Around the World in 50 Days: my adventure to every country on Earth

I’m not one for doing the whole of anything: the Appalachian Trail, canoeing the Amazon, skiing across Antarctica, but yes I can see the attraction of visiting every country in the world. The problem is that it is a moving target. Governments change, countries come and go, and unless you are super rich “doing” the world in a timely fashion is not possible.

Yet the inventive, gutsy, rule-breaking Podell finally managed to complete them all though it did take a half century. He began his foreign travels with a quick trip to Canada when he was 24. And yes, he considered this international travel light.

He just completed a degree in international studies. A few years later, as editor of an adventure magazine, he decided he was tired of sending people off on exotic jaunts and staying home, so he set off with a friend to complete the longest land journey ever attempted with his good friend Steve. They got sponsors to pay for the trip and hired a photographer.

Soon they found themselves camping in an old minefield in Morocco. In the morning a local warned them not to drive out, so they carefully devised a way with ropes and boulders to first clear a foot path and then one wide enough for their vehicle.  And yes, a couple of bombs went off.

The book is full of many dramatic incidents like that including jailings, attacks by hundreds of crabs on a beach, bandits, their broken-down vehicle hanging over a cliff on the Peak of Death, and an almost lynching in Pakistan.

But there’s lots of humor too. Podell composes some fun lists: including one on the comfort ratings of toilet paper and its substitutes. Not for the squeamish is Chapter 15, “You Are What You Eat.” Armadillo, gnu, braised jellyfish, anyone?

Haiti and North Korea were two of his least favorite countries, Cuba and Mongolia, two he particularly liked.

Although Podell has more of an eye for the ladies than I prefer, he truly cares about the people in the places he visits, and worries about the future for many of these countries. In Africa, he brought presents including a goat to children he “adopted” through the mail.

Podell’s persistence paid off. Somalia refused him a visa for a long time and he just squeezed into North Korea.  If you’re an armchair traveler this book really gives you an overview of the whole planet, and from an everyman’s perspective not that of tour groups or cruise ships.