The Best Travelled
Harry Mitsidis is the founder of The Best Travelled. Harry is one of the very few persons that have visited all 193 countries of the world and over 1000 of the 1281 World Regions. We have conducted an interview with him.
You are one of the very few persons that have visited all 193 countries and over 1000 World Regions? How do you feel about that? It is quite an achievement?
To be honest, I am not sure if it is harder to do all 193 UN countries or to surpass the 1000 Region Mark on Thebesttravelled.com. For sure both are achievements, but on the other hand nothing is impossible if you have the will. It seems to me that very few people really have the desire, curiosity or obsession – call it what you want – to go for such feats. I feel privileged to have made it, and more than anything this has been very enriching. Both in terms of understanding the world more, and in realising who I am, what my world view really is. Both achievements have changed me somewhat and made me more open, tolerant and ultimately a fuller person.
Why did you found The Best Travelled (TBT)?
I felt that what was missing from the existing sites was a well-designed one which tried to divide the world in a logical way. For us big travellers, a simple division into 193 Countries is just not enough; but other divisions made no inherent sense and seemed very biased toward some regions (for example the developed world) or remote islands, not giving a balanced view of the world. Moreover, the aim behind TBT was to create a sense of community for both big and smaller travellers and the long-term aim, which we are still working on, is to be able to provide opportunities for the less privileged, especially those from developing countries, to travel more. I had the time and the desire to undertake this, and despite occasion moments of frustration and disappointment, don’t regret it for a minute.
TBT is now entering its fourth year? What are you the most proud of?
I am very happy that we have now been accepted by the community of competitive travellers as one of the legitimate sites in dividing the world. I am proud that some very high calibre travellers have been part of our Committee and worked towards achieving our goals. I am also especially proud of our 24 languages online, this is no easy feat. We have achieved all this with as small a budget as possible, so it makes the achievement all the more remarkable. On a more personal note, thanks to my role as the Founder, I have met many amazing travellers, both virtually and physically, which has been an incredible journey in its own right.
Dare – Share – Discover. Can you explain?
We dare people – big travellers and aspiring ones too – to explore more of the world, not just the obvious places, but regions that are truly off the beaten track. This leads to discovery, both of the intricacies of the world, and of yourself. And of course nothing is worth much if you don’t share what you have learned – both in your own life but also on TBT but posting stories and pictures. This is especially valuable for some of the more obscure regions for which there is a true lack of information.
Who is a typical TBT user?
I don’t think there is a typical user. Perhaps what links all the bigger users is curiosity about the world, but other than that we have a great variety in terms of ages, nationalities as well as depth of travel. Some of our most enthusiastic users have not yet reached 100 points but keep coming back for more. One thing I am not happy about is the low percentage of women users – clearly this is not because of lack of travel interest! Maybe women are not that intent on long travel lists.
How do you see TBT in the future?
We are now in the process of defining our strategy for the future. What I would personally like to see is a site popular with a much larger segment of travellers which has found a sustainable model to be money-making. We would then reinvest this money to create a sponsorship or scholarship programme so that people who otherwise wouldn’t have the opportunity to travel can do so. I expect that within the next year or so, we could see results in this direction.
How did you define the 1281 World Regions? Do you think that someone will ever visit all the 1281 regions?
A lot of work has been put into defining the regions. Our main base is the sovereign state. In nearly all cases, we have divided sovereign states at least into 2 regions. We look at the territory, population, cultural, economic and tourism importance of every country and have tried to come to a balanced number of regions. Some people have told us they feel we are very European-centred, but this is only because of the vast importance of most European countries to world culture, which also makes them very popular with tourists. Initially, we had 1221 regions but we expanded this by further dividing China and adding more points to certain countries; the Committee then further tweaked the regions somewhat. I believe we now have a good balance where every country’s division makes sense relative to other countries. Naturally, there will always be criticism, there is no such thing as a perfect list. Yet, as I said before, the majority of big travellers, even those who have not joined TBT for their own reasons, appear to respect the existing list.
We made the list in such a way so that in theory it is possible to visit every region – there are none which are completely out of bounds, though obviously conflicts may make some regions extremely dangerous during a particular period. I doubt anybody will make the whole list, but wouldn’t be surprised to see somebody reach 1200 regions, which is still quite a leap away even for our first ranked.
How do you compare TBT to other Travel Clubs?
Every Club has its philosophy and its targets; we try to do the best we can without direct comparison. TBT is probably the most global of the clubs in terms of trying to truly be international, we have had activities specially for Russian or Spanish speakers. We also attempt to have as good an interaction with our members through our very regular newsletters and as good ‘user support’ as our resources will allow. Our interface allows users to contact each other directly no matter where they are, so we try to create a community in that way. We are also the only club which verifies its users’ claims. Unlike other clubs which organise meetings, we are, so far, only virtual, though this may also change in the future.
How can you verify that travelers on TBT are actually travelling to region that they claim to have visited?
Verification is one of the things that differentiate us considerably from other clubs. We require verification for users with more than 500 points and have, on extreme occasions, been forced to exclude some travellers who refused to cooperate, though we try to be patient and understanding. We have a flexible system whereby we give those ‘high ranking’ travellers a sample of countries/regions to prove and we accept a variety of proof, from passport stamps, to receipts, to photographs on certain occasions. Clearly the UN country verification is simpler than the regional one, which can become cumbersome and complex, but we have a volunteer, Thomas Buechler from Switzerland, who I can say has been doing an excellent job of verifying claims for the past 3 years. Thanks to his tireless efforts, we have achieved more than 50 verifications and believe that this is a great added value for the travellers who put the time into this, as with our badge next to their name, nobody can they dispute their claims anymore. We will continue this exercise and try to be the best we can be, as our name suggests!