Sascha Grabow is an ATP-ranked tennis player turned extreme traveller. While we on this site focus on big travellers, Sascha will have to be mentioned as one of the absolute biggest. He is the second-highest ranked traveller on Nomad Mania’s list of 1,301 current world regions.
What are three of your favourite countries, and why?
Brazil because of the smiles, the ‘singing’ language, the beauty of the people, the adventure & diversity, the fearless- & utter naturalness of using the body as a communication tool. No one has conquered the scourge of timidity the way they have. I was once attending a live concert by their national orchestra performing Bolero at night on Copacabana Beach.
Namibia because of the tribes, space, the abundance of the big five, and the blue African sky.
Indonesia because of the endless new islands to explore, good maritime connections and friendly people.
What are three of your favourite travel moments, and why?
Prime minister’s compound in Bangui
When I stayed with expatriates in the prime minister’s compound in Bangui, the Central African Republic, including personal cook in livery, swimming pool & tennis court, especially after roughing it overland for the three months prior.
Reaching the high points of 50 countries
When I reached the summits of 50 countries, among them Mont Blanc, Elbrus, Damavand, Cameroon, Yu-Shan, Fuji, Teide, Zugspitze, Doi Inthanon, Mytikas, Kosciuszko, Kebnekaise, Phnom Aural, Ben Nevis, on solo-climbs without any financial means.
Traversing Congos on foot
When I was traversing both the smaller and larger Congo on foot, ‘escaping’ the authorities, staying with pygmées, eating snake, elephant, monkey, caterpillars and crocodile.
What are three of your worst travel moments, and why?
When I was getting locked up for two months in a kind of tiger cage, including a hunger strike and staged suicide attempt – all to no avail. I got locked up simply for arriving in the Solomon Islands, a country where I don’t even need a visa, by boat, joining the typical way locals do, and how it’s even recommended both in Wikitravel and Lonely Planet. Why did I get locked up?
For one, being so close to the Bougainville independence referendum, authorities were much more sensitive on the issue. Secondly, three months earlier, they caught a guy at the same border trying to smuggle fake currency for a self-declared 80-year-old religious leader, intend on founding his kingdom inside the country. And: Australians teach them, in best colonial area fashion, how to ‘guard’ borders, presumably making me fall into the ‘boat people’ category – even though the reasons for doing so, potentially too much immigration, are utterly absent. And: by now, too many families have experienced how it feels if a member ends up in detention trying to get into one of those coveted destinations – and if, for once, they can turn this situation around, then they will. Also, don’t carry newspapers, other articles, or a couple of books with you, as you’ll be seen as supremely suspicious by mostly illiterate counterparts.
Their police squad was famous for ironing their uniforms – but not much else. By the way, my embassy put their new volunteer on the ‘case’, someone entirely innocent to these kinds of scenarios – which didn’t precisely help or speed up proceedings. Eventually, Papua New Guinea soldiers picked me up, ‘repatriating’ me to their lands and subsequently forcing me to self-finance my deportation.
In general, I cannot divide up between ‘good’ and ‘bad’. One of the main reasons why I travel is to have new experiences. The unexpectedness. I’m specifically curious about finding out how far people go to feel secure from/against me – even if my only intention is to make new friends and further understanding between mine and their various cultures. So I’m quite willing to sacrifice comfort for this ulterior motive. In this regard, countries that live similar to what I’m used to through my upbringing, or where I’m not noticed because I blend in so well, are the most boring, thus equalling the lesser travel moments for me.
What are some of your best travel tips?
Living in 10 countries for a couple of months will add more to your well-being/maturity/ development/inner sense of accomplishment than merely setting foot to a hundred.
There is a vast difference between travelling with another or a group or going it alone. You won’t use your own language all the time; there’ll be less of an obstacle to immerse yourself in the local culture. Instead of instant reflection or evaluating every detail against your backdrop permanently, you spend your time allowing the newness to permeate you, so to say, without preconceived aims. In that regard, it’s also important to travel without too much of a plan or itinerary. Don’t impose on your surroundings, but let the journey transform you.
Try to travel – at least for a while – without or with little money. Not because you don’t have it, but because it almost forces you into intense situations and to closely interact with locals. Someone who paves their path with cash can never feel the delight of interactions absent of financial interest. There are plenty of other ways to balance and ‘give back’ for the hospitality received. You’ll be adequately self-sensitive to what is the correct ‘dose’ in no time. And forget about the concept to collect now – to make use of it later. Keep the equilibrium right there in the moment. It’s much more rewarding and will also benefit both sides instantaneously. Here it’s necessary to say that locals in these countries feel this kind of interaction to be the natural form. At the same time, westerners – often used to their Land-Cruiser-style guided tours – hardly ever seem to grasp this reality, seem to be, actually, very foreign to it. Please reflect on it for yourself why this is so.
Peace is one of your primary endeavours. Have you ever experienced the difference between meeting a Couchsurfer, someone you’ve never met before, or staying a single night at a good friend’s place – a friend who’s actually busy – simply for friends’ sake? Only one is elation – because both sides want it, each for their own reasons. Never ask anyone anything. Simply experience life and manhood. Be strong and brave enough to face the consequences of an individual life, and never lose your faith in people – as otherwise, you may as well stop living entirely. Those who don’t get this point are exactly the ones you don’t want to hang around in the first place. They, usually sadly only sometime before they must die as well, realise that their whole approach to life had been erroneous.
Get rid of the delusion to fulfilment through ticking every single church, bridge, mall, museum, etc. – spare yourself that, don’t make those travel websites your personal ‘slave master’. After so many years comes recognising their owners’ main motivation: to twist the odds, however subtly, in their own favour. Realise: the clubs are just another way for you to be made another’s follower, with inherent subjugation to their ‘rules’ – even rules that then can be added, altered or erased at any time, without prior notice. So: use the clubs to learn and make you aware of exciting and new destinations – and besides, keep things in perspective.
And, most importantly, don’t pass up the right time to find your mate. Nothing justifies having a higher priority.
What are your future travel goals?
I’ve been toying with the idea to get/co-own a sailing boat for some time. It would be an excellent way to reach some little-known islands and say goodbye to Covid simultaneously. If you happen to know some entertaining similar plans, they shouldn’t hesitate to contact me via Instagram, Facebook or YouTube.
Another marvellous project: someone I’ve met hitchhiking around Czechia has built his personal fortified icebreaker yacht, aimed at the massive adventure of crossing the Northwest Passage. Candidates who seriously consider this and are aware and under no illusions of the challenges, risks and hardships involved – please, let’s get together!
What’s the travel story you’ve told the most?
Getting attacked, circled, injured (fractured) and robbed by five guys pointing various handguns at me – and shooting – shortly after crossing the Gabon-Congo border. Enjoy this and other travel anecdotes in my book “Traveling – 30 Years Around The Planet”, available through the usual channels, Amazon, etc.
We consider this a big traveller
With this interview, this traveller is recognised as a big traveller by EveryCountryInTheWorld.com based on proper research. Every Country in the World is a website focusing on big travellers. You can find information about every country in the world on this site, including many unique tips and stories.
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