard Dawkins, Sir David Attenborough, Ben Goldacre, Chris Morris, John Safran, Tim Schafer and Ben ‘Yahtzee’ Croshaw.
From the world of fiction: Odysseus (obviously!), Phileas Fogg, Sherlock Holmes, Bilbo Baggins, Dr. Who, R2-D2, Manny Calavera, Indiana Jones and Yossarian.
What were your favourite places?
Madagascar! Or Uzbekistan. Or maybe Iran. And Key West. Palau! And, er, Colombia. TOO MANY TO CHOOSE FROM! I like places that surprise me… in a good way!
If you had to strap somebody to a chair and force them to watch a movie, what would it be?