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  • Writer's pictureGunnar Garfors

Eric’s Epic Record: Youngest Visitor of Every Country

Perhaps not the best of photos, but Eric arrived Asmara at 4 o’clock in the morning. This is just outside the airport in Asmara.

Eric Thanh Nam Nguyen today finally managed to enter Eritrea, his 198th country – all of which he visited by scheduled transport. It took him three attempts to get his visa, not surprisingly given that Eritrea is one of the world’s most difficult countries to visit. He flew in to Asmara from Cairo on Egypt Air and landed just after 03:00 this morning, local time.

That means that he has visited every country at the age of 24 years and 175 days, narrowly beating James Asquith by 17 days for the Guinness World Record. The organization still needs to verify Eric’s record, something that typically takes anywhere between 2 months and 2 years.

Eric is such a poser. Copycatting in front of a statue in central Asmara.

And it has already been a long wait, although shorther than for anyone else in history. He has travelled extensively around the world for the last three years. I spoke to him yesterday, when he was still in Italy waiting to board.

– I feel a little anxious, but excited. I’ve been waiting for this moment since I was a little kid, to finally visit every country. As kids, we all have dreams to travel the entire world, but I never in my dreams would have imagined that I would ever be this close to actually become the youngest person to visit every country in the world, he said.

The two flights between him being just another traveller to having visited “everywhere” passed without drama. Perhaps with the exception of heavy thunderstorms upon landing at Asmara International Airport. He described an unbelievable feeling and the best passport stamp he ever got.

– I did it! I did it! I broke the world record! We landed at 3:06 and I got stamped in at 4:36, and then got all my luggage inspected by customs, Eric told me seven hours after he first stepped on Eritrean soil.

Cheering on the main street in Asmara.

There was no electricity in Asmara this morning, and with no Wi-Fi routers he was cut off from communicating with the world. Might as well, he was anyhow in need of some much sought-after sleep after some manic travelling the last couple of weeks. Now it’s party time, with a passport bulging with stamps and visa stickers to prove it in his pocket.

Don’t expect many photos of Eric in Eritrea in the near future, though.

– Internet is working at snail speed in Asmara. I have never experienced it as slow as here, he complained.

The Vietnamese American plans to stay for 15 days in the country with plenty of time to explore and to celebrate. It is however doubtful if he will be able to party in the same fashion as I did when I was there for New Year’s Eve in 2012. I drank Asmara (the local beer) with Asmara (a friend) in Asmara (the capital).

My Eritrean claim to fame, I suppose.

I was honoured when he told me that I actually inspired him to travel to every country.

– I till can’t wrap my head around this. I read about you four years ago, and that made me want to visit every country. And now I have finally visited the last one! And in Oslo I was eating dinner with you, the guy who inspired me to inspire people. A lot of people get in touch and tell me that I inspire them to travel, Eric said. 

He is critical to people that claim to have visited every country, but that include countries where they have never left the airport, some times not even cleared immigration.

– I don’t count transits, period. And I’ll be quite angry if some person breaks my record because of airport transits. It would be like travel fraud or something. You gotta get stamped in or it doesn’t count, he stated.

I agree with Eric Thanh Nam Nguyen. To me travelling is about so much more than just counting countries. My curiosity and my mind demand that I actually explore wherever I go, whether a town, village, island or country. In order to count a country I must have properly been there, done something there and have a story to tell. Merely visiting an airport or train station, or driving through a country won’t cut it. If that were the case, you would be rather embarrassed being asked about what a particular country was like. Or imagine being challenged to rank the most exciting, best or most interesting countries in the world. You couldn’t really be able to do that with any credibility had you never been outside the airport.

Eric has visited all 198 countries for real, and being the youngest ever to do so he can obviously also claim to be the youngest US citizen to have done so. The previous holders of that particular claim to fame were Lee Abbamonte and Cassie De Pecol, both of whom are known to have counted airport stops as country visits.

Eric with his crew. As in security details. Mogadishu can be dangerous.

Tourist gone attraction. Eric visited a beach in Mogadishu and was soon surrounded by guys who wanted to say hi.

The flying carpet is at service, a floating one will have to do.

I recently wrote about Eric as he was stuck for 5 days on the border between Yemen and Oman, but finally managed to get hold of the visa that enabled him to continue his record setting quest.

His three remaining countries of the 198 in the world were Western Sahara, Venezuela and Eritrea. But he managed to squeeze in visits to a few others too, including Norway to meet up with fellow travellers (including myself) and Somalia to see Mogadishu, the capital, for the first time.

A restless crowd: Tay-young Pak (left), Eric T. Nguyen, myself and Pål Anders Barth Larsen with a slightly early celebration of Eric’s 198 countries. Only Eritrea remained for him then. The four of us has now averaged 157 countries each.

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