Robert Upe meets the young American who has visited every country in the world, who says that true paradise can be found in Australia.
Lee Abbamonte is a New Yorker in a bigger hurry than most. The 34-year-old is the youngest American to visit every country in the world.
Along the way, the former Wall Street finance executive has ducked gunfire in Libya and raced camels along the beach in Kenya (he finished third)
But of all the places he has visited, it is Australia's own Lord Howe Island he nominates as "paradise on Earth".
Writing for Conde Naste recently, he said: "I don't know what paradise awaits in the next life, but I do know that paradise on Earth is located on Lord Howe Island. It is quite possibly the most perfect place in the world. Unspoiled and empty beautiful beaches dot the island and entice divers, surfers and romantics alike. It is breathtaking."
Abbamonte's round-the-world quest started as a mission to visit all 193 countries that are members of the UN, but since achieving that goal last year he has taken his wanderlust one step further.
He is now on a mission to travel to all 321 countries, territories and disputed regions as defined by the Travelers' Century Club, a US-based organisation of globetrotters.
So far, he has lugged his suitcase to 306 of them.
To claim the record as the youngest person to get to all 321, Abbamonte will have to beat Charles Veley of San Francisco, who accomplished the feat when he was 37 years, nine months and 17 days old.
Abbamonte has a trip coming up soon that will tick off another eight countries to put him within seven countries of the goal.
The upcoming trip is in South America and the South Atlantic, including Chile and Ascension Island.
Abbamonte says: "Nothing is better than meeting people in their own country and feeling a part of what they and their family do. It is an amazing hobby and surely beats knitting."
Q: What was it about Lord Howe Island that made you describe it as "paradise"?
A: It is a special place because it is relatively unknown or at least unvisited, even for Australians. It is also a World Heritage Site, beautiful and pristine. Everything is so well kept, easy and the people are so nice. It is a true paradise because everything is perfect. Not to mention, Neds Beach is fantastic and so are the hikes and views of the island.
Q: When were you there, for how long?
A: I was there for three days in April 2011 and wish I could've stayed longer.
Q: What do you think makes a good travel destination?
A: For me, I love beaches, hiking and adventure activities plus great food and nice people. I also think that a remote or hard-to-get-to location add to the lore of a place and your mindset when you actually get there. Fitting for Lord Howe Island.
Q: Have you travelled extensively elsewhere in Australia?
A: I have been to every state and many of the remote islands including Christmas Island, Cocos (Keeling), Norfolk Island and several on the Great Barrier Reef and in the Coral Sea. I have also been all over the Northern Territory and Western Australia. I love the Aussie people, their attitudes toward others and their own lives. I love the healthy outdoor lifestyle and the beach mentality.
Q: When and why did you make it a goal to travel to every country in the world?
A: It was never my intention to travel to every country in the world but sometime in 2006 a friend emailed me about the record and I had already been to about 125 without even trying to go everywhere. So I decided to go for it as I had plenty of time left.
Q: How can you afford to do it?
A: I work on the road as a travel writer for my site and a few other major travel publications such as Conde Nast Traveler, but for years I worked on Wall Street, did well and saved up my money.
Q: You must have a lot of frequent flyer points?
A: I've accumulated over 4 million frequent flyer miles on various airlines. I have used a lot of them to fly free and to upgrade seats.
Q: Where would you never go back to?
A: Nigeria. Everyone wanted to rob me blind in Lagos. For instance, I had two different cops try to rip me off by threatening to throw me in jail for no reason, just so I'd give them money. I didn't, and they backed off both times. Also, three times an ATM in Lagos shortchanged my friend and I. That has never happened to me anywhere else in the world - ever. It was also oppressively hot, brutal traffic, dirty and the hotels and everything else were outrageously overpriced. It was a terrible experience and I feel badly saying that because I love Africa.
Q: Why do you like to travel?
A: I learn about the world, people and places in ways I could never get from a book, the internet or television. I experience firsthand what people dream of doing and it gives me a sense of fulfilment that I cannot explain. Only real travellers know what this feeling is to go to a country where you know nothing of the language, people or customs and flourish in that arena.
Q: Biggest travel blunder you've ever made?
A: I've been fortunate not to make too many but probably just messing up a date for a flight because of the international date line. It can get pretty confusing if you're flying around Fiji, Tonga, Samoa and that area.
Q: What is the best piece of travel advice you have ever received?
A: Pack half the clothes and twice the money.
Q: What is the best piece of travel advice you have to offer?
A: When travelling in the developing world - especially Africa - bring Tabasco sauce ... it makes everything taste better.
Q: Do you have a favourite quote about travel?
A: "Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn't do than by the ones you did do." - Mark Twain.
For more from Lee Abbamonte, visit his website at leeabbamonte.com
The story 'The most perfect place in the world' belongs to Australia first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.