After decades of traveling, both separately and together, Rachel Davey and Martina Sebova had each visited over 100 of the 195 UN-recognized countries and territories on the globe.
The pair, who met during an overland tour of Europe back in 2008, were having coffee together in Melbourne, Australia, when they first discussed the prospect of visiting the 88 or so remaining countries on their lists.
They quickly decided to spend the next two years doing just that together.
While the thought of traveling to so many new destinations in a relatively short space of time was somewhat daunting, Sebova notes that having over half of the countries in the world already ticked off made things a lot easier.
“I think it would terrify me if I had to start visiting every country and I’d been to like 10,” the travel blogger tells CNN Travel. “I don’t really think that that’s even viable. You need to be well traveled [before doing something like this].”
The excited pair then began planning for their big trip, saving as much money as they could in order to fund the journey, with the aim of spending around five to seven days in each country.
Before setting off in 2018, Davey and Sebova, who had been together for around a decade by this point, decided that they would not reveal that they were a couple, and simply travel as friends.
“It was very natural,” says Sebova, explaining that they were applying for visas in some conservative countries didn’t want to risk being denied entry.
“We were visiting a lot of countries where even the concept of a same-sex couple doesn’t exist,” she adds. “And we didn’t really want to put our personal safety at risk at any stage.”
According to the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association (ILGA,) there are around 70 countries in the world where same-sex relations are criminalized.
Davey and Sebova say that acting as though they were simply best friends “wasn’t really much of a change” and people often assumed that they were sisters.
“It was never a big issue,” adds Davey. “We never tried to cover it. We just didn’t [tell anyone].”
The pair, who document their travels on their website, Very Hungry Nomads, tried to visit the remaining countries in geographical order where possible and opted to travel overland as much as they could.
The first new country they visited was North Korea and the pair went on to travel to Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, Bhutan and Pakistan.
In 2019, they spent six months traveling across Central Africa and say that the grueling bus journeys took a toll on them after a while.
“We did like 38 hours on buses, sometimes just changing vehicles, trying to get from A to B,” explains Sebova.
The pair say that some of their best experiences were in destinations that they were more wary of prior to visiting.
“The people in Sudan and Iran were some of the friendliest people that we have encountered,” adds Sebova. “And most people would assume those countries are really dangerous based on the image [we see].”
Eritrea, a small country based in East Africa, and the Caribbean island of Dominica were among the other stand out countries they visited.
According to Sebova, the fact that they were women in their late 30s who were not married with children proved to be somewhat controversial in some of the countries they visited.
“There are cultural differences with just being a woman and traveling without a man,” she explains. “We were denied a couple of visas just based on that.”
Although many of their friends had chosen to put their savings into mortgages and/or businesses over the years, Davey and Sebova, who describe themselves as nomads, say they are “happy to spend it on travel and worry about that later.”
Davey holds an Australian passport, while Sebova has a Slovakian passport, which occasionally caused issues when it came to applying for visas.
“Sometimes it was like, ‘you can get one here, [but I can’t] which threw a spanner in there,” explains Davey. “But it worked out.”
After years of traveling together, the pair are well aware of their strengths and weaknesses, and each take responsibility for different tasks during the trip.
They explain that Sebova is more naturally organized and focuses on making sure their day runs as smoothly as possible, while Davey is “more flippant,” and less skilled when it comes to navigation.
“Rach gets lost in the hotel,” jokes Sebova, who also works as a tour guide. “I always say it’s a miracle that she made it through every country. We make a great team.”
They had been on the road for around two years, and were just 10 countries away from achieving their goal when the pandemic hit.
The pair, who were in London at the time, chose to fly to Australia, and were inevitably forced to put the remainder of the trip on hold due to the border restrictions in place at the time.
However, they continued to travel, opting to buy a camper van and drive around the country together “with the borders of Australia closing behind us.”
“We ended up doing the big lap of Australia in 18 months and spent a lot of time in Queensland and Western Australia, which was amazing, because we couldn’t leave the country,” says Davey. “We lived in our camper van and it was heaps of fun.”
When travel restrictions were lifted for Australians in 2022, they were forced to wait until the borders reopened in the remaining places on the list, which included some of the Pacific Islands.
This proved to be particularly frustrating, particularly as many of their peers were traveling extensively now that the world had reopened, while they were patiently waiting for a few countries to lift restrictions.
“We started this journey thinking that we would finish this massive quest in our 30s,” explains Sebova.
“Then we tipped into our 40s during the pandemic and we were sitting in a van, not owning anything, still waiting.”
They were able to travel to the North African country of Libya where border restrictions had also lifted, but had to wait much longer for their final destinations, Kiribati and Samoa, both located in the Pacific Islands, to reopen.
Kiribati finally lifted restrictions for international travelers in August 2022, and the pair flew in a few weeks later.
They reached Samoa, the final country on their list, on November 19, 2022 and say it took a while for it to sink in that they’d finally achieved their goal.
“It [Samoa] was just the perfect destination to finish,” says Sebova. “I had this moment when I was standing in front of a map of the world and thinking oh my god, we have been to every country on this map.”
The pair celebrated the huge milestone with a friend, who’d flown out to the tiny island country, situated halfway between Hawaii and New Zealand, to meet them.
When they returned to Australia in late 2022 having visited every country in the world, they began receiving greater media interest and people starting to ask questions about their relationship.
“They looked at our feed and naturally saw a couple, something that other people just don’t see,” adds Sebova, explaining that they were happy to confirm that they were in a relationship once they’d reached their target.
“We had followers on social media who were like, ‘oh my god, I always thought that you were a couple, but you never said anything.’”
Davey and Sebova stress that, aside from the issue of safety, they wanted to keep the discussion around their trip focused on the fact that they were two women taking on such a massive challenge, noting that they when they initially looked into the few hundred travelers who’d been to every country in the world, the list was relatively male-dominated.
“You see so few women in this part of travel, which is more adventurous,” adds Sebova. “So we were trying to change that, as well as inspire other women by showing that it [the world] is not such a scary place.”
Now that they’ve finally achieved their goal, Davey and Sebova say they have no plans to settle down and will continue to live a nomadic lifestyle for as long as possible.
They’re currently planning a trip to Thailand and hope to visit Indonesia later in the year.
“We’ve always lived in the moment,” says Davey. “That [being on the move] makes us both happy now. So that’s what we’ll do. I don’t plan too far ahead. We never have.”