At 28 years old, Fady Hanna has visited 86 countries on a mission to explore every nation across the globe. As he meets our in-house travel blogger Valentina Primo, the traveller takes us on a journey from Zambia, to Guatemala, to Vietnam, and shares the one lesson he learned touring the world.
Muslim traveler Ibn Battuta said that "travelling leaves you speechless, then turns you into a storyteller." Fady Hanna is a testament to that. Methodic and driven, the 28-year-old explorer narrates his journeys with the passion of those who have soaked their bones in a dozen seas and tread through a thousand alleys, weaving his stories with excitement and inspiration on his blog, Travel Delights.
His bucket list includes swimming with sharks, skydiving, and attending a bull fight in Spain; he has seen the seven world wonders, walked through five continents, and visited 86 countries since he left his home town of Cairo for a study trip in 2008. But Hanna dreams big; he aims to explore every single country in the world, taking as a reference the United Nations list of 193.
He arrived to the office with a smile that would overtake any room, eager to ask everyone about everything, displaying that intrepid zeal that has taken him from Zambia, to Mexico, to Italy and Vietnam. It didn’t take long for his stories to arise…
As a traveller, it sometimes feels like you escape a 9-5 routine only to get into another one, going to different places to take the same photos, meeting new people only to talk about the same things. Do you feel it can become a routine?
I know that sometimes focusing on the number of countries kills it, but there are different styles of travel. You can go to a country, stay there for a few months and work, and still not absorb it 100 per cent. I try to do the best of everything and everything in the best way. In Cambodia, for example, I decided to see only the best and I went to Angkor Wat; I could have seen other things there, but I have a goal. Let me tell you why: people in the Middle East in general tend to look for role models to follow. I am not doing this for people to follow me, but part of my target is to inspire them into thinking that they can do whatever they dream. Many people say that the Egyptian passport cannot get you anywhere, and I believe this is not true.
Besides, every country has something different. I still get excited about the new things I’m going to see every time I get on the plane. I also believe that travel is the best teacher; it can give you lessons that no teacher, book, or school can.
When did you fall in love with travelling?
It all started in university, when I travelled to the UK to study with a scholarship from the British Council. But I am not one of those travellers who leave everything behind; I still work as an engineer at a multinational company, and I love my job – it enables me to travel and learn more.
One of the main myths of the travel lifestyle is that it is something reserved for the rich. What’s your take on that?
Travelling was for the rich many, many years ago. Nowadays, you have everything available; through Internet, you can access websites and travel blogs that will give you tips for saving – you can stay for as low as three or four dollars in a hostel. I am not doing something that no one else has done, but these are things out of the experience of others. There are sites such as hostelbookers.com, and you can get cheaper plane and train tickets if you book in advance. You can go from Spain to France for one Euro!
On the contrary, travelling makes you richer, but in a different way. My favourite quote says that “travelling is the only thing you buy that makes you richer.” It’s not a wealth related to how much money you have in the bank. I don’t have the best car or the best gadgets, but I’m rich with people I have met all over the world, with friends I have made, with stamps on my passports, with different kinds of foods I have tasted, and experiences I have had. The more I travel, the richer I become with these things.
What other myths would you say there are about leading a travel lifestyle?
People think that travelling alone makes you feel lonely, that you have no company or no one to talk to. But I have thousands of stories of the people I have met on the road. On my last trip, I went to Laos and there were no tourist groups, just a lot of young people travelling solo. But I met a French guy at the airport and we decided to explore the city together, and then we ran into four other girls, all from different countries, who were travelling solo around the world. It was awesome. I wouldn’t have had that chance if I had gone with my friends. I have met people in hostels and on trains; I have met people that I encountered again in other countries, or people that I later invited to Egypt. It’s part of the experience.
Which place surprised you the most?
There are a lot of awesome countries. In Laos, for example, I ended up in a very cosy place without tourists, where you would meet people and two hours later run into them again. In Japan, I was not so much amazed by the sights as I was the people; how they think, how the deal with each other. If you walk in the streets, for example, you see a lot of traffic but it’s all really silent. People even seem to whisper to each other, and you end up doing the same! I came back really surprised at how they made so many achievements without having resources.
Brazil was also one of my favourites. It was February of 2013 and I was expecting a nice carnival, but I didn’t think it would be so nice. It is not just the Sambodromo; everyone is so happy, singing and dancing in the streets, and the view from the statue of Christ over the mountain was overwhelming.
Africa in general is also spectacular. Nothing else in the world has the smell of Africa. Zambia was one of the few places in the world where I extended my stay. People are very pure; always happy, even if they are really poor. They love to sing; they love life. When I arrived to the camp I was staying at in Tanzania, the first question I asked was where the fences were, given that there were animals around. The guide told me: “We can’t have them because we are in the jungle; it is not our home, it is theirs.”
What was the weirdest food experience you had?
In Cambodia, a friend who was with me tried insects, but I wouldn’t eat that. I saw grilled dogs in Vietnam as well, but that was really sad and I couldn’t eat it. I had interesting food everywhere; I love trying different stuff as long as it is not extreme, though the best country for food is actually Egypt.
How about accommodations, do you use Airbnb?
So far, I have mainly used hostels and hotels, although I want to try couch-surfing and Airbnb.
What’s the budget you put together before travelling?
Being spontaneous can be expensive, so I plan my travels really far in advance. The first thing I allocate is the number of vacation days. I work in a company where they give me, according to Egyptian law, 21 vacation days. Plus, we have around 14 national vacation days, so that means I have 35 days, just like everyone else. In a simple calculation, one week is five working days, so 35 divided by five is seven: I can travel seven weeks a year, without including the compensations for working on weekends. Seven weeks a year is not little, so I plan them wisely.
Regarding the budget, it is all up to planning ahead to book cheap flights and accommodations. I have a travel plan for the whole year so that I know what countries I want to visit until December. I also sacrifice other things; every month, I allocate some money for travel instead of spending it on something else. People spend up to 1,000 LE a month on cigarettes, for example. I choose to spend money on experiences, so if you save 2,000 or 3,000 LE a month instead of putting it toward useless things, you have a good amount at the end of the year.
You have been across the five continents and very distinct cultures. What would you say is the thing they all have in common?
We humans are not that different in our humanity, whether we are in Canada, Egypt, or China. People are kind, welcoming, proud of their own culture, and peaceful. That’s why I want to encourage people to go and see the world, meet people, and encounter those who are different. For some people, life is going to work, going back to family, and spending time in an ahwa. But, I always say: life is much more than this. Go out, explore, and you will find things that you never thought existed.
How has travel changed the way you think?
Travel made me a happier person, even when I am not travelling, because I can see myself as a source of inspiration for others. When I receive messages from people who were encouraged to travel, I feel that I am doing something meaningful. Travelling made me accept others as they are; when I was younger, I tended to surround myself with people who are similar to me, but now I enjoy talking to people who are different because it gives your relationship with others a different dimension.
But I am a very proud Egyptian as well, and I love touring around my country. I still get goosebumps every time I take the plane back. I always tell my friends: travel, but never forget your own country. Travel the world, but don’t let it take away the pride for your nation. We need to be ambassadors for our nation.
Photography by #Mo4productions @mo4network
Photographer: Ahmed Najeeb