Meon Valley man Attempting to Break World Travel Record Is in Lockdown in Paradise

A Soberton man who was attempting to break a Guinness world record to become the youngest man to visit every country in the world has been stranded in the South Pacific kingdom of Tonga since March due to the Coronavirus lockdown.

But although it has meant he won’t complete the record now, 24-year-old Sam Hawthorne reckons he’s incredibly lucky to be stuck in the 169-island Polynesian paradise and says: “This definitely feels like one of the best places to be during this pandemic.”

Sam set out on his world record attempt in March 2018 and since then has visited an incredible 183 out of the 196 countries in the world.

However, the outbreak of the Coronavirus has meant Sam will not achieve his record-breaking dream, with only 13 countries to go, which he needed to complete before his 24th birthday in April this year.

“My initial thoughts about Coronavirus, like a lot of people, were that it probably wouldn’t become a world-wide issue similar to Ebola or Zika. I definitely didn’t think that it would affect worldwide travel to the extent that the world would close down.”

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He said: “It’s obviously pretty disappointing to be so close to finishing something that I worked towards for two years without being able to finish it, so close to the end but there are bigger issues in the world”.

Life on Tonga for four months has meant Sam has been able to rest up and enjoy a slower schedule than his usual two to four days in one country before moving on. “Things are good,” he says. “I’ve been doing a Scuba diving course at the moment.”

But it hasn’t all been plain sailing: “After about month of staying in Tonga the house I was staying in got destroyed by a hurricane forcing me to move to a different house and take part in a massive clean-up operation over the next few weeks.”

Starting in Estonia in March 2018, Sam travelled through the Baltic states, then ticked off much of Europe before heading to the Caucasus region and beyond. Notable touchdowns have included Syria, Yemen, Libya and Afghanistan, as well as the secretive nation of North Korea.

Sam was travelling through Syria the day the notorious leader of the Islamic State, Abu Bakr Al Baghdadi, was killed there by US Special forces. But he says he “Noticed no difference one day to the next.”

Other hair-raising moments include “getting ambushed at night in Malawi in the car I was in and having to drive through a flaming barricade”.

His favourite moments have included hot air ballooning over the Bagan temples in Myanmar and visiting all of the seven wonders of the world.

Sam has wanted to do the trip since he was a child. “It’s been my dream to visit every country in the world since I was about 14. I was reading the blog of a guy called Graham Hughes who visited every country in the world without flying and I decided that when I was in a position to do so, I would do the same – minus the not flying part.”

“I funded my travels initially through savings whilst also running a social media marketing business primarily through Instagram.” Sam’s Instagram pages have over 500k followers which generate revenue through adverts.

“For the past four-months my plan was to wait out the virus here in Tonga and then hopefully get to my final 13 countries,” he says. “But now it’s seeming like many places in the Pacific won’t be open for at least another six months to one-year plus, so my plan has now pivoted to heading back to the UK.”

Follow Sam’s journey on his instagram page:



Story (c) Tom Hussey / Photograph (c) Sam Hawthorne