On Oct. 29, 2021, Drew Binsky, a 30-year-old American, arrived in Saudi Arabia and instantly became part of a rarified group of travelers: Those who have visited every country in the world. For those counting, that’s 193 UN-recognized nations, plus two observer states and two more countries that Binsky visited for good measure (his total country count is 197). To date, only about 250 people have visited every country in the world.
Binsky, a popular vlogger, documented his trips on YouTube and Instagram and shared the stories of the people he met, including the world’s shortest man in the Philippines and a Dutchman who has 26 Guinness World Records for his ability to withstand subzero temperatures. In the last five years, he has made 1,100 videos, and together they’ve racked up 4.5 billion views—it’s safe to say he’s a well-known traveler. We sat down with Binsky to talk about what inspired his epic adventure, what he learned along the way, and what’s next.
Men’s Journal: How did the idea for this journey come about?
Drew Binsky: After studying abroad in Prague, Czech Republic, I taught English in South Korea. And that’s when I started a blog—it was a way for me to share my eating and partying experiences around the world. The “ah-ha” moment was meeting a good friend and mentor of mine, Lee Abbamonte, who visited every country when he was 31. I wanted to beat his record. To this day, we remain really good friends and golf buddies. We have traveled to seven countries together and he really helped show me the way for traveling.
You started as a blogger, but now you’re more well-known for making videos. What inspired that transition?
Shall we say who inspired me? Deanna, my wife, inspired me to make videos. She’s the one who bought me a camera. I’m a minimalist, so I wouldn’t have bought one for myself. I switched from blogging to video after visiting North Korea. I made a little documentary about my three days there and it was viewed by 10 million people. I had no idea what I was doing, didn’t know how to use a camera, didn’t even know how to tell a story, but it worked out.
I switched to video (and stopped blogging) after that one went viral in April 2017. My first few videos were the $10 series: what $10 gets you to Vietnam, then Cuba, Moscow, Azerbaijan, and Bangladesh, etc. I basically took 10 bucks and went around and saw what I could buy. I’ve done like 55 videos now in that series, and it’s my most viral series.
The UN recognizes 193 nations and two observer states (Vatican City and Palestine), but you say you’ve been to 197. What are those other two countries and why did you make that distinction?
193 is the official UN list of nations, and I added four: the Vatican, Palestine, Kosovo, and Taiwan. What travelers can add is up for debate; you can also add Kurdistan and Somaliland, for example. Basically, those four are the ones that are the most recognized by other countries. But it is subjective. It’s kind of a personal preference.
You were planning to achieve your goal of visiting every country by 2020. How did COVID-19 change your plans? How were you able to knock out those last few during a time where so many borders were closed?
The funny thing is I visited 99 percent of the world’s countries and then the world shut down. I had six countries left—Ghana, Ecuador, Venezuela, Palau, Jamaica, and Saudi Arabia—and was supposed to finish in May 2020. The coronavirus put an 18-month delay in my plans. During the pandemic, I went to countries that were open and that I’d previously enjoyed, like Mexico, Egypt, Afghanistan, Tanzania, Dubai, and Turkey. It’s hard for me to stop moving.
Traveling the globe isn’t cheap. How did you fund your travels?
I started by teaching English at the beginning, then I was a budget backpacker for a while, and then I started making videos in 2017. I started making money from ad revenue, and now I sell courses and have merchandise. There are a lot of ways to monetize. Hopefully I’ll keep it going. I have an NFT project coming out that I’m excited for called “Travel Tokens.” They’re detailed illustrations from all my favorite places around the world.
What were some of your favorite experiences along the way?
I really like traveling into countries that are considered dangerous or where people are scared to go. Some of my favorites were Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia, and Venezuela. I’ve also met so many cool local friends who have taken me around. I’ve been blessed to have had so many incredible experiences. It’s hard to pinpoint an exact favorite.
One interesting story was when I was in the Central African Republic, I met a local friend and together, we went on an eight-hour drive to visit a Pygmy tribe. The tribe was living in a very remote area in the middle of the jungle. These people are some of the shortest people in the world—around four feet tall on average.
It was really fascinating to go there, immerse myself in their culture, and see how they hunt for gazelle. I watched them shoot one with a bow and arrow, bring it back, cook it over a fire, and eat it. It was a special experience, and probably the remotest place I’ve ever been to. It was the kind of experience that makes you think about what’s truly most satisfying in life, and what that means.
Another favorite story was my trip to Greenland. The island is home to over 50,000 people and most of them live in the western part. We went to study the remotest city on the island’s east coast, called Ittoqqortoormiit. Only around 300 people live there, and they are very self-sufficient, especially in how they get food. They eat polar bears, whales, and walrus all year round. They have no jails, no post office, and they rely on the cruise ships which come once a month or once every quarter to help out with their needs. I was able to really feel the culture there, and I was so surprised at how happy the people were, despite living in complete isolation and in really freezing cold weather.
What was the hardest part?
Getting visas is the hardest part. For instance, having to convince the Afghan embassy in Malaysia to let me go was hard. I was visiting Malaysia, and I went to the Afghan embassy and then I had to convince them that I’m a good person, that I would come back alive, and that I’m a journalist. Then I had to wait until they approved my entry.
Libya was really hard, too. They don’t issue tourist visas; they only give business visas. I had to pretend to be an undercover oil consultant to get in there. I don’t like lying, so that was a difficult trip.
What do you think has been the biggest lesson you learned while on this journey?
I learned that in some ways it doesn’t matter where you’re from. Everybody needs to eat when they’re hungry. Everybody needs to love each other. Everybody needs to laugh. Everybody smiles and everybody cries.
One example is when I was in Yemen, I was in a car with a couple of girls, which was very unusual—in Yemen, women aren’t allowed to drive with men that they don’t know. But they were blasting music that I listened to, like ‘90s hip-hop. That was a moment where I could tell people are really the same.
Is there anything you hope others take away from following your travels?
I want other people to feel inspired to travel the world. I want them to learn about the world, because traveling is the best education that anybody can have. The more that people learn, the wiser we become and the more open-minded we all are.
Now that you’ve visited every country, what’s next?
I’m going to get a bigger team and try to make better videos (including more blockbuster or flagship videos, like the coldest city in the world, which is where I’m going next in Russia). I’m focusing on my travel hacking course, which is a class I sell for $150. I want to just continue growing my community, continue to inspire, and continue to create. Those are my biggest goals. Right now, I feel like I’ve only unlocked five percent of my potential. I’m really excited to see what’s next.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
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