Fady Hanna: Exploring the World Against All Odds

05 July, 2020 | Blog, Interviews

 

Fady Hanna is well known in the traveller community of his native Egypt and for good reason – he has already been to 123 UN countries which is no mean feat considering that his passport offers one of the least travel freedoms in the world. We are very happy to host him today – he ranks first out of all NomadMania’s Egyptian travellers – and hear his story.

 

In the middle of the North Korean capital, Pyongyang

 

Fady, tell us something about your early years.

 

I was born and raised in Cairo. Didn’t travel out of Egypt until my late teenage years when I got the opportunity to study Mechanical Engineering at the University of Bradford in the UK as of 2004. It was quite a turning point in my life and everything was new to me. At only 17 years of age, I had to adapt to living in a new country, making new friends, using a new language and studying new stuff. I feel lucky that I only started to travel frequently in my early 20s while technology was ramping up which means I could snap tons of digital photographs and plan my trips online. My first time ever in a country other than Egypt and UK was in  March 2007 when I visited Amsterdam for a couple of days after disruptions to my flight connections on the way back home. Back then, I only had a student visa to the UK but could not access the rest of Europe but luckily I was allowed to get my first ever Schengen area stamp because of flight disruptions. How ironic and funny at the same time!

Anyway, a month later I flew to Switzerland because at the time, it was not a Schengen state and they allowed UK residents to enter and I seized the opportunity and what a country to start a planned trip with! Till this day, it’s my favorite. That same summer, I flew to Malaysia and Singapore and then applied for my first Schengen visa and visited some university friends in Greece. In Christmas, I planned my first ever Euro trip with the rail-pass visiting 6 countries. I remember, Slovakia joined the Schengen area in December 2007 and I passed the border coming from Vienna on the 2nd day after the border control was lifted. So, I was on 13 countries on my first serious year of being a potential traveler. After that, things went crazy. In 2008, I graduated and did 19 extra new countries and the story continued until I managed to make it to further and more sophisticated places that are challenging in terms of planning, visas and funding.

 

Not a bad view of Mahe island

 

You’re from Egypt – what does it mean to be Egyptian? How does this affect your personality and attitude to the world?

 

Well, in one word, pride! the fact that my great-great-grand parents had such a civilization very early in the history of civilizations makes me feel really proud. I can’t recall how many times I was introducing myself to a group of buddies in a hostel I had just checked-into and then everyone says ‘wow’ just by knowing that I am Egyptian.They also learnt Egyptian history in their schools. It means a lot to have ancestors with such weight and I gain lots of respect because of that, specially that travelers from Egypt are kind of rare! Don’t get me wrong, many people travel but tourism is commercialized and only recently it started to be more adventurous and exploring. So, being an Egyptian nomad with a backpack checking into a hostel in Laos or in Bolivia was a scene! I wouldn’t say it affects my personality or attitude to the world to be honest. Only rarely, I have to convince others that I am a normal guy and when I am back home, sometimes I get asked if people treated me well enough after knowing I come from the Middle East. Of course they did! I believe most people are great and as long as I am respectful and kind to others, why shouldn’t I get the same back?

 

Enjoying the lovely pagodas of

 

And tell us some hidden gems of Egypt beyond the usual sights that someone should discover.

 

Most people when they visit Egypt, they come to Cairo, visit the pyramids, maybe visit other cities like Alexandria, go to Luxor and Aswan and probably Sharm el Sheikh! That’s the usual itinerary! However, places like Dahab, Nuweibaa,Siwa, White Desert, Marsa Alam are my favorites. The whole point about visiting Egypt is the variety and the vibes you can experience here. Most visitors loved the fact that they can enjoy a variety of stuff from unparalleled history and temples that are unlike anything else you’ve seen in the world to water activities and diving as well as the food, the culture and the streets. Everything together is Egypt and it’s not just the pyramids even though I have to say the pyramids are amazing! Just the thought of building it and transporting thousands of stones and managing to do it as accurately as it is more than 5000 years ago surviving all this time is something today’s technology cannot achieve.

 

On top of Mount Moses in St Catherine, Egypt

 

It’s indeed not common to find a world traveller from Egypt! So how have you succeeded in exploring more than 120 UN countries?

 

I love the question! I’ll take it from where I ended the first question. After travelling to 19 new countries in 2008, I did 22 more in the following 2 years until 2011. I consider all this as the first phase of my travels. Every destination was new to me even the cliche ones. I was overwhelmed by everything I saw from nature to museums to parks! The first phase (my first 54 countries between 2004 and 2011) were challenging in terms of budgeting. I was a student sometimes working part time then went back to my home country and started my career with a relatively below-average salary and yet managed to save money and travel several times on a budget until I achieved that number of new places to go which were more and more of Europe, India and few African countries.

At the end of 2011, I moved jobs to work at a great multinational company which is P&G. By the way, I never travelled full time. I always planned my vacations to visit the destinations I wanted. I was planning sometimes 9 months ahead to make it happen. I believe that travel is part of life, maybe the sweetest part but still it has always been a reflection of my success in real life! The more success I achieved in my working career, the more I was able to make my travel dreams happen and that what I call phase 2 starting in 2012. I did Morocco and parts of Eastern Europe that I hadn’t visited. Then UAE and Philippines and in 2013 I travelled for the first time to Latin America and had the chance to experience the Rio carnival! I crossed the Atlantic ocean again but this time to USA, trekked in Nepal and visited China for the first time too. In 2014, I went to Iceland, Latin America again & Japan. All during my vacations from work and in 2015, I travelled to Ukraine and even more of Europe, Mexico and all 7 countries of central America.

Over to phase 3, in 2016. I started my travel blog named Travel Delights and surprisingly many people followed me which gave me a boost. In the same year, I met the love of my life and she encouraged me to finished every country in Europe which I achieved in 2016 as well as exploring many places in Asia. By the end of 2016, I was at 100 UN countries and it only started to get more crazy and bizarre with destinations like North Korea, Brunei, Bhutan which are all very rare to where I come from. I had this sweet addiction of travelling. It was like an Education too. In 2017, I got married and had an amazing honeymoon in Colombia, Ecuador, Dominican Republic and Cuba which was my 108th UN. Now, it’s July 2020 and I’m at 123 UN and 139 UN+ after visiting lots of Caribbean islands and also managed to travel to destinations like Seychelles, Mauritius, Madagascar, Sao Tome and Cabo Verde. That’s my long story which was such an enjoyable journey that I don’t want it to ever stop.

 

In Tiraspol, Transnistria, one of the most bizarre destinations in the world

 

What do your family and Egyptian friends think of your travel endeavours?

 

Well, they think I am crazy! and I don’t blame them. I have been always committed and dedicated to travel and through the last 12 years or so, every year was a good travel year. More like Cristiano Ronaldo with his football career.That’s why I managed to achieve my list which I still feel is very humble if you consider it compared to the NM1301 standard! My friends always wanted to join my travels but only very few did! I never wait for somebody to join me! I can share my plans and if they would like to join they’re welcome but I am flying anyway! My family always thought that it’s great to travel but not that much! They were worried I was going to go broke maybe or that I should look into other priorities but as I mentioned earlier, success in travelling is a reflection to life success. While planning to travel the world, I also got married and managed to prepare our apartment and have a proper wedding! and by the way, I did not win the lottery and never inherited tens of thousands of dollars. I only excelled at my job, got promoted and earned a higher salary that’s really it! I also never gave up but speaking of family, I am grateful in the first place that they encouraged me to take a leap of faith and study in the UK (which I forgot to say was through a Scholarship rewarded because of academic excellence) and that opened the doors of the world to me years later!

 

Enjoying the sunset at the avenue of the Baobabs, Madagascar

 

What has most surprised you, good and bad, about what you’ve seen?

 

There are many things to think of right now. Let’s start with the good stuff so here are the greatest experiences: I did a safari in the middle of the Savannah forests, I saw lions, elephants, giraffes, and many other animals in their natural habitat in Tanzania. I walked on foot in the Bwindi national park searching for gorillas in the woods in Uganda. I slept in a tent in the white desert in Egypt and I had a sight of some stars of the galaxy from there.

I saw an active volcano in  Nicaragua, the Alps in Switzerland, Germany and Austria ..and the Himalayas in Nepal. I experienced the Northern lights phenomenon in Iceland and saw the yachts in Monaco. I went to Barcelona and Manchester, specifically the Camp Nou and Old trafford and saw legendary Messi playing. I did snorkeling in the Red Sea and in the Caribbean Sea in Honduras. I attended the Samba Festival in Rio de Janeiro in Brazil and treated myself  with Tango dance lesson in Argentina. I went to Las Vegas in America, saw the hidden beach in Mexico, saw the Inca civilization in Machu Picchu, soaked wet at Victoria Falls in Zambia and visited the Taj Mahal in India.

I built a snowman in England, climbed Mount St. Catherine in Egypt, saw ships crossing the Panama Canal and walked on the equator. I backpacked in Europe and wandered in the streets of Paris, London, Rome, Amsterdam and Moscow. I saw the Fjords in Norway, attended the prince’s wedding in Sweden and relaxed on a Greek island. I climbed the Great Wall of China, spoke to Buddhist monks in Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam. I got to know people from different cultures and religions. I went to Japan and ate sushi in the country of sushi. I visited all the seven wonders of the world, saw the longest mosque lighthouse in the world, wandered the Vatican. I saw Harissa in Lebanon, the streets of Havana, the tallest building in the world in Dubai, the beautiful girls in Ukraine and the sweet children In Burundi, Kenya, Zambia and South Africa.

I crossed the bridge from China to North Korea, crossed the Armenian border into Nagorno-Karabakh, visited the holy land in Jerusalem and the beautiful country of Bhutan. That was the good stuff and believe me just mentioning it and getting flashbacks gives me great joy so I’d rather not list any bad stuff. However, I believe bad experiences happen for a reason which is to appreciate the good stuff. Nowadays, yes we can’t travel because of the coronavirus, but this should only make us appreciate when we did travel and be grateful to every opportunity we had.

 

With the kids at the orphanage in Bujumbura, Burundi

 

Are you aiming to do all 193? Why or why not? Which areas of the world seem the most challenging to you for the future?

 

There is nothing bad about dreaming! Visiting the 193 UN countries is really a very big thing. I know many people achieved it before but for an Egyptian or even a Middle Eastern, no one has even come close. I am proud of myself that I managed to achieve the 123 UN and 138 UN+ so far on my own without any sponsors or funding other than my monthly income. However, to achieve the 193, I will definitely need two kinds of support. Since my passport is considered a weak one (can access around 47 countries only as visa free or visa on arrival as opposed to 180+ for some European passports for example), my first essential support would be a bit political probably from the government or the Egyptian embassies abroad to ease my access to the countries I have not been to. Part of the challenge is countries that have no embassies in Cairo and yet they require a visa for my nationality such as Jamaica, Suriname, Guyana, Grenada, Lesotho and others. The second part of the support will probably be financial, at some point I believe it will get very expensive to keep doing that especially at the exchange rate I am dealing with. However, I don’t always think about the 193rd UN country, I always think of the next one. How can I make them 124? Is there a country that I can still access even if I will have to apply for a visa? and then I’m always following news of countries moving to online and evisas making it easier to access such as Uzbekistan, Pakistan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan recently adding this option. There is no rush anyway and it’s not just a list to check, travel is much more than that so I am enjoying the journey too and enjoying even the challenges associated with it. It definitely changed me as a person, no one can come out of such experience the same as they were. So, I am now more confident, more responsible, more motivated to do more.

 

With my wife on the streets of Havana

 

You are quite active on social media. Do you have your own blog or website? What are your aims with your social media profile.

 

Yes, I do have an Instagram account and a Facebook page both named Travel Delights! I chose the name because I always believe that travel is a sweet, yet useful, addiction hence the name delights! I’d like to work on a website too. So far, all my social media profiles are for sharing the experience and not generate money. I am not 100% dedicated too because I still have a full time job, remember? However, it’s a great platform to get in touch with people and sharing my travels. In return, hundreds of people ask me questions and others encourage me to keep going.

 

The Coronavirus crisis has inevitably put a stop to travel for a while. What are your predictions? And where have you spent the past months (on lockdown or not), and how has it been?

 

Luckily, my work is possible from home so me and my wife have been in a lockdown at home for some months now and only going out for buying essentials. My expectation is that we’re never going back to normal unless there is an approved vaccine against the virus and any other action will put people at risk. So, until then, people will adapt on the new normal. However, after we adapt, it will pass and things will get back to normal by the end of the year. On a personal level, it was a good break to be honest! Slowing down the pace of life a little bit was good for me, some others and of course the environment but I’m ready to get back to normal whenever it’s possible because the economic impact and the people losing their jobs are too many and as travellers, we learn to feel others, support them and not be selfish. Otherwise, we learnt nothing.

 

One of the best waterfalls, Kuang Si, near Luang Prabang, Laos

 

Once we can travel again, where would you like to go first and why?

 

As I mentioned earlier, I had my Antarctica trip booked before the coronavirus. I wish to make it. I should have travelled to Central Asia in April but obviously, it got cancelled so I’ll probably plan it once it’s possible to go, I’d like to go to Senegal too (visa-free for Egyptians) and Ghana as I have never been to West Africa proper (only did Cape Verde). Also, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Namibia and Mongolia are on my list before exploring more Oceania. So, still a long way and it will take years but so were the ones I did already.

 

Dome of the Rock, Jerusalem

 

And finally our typical end question – if you hosted a dinner and could invite four people, from any period in human history (assume they can still be alive!), who would you invite and why?

 

Wow, I love the question! I suppose this one doesn’t have to relate to travel only. So, I’ll go for Jesus Christ, Einstein, Christopher Columbus and Nelson Mandela. I think the choices also reflect me as a person who is Coptic Christian, an Engineer (and I love physics), a Traveller and African!

 

Feeling happy after visiting Chichen Itza in 2015 and completing the seven wonders of the world

 

People Who Visited Every CountrySee the Report