Flavio Ferrari Zumbini is a full-time traveller on his way to visit every country in the world. He has visited more than 150 countries, and he is the author of 10 books where he recounts his adventures in remote destinations. Before, he was a professional poker player.
What are three of your favourite countries, and why?
Kiribati is unknown to almost everyone and among the least visited countries in the world. However, it stretches for a massive portion of the Pacific Ocean. Even more, Kiribati extends in the western and eastern hemispheres, is above and below the equator. Therefore I stared at those tiny islands as a child there were on my globe. I always wanted to go there!
Afghanistan is a name that sounds scary to everyone. I included, and unfortunately, we can see now how the Taliban are back in power and threatening human rights. The danger was and is real. But since I made the firm decision to visit every country in the world, Afghanistan has been on top of the list. Alphabetically! I wrote down the missing countries continuously, and well, Afghanistan was always the first.
It is an exciting country with a unique history that gives you the thrill of an adventure, a wonderful nature, mysterious religions and mixed culture. Unfortunately is also an unlucky place, cursed by disasters and utterly poor. Nevertheless, it has been the most pleasant of all my trips. I also managed to get married with a vudù ritual!
What are three of your favourite travel moments, and why?
The Marathon in Afghanistan
I had a chance to run the Marathon of Afghanistan, the only sports event where men and women participate together. Young Afghan women run without a burqa or a male guardian. They can even overcome a man if they run faster.
I got permission to enter the Russian Cosmodrome based in Kazakhstan and observe the rocket launch with astronauts on board. I could feel the heat of the engines in the observation point from a distance of more than a mile.
After waiting months, I got a visa to enter Mount Athos, an autonomous community in Greece where only males are allowed. 2,000 monks pray ceaselessly since the first centuries, and they developed a unique way of worshipping. I am not religious but it was still moving and disturbing at the same time.
What are three of your worst travel moments, and why?
I embarked last minute on a summer expedition in the Gobi desert. I didn’t have much gear with me, but it was July and supposed to be warm. Well, more than one night, it snowed, and it was chilling. I couldn’t wash for ten days and was also punched by a Kazak for peeing in the wrong place while camping in the open air!
While visiting Samarkand, I felt sick and fainted under a statue of Tamerlane. Once I went back to the hotel, I felt much better soon, but diarrhoea continued for four days straight. After that, I really couldn’t leave the room, and my visa was expiring. Back then, Uzbekistan were strict and bureaucracy complicated. Anyway, I managed to exit the country last minute.
Cargo ship adventure
I embarked in Malta on a cargo ship to experience the open sea and pass through choke points that are so important in our world. Impressive, but simultaneously, a month without internet, alcohol and human interaction was dull and incredibly boring!
What are three of your best travel tips?
The tip is common advice but rarely fully understood. The things that you don’t need are not useless: They obstacles you and are ballast to your movements and freedom. The less, the better, and then it might be an excellent exercise for other areas of life.
I understand that travelling also means freedom, the privilege of deciding last minute what to do and how long to stay. But nowadays, thanks to YouTube, you can have a clear view ahead of almost every corner of the world. If you have travel experience, you know how much you will like a place and enjoy it. Planning makes things smooth, and you save a lot of money. Experience the freedom while planning!
Don’t buy specific insurances
Insurance is essential regarding your medical assistance. Don’t buy ridiculous insurances regarding delays, damaged items and so on. You lose money, have to fight to be reimbursed in the rare occurrence. The more the agencies push insurance, the more the suspect. I have seen a person adding 7 euros on his ticket for insurance about Qatar Airways going bankrupt, and his flight was a week later!
Do you have any favourite hotels or restaurants?
Taj Mahal Palace Hotel
My favourite hotel is the Taj Mahal Palace hotel. It is one of the very few luxurious hotels I booked in my life, but worth the price.
My favourite restaurant is the Kryivka in Lviv, a “secret” restaurant, you need to know the password, and then a huge man will open the door and test your alcohol skills before serving you food.
Do you have any favourite cities?
I think that the most beautiful cities from a naturalistic perspective are Rio, Capetown and Dar-es-Salaam.
What are some of the worst places you’ve stayed?
The worst place I stayed has been in Miami. I booked a cheap hotel, was there just for one night in between flights. I found myself in a pension where everyone was addicted to something. They live there for months. It was easy to chat because all the ashtrays were hanging from the windows in the backyard. They were always smoking and talking to each other. The lady next to me candidly told me that she was a prostitute but not receiving clients in her room. I found this place on Booking.com and really couldn’t imagine. Anyway, it has been fun.
What is another good travel story you haven’t mentioned so far?
On Easter Island, while checking in to Santiago, the person at the counter saw my flights: Easter Island to Santiago, then Madrid, Rome, Dubai, Hong Kong, Manila, Guam! Actually, in 4 days, I would have been again in the middle of the Pacific. I explained to her that I wasn’t as crazy as it seems. I had to go to Rome to collect my Eritrean visa personally. She felt such a pity for me that she upgraded me in
business to Santiago!
If you can only choose one:
Favourite airline: Emirates.
Favourite airport: Singapore.
Favourite city: Vienna.
Favourite island: Capri (Italy).
Favourite people: Bangladeshi.
Favourite small town: Bogo city in the Philippines.
Favourite travel book: Endurance, Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage.
Favourite travel movie: Ameliè.
Favourite travel website: Seat61.com