Sal Lavallo is the Phileas Fogg of modern times. In just a few years, this clean-looking globetrotter has achieved the incredible feat of visiting the world’s 193 independent countries, a world tour he completed almost a year ago – when he was only 28 years old – and which led him to settle down permanently in the United Arab Emirates where he felt “at home”. While in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, for the Misk Global Forum, Sal shared with us his unique experience and his vision of the journey today.
Travelling with the wind
Behind his well-cut white shirt and clean-shaven beard, Sal turns out to be a real adventurer. From Nepal to Botswana to the arid lands of the Sahara, he discovered many cultures and traditions that he did not think he knew. Out of envy or for work, Sal embarked on this adventure that was not originally planned: “I never thought to myself,”I’m going to go to every country.” In fact, I have visited some of these countries as part of my work. My job requires me to travel every week to the four corners of the world for various and varied projects. Another part of my travels was to visit friends. I went to an international school so I am lucky to have friends from 80 different nationalities. Then the other countries I travelled to were just for fun. When I wanted adventure, I would pack my bag and go to Botswana or South Africa. If I wanted to stroll around a seaside resort I would go to the Maldives”.
A world tour that was done gradually and never really stopped. “Until I was 25, I was working or studying full time but I had already been to 150 countries. Then I decided to go to South Africa for 6 months. After that, I never stopped travelling for two and a half years until I had visited all the countries” he said.
Unlike Jules Vernes, Phileas Fogg, Sal wanted to take the time to visit each of the countries he visited although he has not always been able to respect that wish, due to professional obligations: “I have probably been to nearly 50 countries without having stayed more than a day or two. But in reality, when I could, I stayed there for four or five months. It all depended on whether I went there for work or not.”
193 countries later….
To immortalize his adventure of several tens of thousands of kilometers and share memories that he has in his head, Sal uses social networks. Each of his photographs and videos takes all his 50,000 subscribers on a journey: “I mainly use Instagram to post my new photos. I also have a Youtube channel on which I publish videos once or twice a week”. Sharing, making people react and discover, such is the credo of this amateur traveller who has been able to find, thanks to his travels, a new land of welcome. “I really like the United Arab Emirates,” he says. Today it is my home. I think this region is undergoing an impressive evolution and I am optimistic for the future. It’s really a wonderful place to live.”
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6 days to every country: FRIENDS I’m unique to other travelers in that the vast majority of my time is spent staying with local friends in the countries I visit. In nearly 75 countries, making up 90% of my time, I’ve been either hosted or guided by a former classmate or colleague. In dozens of others, I’ve been given lovely advice before arriving. In many I’ve been supported for visas and with invitations that would have otherwise made the trip impossible. I could not have done all of this without each and every one of you. I would not have wanted to. You see, for me, traveling is not about seeing things, it’s about learning and understanding. I love to visit historical and culturally important sites, but my favorite travel memories are staying up late after reuniting with a friend and asking question after question about the place, new to me, that they call home. These moments have formed my global understanding and being so graciously welcomed has made me feel like the world is literally my home. That’s a question I often get, “Do you miss home?”, and my response is that I’m always returning to my “homes” even if I have no house. Especially these last two years of full-time travel, I could not have kept up my momentum without constant stops at “home” in Abu Dhabi / Dubai, Nairobi, Tanzania, and New York. In many countries where I was not hosted by a friend, I was traveling with one. I am indebted to all of my travel buddies for keeping up with my crazy adventures. I’m amazed at those of you who say yes when I suggest visiting places like Lethem in Guyana, North Korea, Somaliland, and Tajikistan – how wonderful to have companionship in those journeys. Then there are the friends who always, from a far, have rooted for me. Who have shown genuine joy as the country count got higher and higher, who always eagerly wanted to know what I had experienced or learned, and who cheered me on when things got tough. Even the smallest of actions (a “like on Facebook”) and simplest of words have meant the world to me. 📸 @kellydrivdahl 😉 😘
No matter if his trip officially ended a year ago, Sal is always ready to return for a new trip in search of new discoveries. During his stay in Saudi Arabia for the Misk Global Forum, he wanted to explore Riyadh and Jeddah again: “I’m staying for the week, so I hope to discover new things in Saudi Arabia”.
Flying doesn’t do everything
His travels and encounters have made him aware of the need to travel. A verb often referred to as “plane”, but which goes much further for Sal.” I think that today in a global world it is difficult not to travel. We travel every day just by being on our phone or watching things happening abroad. I think people should travel and open their eyes. The reason people travel is because they like to learn. Travelling in your own city is also possible, through the streets, by talking to people. Travel is not just about flying, it’s much more than that.”
This conception of travel has not ceased, even today, to be shared on social networks and with his entourage. An encouraging message for all those who wish to set sail. But Sal knows how to remain humble despite the label that now sticks to his skin to be “one of the youngest to have visited all the countries of the world”. “I think everyone is an inspiration because we all have something we can learn from someone else. When you travel, you only get richer… There is always something we can learn. I like to share, to teach people things, so I hope to be a kind of inspiration in my turn.”