HE’s a walking encyclopaedia of travel facts, Hampshire’s very own Lonely Planet Guide.

Sam Hawthorne, 23 from Winchester, is attempting to set the Guinness World Record to become the Youngest Person to Visit Every Country in the World.

That’s a staggering 196 countries. And he’s on course to complete his epic challenge.

In 15 months, Sam has visited 135 of the 196 countries and he’s moving fast.

Currently in Mali, he will soon move on to Ivory Coast. After completing Africa, Sam will head to the Middle East, then Asia.

He told the Daily Echo: “I’ve wanted to do this since I was 14 when I was reading Graham Hughes’s blog as he attempted to become the first person to visit every country without flying so since then I decided that it was one of my dreams to be able to do it. So I’ve basically been planning, researching and thinking about doing it since then.

“Early last year I was thinking about how I was almost turning 22 and that if I wanted to do it, it was now or never. Was I really going to spend my whole life being that person who didn’t pursue their dreams? So I basically decided in February last year that I was going to at least try and so I did which meant I began four months later.”

One of the most surprising places on Sam’s travels has been Afghanistan. “I didn’t feel uneasy at any point,” he said. In fact as we were climbing in the mountains a group of Afghan men invited me and my guide to be their guests for lunch which meant them making a fire, preparing and then cooking delicious kebabs for all of us to eat as we hung out for a few hours.”

One of his favourite places so far was Harar in Ethiopia. “It was a beautiful ancient city with narrow brightly coloured streets that twisted around 82 mosques and countless other religious shrines. It is also the only place in the world where you can feed wild hyenas.”

Sam started his travels on June 26 2018 and expects to finish in March or April next year. He must complete the challenge by April 17 2020 to scoop the record.