In 2019, Alexander Zhdanov became the youngest Russian to visit every country in the world. He completed the journey at the age of just 26, making him one of the youngest people in world history to complete the quest.
Please introduce yourself
My name is Alexander Zhdanov, I am the youngest Russian traveller to have visited all the countries of the world (193 UN countries plus territories). It took me more than 14 years. This is confirmed by diplomas from the Russian Book of Records and the Ukrainian Book of records. I am a TV presenter, have a popular Instagram account, and my biggest passion is travelling.
What are three of your favourite countries and why?
One of my favourite countries is the Kingdom of Bhutan, a little Asian country in the Himalayas that is lost on the great continent. The place is not very popular among tourists and it is not easy to get information about it. Smoking is not allowed in the whole country. There are a lot of national parks there.
Bhutan is among the countries with the lowest crime level in the world, there is no theft there. There are no traffic lights in the capital and there are almost no homeless people. The prices for hotel rooms are regulated by the government. Television was not allowed in this country until 1999. Nevertheless, the people of Bhutan are really friendly.
Everything that grows in this country is organic. Deforestation is prohibited in Bhutan. This country is one of my favourites and one of the most unusual places I’ve been to. They call it the Kingdom of Happiness. Only some pilots are allowed to land there.
My second favourite country is Australia. I found myself locked here one year ago. Two days after my arrival the country was locked because of COVID-19. During this year there was only one case of COVID-19 which was followed by a one-week lockdown in the state.
Generally, no one has to wear a mask here in Western Australia. This is the 6th biggest country in the world, it takes the whole continent. There are ten thousand beaches here and two hundred thousand animals. I love animals! But the best thing about this country is its people. I call them ‘sunny people’, they are really really friendly. They surf, they walk at the ocean and they enjoy life. I admire them for this love of life. So far I’ve been to Sydney, Melbourne, Darwin, and Adelaide. The city of Perth that I live in is my favourite place on the whole planet.
Another country which is among my favourites is Japan. It is a unique island country in Asia. On the one hand, Japan is a highly developed technical civilization. On the other hand, Japan is full of ancient traditions. I find it a good thing that Japan was a closed country for a long time, as it helped preserve national culture, exclusivity and otherness. It is amazing how they have kept traditions connected with the Emperor, the geishas, the samurais. The metro in Tokyo is absolutely astonishing! I also love the picturesque landscapes of this country.
Are there any countries you don’t like visiting?
The only country that I didn’t like was Bangladesh because I was attacked there. The reason is not only that they tried to take away my camera and hurt me, but that I got really scared for my life. It was then that I wondered for the first time in my life if I should go on travelling all over the world. And it was then that for the first time in my life after three days in a country I went straight to the airport and asked for a ticket to any destination away from that place. I have long visas open to many countries of the world, so I was able to do so and I never wish to come back.
What are three of your favourite cities, and why?
St. Petersburg, Russia
My favourite city is definitely the city I was born in – St.Petersburg, Russia. This is a city with European culture, with European ways of life, with plenty of wonderful museums, with an amazing embankment. My favourite time of the year is the season of White Nights when the bridges stay open – I find it very romantic and beautiful. I really love St.Petersburg. I could walk around the city forever. I know all the coffee shops in the city centre, I love going to the bookshops, admiring the bridges and the breathtaking architecture.
Another favourite city is Valencia, the City of Sciences. It used to be the capital of Spain. The place that I love most is Turia Gardens, the largest park in the Kingdom. Turia River used to flow through the centre of Valencia but later its course was altered and the dry riverbed was turned into Turia Gardens. It is a huge park taking more than 100 hectares. It is really exciting to walk in this large green space – you are actually walking in the former riverbed.
There is Gulliver Park for children there. The emblem of Valencia is a bat which brings victory. Valencia is also known as the homeland of famous Spanish paella. All of it makes the city my second favourite. That’s why I spent several winters there.
My third favourite city is Singapore. I adore the national symbol of Singapore – the orchid which is as beautiful as the city itself. Singapore, which is in the list of 20 smallest countries in the world, is situated on a big island. Nonetheless, it is a home for a great number of people. I like the symbol of the city, it’s a fish with a lion head, called Merlion.
Every September there is a festival in honour of this symbolic creature. Singapore can boast of a perfect climate, an interesting zoo, a sea port that can provide you with hours of walking. Personally, I see Singapore as an amazing modern city-state that conquers you at first sight.
What are three of the worst places you’ve stayed?
Dorint City-Hotel Bremen
The hotel itself is OK with a prime location. But there are some major downsides: more than half of the rooms are facing a bar street and you can’t do anything with the noise until morning. It’s a really loud noise! I was able to change the room after a lot of calls and visits downstairs.
The lady who came to the room threw the new key over to me. Disgusting behaviour! And the first room they offered was “the only one” accessible. After more complaints, they gave me another room, a good one. But I had to spend a lot of time for that. And, dear hotel, don’t apologize. You know it and you will do the same next time.
Yes, sorry, but I didn’t like everything in this hostel-like hotel: noise inside, loud bars outside, a tiny room, old furniture, run-down and uncomfortable. No, unless you have no choice in fantastic Granada! Had to leave after the first night.
Hotel “Ak Altyn”
If you want to experience the USSR time, this is an option, but prepare for a cheap shampoo, smelly pillows and worn-out carpets. The staff at the reception is amazing, but in the restaurant, they will call security if you want to see the menu before sitting there: Who are you? – is the main question in Turkmenistan.
Do you have any favourite hotels or restaurants?
Coral Sea Resort & Casino
Brand-new property with an awesome restaurant overlooking the sea. Small casino on the site. The room is OK as well, but the bed is suitable for one person only as it is narrow. Good option just outside the city centre.
Very nice W property got “it all”: modern rooms with stunning design, polite butlers, night life. Got some excellent views over the city! Oh yes, and the bed is so comfortable! Can highly recommend it!
Hidden gem! Gastropub Kompanya
Cool fresh place in the middle of the Petrograd area! Nice staff, amazing meals, healthy options! Love the atmosphere as well! Go for a romantic dinner or just a casual friendly meal!
Alexander has a Tripadvisor profile for more reviews, that you can find here.
What are three of your favourite travel moments, and why?
Seeing a gorilla family in the forest of Uganda
An unforgettable moment for me was the opportunity to see a gorilla family in the forests of Uganda. Mountain gorillas live in the impenetrable forest of Bwindi. There are only about 600 or 700 of them left, they live in small groups. It is really great luck to see them. To be able to do so, I’ve been walking for three hours, looking for gorillas with a local guide.
You have to book such a trip far in advance. These gorillas are highly intellectual and they are very much like humans. I was lucky to see a family of gorillas and I was so happy at the moment that I cried with joy. I was standing there, admiring the animals, wondering how much alike we were and how infinitely beautiful our planet is.
Tiger Game Reserve in South Africa
The second favourite travel moment was also in South Africa when I visited a tiger game reserve http://tigercanyon.com/ It was organized by John Varty. Many tigers, adult and young, were saved and brought to life here and we can enjoy these amazing encounters in this reserve not far from Cape Town.
Another favourite was an extraordinary railroad trip with Rovos Rail in Cape Town
You get on the train and feel like you are in the 18th or 19th century when there were no gadgets when people wore elegant clothes and looked so glamorous. There is a wonderful dining car where you can enjoy your meal while looking out of the window, watching the animals, the nature, and talking to the other passengers. Travelling through Africa by such a train is a really unforgettable experience.
Visiting Tristan da Cunha
One more favourite travel destination is Tristan da Cunha Archipelago, Saint Helena, in the South Atlantic Ocean. It is the remotest inhabited place in the world. The population is only about 260 people.
I was really lucky to get there as you can only do so twice a year when the expedition ship comes. I feel very happy to have done this, to have been able to get onto the expedition ship, to have walked on the island. This was a very precious and memorable experience for me.
(the photos I enclose were taken in Tristan da Cunha)
Hot balloon flight in Burma
And the last favourite travelling moment that I’d like to mention is a hot balloon flight over the Land of a Thousand Temples in Burma. You come there early in the morning, get up in the air and watch the sun coming up over all those beautiful ancient temples. This is really a once-in-a-lifetime experience!
What are three of your worst travel moments, and why?
Problems in Djibouti
I had an unpleasant experience in Djibouti, East Africa when I was trying to reach Lake Assal, the lowest saline lake. Problems started right at the border when the officials wouldn’t recognize the visa that I had in my passport. This bureaucratic moment was very disturbing.
They kept me for two hours at the border in Djibouti and did not want to let me in. As a result, I showed all my movements of the visa and was able to convince them that everything is fine with my visa and I have the right to enter the country. Often at the borders, they asked for a bribe, but I have never done this and will not do so.
Frightened to visit Libya
Another bad memory is about Libya. The day before I arrived, a passenger plane had been shot there and civilians had been hurt. It is really frightening to realize that you are flying to the country which is undergoing war and that you are flying to the same exact place, to the same airport where people suffered and you could actually suffer, too. It just ruins the whole joy of the trip, really.
No freedom in North Korea
North Korea provided another unpleasant moment which was connected with the fact that you can’t really explore the country yourself. You have to be with a group of tourists accompanied by a guide. You only get to see the central streets. You can’t rent a car and travel on your own. You are always with the group and the guide, you are shown the beautifully decorated central prospects and cafes and you have absolutely no chance to talk to the locals.
I can’t say it was the worst moment in my travels, but it was really unpleasant because I love to get to know the place through its people, talking to them, and asking about their opinions. I love visiting small cafes or interesting museums, looking at the beautiful nature – this is how I learn about the country. In North Korea, it was only possible under the strict surveillance of the guide and with his permission.
What are three of your best travel tips?
Don’t compare countries
One important travel tip is – do not try to compare the country you are visiting with the countries you visited before. As a rule, one does this and starts to consider the new country a more interesting or a less interesting one. My tip is – do not compare, come to the new place and enjoy it fully. When I arrive in a new country and step out of the plane, I smile at the country and in my soul, I ask it to show me the best of its treasures.
The country always answers back and I get to spectacular places, walk along interesting streets, try new delicious food, and admire the beauties of this place. So just smile at the new country and believe that it will show itself to you from the best possible points.
Bring small souvenirs from your country
Another tip is to take a small souvenir magnet from my country with me. Every time I was asked long boring questions about where I was coming from or where I was heading to, usually at the airports, I would take out the magnet and give it as a little present. I would explain it was a magnet with a photo of St.Petersburg, a big beautiful European city in a big far-away country, Russia.
People always smiled and accepted the present and our communication got much better, much easier after that. People were pleased to get a little souvenir from a place they would probably never visit, but they have definitely heard of Russia and they were glad to receive this sign of attention.