You know you’re well-traveled when the Guinness Book of World Records comes knocking on your door.
Liliana Schmid – along with husband Emil Schmid – hold the Guinness World Record for the longest driven journey.
Just how long?
As of August 3rd, 2013, they’ve journeyed 427,817 miles (688,505 km), visited 176 countries and territories, driven 19,175 hours, and crossed 493 borders – all in their Toyota Land Cruiser since October 16th 1984.
And they’re still going strong.
But the best part?
Liliana’s shares her insider secrets of being one of the greatest women travelers ever in this interview…
Interview with Liliana Schmid
How and when did you decide to drive around the world?
Well, it was not exactly my decision:
On a cold autumn day in Switzerland, Emil approached me with the suggestion: “Why do we not make a break in our routine lives and explore the world?” He was talking of Africa, of the Sahara Desert, of safaris, of adventure.
As excited as it sounded, leaving behind my aging mother and my satisfying job of 15 years as a secretary was way off what I could imagine. A “No” was my first reaction. Emil being a very persistent man came up with his idea again and again.
And finally I gave in: “OK, one, maximum two years” I told him. One year later, on October 16, 1984, our journey began.
How difficult was it to forget the idea of living a traditional life?
Leaving behind my traditional life did not really bother me.
I trusted Emil 100% and I knew that I was in good hands. I am a person who does not worry in advance. I jump into the cold water and then see how I get out. Having in mind that after maximum two years I would return, I decided to take the plunge.
Nevertheless, I had a nervous breakdown before leaving.
It was simply too much: Cleaning the apartment, storing all our furniture and stuff of 15 years of marriage (it is still in storage!) and then changing our itinerary at the last minute due to political turmoil in Nigeria took its toll.
What car and gear do you use for your adventures?
My new “Home” for now almost 29 years is a LandCruiser FJ 60, year 1982. We fitted it out so we can sleep inside. To cook we use a 5 pound propane gas bottle. To shower, a 5 gallons jerry can of water that is stored on the roof rack. To free ourselves in the sand, we carry four “sand ladders” with us.
And of course we have many tools for car repairs, as well as car spare parts, which are more and more difficult to find due to its 31-years’ of age. A camping table and chairs, a petroleum lamp, a warm sleeping bag, winter and summer clothes, a tent and a backpack for trekking, a hot water bottle for freezing nights are part of our equipment.
The most important things to me are: The pressure cooker, the water purifier, the mosquito net, the digital camera and the laptop.
What packing advice can you give women?
Pack lightly – it makes traveling so much easier. Often I am so sorry seeing women with two heavy backpacks – one in front and one on the back – and still some plastic bags in the hands.
Don’t forget your medicine. Not everywhere, everything is available and not everywhere without medical prescription just over the counter (e.g. In Malaysia and the UAE).
What is your favorite city or country? Why?
It is hard to pick a single one because each country and each city have their own “specialties”, but of course there are some front runners:
- Papua New Guinea I liked for its different tribes with their unique costumes and paintings, highlighted at the Goroka and Mt. Hagen Shows.
- Chile I appreciate because it offers everything: From desert, glaciers, volcanoes and coastal areas. I loved the solitude and untouched nature – a camper’s paradise.
- Oman – where we were just recently – offers deep Arabian tradition, great hospitality, a unique scenery and security. I have no worries at all to camp out in the wild.
I could mention many more like e.g. Taiwan with its Chinese culture, probably still being more identical than China proper where we have not been yet because of the horrendous costs involved.
But if I would have to choose right now where to spend the rest of my days, it would be Moorea (the sister island of Tahiti) in the South Pacific. Life is peaceful; the sea is azure blue; the scenery outstanding and the women still wear a shiny flower behind their ear: For me it is just paradise!
What was your least favorite city or country? Why?
Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. I did not find the people very friendly. It may be coincidence, but it was in this region where we had our most frightening encounter with bandits, equipped with knives, who blocked the road with their car. That we finally could escape unharmed by ramming their car was pure luck. But our car was totally dented on one side.
What was your biggest culture shock abroad?
“Incredible India” was a complete culture shock. Everything with legs and wheels is on the roads – from people, cows, rickshaws, bicycles, trucks, buses: The masses of people are just incredible.
We spent three months circumnavigating India, seeing the poorest of the poorest in Calcutta, attending the religious rituals at the Ganges River in Varanasi, watching women carrying heavy loads on their heads in Rajasthan and admiring the wonderful temples all over.
However what affected us the most was the lack of privacy. Whenever we stopped we were surrounded by a crowd of curious people. As a result, I stopped cooking. Leaving India, we were both very slim again!
The country’s slogan “Incredible India” fits 100%.
What tips can you give travelers on how to keep their travel inexpensive?
- Take an immersion heater. Together with a cup, a plate, knife, fork and spoon you will be able to prepare your breakfast or light meals in the room or make a cup of hot noodle soup.
- Choose places where locals eat. Restaurants catering for tourists always have inflated prices.
- Don’t be ashamed to wrap up your leftovers in a restaurant. It is common in many countries.
- Book your accommodation through the internet. They mostly have promotions. If you just walk in, they charge rack rates.
If you are travelling with a car:
- Sleep in the car, do your own cooking, buy your vegetables on the market, do your own car maintenance – that helps enormously to reduce costs.
With a bit self control and discipline you will see soon that it does not cost a huge amount of money to travel around the world.
Who is the most inspirational person you’ve met on your travels?
Well, it is not exactly one single person. It is the women in Africa. Despite of hardship, they always have broad smiles on their faces.
What challenges have you faced being a woman traveler?
In some fundamentalist Muslim countries a woman is not addressed directly by men. For example: At a press conference in Yemen, journalists posed the questions for me through Emil. This is their culture, I have to accept it.
When I was taking a shower at a campground in Mexico, suddenly a man came in. I shouted and he left. From then on, Emil was standing guard in front of the women’s shower.
Apart of that, I was not bothered in any sense as I do always follow the common sense.
My advice is: Dress properly. To walk around in mini shorts in an Islamic country, or to wear tops showing breasts is inappropriate and can be misinterpreted.
What advice or tips can you give women travelers?
- Walk determined through the streets. If you look hesitant, you might be a target.
- Avoid empty streets at dark.
- Keep a low profile.
- Be sensitive to others and respect their country.
- A smile goes a long way!
How has travel changed you?
- I need less to be happy.
- I do not take everything for granted; I am more appreciative of things.
- I take more risks.
- I became more tolerant about other cultures and religions. Not, my culture is the only “right” one. I am not a judge, I am a guest.
- I became more independent and self-confident.
- I am more optimistic that things will finally work out.
- I have learned to improvise and to adapt to always new situations.
- I feel closer to nature, enjoying immensely what “Mother Nature” produces.
Any other thoughts or advice for our women readers?
- Be prepared for the unexpected – it avoids frustration.
- Do not squeeze too much into your itinerary. Taking your time is the best way to fully enjoy places and moments.
- Some ways of life may look completely strange to you. Accept it! You do not have to understand it.
- Remember that you are always a guest in another country and be sensitive to their cultures and faiths.
- Live in the present and not in the future.
The idea is…
“Life is not measured by the number of breaths we take, but by the places and moments that take our breath away.”
Thank you Liliana Schmid for participating in this interview. For more info on Liliana Schmid, please visit www.weltrekordreise.ch.