There are globe trotters, and then there’s Lee Abbamonte. Though he doesn’t consider himself a “competitive traveler” per se, he is the youngest American to visit every country in the world. So how many total countries are there on our blue marble, you ask? Well, that depends on your definition of country. Lee has visited all of the 193 sovereign nations that make up the UN. But that’s still a paltry number of passport stamps compared to the challenge presented by the Travelers’ Century Club or (TCC). Their list contains a total of 321 “countries” as of July 2011, which by the TCC’s standards includes geographic areas that are not countries in their own right, but are listed separately “because they are removed from their parent country, either geographically, politically or ethnologically.” By that definition, Lee’s visited a total of 307 countries and is approaching his next record: becoming the youngest person to visit all destinations on the Travelers’ Century Club List. The record is 37 years, 9 months and 17 days. Lee is currently 34.
As part of our Summer Preview, we asked Lee about life both in and outside of the suitcase.
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Q. What’s one thing every man should know?
A. How to have a conversation without actually hearing a word the other person is saying.
Q. What’s the hardest thing you’ve ever done?
A. Passing High School chemistry… god I hate science, and chemistry in particular!
Q. What are you working on right now?
A. Filming a TV show tomorrow.
…a really awful one was a “personal rubber glove” inspection by a Tel Aviv Airport customs guy… I’ll just leave it at that.
Q. Name one thing you can’t live without.
A. Pizza and ESPN.
Q: Who or what influences you?
A: I’m not very easily influenced. But sports and current events, I suppose.
Q. What are you reading right now?
A. Champions League round up from the quarterfinals and potential semi-final matchup previews.
Q. Name one thing no one knows about you.
A. My friends know I love heavy metal music but I don’t think I’ve ever stated that publicly.
Q. It’s your last drink and meal on earth. What’ll it be?
A. Da Michele Pizza in Naples, Italy with a Kozel beer from Czech Republic.
Q. If you could go back and tell your 16 year old self something, what would you say?
A. If you drop a tape — yes, a tape — on the floor while driving, wait until you’re stopped to pick it up. Would’ve saved me two accidents when I was 16.
Q. How do you want to be remembered?
A. Great friend and family member who was smart, always smiling, full of life and inspired others.
Q. What’s the hardest destination you’ve managed to get to?
A. Probably a tie between Libya, North Korea and Angola. Libya because I had to sneak in during the war. North Korea because it’s North Korea and a real pain and Angola because of their unending bureaucracy and visa issues that make it the hardest visa in the world to get as a tourist.
Q. What’s a place everyone should see?
A. I wish everyone could see the salt flats of Bolivia or the amazing desert scenery of Namibia.
Q. Worst travel experience?
A. So many it’s hard to even say, but a really awful one was a “personal rubber glove” inspection by a Tel Aviv Airport customs guy… I’ll just leave it at that.
Q. What country has the most beautiful women in your opinion?
A. Colombia for sure. Close after would be the Eastern Block countries like Moldova and Ukraine and surprisingly the Russian “-stan” countries with that Asian/Russian mix.
Q. How did you get into competitive traveling?
A. To be honest, it just kind of happened over time as I went more and more places for fun, although I don’t consider it competitive because I am not competing with anyone. Though I guess it can be when you start talking youngest and records etc. It could be worse.
Q. Most overrated place you’ve visited?
A. I personally think China is overrated. I’ve been 10 times probably and all over the country and never really loved it, except Tibet, but I don’t consider that China. I’ll be back in June to Shanghai and hopefully that’ll change.
Q. How many pages are in your current passport?
A. In my current passport I am at 96 pages, and after my current 6-country Africa trip, will likely need another filler. This passport is 2 years old.
Q. Do you get hassled a lot at airports because of it?
A. All the time. It is somewhat enraging, especially Canada and Israel. Those are the worst airports/crossings for me to use, as there are inevitably a ton of questions. I have been detained for hours. The U.S. used to give me a lot of issues when I’d return, but I asked them to notate my passport and it seems I am off whatever list I was on before. I also carry business cards now.
Q. Are you worried about your records being broken any time soon (in terms of youngest American traveler?)
A. I’m not worried at all and encourage people to try. Someone is bound to break it, but it will take a lot of effort, time and money to do so.
Q. Any universal words you’ve encountered that every culture seems to know?
A. Football, as in soccer… pizza… Coca Cola.
Q. What country have you felt the most welcomed in?
A. Libya. True story.