Harry Mitsidis is the founder of Nomad Mania and he is one of the world’s biggest travellers. He has visited every country in the world and is the number one ranked traveller on Nomad Mania. NomadMania divides the world into 1,301 regions based on territory, population, diversity, economy and tourist appeal. Of the 1,301, Harry has visited more than 1,200.
What are three of your favourite countries, and why?
I dislike this question because it really forces me to narrow things down. But my final choices are:
This is my emotional favourite. I can’t rationally explain it, but it is the only country I am so happy to arrive in and so sad to leave from.
My rational favourite. It has everything – great food, friendly people, beautiful small villages, cosmopolitan towns, fabulous islands (Madeira and the Azores), beaches, mountains and a very strong culture.
The place is just incredibly exotic at every turn. Despite the obvious dangers, I have been three times and every time is better. An incredible mix of diverse people, glorious mountains and a constant adrenalin high.
What are three of your favourite cities, and why?
Luang Prabang, Laos
There is something uniquely serene and holy about this place, something nostalgic and yet eternal. Love it.
This may be stretching the definition of ‘city’ but I will include it anyway. What a surprise. Small and compact and with enough historical monuments to keep you for days – and a great atmosphere in the central square.
Again a nostalgic place that seems like it comes from 80 years ago. A slow, culturally rewarding town; where else in Africa can you have cappuccino and pizza like here?
What are three of the worst places you’ve stayed?
Hotel full of refugees in Astana, Kazakhstan
In Astana, I once stayed at a dreadful hotel which was full of Tajik refugees. The sanitary conditions were truly atrocious in every way.
Bench at Stockholm Railway Station, Sweden
If any place I have slept at counts, then the bench at Stockholm Railway Station back in 1995. Probably far more sanitary than the hotel in Astana, but certainly not a peaceful night.
Police Station in Yemen
The night in a cell at the police station in Al Gaydah, Yemen, takes the cake (see below for more).
What are three of your favourite travel moments, and why?
Completing the quest to visit every country in the world
Landing in Equatorial Guinea at midnight between March 20 and March 21, 2008. That was the moment I reached my last UN country. I just can’t underestimate the mix of feelings that I had at getting there. I wanted to scream with joy!
Potala Palace, Lhasa, Tibet
Seeing the Potala Palace in Lhasa for the first time. I remember I was just walking down the avenue at Lhasa, and then suddenly, from in between the buildings at a corner, I saw this incredible sight. I was gobsmacked and couldn’t take my eyes off it as if hit by electricity.
ETIC event in Colombia
In early 2020, ETIC (Extreme Traveler International Congress) had an international traveller event in Colombia which involved a trek to remote areas formerly occupied by the FARC. I think the whole experience, along with so many big travellers all together, ranks up there – it was like the culmination of my travel ‘career’. Ironically this was just before the pandemic, which will possibly change travel forever, so it couldn’t have been better timed.
What are three of your worst travel moments, and why?
Arrested in Yemen
Being arrested in Yemen for illegally crossing the border. I guess I deserved it, but it was truly scary to spend the night in a cell and not know what will happen next. It’s at moments like these that your whole life comes back into your mind.
Getting food poisoning on a flight between Mexico and the Dominican Republic and feeling I am going to die – ended up spending the whole time in the Dominican Republic (that was my first time in Santo Domingo back in 2002) closed in my hotel drinking everything from the fridge.
Losing my camera somewhere on the way from the Aland Islands to mainland Finland. My camera is like my window to the world, and I lost all my photos from the Aland islands – which just means I certainly need to visit again!
But as you see, none of these experiences have been really devastating. Even in the bad, I believe you learn things and travel is worthwhile no matter what.
What are three of your best travel tips?
Don’t read up before you travel
Especially not safety advice from your government! And don’t get too much information on where you’re going. Just let yourself be surprised.
Be a good ambassador for your country
Always be friendly and polite even when people seem rude and pan-faced, challenge them to smile and see how they react!
Nomad Mania’s Bizzarium Series
Go to NomadMania’s Bizzarium Series and try to visit most of the items there – nothing like quirkiness to keep the sense of humour alive! My personal favourite is the décor at Belgrade’s Lorenzo and Kakalamba restaurant.
Why did you start Nomad Mania?
It was a combination of many reasons. Firstly, I was really disappointed by the existing websites of the type, both in terms of the travel lists they proposed, which made no sense to me, and in their (lack of) a sense of real community. Second, I strongly believed that the travel community could use a reasonable list of regions that make sense in terms of where a traveller should aim to go to. And thirdly, I had just decided to stop lecturing and was looking for something challenging that would occupy me for a long time. I certainly wasn’t wrong as far as that is concerned – I have created a ‘monster’ which takes up a lot of time!
What are the top 5 most difficult Nomad Mania regions to visit in your opinion?
I certainly think that Heard and McDonald, Bouvet island and probably the United States Minor Outlying Islands are among the hardest due to their being inaccessible by any regular means of transport. To be honest, I am not quite convinced these should be Nomad Mania regions in the first place, given how small and insignificant they are and that there is nothing to really see and do there, nothing to make a traveller ‘grow’. But this is another question. There are then always some regions which are problematic because of war and conflict. At the moment, I would say that the big problems are with Southern Libya or South Sudan – there is no reasonable way of getting there now. But this can change based on political factors.
What’s the most difficult Nomad Mania region you have been? and how did you manage to visit it?
Based on how many people have visited regions, the least visited that I went to was Southern Somalia. That is the Somalian region that includes Kismayo, that borders Kenya. The people who have been there are those who made it before the problems in Somalia began, in the 70s or 80s when doing these parts of the world was relatively simple. Along with another three travellers, I made it there last November. We flew in – that much was not hard – and were told that we are the first group to visit this place since 1990. To be honest, I didn’t find it dangerous at all, but that may be because our security team did such a good job. You never know how unpredictable these places can become at a moment’s notice.
What are the most dangerous places to drive?
Oh, there are a number. On the one hand, mad drivers. In that case, I would say India or Egypt, they drive as if they are possessed and every time you enter a vehicle you need to say a prayer. On the other hand, there is the issue of bad roads and non-existing infrastructure, which may make driving dangerous – I think there is this road in Bolivia which is considered a real death trap. Personally, I have never really been scared when driving or being driven.
What’re your top 5 favourite Nomad Mania regions and why?
I suppose it’s those that I’ve been to the most times without a real reason to go. I love Serbia, especially the northern Vojvodina region, a fantastic combination of faded Austro-Hungarian ambiance, Slavic former socialist culture and, creeping from the south, the inevitable Ottoman influence. I also like Portugal’s inland Alentejo region for being so traditional, with fantastic villages seemingly stuck in time decades ago. I love Brazil’s southernmost state, Rio Grande de Sur, which is split in two regions in Nomad Mania – I’m actually missing the western half of this state but have been countless times to the state capital, Porto Alegre. I would also distinguish Iran’s western region, where Kermanshah and Sanandaj are located; this is distinctly off the beaten track with lots of notable sights. And finally, Laos’ northern province, with Luang Prabang, really stands out for me.
How many days have you travelled in your life?
I’m not really counting, and that really depends a lot on how you define travel. Does a trip for work count? Does a day when I am away from home somewhere exotic but I just lie by the beach count as ‘travelling’? One always ends up with definitional problems. But I’d say, to give a rough estimate, around 4,500 days, which would mean around 13 years. That’s about 2/5 of my life so far.
In which region have you spent the most amount of time?
That would be Greece – Attica, Central and West, where I grew up and went to school, 12 years of that cannot be surpassed by any other region even if nowadays I spend less than 15 days a year there.
What counts as a visit to a region?
This is a very thorny question. Nomad Mania is having a Conference this summer on the island of Faial in the Azores and our Committee members will be required to discuss just that, what exactly counts as a visit. But generally, Nomad Mania is rather strict in this, certainly more so than other clubs of this type. We absolutely reject airport transits and even rail transits through regions, and have expelled members who refuse to comply with this definition. I personally believe that you need to have a memorable experience within the region and interact with somebody who is in the region as well. I wouldn’t go so far as to require an overnight or even very much time in a region. Egypt’s southernmost region with Nomad Mania features Abu Simbel. This is a fabulous, iconic place, but you can fly in, go straight to the site, see it in a couple of hours and then go right back and fly out. I would say this is certainly a visit.
What’s your goal with Nomad Mania?
I dream of a world where everybody has a profile and a registered number of regions they have been to. Obviously, this is not going to happen. My realistic goal has already been achieved – our Masterlist of 1281 regions is now generally accepted in the community as a legitimate, valid travel list (and some people have said it is the ‘best’ list, but this is not the aim anyway). I would like to see Nomad Mania become as good as it can, with more international members from small and developing countries, and hopefully become a place which can then help underprivileged people grow and see something of the world; in fact I envision it becoming some sort of travel charity, because I truly think that travel makes the mind and soul grow like nothing else. People from poorer countries don’t travel and that is so sad.
In five years from now, how many members do you expect to have?
We are really not into quantity. In fact, in the last months, we have deleted a large amount of inactive member profiles (we did contact everyone with a warning!). It’s a very big trap to look at the world through quantity alone, even though the media and most people do that and even though our website, on the surface, seems to have a quantitative list. So, the question of the number I will not answer. Our only legitimate aim is to try to mobilise as many people as possible who like to travel and have them regularly return and update their profile on Nomad Mania.