Lee Abbamonte is the youngest American to visit every country in the world: If you're counting (and Lee sure is), that's 193 U.N. member states, and 318 total countries. He's also one of the few people in the world to have visited very single country on the globe, plus both the North and South Poles.
As such, you might think he's practically a different species from those wanderlusting people who feel hopelessly chained to their desks, or to other obligations, or limited by financial or other obstacles. But he's actually a guy who came from no family money, who worked his way up to Wall Street earning... and later, to a much bigger calling: epic global exploring.
He told Jet Set how he does it and, yes, how you could too if you are similarly inclined.
What obstacles — financial, social, and others — did you have to overcome to travel so much so early in life?
"Financially, I come from a family with no money and we never traveled except for the Jersey Shore as a kid. Every dollar I spent traveling was from money I made from working since I was a little kid with a paper route, to working on Wall Street. I never spent any money on anything really until I started traveling — I saved it all.
The only social obstacles were missing out on certain things at home but I was always fortunate that my best friends liked to travel as well. So I was almost always traveling with great friends so I never felt like I was missing out. Plus, I was having a great time!"
Are there big excuses people use for not traveling that you think are bogus?
"I think all excuses are bogus, travel or not. If you want to do something — do it. Otherwise you didn't really want to do it anyway, or you're not strong enough to take a risk into the unknown. Fear is a strong motivator or detractor. Travel isn't for everyone, so to each their own. I never criticize anyone for doing whatever they do — we all make our own choices for our own reasons."
In all your adventures, what’s the best experience you ever had traveling?
"I've had so many great experiences, it's impossible to say the best. As I mentioned, I've almost always traveled with great friends, so the experiences we've had together rank pretty high for me. Whether it was backpacking Europe, trudging across West Africa, climbing Kilimanjaro, or reaching the North and South Poles, I was right there with friends I've known for a long time and we'll always have those memories."
What motivated you to be so ambitious with travel?
"Honestly, I just loved the unknown, seeing new places, meeting new people, trying new foods, et cetera. I loved — and still love — the absolute freedom that comes with travel. I'm also a history and current events nerd and love to see things first hand and form my own opinions based on my experience. Also, I worked in the World Trade Center back in 2001, so losing so many friends and colleagues that day was a big motivating factor for me to not just travel but live my life in a no-regrets kind of way. As I always say, 'There's nothing to it but to do it.' Don't put off til tomorrow what you can do today, and we don't regret the things we do, we regret the things we didn't do."
What’s been the best or worst part of Internet fame?
"Haha! I don't consider myself Internet famous and don't strive for that. But for whatever notoriety I've gotten from the interwebs and social media the best part is hearing from people that you've inspired through what I've done, written, or achieved. The worst part is just people getting too personal with you and pre-judging you when they don't know you. But that's the world we live in these days. Luckily over-sensitivity is not a trait I possess."
What are the top travel tips you’ve learned from all your experiences?
"Keep it simple: Get Global Entry and Pre-Check. It'll save you so much time and aggravation. Also, you can travel cheaper now than ever before with the sharing economy. Specially if you're a young traveler, try things like Couchsurfing where you can literally stay for free! I would've saved a lot of money in my early 20s if I'd had that option."
Any advice to people who’d want to follow in your footsteps?
"Save your money, work hard, and set goals. It doesn't matter if you want to travel or do whatever in life: Those three things will help you. We all need goals. There's no successful person that doesn't have goals. We all need money: Like it or not, that's a fact, and to achieve either you need to work hard. Nobody will give you anything in life, you have to work for it and take it."
What’s the one thing people misunderstand most about your travel life?
"That it's representative of my real life. Travel is a hobby of mine and now a big part of my job, but it doesn't define who I am. I never publicly discuss my personal life, plus I have a lot of interests in my life and like to do a lot of things. Luckily, travel helps me achieve many of my other interests all over the world... which is pretty cool!"
Photos: Instagram/Lee Abbamonte
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