Hubert Weissinger: The Man Who Completed Every World Country in 2001

05 June, 2021 | Blog, Interviews

 

Hubert Weissinger is a name you may not be familiar with – but he should be a legend among travellers. Completing every world country in 2001 at the age of only 34, he was at the time one of the first 15 to complete the goal (that we know of) and the second youngest.

Strangely, we were unable to find any online references to Hubert, therefore we are especially happy to present this interview, his first ever in English and his first in 20 years! Hubert has chosen not to show photos of himself, but instead shares his strikingly red ‘totem’ which has accompanied him on many of his travels. As NomadMania always allows full freedom of expression to all its guests, we trust that Hubert’s decision will be found humorous by all of you.

Hubert explains that he really dislikes taking selfies at milestones he visits, and wanted a unique personal signature that proves he has visited a place…

 

Kosovska Mitrovica

 

Hubert, tell us something about your early days and your first trips.

 

My childhood was spent on a small farm in North-Eastern Austria, a half-hour drive to the then iron curtain nation of Czechoslovakia. Travelling was very limited. While I was growing up, a pilgrimage was the only common form of travelling. Some people went as far as Fatima (Portugal) and Lourdes (France). A pilgrim trip in 1989 brought me to Medjugorje, at that time in Yugoslavia!

My first non-German-speaking county was Belgium (Gistel), an exchange program for three weeks, but my brother got badly homesick, so after 10 days when our host went for a nap, we ran away, we left a note on a handkerchief and jumped out the window to the nearest highway, and we hitchhiked and got a ride to Brussels. Then I convinced my brother to make a stop in Germany to visit our uncle, as I didn’t want to go straight home.

My first inter-rail trip was to the Norway’s north cape. But everything really changed when I joined a parachute training camp in Arizona, USA, when I realised that travelling the world was possible.

 

 

How did your world travels really begin?

 

A friend told me he is going to New Zealand 10 days before his departure, I had a job in Vienna, I took a break, went to a travel agency and booked a flight to New Zealand for five weeks.

In Christchurch, we took an English course for one month, knowing some English would be essential for what was on my mind in terms of further exploration. My ways with my friend Johannes parted in Australia after 3 months of travelling together. I came back home after 8 months and he after 10 months. During that period, travelling became more and more important.

In the summer of 1995, I went to Canada, crossing the country from Vancouver to Montreal by bus, back to the west coast by plane, then I flew from Vancouver to Taiwan, up to China, but failed to get a visa for North Korea. So, I travelled meanwhile country by country in Asia.

In January 1996, during a traveller get-together in Myanmar, I spoke it out, for the first time, my challenge year 2000 chase, every country and every country with a currency until year 2000. For me, I have only done a country if I legally pass immigration. So, in March 1996, I went back to the North Korean embassy in Beijing, there I was told it was a golden chance, what kind of tour did I want.

I took the train to North Korea, at Pyongyang train station a driver and guide met me, I got a private tour, which was cool but no fun. I already hat a train ticket to Moscow directly, but I could not ride that train, I had to go back via China on a train ride that took a total of 158 hours.

 

 

So, you completed every country before the year 2000?

 

Not quite.

After several months of working, I then set off for my last long leg, my goal being three years on the road to make as many countries as possible. I set off to Oman and Yemen, flew to Sudan via Saudi Arabia (where I spent the night at the airport), then Sudan overland to Cape Town. In Kruger National Park I caught malaria, in Lesotho I went to the hospital, yes malaria positive was the answer, after three days in bed I had to move on to meet the RMS mail boat to head to St Helena. St Helena counted for me as a country as it has its own currency.

After a five-day sail to St. Helena, I spent one week there and then 21 days on a ship to Cardiff. And all this for one currency. From London, I booked a flight to Central America, in Guatemala I took a Spanish class for two weeks. From Panama via Houston and LA on to Hawaii and further to the southern pacific countries and then via Easter Island to South America. Down in Ushuaia, luckily I found a last minute cruise from Falkland islands to Antarctica, keep in mind the Falklands have their own currency too.

Then I crossed South America overland to French Guiana. From there to Paris. where I joined a French class for two weeks. Meanwhile my money was running low, so I called my brother and asked him for a loan (loan in exchange for my life insurance) and that was the solution.

But instead of going to Africa I first went to the Faroe islands, then Iceland , Greenland and Canada. Prudhoe Bay to Key West overland with a ferry from Skagway to Vancouver island was my new goal. Later I went overland from Amsterdam to Freetown, Sierra Leone. And then overland from southern Angola to Djibouti.

In Djibouti, I had to a wait two weeks for my sponsoring to Dubai. In Dubai, I found out the only way to Iraq was a boat cruise 2 and a half days of sailing. Done.

In Malta though, there was a dead end, no further without going back to Austria, the Libyan embassy told me I could only get the visa in my home country. Yes, I got that Libyan visa and I also went to my home village after being away for 2 years and 8 months.

On the road again after a week, first to Algeria, that visa I got in Cairo. In Libya in Tripoli, I came across a bus which would depart soon for Agadez in Niger, sure I took the bus. Then Chad, Cameroon und Nigeria but I was not done, the only last country missing in Africa was Guinea Bissau and that visa too. So I overlanded to Conakry, the visa was easy to get and then headed by bush taxi to Bissau.

My next stop was Greece where I got visas for the Caucasus countries. Then by plane to New Delhi, got some more visas. In Peshawar at the hostel, I asked about Afghanistan. I already had a visa issued in New Delhi. The next day on the drive to the border to Afghanistan, the driver told me, if you can go, you have to go!

The Taliban at the border asked me what I wanted and they let my in the country without the camera. I left my camera with the hostel guy and I drove off with a private taxi to Kabul. The day after in Kabul, I had no choice, I got an exit visa for 24 hours. Kabul was also the start for a big road trip, via the Karakorum highway, to Kashgar, then to Almaty and finally back to Vienna. Back in Austria, I found out the trip to Saudi I had planned got cancelled. Year 2000 was close, I tried again, all the way with buses to Jordan and then, yes, I failed on Saudi Arabia.

I am one of the few who really got a year 2000 ‘bug’, as my plan failed. After three weeks back home, I continued my old job as a cabinet-maker.

Eventually though, in 2001, I made it to Saudi Arabia on a group trip.

 

 

What type of traveller would you call yourself?

 

I wanted to do as much a possible by surface travel, avoiding planes and not returning to Austria, so it was best to do it all alone. For Bhutan and North Korea, I needed a guided tour and later on I did succeed with Saudi Arabia on a group tour, as I said. But overall, I was a classic individual traveller trying to really spend time in a country on a low budget. Only in the Vatican I could not spend a night, in all other countries that I count (196) I spent a night!

Truth be told, my travel style has changed slightly over the years. I do not like hostels and camping that much anymore. And I fly much more these days.

Conquering the world as a weekend traveller is in my opinion a terrible waste of resources! In the last years I spend 2 to 3 months on the road, in winter almost a long trip up to 10 weeks in one go.

 

Erbil, Iraqi Kurdistan

 

A few experiences which really have stuck with you?

 

My quest was to experience, as I grew up in a simple way as a country boy and I did not understand why people are not honest or bad to someone. Five years of travelling is equal to the experiences which many people don’t get in their whole life.

Getting imprisoned in Iran was a memorable experience, they locked me up because I took a shard of pottery in my backpack in Kuh Khajed. After a day in a single cell, they came and blindfolded me and they interviewed me in a different room. I asked how long I have to stay, not long was the answer. On the way back to my cell, I saw a motorbike in the courtyard, which I realised they start when someone is going to get beaten up.

The next day they moved me into a cell with two prisoners, who showed me the marks where they got beaten! With hand-written signs they asked if I am circumcised, no was my answer, then they wanted to see for themselves! The deal was first I show my thing and then you show me yours. They did it and I did it and everybody was happy!

Seeing the world as a young man is great and I did it in the pre-internet time. I was my own master. In Barrow, Alaska, I asked a mother where I can pitch my tent, later the kids threw stones and asked if I have no home. Sailing down with a pirogue down the Niger river to Timbuktu was a small adventure compared to the much bigger one of taking the iron train in Mauritania. In Zambia, I recall a woman complained to me saying, God was so stupid to make us black!

Getting robbed in Harare was a shock, after which for many years I imposed a curfew on myself, not going out once night fell.

Here are same of my favourite countries for travelling: in Europe, Italy for architecture and food and Norway for the landscape. In Africa, Mali for culture and Djibouti for the absurd. In America,  Peru and in Asia,  Japan for their kindness and Bhutan for the absurd again. In the Pacific, Kiribati and Easter island.

 

 

We have not been able to find any interviews or media references to you. Given your amazing adventures at a young age and at a time when few did this type of thing, how is this possible?

 

After my travels, two newspapers made a page of me and I had a short interview on the radio. Maybe I don’t really have any digital footprint because in 2002 I moved to New York for a few years, so I got forgotten.

In New York, I met the TCC (Travelers’ Century Club) for a lunch, a very strange group of travellers. They only talked about airport stops, cruises and staying in expensive hotels and felt they were real travellers. As I was trying to tell my story, it was implied ‘you are too young and you have no money, so you can’t be a really big traveller’. Like if you have little money, shut up.

After that I felt so upset, I decided to kill my webpage.

 

 

Since you completed all countries aged 34, what other travels have had an impact on you?

 

I didn’t travel much after doing all countries in 2001, for the next five years, paying back the money I owed was more important. 2006 changed everything, with a new adventure from the southern-most city to the northernmost. Ushuaia to Longyearbyen on a 64-day sailing trip. I met lots of big travellers on the 50-day leg to Holland, most people left in Cape Verde.

We called on all possible islands like South Georgia, Tristan du Cunha, Bouvet island, St Helena, which was my 2nd Visit. We also witnessed the great solar eclipse en route. After three weeks, I continued from Holland with a ferry to England and then from there to Scotland with an expedition to Jan Mayen and Spitsbergen.

At the end of 2019, I made a round-the-world trip in 100 days, including Pitcairn island, lucky I made it, before the shutdown.

There is obviously still very much to do, but a trip to Kerguelen is certainly high on my bucket list.

 

 

We understand you are the proud owner of a travel museum! Tell us something about it. Can we visit?

 

I indeed have “Mein Weltraum”, but call it a library, not a “museum” – it is a small room where the whole world meets, lots of bits and pieces all over, certainly nicely displayed!

There is a bookshelf with all the guidebooks to prepare to go everywhere. There are cabinets with photos and when you open the doors, there are drawers with all the world currencies.

There is a wall full of different beer bottles, I only collected bottles from which I actually had a drink. I carried them home or sent them home. Travelling light is not for me, I almost always have the maximum weight.

There are drawers with all my tickets, train, bus, flight, boats and tourist tickets. There is also a cabinet with a stamp collection, I sent myself postcards and empty letters from countries where I found stamps. I also have newspapers from most countries.

I made this room because it is much easier than writing a book, and I have no hassle with any publisher!

“Mein Weltraum” is open to visitors by appointment only and only on weekends because I am currently working in a different region in Austria. It is located in Frankenreith near Zwettl in Lower Austria.

Eds. note: See a cool video of Mein Weltraum (in German) here.

 

 

How has the pandemic influenced your travels?

 

I saved myself from South Africa when it all broke out in March 2020. In August 2020, I travelled to Sardinia, Ireland and France for a week. If travelling opens up sufficiently, I am hoping to go to the Canary islands in August and later in the year join a trip to Chad to the Gerewol festival.

 

Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina

 

Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia

 

And finally our signature question – if you could invite 4 people from any era to dinner, who would your guests be and why?

 

Jesus, to ask him if the people got his message or misunderstood it entirely. Why are there still wars in the name of God?

Maria Magdalena!

Marco Polo, to get his inside story on his way to the east.

Alexander von Humboldt to join him on his travels.

 

 

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