In Search of: 100 Countries in 2 Years

I recently stumbled upon a kindred spirit — a man that’s traveled nearly the entire globe.  (And you all know anyone that’s traveled the world peaks my interest.)  Seeing as how I plan to set off on my own year-long trip in the next few years, I simply had to pick his brain.

His name is Hardie Karges, and he’s a writer, folk-art dealer, traveler and video-maker.  He’s been to 143 countries (wow!) and has lived in several of them.  He writes about his adventures over on Hypertravel and recently published a book about his travels — Hypertravel: 100 Countries in 2 Years.  Hardie refers to his book as the backpacker’s guide to the world and the soul.  Through emails (and a little blog stalking), here’s what I discovered: this guy is a wealth of information about travel!  What I love is that he tells it like he sees it and doesn’t apologize for his opinions.  He’s a breath of fresh air in the travel world (as I much prefer honest thoughts over sugar-coating).  He was gracious enough to join us on In Search of Squid to answer a few of my burning questions.  Welcome, Hardy!

Q.  I couldn’t help but notice the title of your book.  100 countries in two years?  That’s HUGE!  What motivated you to set such a big goal?  Why so many countries in such a short time?

A.  The number of countries and the time involved were never the goal.  I only realized that’s what I’d done when it was almost over, when I started to consider that period of time as an inter-connected whole period of my life, rather than as a series of individual unrelated trips.  The goal was and is simply to go to every country in the world.

Q.  Call me crazy, but it seems like traveling to that many locations in such a short time would be a bit of a logistical nightmare.  How did you handle pulling it all together?

A.  Actually it wasn’t such a logistical nightmare, just a bit of advance planning, usually no more than starting to think about the next trip before I’m finished with the one I’m on.  I personally don’t find that distasteful or distracting, though some people might.  I was NOT maintaining a fixed place of residence at the time, mind you, so I had to keep moving.  I like a good challenge and have always enjoyed multitasking.  In retrospect, though, I suppose what facilitated it was that many, if not most, of the individual 5-9 week trips were planned as multi-region ventures to begin with, so the entire project took on a hopscotch quality sometimes.  Budget airlines have really changed the concept of extended travel as a slow plodding point-to-point venture, and some regions don’t lend themselves to that approach very well, either.

Q.  When you first set out on this venture what did you hope to gain by reaching your goal of visiting every country in the world?

What I hope to gain on any and all my travel is knowledge and experience.  To visit every country is not absolutely necessary, but every region is a must for me as a serious traveler.  I only now find myself a travel writer somewhat by accident.  I never planned it that way, not even with this book, not until the three-month gap before the last trip when I started sending queries to agents.  I’ve always been a traveler, even when I was doing business and have long considered myself a poet and writer, but I never really attempted to mix the two until now.  Duh.  Maybe it’s because, for me, travel has little or nothing to do with leisure or luxury, nor adventure in the extreme life-risking sense, and that’s what constitutes much of travel writing.  For me travel is mostly about culture and history, and experiencing that first-hand and up close.

Q.  You’ve definitely experienced a ton first-hand and up close.  What were your top three, can’t miss, favorite destinations?

A.  Top three favorite destinations, but not necessarily countries?  It’s nice when you can get a good mix of nature and culture in one place or region.  For that I’d have to rate the Iguazu Falls region in South America high, given the beauty of the falls themselves and its location at the junction of Paraguay, Brazil and Argentina.  Then there’s Victoria Falls at Livingstone, Zambia, for similar reasons, and the Crossroads Music Festival while I was there.  Probably what I love most are tribal peoples and their arts and crafts, but that’s what I’ve done for a living most of my life in ten or twelve different countries — Mexico, Guatemala, Peru, Bolivia, Indonesia, Thailand, and others — so most of them are not included in this book, since I went there long ago.  So for number three I’d probably choose Ethiopia, even though they prohibit blogging, simply because it’s such an incredible and diverse place, culturally and historically.

Q.  I always wonder if certain places are over-hyped.  It sucks getting somewhere and being let down.  So I’m curious.  What were your bottom three, don’t even bother destinations?

Well, so many of the worst [countires] I have yet to go to.  Of the 100 countries included in the book, the places where I felt unwanted, to the point of being physically harassed, were Djibouti and the Comoros.  The places where I felt unsafe, and at constant risk of being a crime statistic, were South Africa and Papua New Guinea.  A lady I met in the airport in Majuro, R.M.I. a few days ago assured me that DR Congo and Sierra Leone are far worse.  That’ll be later this year or next year.

Q.  Was there a certain destination that really surprised you (good or bad)?

A.  Biggest surprise?  I was favorably surprised in  Bosnia-Hercegovina, which I assumed was war-torn and miserable.  It’s not.  I was negatively surprised in Papua New Guinea, which I expected to really like, with all its beautiful crafts and indigenous culture.  In fact, I barely left my room for four days, never at night.  Missionaries run many of the guesthouses, and there are few travelers.

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Oh my goodness!  I am so loving this conversation with Hardie.  There’s so much more to discuss — like how the heck does a person fund such a trip?  So we’re going to continue this conversation next Friday.  Stay tuned, peeps, there’s more goodness to come!

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