Global explorer Lee Abbamonte ’10 did not start off to break any records. He just likes traveling and meeting new people. But on Aug. 28, 2011, he entered Libya to become the youngest U.S. citizen to visit every country in the world. Abbamonte completed the feat in 32 years, 364 days — then remained overnight in Libya to celebrate his birthday in the war-torn country.
“If I had known there was actually a Guinness world record for being the youngest, I would have finished the list much earlier,” Abbamonte said.
An Italian man who visited every country before his 29th birthday in 2004 holds the world record, based on a list of 192 sovereign nations recognized by the United Nations. Overall, Abbamonte has visited 299 countries, territories and protectorates. These include places such as Kosovo, Taiwan and the Vatican City not on the United Nations list.
Abbamonte said gunshots erupted about 50 feet from his vehicle at a security checkpoint near the Libyan border, but he felt safe in the country. During the journey, he met a Libyan dissident returning home after decades abroad under the Muammar Gaddafi regime.
“He and his daughter were returning to Libya for the second time in 32 years to visit their family,” Abbamonte said. “The first time was the previous month.”
Abbamonte was born and raised in Connecticut and did not travel outside the United States until age 20, when he visited the United Kingdom. He said he immediately discovered a passion for global adventure that eventually led him to Thunderbird School of Global Management.
Abbamonte’s list of most memorable countries includes North Korea, Turkmenistan and Equatorial Guinea. He also considers his trip to Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania as a travel highlight. “From atop Uhuru Peak we witnessed the most amazing sunrise that you can see in Africa,” he said.