Twenty-nine-year-old James Asquith is a drifter. Always on the move, he is vagabond who has already had a savoury taste of life. The word he uses to describe himself is — nomad.
Profiling him was challenging yet indispensable. Challenging, because he is always leaping from one continent to another, changing time zones as if he’s teleporting. And indispensable, because he conquered the world at the age of 24, when he made it to all its 196 countries — the youngest person to achieve that feat. Unsurprisingly, Guinness recognition followed.
High on wanderlust, he goes back and forth on emails from his current dock in Bali, Indonesia.
“I just flew from LA to Sydney, and now, I am in Bali. Travelling is when I feel the happiest and most-free,” he says. As is palpable from Asquith’s Instagram — pulsating with enviable pictures of sojourns some of us have only dreamt of taking — he has lived the dream and is still going at it.
“I was born in London, UK and travel around the world for work now. I don’t live anywhere anymore,” he says.
Asquith’s work orbits around an app called Holiday Swap (hyperlink: www.holidayswap.com). Built roughly nine months ago, it allows users to swap their accommodation in over 125 countries around the world for just $1 a night. “It’s part of my full-time mission now to make travel cheaper and more accessible to all of us. We’re one of the fastest growing apps on Google Play store and we will continue to make travel possible for more of us by disrupting the industry”.
“I used to work in finance for a while, after visiting all 196 countries, but now I get to travel full time which is so cool. I wouldn’t change anything about my job,” he says.
But the travel bug remained elusive for a long time. And it certainly did not bite him the first time he embarked on a journey at the age of 8. “Oh gosh, I have memories going on a boat to Legoland in Denmark with my family. It was very rocky and it certainly didn’t make me pick up the travel bug at the time”.
It was only when he built houses in Vietnam (no big deal) that Asquith realised he had been consumed by wanderlust. “I volunteered building houses in Vietnam with my two best friends and didn’t expect to pick up the travel bug in such a tremendous style that I did. I was very naive and I learnt a lot about myself and the world around me as I continued to travel”.
The reason most people’s bucket-list worthy dreams don’t take flight, is because travelling, all told, is a high-priced affair. So how did this 20-something accomplish the extraordinary?
“It can be expensive,” says Asquith. “I didn’t come from a family of money, I saved up really hard when I was younger and almost became obsessed with money, working three jobs from when I was 15 years old,” he says.
Asquith had opportunely invested a chunk of his money which largely paid for the travels. “I really had little idea what I was doing. I worked along the way as I travelled and tried travelling on a shoestring budget before I got a job in finance to pay for it”.
But the man, who has practically seen it all, refuses to believe he has. “I certainly don’t think I’ve seen it all, though. I’m only just getting started. There is so much more of this world to see and explore”.
“In some countries, I just saw one city — in smaller destinations such as Singapore, Vatican City or Andorra. But in others, I have spent expended periods of time,” he says.
“Italy and particularly the US are my favourite countries. As just one country I think the USA has it all. The difference from New York to Los Angeles and then the culture in the south varies hugely with the stunning national parks. And you also have the variation of Hawaii to Alaska. It really has it all as one country, in my opinion,” says Asquith.
But what if he had to choose one favourite destination?
“It would be Cartagena in Colombia. It is such a beautiful old town with an amazing setting on the Caribbean coast”.
It took Asquith, not 80, but 1,825 days (approximately five years) to traverse the globe. “I feel a country is a man-made human border. If you take Micronesia in the Pacific Ocean for example, I love that country and it was the last country I visited on the journey. So it’s obviously very special to me. But there are about 90 islands there and I have only seen two of them, so I feel there is so much more to see,” he says.
Asquith’s been to 30 states in the USA, and has spent many months in places such as Peru and Vietnam. “I really do feel I only see the good in most places, and certainly try and remember only that. The length of my stay depends on the things I do in a country, and if I fall in love with it,” he says.
Talking about his desi rendezvous, Asquith says the first time he was in India, was when he stopped over en route to Vietnam. “India is quite special to me. I didn’t have the time to stay, but I really couldn’t wait to come back”.
And when he returned, Asquith found himself in the multicultural cities of Delhi and Mumbai. “I think they are great cities. Very busy and cosmopolitan. And I absolutely love the food in India. I’ve also been to Jaipur and Agra, but I really want to return to see a lot more of the country,” he says.
No story is ever complete without its share of drama, and Asquith’s too, is peppered with inimitable experiences. “Oh there have been a few bad experiences. A couple of times I had a gun put up to me or an injury, but the good in people is the part I remember,” he says.
And would he believe the world — with all its unravelling secrets — is a safe retreat for women and those travelling solo?
“I would certainly like to think so. Mostly, common sense will get you going. Some of the most dangerous places in the world, statistically, may surprise most people; and one can find danger anywhere. Most people are inherently good, but there will always be bad parts wherever you go. I think travelling holds no more dangers than, maybe, simply getting in your car. But it’s a lot more rewarding,” says Asquith.
Besides travelling, this explorer-cum-entrepreneur enjoys sports, both watching and playing. “I love football and cricket. I’m trying to do a lot more adventure sports, and also trying to get my pilot’s license. Seeing my friends and family as much as I can, is very important to me,” he says.
And what’s next on the itinerary?“Holiday Swap actually has some very important employees in Ahmedabad so I will be coming out there in the next couple of months, and I can’t wait!”