James Asquith had always enjoyed travelling, but it was not until he went for a volunteer trip toSouth East Asia withhis two best friends that he began to fancy travelling around the world.
So enamoured with travelling was he that he not only went on to become the official Guinness World Record holder for being the youngest person to travel to every country in the World before the age of 25 in 2016, but also developed a travelling app calledHoliday Swapto help people travel more affordably.
The Business Insider referred to the app, which is now in 100 counties, as aTinder-style social media platform that lets travellers swap accommodation around the world, adding that it was becoming the most exciting and cheapest tool in the travel industry by taking away the ever increasing cost of accommodation with traditional booking sites.
The 29-year-oldhad been to 100 countries before he thought of going to all of them.
“My father was a pilot and my mother travelled a lot when I was younger so I always had the travel bug growing up. I certainly didn’t set out to try and go to all the countries and so really got to enjoy my time travelling without intending to beat any record.”
It took him just over five years to see every country. But he says he’s only getting started.
“There is so much more to see. I saved very hard when I was younger and worked three jobs at a time to pay for the travels. I worked jobs as I went along and tried to work in hostels to keep my costs low. I also had a good job in London half way through my travels which funded much of it.”
James also enjoys playing football, guitar and putting all his time into building up Holiday Swap into the world’s largest travel community.
He shared his adventurous journey from traveller to budding entrepreneur with Nation.co.ke.
How did you deal with uncertainty while travelling in foreign countries?
It was certainly scary at times, and maybe I was a little naive as well. But I had so much energy to explore and discover the world. There are some countries that have been in a state of civil war and been dangerous for decades, so I thought if I said "I'll wait to see how the situation develops" I may still be waiting.
I visited Syria when the country was peaceful for example, and Afghanistan when it was a warzone, both opposites to a large extent now.
My timing was not great! From Afghanistan, I walked into Uzbekistan and it was a pretty hairy place to be for sure. Yemen is notoriously difficult to visit, and many of the concerns with visiting Yemen and Somalia were of personal security once there.
Common sense was obviously vital, as well as forward planning, but of course, when you ask how I managed, luck plays a massive role in dangerous zones.
Tell us about the culture shocks…
Of course there were culture shocks, but after my first couple of trips, I had a very open mind and I always expected the unexpected.
The two things that were important to me when I travelled were having patience and a sense of humour, to get you through those tough times when things may not be easy.
There have been situations where I have had guns put against my head (in Uzbekistan) and knives against my throat ( in Nigeria) and I would be lying if I said that wasn’t scary but it wouldn’t stop me putting myself into precarious situations again I had an open mind through my travels, and I still do when I travel.
We are so similar as people in many ways that having positive thoughts means that everything becomes a learning experience, and so I tried to find similarities rather than differences between us.
What did you love the most about travelling and what kept you going?
Meeting new people and the journey, often both at the same time. I love the anticipation of travelling to a new destination and meeting people along the way that you can bounce ideas off and explore with together.
People were the part of my adventure that made it what it was. Although I had some great adventures travelling solo, it was my experiences that I was able to share with others that I value the most.
How has travelling changed or moulded you?
It’s certainly changed me for the better! I became more understanding of people and cultures and the way of the world that I really appreciated.
I learnt a lot more patience and, most importantly, understood that the true value in life is people and what you can learn from them.
You created an App to help travellers do it more affordably. Tell us more about that?
Although I have travelled to every country in the world, I feel like I am only just getting started, and want to travel so much more.
For example, because I have visited a handful of places in Brazil, there is so much of the country I have yet to see. So it was in 2017 that I was travelling through Transylvania, Romania, where I had the thought that we all want to travel more but spend less.
That’s where the idea of Holiday Swap was born.
The app focuses on encouraging people to explore more, and allows swapping of accommodation with a large social media element tied in.
With the ‘Always Bag Packed’ feature you can use your accommodation as your commodity to make social connections around the world, and swap when it suits you!
With hotel and homestay prices continuing to go up, it opens up destinations to a whole new demographic of traveller that you may not be currently capturing, who can save on their biggest outgoing and have more money to spend on the things they love whilst travelling. Dream destinations have just become much more accessible and cheaper!
Although I had some great adventures travelling solo, it was my experiences that I was able to share with others that I value the most.
To me, travel isn't just about finding yourself. Instead, it's about forging connections with others. Smile and say yes as much as possible. You never know where each risk can take you.
At Holiday Swap we’re hoping to encourage the next generation of travellers. Part social media app, part booking site, it allows users to "like" certain destinations, communicate with the people living there, and, if they so choose, swap homes with the ones they forge connections with. It takes away the largest cost of travel, and the social media side also means that you’ll have a virtual tour guide before your trip.
You can basically build up connections around the world for when you want to travel. I’m lucky enough that through my travels I can hop on a plane and know people in my destination. I want everyone to have more of that.
You can download the app in the AppStore andPlaystore.
Finally, tell us about your time in Kenya?
Kenya is a country I loved when I visited. Most people think it’s all about the safaris, and although Kenya allows for some of the best safari experiences in the world, there was so much more I loved about this great country.
The cuisines and diversities in Mombasa are as intoxicating as the lively bustle of Nairobi. Just outside Nairobi lays one of my favourite places in Africa, Giraffe Manor.
Eat breakfast in these beautiful surrounds where giraffes poke their heads through the large open windows and share breakfast with you! What an incredible experience and a great introduction to seeing some of the best wildlife in the world in the Masai Mara and Amboseli. I think Holiday Swap will be a great way to encourage a new demographic of travellers to experience this great nation, whilst at the same time allowing the people of Kenya to experience anywhere in the world. I’m already looking forward to coming back and swapping my place in London!
TOP TRAVEL TIPS FROM JAMES
James’ top travel tips for meaningful solo travel and travelling on a budget:
* Take the plunge. I was sceptical at first, and just kind of went along with it, but it was the best thing I ever did.
You educate yourself in ways you can't imagine, and you have a new found respect and knowledge for other people, cultures, religions and traditions. You will meet amazing people along the way, and even people that you may not get on with, and they will all play a role in shaping who you may become.
Travelling doesn't have to be about 'finding yourself', but it certainly taught me an incredible amount about myself and the world when I travelled solo. Smile and say yes as much as possible. You never know where each risk can take you.
* Budget is actually very personal to tastes, and guidebooks will always try to ‘budget per day’, but to be honest, you know your own tastes right down to the food you order from a street stall or item off a restaurant menu.
Sure you may splurge more on certain tours or a nice place to stay, but the harder you work, the more you have to travel, and budget for that.
It’s more about time than budget. We can always take more time to work extra jobs to pay for our next trip, but time is the finite commodity, so budget that well. Both at home and on the road.