Among world travelers, there is one man who has explored every country in the world and still has yet to celebrate his 40th birthday. Not only has he traveled to 318 countries, islands and cities around the world, Lee Abbamonte has visited all 50 states in the US, attended numerous sporting events around the world, conducted interviews with a variety of news stations, and created his own business as a travel brand ambassador. In 2008, Lee quit his job on Wall Street and decided to follow his dream. Since then, he has traveled an average of nine months out of the year. Lee has also spearheaded a book project about world travelers called Chasing 193: The Quest to Visit Every Country in the World (set to release May 1st).
You would think that a man like Lee wouldn’t have extra time in his schedule, but he managed to book a weekend just for the New York Travel Festival. We were also able to snag a few minutes of Lee’s time and learn about what he has in store for the festival as well as a few nuggets of travel wisdom.
How did the NY Trav Fest find a place on your schedule?
This will be my third year going to Trav Fest, and it is always fun. I live in New York and I travel a lot, so it is the perfect outlet for me to share some knowledge and meet new people.
Is there anything in particular you are looking forward to with this year’s festival?
I’m doing three different speaking gigs that will be a lot of fun and I am interested to see who all shows up. It’s always fun to talk travel with like-minded people.
What inspired you to take on the challenge of visiting every country in the world?
It was just a love of travel and a competitive spirit that made me want to challenge myself. I’m really goal oriented and I often set goals higher than most people do for themselves and I work really hard to achieve them. This goal really evolved over time; I never thought I would have seen so many places when I started traveling 15 years ago. I didn’t even think it was possible – less than 100 people in history have done it. But it was just one of those things, I was traveling a lot and realized that I had already traveled to over 100 countries and the list of world countries at the time was 193, so I just decided that I would shoot to break the world record of the youngest person to travel to every country. And I did.
How many passports have you filled?
It’s hard to say how many, but if you stacked them up on top of each other it would be about 8 inches. There are 144 pages in my current passport, which is four years old, and it is nearly full. All the stamps are fun to look at but the South Pole stamp is one of my all time favorites.
How has your background in finance helped you with your travels?
My background has helped me with the business aspect of my current situation for sure. That’s why I’m able to basically run a business that encompasses several brands instead of working for just one brand. I really focus on the business aspect of everything first and then travel comes second as a perk, which has been great. Almost every business trip has allowed me to explore and take a little extra time to see more of the destination.
What kind of research do you conduct before you travel to a new place?
I try to do as much as possible mainly by asking fellow travelers and people that I know have been there. I always ask them what they enjoyed doing and what they would recommend. I’m not big on Tripadvisor or reading blogs. I will use some travel guides as a reference, but I don’t think of them as omniscient sources of information. I have gotten the best advice from friends and other travelers who have actually been there.
What are your strategies for combating jet lag and other travel stressors?
Just fight through it. I get asked that question a lot and I always tell people to fight through it. I drink water and do things to take my mind off of it. One things to think about is don’t take late night flights that get you in early in the morning; take a midnight flight that gets you in around noon, then you only have to stay awake for half a day instead of a whole day.
“In order to be a great traveler you have to get comfortable being uncomfortable. There’s nothing more true than that, because if you never go outside your comfort zone, then you will never experience anything truly amazing.” – Lee Abbamonte
Tell us about some of the people you have met in your travels?
People always want to hear about my travel adventures and I could tell them about how cool the pyramids are or how crazy Machu Picchu is, but it’s the experiences I have along the way and the people that I meet that have really stuck out in my mind – usually good, sometimes bad, but those are the experiences that are different from everyone else’. Some of my best memories are of places like Libya, Armenia and South Africa, where I met incredible people who made an impression on me through their kind acts and friendship.
How many war zones have you visited?
I was in the Iraq war, the Afghanistan war and the Libyan civil war, so I was actually in three wars. I’ve also been in Somalia during times of tumultuousness. And then places like Iran, Syria, Yemen, North Korea, and Pakistan, are never like going to Hawaii; traveling to those places is very different and can be tricky. But I have had some amazing experiences in those countries and have met incredible people. I have realized that it isn’t the people who are making the decisions to go to war, they are just trying to survive and live life as best they can, just like the rest of us.
Is there a question you wish travelers would ask more often before traveling?
Too many people go to a place and don’t actually do anything. I wish people would be more experiential as opposed to just staying in their rooms and showing off on social media the two pictures they took from their balcony. One of my favorite sayings is: In order to be a great traveler you have to get comfortable being uncomfortable. There’s nothing more true than that, because if you never go outside your comfort zone, then you will never experience anything truly amazing.
Lee’s current travel goal is to visit a total of 324 world destinations. He has six more islands to visit before he achieves this dream. He also has plans to host a sports travel show and to be the youngest person to visit every country in the world twice.