Scott Murray catches up with Bangkok-based American Rick Gazarian aka Global Gaz, who before the COVID-19 pandemic set in had traveled to 142 countries. His ultimate aim is to travel to all 193 countries on the globe. We find out what makes him tick, how he got started on his quest, and why he keeps going.

Please tell us a little about yourself: where you born and raised, what you studied, your profession, etc. - this will form a short intro to the piece

I was born in Boston, went to university at Boston College, and worked for many years in financial services both in Boston and Chicago. This came to an end in 2008 during the Great Recession when I was laid off. To celebrate I embarked on an eleven-month trip around the globe. During this trip, I knew I did not want to go back to corporate life. When I got back to the US, I made travel a much bigger part of my life and also started my own business. Today, as a travel blogger I am sharing content about must-see places, unique experiences, and off the beaten path locations as I try to travel to every country in the world.

Why did you first come to Thailand and why have you stayed?

The first time I traveled to Thailand was in 2005 when I spent four weeks exploring Bangkok and some of the islands. But in 2012, I came for several months to volunteer and avoid the Chicago winter. I had read a book about Father Joe Maier, an American priest, who moved to Klong Toey in the 1970s. I was inspired after reading that book and decided I wanted to volunteer at the Mercy Centre, which I did for two years as I taught English a couple of days a week at two kindergartens.

https://globalgaz.com/volunteering-in-the-slums-of-bangkok-klong-toey/

How did you first catch the global travel itch?

I caught the travel fever multiple times, whether it was when I traveled to Hong Kong as a kid with my family, trips all over the US when working for corporate America, or two extended global trips between job changes. But, it was really in 2009, when I did a global trip and began counting countries. In the back of my mind, I had decided that I would travel to every country in the world. And as I traveled that year, I visited 17 new countries. Since I was starting to count countries this acted as a catalyst to visit some countries that most people would not visit on a typical year abroad such as Syria, Yemen, and East Timor.

How can you afford to do what you do?

I have two ways to pay the bills. After getting laid off, I started my own real estate business in Chicago. I set it up in such a way that I can manage it remotely. I am also a travel blogger/content creator. I generate some money with my travel business. But, I have also partnered with some companies, like G Adventures and Untamed Borders. These companies send me on trips to promote their companies and create content.

https://globalgaz.com/trekking-chimpanzees-uganda/

What was the last country you visited before the COVID-19 crisis and what number country visited was that?

I had just started a month-long trip in West Africa. I had arrived in Senegal when there were only a couple of cases of COVID. I spent the week exploring the country and then crossed into Gambia. After reading the tea leaves and noting how quickly borders were closing, I decided I needed to cancel my trip. I purchased a ticket for the next morning, left Gambia, and arrived in Bangkok on the 17th of March. I have been self-sheltering since then in my apartment. I was really disappointed to cancel my trip, but in the big scheme of things, it is just a tiny inconvenience. I will be back again to visit the remaining four countries from that road trip.

https://globalgaz.com/boy-interrupted-travel-in-the-time-of-covid/

What was the 100th country you visited and was there any reason for making that country number 100?

Yes, there was some thought put into my 100th country. I wanted it to be a bit out-of-the-box and memorable. I boarded a flight out of Dubai, and a couple of hours later I touched down in Erbil, the capital of Kurdistan. I spent five nights exploring the northern part of Iraq. It was a bit surreal since my visit coincided with some of the fiercest fighting with ISIS. Erbil was a mere 80km from Mosul, on the front line. I would see soldiers ambling around town with their AK-47s, as I munched on a chicken shawarma.

https://globalgaz.com/100th-country-kurdistan-iraq/

What are some of the more fascinating places (good) you have visited and why?

I have been so lucky and so fortunate to have traveled to some of the places I have been to. I will share several incredible experiences. I was able to visit the Grand Mosque of Djenne in Mali. This is the largest mud structure in the world in an unstable area of Mali. I arrived at sunset and was able to explore the mosque in solitude. I was also able to visit the Golden Temple in Amritsar in India. This had been on the bucket list for a while, and it did not disappoint - a truly beautiful place. I had a recent visit to Afghanistan, and it was a fascinating country: a great mix of history, culture, and natural beauty. I was able to watch their national sport, Buzkashi. This game is played on horse, like polo, but the ball is a dead goat.

https://globalgaz.com/visiting-the-great-mosque-of-djenne-mali/
https://globalgaz.com/what-you-need-to-know-when-visiting-the-golden-temple/
https://globalgaz.com/watching-buzkashi-in-afghanistan/

What are some of your favourites - places you would go back to in a heartbeat and why?

Armenia. I have been here every year since 2003, and I am always looking forward to my annual visit I am ethnically Armenian, so I have a strong connection there. I have stayed here as long as four months at a time, and I have spent six months volunteering here over two different stints. Yerevan, the capital, is a highly walkable cosmopolitan city with tons of great cafes and restaurants. And the country is perfect for road trips. On the same day, you can visit a 1000-year-old monastery, drink wine at the vineyards, and have Khorovats (local BBQ) in a lush valley for dinner.

https://globalgaz.com/yazidis-in-armenia/

Are there some places you would never go back to under any circumstances? Why?

There is only one country that would make that list. It is the small Pacific island named Vanuatu. I had a great itinerary planned for this country, including a visit to a live volcano. But, on the plane ride over I started to feel sick and ended up visiting a hospital. And immediately after that, I left Vanuatu to fly to Bangkok for more medical care.

I wrote a tongue-in=cheek piece on my visit, questioning whether my visit to Vanuatu even counted. I had only seen my hotel, the hospital, and the airport during my visit. Somehow my post ended up in some Vanuatu Facebook groups. I ended up joining the group, and scores of people were cursing me, threatening to kill me, and even promising to throw me into the Mt. Yassur, the active volcano. In my post, I had criticized the lack of hygiene at the hospital, and the locals did not take kindly to my feedback. I had originally planned on revisiting this island, but after all of the threats, I have decided not to.

https://globalgaz.com/have-i-really-been-to-vanuatu/

What's still under your bucket list - I mean, I'm sure the entire world, but when do you specifically yearn to go that you haven't been yet?

There are 193 countries in the world according to the UN. I have visited 142 of them. So, my bucket list is the next 51 countries. But, I also have a very long bucket list beyond visiting all of the countries. This could be an entire article in its own right.

I am looking forward to visiting Djibouti, a country found on the horn of Africa. I am dying to visit Lac Abbe, a remote area with an amazing surreal landscape. High on my list is to visit Mada'in Saleh in Saudi Arabia. This is a similar complex to Petra in Jordan except with barely any tourists. Another visit I am looking forward to is Papua New Guinea. In many ways, this is an unexplored country. I was supposed to be there in May, but that trip obviously was canceled.

Can you give us a couple humorous incidents that have happened to you during your journeys?

Years ago, I bought a car in Budapest and drove it to Yerevan in a 17-day rally over 7,000 km. Many countries are very concerned that you will enter their country with a car but end up selling it without paying taxes. So, when I drove into Armenia, they provided me with paperwork that required me to leave the country in 14 days with my car. Armenia was the last country of my road trip and my plan was to sell the car there. But, after a week collaborating with some local friends, no one could determine the appropriate paperwork. With time running out, I drove my car to Georgia. I exited Armenia and received the proper exit paperwork for Armenia. Between the two countries, was a 300 metre no man’s land. I left my car in that area and walked back into Armenia, car-less.

https://globalgaz.com/threw-away-car-mans-land/

What about dangerous ones - please list a few.

I have traveled to challenging countries like Afghanistan, Somalia, and Mali. The US State Department ranks them as Level 4, which is “Do Not Travel”. In general, I have been very fortunate without any major safety incidents when traveling.

In Hargeisa, Somalia, most people were really quite welcoming. But, twice locals threatened me, once with a hammer and another with a drill. Other locals intervened and calmed them down. I visited a local market as well, and literally ran out after the merchants became hostile. My offense: I was holding a camera. Not taking photos, but just holding the camera.

https://globalgaz.com/somaliland-an-overview/

In Cambodia, I drove a tuk-tuk for about 1,600 km in a rally. On a bad dirt road, I flipped the tuk-tuk and it ran over me. I got banged up quite a bit. I ended up getting stitches at a local clinic while sitting on the outside deck with a dog roaming about. The stitches didn’t take, and I had to get re-stitched a second time when I eventually got back to Bangkok.

https://globalgaz.com/hit-the-road-cambodia/

Do you do most of your trips solo, and do you ever hook up with fellow global travelers like yourself?

Over the years, I have traveled in every conceivable fashion. I have done everything from solo trips to group trips with strangers. I have traveled with friends and friends who are traveling to every country in the world. I have traveled to some countries where I have friends who live there or met friends of friends. And I also travel with my wife to many countries as well. I find traveling solo to be an effective method of travel. Being selfish allows you to cover more ground and to see what you really want to see.

Advice for wannabe global travelers (people who would like to globetrot like you)?

Sure. First, simply get out there. Make a plan, go online, book a trip. Don’t procrastinate and don’t make excuses. Other thoughts, you should try volunteering. Volunteering allows you to create genuine friendships and have deeper, authentic experiences while traveling overseas.

How do you think the COVID crisis will affect travel long-term, specifically you getting to faraway remote spots?

I am hoping for the best but concerned about the worst. Travelers have been so fortunate over the past years. Visas are getting easier and easier to get. Flights have multiplied, providing for so many cheap options. And the internet provides you with all the information you need to make your plans. The barriers to travel in most cases have been greatly reduced.

I am concerned that possibly in the near future, there will be a trend of borders becoming more difficult to cross. I assume there will many airlines shutting their doors due to this economic collapse. I can also imagine less flight options and higher prices. There might also be unrealistic health requirements when entering a country. So, there might be a trend to less globalization and less travel in the future (For more go to globalgaz.com).

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