Travel Lens: Chris Guillebeau’s World

Chris Guillebeau achieved something most people only dream of: visiting every country in the world. If that wasn’t impressive enough, he managed to complete this remarkable feat before his 35th birthday. When he’s not traveling, Chris can be found writing (he’s the New York Times best-selling author of The Happiness of Pursuit and The $100 Startup) and hosting the World Domination Summit, an annual gathering of creative people from across the globe. Here’s a look at the world through Chris’s unique lens.

Connect with Chris on Twitter @chrisguillebeau.

Megan Heltzel: Where do you call home? Why, out of every place in the world, do you choose to make your home there?

Chris Guillebeau: I travel at least a hundred days a year, but when I’m not on the road I live in Portland, Oregon. It’s a great mid-size city that is very easy to live in. When I’m there, I’m a homebody; I don’t get out much. But then I leave and fly around the world every month or two, so I like the mashup of the foreign and familiar.

MH: When someone comes to visit your hometown, where’s the first place you take them?

CG: Well, I won’t take them to Voodoo Doughnut, which is overrated, or anything they’ve seen on TV. I’ll take them to a neighborhood on the east side, most likely the Hawthorne area in Southeast or the Mississippi area in Northeast. 

MH: What’s the biggest misconception about the place where you live?

CG: That it’s a bunch of underemployed hipsters who sit around drinking micro brews all the time. This is a gross exaggeration: only 30 percent of the city consists of that demographic.

MH: Is there a place that draws you back again and again? Why?

Hong Kong is one of Guillebeau's favorite destinations. (Photograph by Chris Guillebeau)
Hong Kong is one of Guillebeau’s favorite destinations. (Photograph by Chris Guillebeau)

CG: There are many, but for me I think the act of travel itself is therapeutic. I like being in motion and feeling like I’m working toward something. So for me it’s not always about the actual destination but very much about the journey and the in-between moments.

MH: Why is travel important? How has it changed you?

CG: Travel is disruptive and forces you to think differently. I live a fairly routine life, and I like the element of adventure—even “soft adventure”—that travel brings. When I’m on the road I feel like a different person.

MH: Which city has it all? 

CG: Sydney, Australia. There’s a good reason it’s so far away from everywhere else. If it wasn’t, everyone would live there—or at least I would.

MH: In your opinion, what’s the world’s most underrated destination? 

CG: Hong Kong isn’t really underrated, but it’s another place where I feel at home. I visit several times a year and have a ritual: On each visit, I return to someplace familiar—the Mid-Levels escalator, Kowloon—and also try to visit someplace new.

MH: Can you remember a specific time in your travels that renewed your faith in humanity?

CG: Most travelers have a story of unexpected generosity. Mine came from Comoros, a small island nation off the coast of East Africa.

I had screwed up and ran completely out of money. The one ATM on the island didn’t accept my credit card, and I had to pay 50 euros to reclaim my passport, which had been confiscated by immigration upon arrival.

A group yoga session held in Pioneer Square during the 2014 World Domination Summit in Portland, Oregon (Photograph by Chris Guillebeau)
A group yoga session held in Pioneer Square during the 2014 World Domination Summit in Portland, Oregon (Photograph by Chris Guillebeau)

A stranger came to my rescue and loaned me the money with nothing more than my promise to repay him somehow. I’ve thought about that experience many times since, and continue to be amazed at kindness of the gesture.

MH: What’s the strangest thing you’ve seen in your travels?

CG: A dead cow in the back of a taxi in Sierra Leone would probably be high on the list.

MH: What do you never leave home without when you’re on the road?

CG: I’m pretty basic. Everything goes in my Briggs & Riley rollaboard and my Tom Bihn “Empire Builder” laptop bag. In addition to taking my MacBook Air everywhere I go, I also use a paper notebook (shock and awe!) for capturing ideas and making notes.

I appreciate good coffee, [but that can be short supply when on the road], so I travel with Nescafé or VIA packets from Starbucks.

The ability to drink bad coffee is an important travel skill, I think.

MH: What’s your go-to resource—site, travel app, etc.—when you’re traveling?

CG: I’m very low-tech in that regard. I’ll say that my readers in general are always the go-to resource. By connecting and learning from them I’ve been able to have much more authentic travel experiences than any app or site could provide.

MH: What’s the best travel advice anyone’s ever given you? Do you have any tips of your own?

CG: I mostly learned through experience. I once applied for 13 credit cards in one day and earned 300,000 frequent flyer miles, without adversely affecting my credit. I use round-the-world tickets and other “travel hacking” tactics to keep costs low.

On a more big-picture level, travel gave me confidence. I learned that most of the time, everything would be okay. The more I traveled, the more I relaxed and stopped stressing out.

MH: What are you working on right now?

CG: This year is the fifth anniversary of the World Domination Summit, a global gathering I produce with friends in Portland. We’re going to be setting a Guinness World record and inviting a ton of great people to join us.

Of course, I’m also planning more trips. There’s always more to be done and more places to visit—which is exactly the way I like it.

This interview has been edited and condensed. 

Megan Heltzel is an associate producer on National Geographic Travel’s digital team. Follow her adventures in travel on Twitter @MeganHeltzel.

Comments

  1. Sandra Pereira
    India
    March 10, 2015, 10:25 am

    Wish this article had been more insightful about his experiences rather than a cusory write up unless it was a touch and go affair for Chris to get every country crossed off the list. How much time did he spent in every country ? A remarkable feat nevertheless.

  2. Shangey G
    Canada
    February 1, 2015, 11:56 am

    So he really visited North Korea?
    And what, was it stop and go visiting in parts of Africa?

    If everyone on the world were to be this reckless with cavalier travelling, humans carbon footprint would go through the roof.

  3. ReadandShare
    USA
    January 31, 2015, 12:29 am

    Congrats Chris!! Now that you’ve met your goal, you can do other crazy things, like:

    1. Spend a month in a small country and experience it in depth.

    2. Spend a year ‘somewhere that doesn’t speak your language’ and really experience it.

  4. Lash
    New Zealand
    January 24, 2015, 3:44 am

    Hey, Hey,

    Great to see Chris interviewed here on Nat. Geo travel!

    He truly has completed many remarkable achievements in his life already…and I”m sure he’ll be doing many more over the next years. Love following his Art of Nonconformity and being part of his awesome community.

    Thanks for being your awesome self, Chris. :))

    cheers, Lash

  5. Aditya
    India
    January 23, 2015, 10:43 pm

    Awesome.!!
    You are inspiration for many young travellers across globe.!

  6. Yvonne
    Kuala Lumpur
    January 23, 2015, 7:09 am

    Wow!! Love you!! Wish I could get inside your head haha!! Keep being awesome :-)))

  7. sunil kumar
    indai
    January 22, 2015, 10:36 pm

    i love Dog

  8. Attia
    Indonesia
    January 22, 2015, 8:33 am

    Travel to Indonesia.

  9. moon
    lithuania
    January 22, 2015, 12:43 am

    Hey, do you liked Lithuania? :)

  10. Nicole McLellan
    High Level, Alberta, Canada
    January 21, 2015, 5:02 pm

    I loved this story, I’m sure like millions of other people this is my DREAM to see the whole world, if only I didn’t owe student loan my life..sigh. However, I started writing my own blog, about how I want to travel to volunteer and make a difference in others’ lives, I’m brand new to online writing- but I’m hoping I can spread my message and somehow make it around to some countries to full fill some good deeds.
    http://karmakindness.weebly.com/
    Hope to have some comments and to share ideas with like minded writers, travellers, givers.

  11. Anjali
    India
    January 21, 2015, 11:52 am

    Hey chris!
    Maybe this comment won’t matter you much. just because you’ve a lot of fans. And i’m just one amongst them. But I would really love to post this comment for you.
    To be honest , you are the one living my dream. :’)
    A lucky man. Only 35 years but an amazing traveler.
    It really felt amazing to hear about you.
    Hope I get the same chance to live my dream. :)
    Hope to meet you in life , young man.
    Good Luck.

  12. Archie Guvi
    Vancouver
    January 21, 2015, 10:52 am

    Well done! I am sure you have a lot more stories to Share. I do a fair share of travelling as well. What I enjoy the most of every place I visit is the people, the culture and the scenary. I have never been to a place I didn’t like. Every country and place has something unique and fascinating. There is something special about travelling. Would love to hear more of your stories.

  13. Morgan
    St Petersburg, FL
    January 21, 2015, 7:09 am

    This is my dream. I can only attest to traveling to 15 countries, but I wold emphatically
    accompany this man for the remainder, if only he hadn’t beaten me to it.

  14. Jason chen
    China
    January 21, 2015, 5:20 am

    that’s amazing ,,,i’d like to go anywhere

  15. CMNS
    January 21, 2015, 12:05 am

    It’s amazing that Guillebeau has been able to travel to every country in the world by the age of 35. I was disappointed that he chose to speak mostly about relatively mundane travel experiences to cosmopolitan cities (such as Sydney and Hong Kong) in the article. It would be fascinating to hear about how he was able to enter countries with strict visitor policies like North Korea, or what the experience was like visiting obscure countries like Nauru, which is only served by one local airline. Would greatly enjoy reading a book about his experiences.

  16. Amol Paldhe
    Mumbai
    January 20, 2015, 10:50 pm

    Congratulations for visited each country…. I think this should b the dream of every successful human..

  17. Kumar
    India
    January 20, 2015, 9:37 pm

    Great article. Quite impressed. Have you been to Bangladesh, Afghanistan, Somalia, Syria? What was your experience like?

  18. nisa
    Kosovo
    January 20, 2015, 6:24 pm

    193 countries. last one Norway. I envy

  19. joe park
    Connecticut
    January 20, 2015, 5:38 pm

    Boring wasteful article. It says nothing of real value. Seems like a plug for certain products and events. Not good.

  20. penny
    Canada
    January 20, 2015, 1:37 pm

    be present!

    That is my goal and yoga!
    watch my body and mind will get better n better.
    journey on mat. let go try today~~
    namaste
    Lucky Penny

  21. penny
    Canada
    January 20, 2015, 1:35 pm

    yoga make a change life style also ove been travel astanbul, tailand, laos,kambodia,chile but best traveling is looking my inside mind and body.. no costs~~
    I`m a aromatheapist too if I need help to children and woman in world i will be there..
    namaste

  22. MG
    India
    January 20, 2015, 1:21 pm

    +1 to Lucy Alexander

    Very short and ‘not so exciting’ article under a jaw dropping heading :(
    reader’s mind wants more than these formal questions

  23. Heelianti
    indonesia
    January 20, 2015, 11:07 am

    Well it is actually a lifestyle that everyone suppose to do and i’m start from my beloved country first :-) Indonesia with over than 17.000 island
    “Let’s travel the world”

  24. atul panwar
    india
    January 20, 2015, 4:59 am

    mam i also want to work for national geographic travel digital team beacuse i also want to be a traveler who explores the world

  25. Connie Ruiz
    Kansas
    January 19, 2015, 10:29 pm

    Wow!!! is so fascinate what you do but most of all have the oportunity to go around the globo doesn’t have prize…l have always dream to do that but l just didn’t have the chance just yet.

  26. Dennis
    Canada
    January 19, 2015, 5:52 pm

    How many countries in the world are there at the moment?

  27. Lucy Alexander
    United Kingdom
    January 19, 2015, 4:53 pm

    Really disappointed by this article. It’s too short and feels like an ad for product rather than his experiences and what the world has to offer. Is this just an exert?

  28. Joe
    London
    January 19, 2015, 2:34 pm

    A lot of drivel and no mention of the only data I want: HOW MANY?

  29. Abhijeet Sawant
    Mumbai, India
    January 19, 2015, 2:27 pm

    That is some insane travelling to do…always wanted to keep travelling and anchor some show like travel and living and achieve this feat .. but good to see someone actually living it..good luck

  30. Tshering Tashi
    Thimphu
    January 19, 2015, 2:15 pm

    good to know that you visited Bhutan n hoping you will visit again,,,if not, I’m sure that you will let know your friends or people from diffirent countries 2 visit Bhutan,,,so that people will learn about our unique culture, customs n tradition through seeing n feelings, rather then reading n seeing in pictures. So Visit Bhutan.

  31. julie laamag
    portland oregon
    January 19, 2015, 1:09 pm

    Chris i highly recommend visiting my country if u havent, Micronesia. Thousands of beautiful tropical islands all have their own different unique culture and have their own dialect. Email me or you can google my island called yap and you will find all the travel info.you need.

  32. Jill
    United States
    January 19, 2015, 12:52 pm

    Does he need an employee? I’d apply! I wanted to move to Portland in June…

  33. Nawal
    Stockholm
    January 19, 2015, 11:54 am

    I lik his idea…i like to trave too…we learn much by traveling…i wish y good luck and success in your life

  34. zaine
    South Africa
    January 19, 2015, 11:26 am

    I woyld love to know how you started and how you got the funds to travel

  35. RH
    Amsterdam
    January 19, 2015, 10:16 am

    The one thing I wondered; If you travel 1/3 of the year, how do you get a job for 2/3 and pays enough to do so?

  36. naima zouaid
    Tunisie
    January 19, 2015, 9:54 am

    wow im really amazed .please visit tunisia i want to meet you

  37. narine persaud
    Guyana
    January 19, 2015, 9:29 am

    Which year did he visit Guyana?and name some areas visited.

  38. mary gumpenberger
    Phoenix, Az
    January 19, 2015, 9:03 am

    Great article! Inspiring to read about someone who has his act together (grounded) at only 35. We too live in Portland & love to travel. Alas, only been to 38 countries.

  39. A
    January 19, 2015, 8:29 am

    Shame on you, NG. This is nothing short of a sales pitch for the brands and products pitched by this “traveller” who has sadly rushed through every great country on Earth. I guess he needs some endorsement money to support his next exploit to HK.

  40. Maria Morrison
    Deutschland
    January 19, 2015, 6:18 am

    Have you been to the Antarctica?

  41. Amin Wasi
    Malawi
    January 19, 2015, 4:59 am

    thats an awsome story but i just want Him to visit malawi,,we have the fresh lake,national parks and worndeful city of Blantyre not forgeting chambo fish from lake malawi..

  42. nudassar sajjad
    pakistan
    January 19, 2015, 4:59 am

    just wanted to know about his personal experience
    in my country (pakistan)

  43. Shelley Youngren
    Winter Party, Florida
    January 19, 2015, 4:07 am

    I’ve traveled to many foreign countries and understand the freedom and thrill. My question is, do you plan to see all 50 States? This is Quite liberating as well.

  44. Nadya
    Amsterdam
    January 19, 2015, 4:03 am

    I would love to adopt this lifestyle and I honestly have no idea what is stopping me at the moment. What is the most difficult par t for you? I have a fear that I will not be able to manage it financially.