As the youngest American to visit every country in the world, Lee Abbamonte has more than a handful of stories to tell. From dodging bullets in the Lybian civil war to playing golf in Afghanistan, he has literally been through it all. While many tend to believe that simply visiting every country in the world will suffice the urge to travel year round, getting to know Abbamonte will make one realize that breaking records is only the first step of the operation. Abbamonte’s biggest thrill didn’t come from breaking multiple records in the world of travel, it came from setting foot in the extremely hard to reach South Pole.
We sat down with the ultimate adventurer to find out all about the thrills and tensions of traveling for a living and making it to one of the world’s most exclusive destinations.
How do you manage to travel for a living?
I have several different businesses all related to travel so essentially I’m a professional traveler. I like challenges; I like goals, stuff to keep me really motivated like that. I’m a totally normal guy; I’m not one of these nomad type people you know what I mean. I like to have a home base here in NY where I’ve lived my whole adult life, basically for 15 years. I love to travel and love to see the world, it really excites me but coming home also really excites me, which is why I think I’m still in NY. I think it’s the best city in the world.
What’s in the works for next year? Are there new records you’re trying to set?
I’ve already set the record so I’m going to do a lot of work trips. I’m going to the North Pole in April so I’m excited about that, and just doing a lot of cool stuff. The next thing that I’ll be doing is the Seven Summits, the highest mountains in each continent; I have done 2 so I have 5 more to go.
How much time do you normally spend in each place?
It varies. Out of the 193 countries I’ve been to 135 of them I’ve been to multiple times. So I mean, I often go back. Brazil for example I’ve been to 10 times. I’ve wanted to see different areas of Brazil, everyone goes to Rio or Sao Paulo but I like to go and see other places. I wanna see everything and I wanna do everything so I’ve spent months in India, China, South Africa, Brazil, places where there’s so much to do. Unless you have months to spare and do stuff it’s difficult to stay and see everything so I like to kinda go back. I also like to maintain a normal life back at home and be able to see family and friends so I don’t like to go away for like a year at a clip, I like to go away for a couple of weeks at a time.
How many languages do you speak?
Spanish fluently. I lived in Costa Rica and Venezuela for a while and I lived in Spain for a while. I’m pretty good with languages, I don’t claim to be fluent in the other romance languages but I’m pretty good with them. My accents are terrible so I won’t embarrass myself (laughs) but you know I’m pretty good with languages… But Spanish is the only one I claim to be fluent in.
How do you manage to get around the world speaking only 1 other language? Do you ever have a hard time communicating?
I think I’ve become a master in body language and honestly I taught myself to read seraglios to get around the eastern block countries because the signs are not in English so you have to get around things. I actually taught myself the alphabet in Arabic so I could at least read signs. Not everywhere has signs in English and their native tongue you know.
You tried making it to the South Pole last year and didn’t make it. How was it this time?
It was great. It was the greatest moment of my travel life. Such a high to be honest. It was crazy; it’s even hard to put in into words.
What made it particularly intense?
There’s a lot of factors into it. It was incredibly hard but more so than that, there has only been a couple hundred people in history that have actually been there. So that in of itself is really cool. The landscape, and the location- the fact that it is at the bottom of the world… It’s the South Pole! So its like one of those place, people are like “oh it’s the South Pole” but they never actually think that anyone goes there. So based on how hard it was to get to, and the fact that we failed last year and the amount of money and energy that it takes to get there… we thought we were going to fail again. It was such a rush, it was wonderful.
What was the biggest obstacle?
The weather. Everything in Antarctica revolves around the weather you know, especially talking about air travel within the ice. A lot of people take a boat and don’t even touch the continent; they just see the icebergs and all that kind of stuff. We actually flew to the ice and lived there for a couple of weeks so it’s a difficult experience. Being there you just see drastic changes in weather you can’t even fathom. And we were there for 10 days.
How do you get there, logistically? Are there any prerequisites, can anyone go?
Anyone with $75,000 can go. It’s $75,000 a person and there’s only 12 spots. So basically if it doesn’t sell out you have a chance to go but you’re not guaranteed to make it. And the pre requisites… you have to get a permit, you have to pay, you have to get approved by the Russians, then you have to get an air ticket from Cape Town to the Russian base which is your base camp essentially and basically you gotta wait for the weather. Then you can fly over. It’s pretty wild.
What was the highlight of South Pole, besides arriving?
Honestly everything about the trip was incredible. The piece I wrote about how I made it to the South Pole has over 100,000 views on my site. I think it has been a big success because it really explains my mindset and what was happening. It explains how we did. It wasn’t just arriving it was the tensions that built up over the 10 days we were there. We literally made it the last possible second, by the skin of our teeth, so it was really stressful. It was a huge rush and I was there with a couple of my good friends so that made it extra special as well.
How long were your stranded without knowing whether you were going to make it or not? Last time you got stuck waiting for the weather to change.
This time it was 8 days. You have to go with a flexible schedule. If they cancel your fight back to South Africa then you’re really fucked. They always tell you to book everything really flexible so I booked a couple of days before my scheduled departure day from South Africa and whenever I have to come back to South Africa I schedule my flight about 5/6 days afterwards in case there is delays.
How are the conditions? Is it difficult to do normal stuff?
Depends. At camp it was really nice this year but there are other parts of the continent that was not so nice so it’s hard to say. We did some really cool activities like ice caving, rock climbing, you do awesome hiking. We bring along a 5 star chef so it’s really cool. You go see penguins but the main goal is to get to the South Pole so if you do everything and then don’t achieve that it’s a really bittersweet thing to swallow. I dealt with it last year so this year we just decided to be able to make it.
How’s the food?
We had Louis Hamilton, the formula 1 champ; we had his personal chef as our chef this year. She made gourmet food, it was tremendous.