A trio of Coca-Cola contest winners just completed one of the most amazing travel feats on record and the craziest thing to me is that they're not getting any media attention. I'm baffled.
Tony Martin, 30, a native of Washington, D.C., Kelly Ferris, 24, a university student from Brussels and Antonio Santiago, 25, a university student from Mexico City, just completed travel to 186 countries in just 363 days.
I first met the three winners of Coca-Cola's Happiness Ambassadors contest in November 2009 when I was invited to Coca-Cola's headquarters for their big announcement. My entire flight to Atlanta, I scratched my head, wondering why hadn't heard about it so I could have applied! It turned out the contest drew a ton of publicity outside the U.S., which is why I was left out in the dark and probably you too.
The trio's journey began on January 1 in Madrid, Spain and ended on December 31 in Atlanta, Georgia. Along the way they made appearances at marquee global events, such as the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Winter Games in Canada, the FIFA World Cup in South Africa, and the World Expo 2010 in Shanghai, China. I know it made me green with envy, too. Here is one of their first interviews (if not the very first) as a team, which I filmed back in 2009. But below is a Q & A I emailed to them yesterday since I couldn't make the trip to Georgia. One thing is for sure: They are a great group of world travelers and 186 countries in a year should be landing them on every talk show in America. I traveled to 20 countries in 2010 (as I normally do) and they make me feel like a slacker!
So if you're wondering, the point of Coca-Cola having these three amigos travel more than 273,204 miles around the world was to find out what makes people happy. To find out what made natives happy in their country, see their Expedition206.com website (named for the 206 countries and territories they were planning on visiting) and click the country you are interested in.
Q: If you had the opportunity to do it again would you?
Yes, for all of us.
Q: What country do you want to go back to first?
Kelly: I want to go back to Greenland and spend a week hiking around and just taking in all the beauty of the untouched nature.
Antonio: Senegal. I love the vibe of this African country.
Tony: Thailand. Anywhere you can get an hour massage for $10 is where I want to be!
Q: What was the highlight and lowlight?
Tony: Standing on top of an active volcano in Nicaragua.
Antonio: The sumo lesson I had in Tokyo.
Kelly: Hiking in the rainforest in Ecuador.
Tony: Airplane turbulence.
Antonio: Losing my passport.
Kelly: Missing home.
Q: Where were people the friendliest?
Fiji has some of the friendliest people ever. They have what they call the 'bula' spirit. It can mean anything from 'hello' to 'happy' and anything in between. They say it's this bula spirit that makes them smile.
Q: Which countries did you feel unsafe in?
There were never moments where we felt like we were in danger. In places that were risky, we had people taking care of us and making sure that we were safe.
Q: What were your accommodations like?
We went from luxury hotels to dodgy hostels. We have stayed in many different types of places.
Q: Did you make any mistakes?
Antonio: I remember one of them. I was in a restaurant in the Caribbean and I remember stepping into a restaurant and smelling something that made me think about spoiled seafood. I remember thinking, "make sure not to eat seafood". So I did okay during that meal. I had a burger that actually was pretty good and tasty. No problem whatsoever. A couple of hours later, after going to the beach, mingling with some people and filming, I came back to the hotel kind of hungry so I was like, "Ok, I'm gonna have a salad." I had a shrimp salad and that was it ... You can imagine I had a really interesting time after that. That funky smell I perceived earlier turned out to be accurate.
Q: What did you learn?
We all learned to appreciate the little things in life.
Tony: We've learned to accept people however they are, whoever they are.
Kelly: I thought I already had an open mind before this trip ... Turns out there was so much more to open up to.
Antonio: We've realized that people from all around the world are much more alike than you would think. We have so much in common and we could easily all get along.
Q: How many airlines did you fly and which was your favorite?
We liked any airline with comfortable seats, especially the few when we were lucky enough to get upgraded to business class!
Q: How many hotels did you sleep in and which was your favorite?
We've slept in about 190 different hotels and our favorites were in some unexpected places like Kuala Lumpur and Djibouti.
Q: Did you rent a car?
Yes. We rented a car in Martinique and went for a little road trip around the island. It was such a freeing experience.
Q: Was there any country you were supposed to go to but didn't for either safety reasons or visa troubles?
Some Middle Eastern countries we were unable to visit because of security reasons. We also missed some African countries because we couldn't get visas in time.
Q: Your favorite meal?
Kelly: Satay in Malaysia (meat skewers with peanut sauce) or Borsch (beetroot soup) in Moscow.
Tony: Tacos in Mexico.
Antonio: Shwarma in Syria.
Q: The food you missed the most?
Kelly: I missed cooking for myself. Mostly pasta dishes.
Tony: Pancakes and sausage.
Q: Your best travel tip?
Hopefully, this story will help motivate you to dust off that passport or apply for one and hit the road in 2011. Happy New Year!