Visiting all 193 countries across the globe might seem nigh on impossible, but researcher and journalist David Torrance has made it his goal to complete this incredible feat by the age of 50 – and he’s only 48 countries away from doing it. In the second edition of our Travel Trendsetters series, we quiz this former political columnist on what drives him to explore, chat about his hairiest travel encounters, and find out what’s next on his travel bucket list.
David Torrance began his career in journalism 19 years ago with the Edinburgh Evening News. Since then, he’s authored numerous political biographies and has cemented his reputation as an expert in Scottish politics. All of this belies the fact that he’s visited 145 countries – a quest which started only 14 years ago. A series of train journeys from Moscow to Hong Kong was the genesis of his mission to see the globe. Torrance is driven to complete this logistical challenge, in part, by his completist nature. “I always tell myself that every country must have something to offer a traveler, and even the most unlikely destination rarely disappoints me,” he says.
Being so widely traveled, one would be inclined to believe that travel writing would naturally follow. Torrance, however, is the first to admit that it’s “a really difficult sort of journalism to break into and to make a living from.” He does, however, have plans to compile his travelogues from each of the countries he’s visited: “My intention is to write a book about visiting every country in the world, most likely when I've actually finished doing it – but travel publishing is also a difficult nut to crack.”
We asked Torrance to take us through his most bizarre travel moment. A trip to the Middle Eastern island of Bahrain stood out for the researcher, as he recounts how he was denied access by tetchy authorities looking to quell imminent national unrest.
“I was told to sleep overnight at the [Bahrain] airport and fly to Kuwait the following day. I ignored that instruction, checked into a hotel and, the next morning, had a quick look around the city before heading back to the airport. At that point, I was rumbled, and there followed half a day of paperwork, people shouting at me and vague threats of legal action. Eventually, they realized I hadn't done anything beyond taking a few photographs, bought me dinner and bundled me onto a flight bound for Kuwait City.”
The travel lesson for the 41-year-old was to maintain his composure. “Instead of panicking I did everything asked of me, kept telling myself it would work itself out and stuck to my (truthful) explanation that I was in Bahrain purely as a tourist, not a journalist or a trouble-maker.”
Torrance’s stance when it comes to travel packing is one we wholeheartedly endorse: A strict one-bag policy to avoid checking luggage whenever possible. “I take the bare minimum: a week's worth of underwear, and if I need more than that, then I make sure I'll be able to do laundry while abroad.” His packing flow begins with clothes, followed by a small pre-packed toiletry bag and then electronics like his laptop and chargers.
An iPhone with Google Maps and Uber are mandatory for getting around, while Torrance uses Airbnb to arrange “cheap but interesting berths for the night.”
David Torrance’s Travel Hacks
- Always travel with a single bag if possible.
- Never get foreign currency from ‘no-commission’ bureaus at airports, their rates are terrible. ATM withdrawals are usually cheaper.
- Single flights – like single train fares in the UK – are often cheaper than returns.
- Airbnb over hotels every time.
After doling out these pearls of wisdom, we asked Torrance about being on the receiving end of travel advice. “[Don’t] listen when people tell you not to do certain things. As long as you exercise common sense, it usually has more to do with the person telling you not to go somewhere than it does with safety levels. South Africa is a good example; I ended up doing a great trip from Jo'burg to Cape Town. Similarly, my host in Durban told me not to wander around downtown because it was too 'dangerous.' Oh, and I was told while traveling in the Balkans not to go to Tirana in Albania; I'm glad I ignored that too, great city.”
Keeping with the theme of debunking travel myths, the avid cyclist talks about the contrasts between tourist traps and lesser explored areas. “When I first started traveling properly in my late 20s, I assumed going to places off the beaten track would be restrictively expensive, time-consuming and often dangerous, but actually they’re often less so (in each respect) than well-trodden tourist trails.”
As far as travel philosophies go, he refuses to be hamstrung by the (often highly subjective) policies of the governments whose countries he visits. “I have friends who refuse to travel to countries with problematic governments or particular policies, but I realized long ago that, if pursued, it’d drastically reduce the number of potential travel destinations.”
What’s next on David Torrance’s travel bucket list?
- Asmara in Eritrea ranks highly, as he cites the 1930s Art Deco architecture as a must-see.
It would be remiss of us to gloss over the travel tips that the former hack learned as a journalist: “Most things are possible with a bit of gentle persuasion,” he quips, along with thorough research and planning. He concludes by saying: “Above all be curious and open-minded – there’s a whole world out there.”
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Written by Stuart Hendricks