Today, we’re going to be interviewing James Asquith who’s set a Guinness World Record for the youngest male to visit all 196 countries. He’s also now a business owner and will be sharing with us tips on travel and starting your own business.
1. I suppose I’d like to start off this interview with your story on how you first got inspired to travel. And then how your passion for travel led you to want to visit all the countries in the world. Could you tell us about this?
I didn’t intentionally set out to visit every country in the world. I had a ticket out to Mombasa when I was 18, and didn’t really have any interest in traveling at that point. I then traveled to Vietnam with my two best friends where we spent a couple of months doing volunteer work and helping to build houses. I fell in love with understanding different cultures and religions and meeting new people and it all developed from there really. After that, I did my first solo trip to the Middle East and became hooked. Traveling was definitely the best education I ever had.
2. Now you started your travels while completing your Economics degree at the pretty prestigious London School of Economics. Was it hard balancing travel with work?
Definitely, but it was worth it! I used every opportunity to travel during my time at university, so I’d often plan long weekends away, and make the most of the long holidays to try and fit in as much travel as possible.
3. How much preparation did you do before visiting a new country?
It depended on the country. Some countries required extensive visa processes, which took ages to sort out, and obviously, some places which I spent a couple of months in required a lot of saving, so I had to plan those bigger trips more carefully.
4. Financially, how did you support yourself? And generally, just how expensive is travel?
I’ve never taken any kind of sponsorship and always paid for everything myself. From the age of 15 I’ve worked 3 jobs, saved hard, made various investments and I work really hard to be able to do what I do. Travel costs a lot of money, which is why I founded my company, Holiday Swap in order to make travel more accessible and affordable for people all around the world.
5. Did you always have a passion for travel?
My dad used to be an airline pilot, so I guess you could say that it was certainly always in my blood and my nature.
6. What was your typical day or daily routine when you traveled through all the countries?
I never really had a routine when I was traveling. I enjoyed the flexibility of being open to new experiences and the unpredictability of discovering new places and meeting new people without the need to follow a strict schedule or routine. You never know what adventures you might stumble upon if you allow yourself to be open and flexible.
7. Was there a particular country (or countries) that you visited that isn’t really known as a travel hotspot but you’d recommend?
Cartagena in Colombia is one of my favorite places in the world. The culture there is simply amazing.
8. Is there a culture (or cultures) that you really fell in love with when traveling?
Probably the culture and way of life in most of the South Pacific. Countries like Tuvalu and Tonga are very small but family-oriented. No one cares too much about money – they have some of the most beautiful islands in the world, where almost everything grows on Tonga, and there’s an abundance of fish – so locals are very content with all the food they could want, warm weather and a beautiful setting. I guess the mentality of ‘what more could you possibly want’ holds strong there.
9. In your opinion, which country had the best food?
10. Did you ever get into a tight spot at some point during your many travels?
Definitely! There are lots of crazy stories from my travels – from being taken in various places, to visa issues, and even being denied entry and put in an airport prison in Mauritania. My timing was never great and with visa difficulties, I had to use any opportunity I could grab to visit more ‘difficult’ countries. I went to Libya during the civil unrest, and Afghanistan during the war. Iraq and Somalia were also quite tricky for me, but overall I always found that people were willing to be supportive and helpful. I met some incredible people around the world that made my trip happen and I’ll be forever grateful for that.
11. I’m sure it might be hard to choose just one, but what’s the most memorable encounter you’ve had in your travels?
Some of my most memorable stories are definitely from when I traveled solo. For instance, when I was in Tuvalu, it was completely empty and I used to ride a motorbike up and down the airport runway, which interestingly is also used as a sports ground when the two flights of the week aren’t operating. It’s really remote there, and so beautiful.
Obviously, Vietnam was where it all started for me, and being able to have the opportunity to volunteer and help communities alongside my best friends is something that I’ll never forget.
Visiting Yemen to raise awareness for the humanitarian project was also pretty memorable for me but in a bad way. The crisis out there is hugely underreported and it’s heartbreaking to see the people of Yemen on the brink of famine when all they really want is peace.
12. After visiting every country in the world, what would you say is the number one life lesson you’ve learned?
There’s never going to be the right time to do something, so you just have to put yourself out there and go for it, otherwise, you’ll end up regretting missed opportunities.
13. What items pretty much always make it inside your essential travel suitcase?
To be honest I tend to travel quite light. Because I travel for work now and spend most of the year on the road, I always make sure to bring all my work equipment and a couple of suits for work meetings, but I’ve never been materialistic. If I can try and fit everything in a carry on then that’s a bonus!
14. What advice would you give to anyone who wants to travel the world but feels it’s too difficult to start?
Just do it! There is more to see in this world than any of us can cover in a lifetime, and it is always changing. So work hard, book that ticket and go and explore. It may seem daunting at first but it will change how you look at the world and very likely how you look at yourself as well.
15. Did you ever have to deal with loneliness when traveling the world?
Occasionally, but I met so many people on my travels that I’m still in contact with, and have made lifelong friends all over the world – you’re rarely lonely for long when you’re traveling.
16. What was life like after seeing every country in the world?
To be honest with you, not much different. I’m just a regular guy that I guess got carried away with traveling. It was a very personal journey and I never set out to get any type of record. I wanted to visit the world to educate myself and understand more about cultures, religions, history, and people. I learned much more traveling than I ever did in a classroom, or at university. It almost felt like a large part of the journey was over when I visited the last country, but little did I know at the time that it was just beginning. I feel like I travel a lot more now than I did then, and am permanently on the road for work, and I love being able to use my travels not to make money (like some influencers do), but rather to inspire people.=
17. Do you have any tips for people who want to travel during the pandemic (whether in their own country or another)?
A lot of research goes into it now, but it’s not that much different from before. You can do all the research you want on HEPA air filters, and how it’s safer being in a plane than in a restaurant, but I’m not worried about traveling. I’ve taken 75 international flights now during Covid and that just proves that you can do it responsibly, as long as you take all the necessary precautions.
18. When you first started, did you prefer traveling alone or with people? And how about now?
I’m definitely used to my own company by now and have never really had an issue with traveling alone, but it’s always great to be able to share travel experiences with family, friends, and loved ones.
19. Do you have any tips on how to experience a country as the locals do?
Just embrace the culture as much as you can and be open to experiencing whatever that country has to offer. You never know who you might meet, and what they can teach you or show you. During my travels, I’ve stayed with locals in their homes and had the privilege of being able to learn about their traditions and culture and food and it’s the greatest way to be able to experience things which you might not have had the opportunity to see or do otherwise.
20. What inspired you to make your transition from being a traveler to a businessman and writing for Forbes?
Holiday Swap was never pre-planned, I used to work in investment banking, and after setting the Guinness World Record for being the youngest person to visit every country in the world I wanted to create a platform that allowed people to travel for cheaper.
21. Now you own a really cool business. So in a few sentences, what is Holiday Swap all about?
Holiday Swap is a home exchange platform that allows users to swap their accommodation all around the world. It’s free to download and sign up to – simply match and swap with people and when you actually swap, it’s only $1 a bed per night. It’s now accessible in 185 countries and it’s also a great way to search for future trips or to find some travel inspiration for where you want to go next. It means that travel is now even more accessible and affordable for people to connect with other travelers all over the world.
22. How did you come up with the idea for Holiday Swap?
I kept getting asked by many people how they could travel more. Hotel prices and homestays are continuing to go up in cost so we wanted to make a way for people to use the bed they sleep in to travel more, and take away most of the expensive cost of accommodation. At Holiday Swap we wanted to build a sharing platform that saves us all money for things like flights and tours.
23. What do you think the future looks like for your company?
I think international travel will take a few years to recover and people will be looking to save money now. The economic damage caused by lockdowns is huge, don’t underestimate that. This means demand for things like vacations will suffer and people will look for cheaper deals. At Holiday Swap we have seen a large increase in user interest as our platform actually saves users money. People will now still want to travel but be more cost-aware in the new economic climate. Not only is Holiday Swap affordable, but it’s a great community as well. We are pushing domestic and regional travel now more than ever, which we are finding very popular.
24. What are the key benefits Holiday Swap brings to travel?
It saves you a ton of money on accommodation and also brings people together from all over the world. It’s a community of like-minded travelers and everything we do at Holiday Swap inspires travel – it’s at the heart of everything we do.
25. And lastly, what’s one of your top tips for people who want to start their own business?
Holiday swap has taken years to build to this point. It wasn’t an overnight success and took years from working 3 jobs since the age of 15 to traveling the world and learning about myself, to working in banking to get the company off the ground in the first place.
Every day I fail, everyone does, but if you have a dream, you stick with it and use those failures as a learning experience. Stick with it. Accept the failures as a learning experience, craft out your own path, and make mistakes that you learn from. Being an entrepreneur is hard. You don’t put yourself first – your business is first. It means missing out on social events and sometimes long days and nights of consistent grinding work to get to where you want to be. It’s not a glamorous lifestyle and if you’re comfortable with accepting this then you will go a long way with your passion.
This really was a great experience getting to interview James and understand his experiences and business better. And I hope that this was able to inspire and help you out!
Feel free to ask any questions you have down below. 🙂