Harry in the remote town of Vava’u, Tonga
As promised, here are the answers to all my burning questions from Harry Mitsidis, a man who’s seen more of the world than most living souls.
I personally feel like I got some excellent takeaways from this, and I really hope you do too.
After the interview questions, I’ll share a bit more about Harry’s travel community NomadMania, which I’m personally a huge fan of.
Where’s the weirdest place you’ve ever slept while traveling?
That has to be a cockroach-infested jail cell of the local police station in Al Ghaydah, Yemen. I shared the room with an old man who had apparently beaten his wife. I’m not sure I actually ‘slept’ to be honest. Luckily it was just that one night.
What’s the best and worst thing about traveling to a new country?
It’s been so long since I had that experience that I’ve forgotten! I suppose the best thing is that you are totally ‘virgin’ without any impressions of it; you’re taking everything in for the first time and forming impressions, and everything is strange, unusual, and fresh.
That feeling is difficult to replicate once you’ve been to that country. You know what to expect.
I guess the worst thing is you are more likely to be ripped off by a taxi driver upon arrival, as you still don’t know the ins and outs. But that’s all part of the experience. In some cases (i.e. Iceland), finding out the astronomical prices firsthand may be a nasty surprise.
What’s your favorite stamp in your passport?
Not for its beauty or strange shape, but for its significance in my voyage, it would have to be my entry stamp to Malabo, Equatorial Guinea on March 20, 2008. That was when I could scream ‘I did it’. It was my last visited country.
The stamp for Harry’s last country
What do you still have to cross off your travel bucket list?
If I really start, then I’ll never stop. The more I travel, the more conscious I am of the things I have not seen – and possibly will never be able to see. But among the things that I really want to do, in no particular order:
Carhenge, Nebraska; the tribes of Papua New Guinea; a few days in a gaucho ranch in Argentina; the colonial towns of Minas Gerais in Brazil; the North Pole expedition; the easternmost point in Africa in Somalia; a luxury train trip in India.
I know you’ll gasp, but I haven’t been to Machu Picchu yet and inevitably it’s on the must-see list.
What’s the strangest souvenir you’ve bought on your travels?
It would have to be a huge painted wooden penis from Bhutan. I bought this as a joke for a friend. I was taking it to her and had it in my hand luggage when going through the security check at Gatwick.
You can fill in the rest of the hilarious story with the bemused security agent and my dead-pan answer to ‘what is this’ as ‘a wooden penis from Bhutan.’
What’s the biggest mistake you’ve made while traveling?
Not starting sooner. I should have packed and left when I was 18. But I was shy and duty-bound at the time.
Alternative answer: Trusting the train timetables in the UK. Big mistake.
If you had to pick one country to live the rest of your life without leaving, which would it be?
Ouch. Luckily this is just a fictional question. The idea of not crossing a border every couple of weeks sounds impossible.
It would have to be a big-ish country so that at least I can travel internally to different regions. I also like variations in climate and topography. So, I will pick Argentina, which kind of has it all climate-wise but also combines some elegant urban settings with lots of bucolic country ones.
I also wouldn't mind staying forever in Namibia, given its incredible vistas.
The dunes of Namibia
What are some “travel hacks” you’ve picked up on your journeys?
Absolutely use AirBnB or other such platforms as much as possible. It really changes your perspective and makes you feel like a local.
Don’t read up on your destination and don’t ask others for advice. Make your own choices and decisions. It’s okay to be insecure about them, conquering those doubts is part of the game. Dare to explore.
Do buy a local SIM card if you’re staying in a country for more than a few days. This is well worth the slight hassle.
Take a bus or a local train to a random destination. This is my favorite quirk. Just get off at a random stop.
Mike: After the interview, Harry threw in one more hack that I LOVED: visiting Angola. A few years ago, it was one of the hardest visas to get. Now, many nationalities can visit visa-free. I personally plan to visit this country in early 2024!
How often do you use points/miles/rewards to fly versus paying cash?
Oh, I’m kind of hopeless at that, and to be honest for us Europeans the opportunities for mile accumulation are not like those in North America. I do occasionally buy tickets on air miles but it’s less than 5% of the total for sure.
What’s your least favorite country?
I don’t like this question but now that I’ve visited every country twice, at least I’m confident that my answer is not based on a bad mood or just one incident.
I would say Gambia. It is awfully corrupt and you are hassled at every step. There’s not that much to see either. I’m sure that most people are lovely once you get to know them, but let’s say that I doubt I’ll be giving this country a third chance.
What inspired you to return to every country in the world after already seeing them all?
The above question should answer that. I feel every country deserves a second visit. First impressions can be dependent on circumstance, the weather, an experience or two, and of course one’s mood or even age and life stage. I like to be as ‘scientific’ as possible and wouldn’t want to be unfair to a place for random reasons. Going again solidified my opinions.
Only in very few cases (about five in total) did my opinion change either way, for example in Bhutan or Guinea, it improved significantly while in Cuba I was less enthusiastic…
When and why did you start NomadMania? What is your favorite thing about that community?
NomadMania was initially The Best Travelled and it started back in 2012. Initially, it was a way to structure travel better by dividing the world into a logical number of regions (currently 1301) to visit, rather than just entire countries.
It has developed immensely into different directions, and now we feature lists of things like “slow travel” as well as endless ones on places to see categorized in, among others, ‘Dark Side’ or ‘Bizzarium’.
My favorite thing about the community is the ease with which a conversation about the most random, outlandish place seems entirely normal when we are together.
It’s only in this group of devoted expert travelers that you can casually bring up Tokelau or Tristan da Cunha without getting asked, “Where is this?”
Do you have any advice for people who want to see every corner of the world?
Don’t try to break any speed records doing it. I have truly learned the value of slow travel and deeply understanding a place and to a certain extent regret the pace I had in my initial quest.
My advice is to take your time, enjoy every place, and savor it fully, and also see to what extent you can give back rather than just take from the place. This is very important given that we are the privileged ones to be able to travel.
You’ve written two books; can you give a one-sentence rundown on each for people who might be interested in reading them?
The Curious Case of William Baekeland – the true story of a young man who pretends to be a billionaire and successfully infiltrates the travel community under a false identity until the truth is revealed with dire consequences (which I was, unfortunately, the one to discover).
Welcome to the Hotel NomadMania – a fictional over-the-top whodunnit; the names of real travelers have been used – with their permission – but their characters totally fictionalized in a book taking place in more than twenty locations and poking fun at all our obsessive travels with the excuse of a murder plot.
You mentioned to me briefly that your dream is to make travel more "democratic." Can you elaborate on this a little more?
I do believe we need to understand just how fortunate we are; most of the people reading these lines will be from relatively affluent countries with a passport that allows them considerable freedom of movement. Many of us perhaps don’t realize how many others dream of traveling but just can’t.
Through NomadMania, we offer scholarships for people to have their first-ever travel experience.
My dream is to go to a famous site, say the Acropolis which I grew up with, and see a group from Benin; Myanmar; or Timor-Leste, exploring the history and culture. Yes, this is very idealistic.
But even if we can help a few people, it’s a step in the right direction. So that’s a good dream to have, no?
I was delighted when I was able to invite a guy from Guinea on one of our next NomadMania Adventures. That’s what I call being ‘democratic’.
And it’s a win-win, as there is so much to learn, the further away from your own reality, the more you can understand how very different people think.
With travel, the great unifier!
First of all, I’d like to thank Harry for taking the time to answer questions that I’m sure he gets asked ALL the time.
If you’re a curious traveler like Harry and me, be sure to check out NomadMania. It’s an AWESOME community where you can share your travel experience, learn from others’ experiences, earn travel badges, and create your NomadMania map.
I personally have a profile with NM. And while I’ve been to almost 100 countries, my map of REGIONS visited (which Harry referred to in the interview) makes me realize just how much of the world I have left to see.
One of my favorite things about NomadMania, however, is the fact that they host events and meetups all over the world.
In fact, just a few weeks ago, they held the annual NomadMania Awards in Ukraine, including a tour of parts of the country like Kharkiv, Kyiv, and a lovely ceremony in Lviv.
You can read about the whole experience here.
And while I get that most people would prefer a much less intense way to travel and meet people, it just goes to show that communities like this can really open your eyes up to experiences you otherwise might never have.
So if you want to join in the fun, head over to NomadMania to build your travel map, read up on some unique destinations, or see if there’s an upcoming event near you to go meet some fellow travel enthusiasts.
If you want to learn more about Harry, read about his travels, or check out any of his books, you can find him on NomadMania or his personal website.