30 Days of World Record Attempts

The 17 in 24 team – Yvo, Todd, Lotti and Philo

Name: Todd Hepworth

Occupation: Public Servant

Website: www.17in24.com

How we met: In our short friendship, Todd and I have been in each other’s company for a grand total of about 30 minutes.  Todd is an Aussie who is based in Serbia and like all good friendships that begin in far flung countries, he is a friend of a friend (actually in this case a friend of my sister’s friend) who was kind enough to give me a bed.

I had planned to spend a day in late April with Todd and his family in Belgrade before I departed the Balkans but I managed to get myself hospitalised in Kosovo instead. So the result of my visit with Todd was a late night cab ride from the Belgrade bus station, a four-hour power nap in his spare bedroom and a bleary-eyed goodbye at some ridiculous hour the next morning.

Had I had more time to chat to him that night, I would have learned about his upcoming Guinness World Record attempt, which he shares with me, and you, now. Enjoy: 

How did you come up with the idea to set a world record for the number of countries visited in 24 hours?”  We’ve often been asked this in the days and weeks since the record attempt.  To be honest it was originally a selfish idea. In 2011, I travelled to nine countries in 24 hours, mainly to visit the three countries I had never been to – Slovenia, Liechtenstein and San Marino.

On return to Belgrade, I met up with a group of friends watching the 2011 Wimbledon final featuring Novak Djokovic. When I mentioned to my friends: “Hey, I just visited nine countries in 24 hours,” the question was asked, “well what’s the record?” A quick internet search found two Norwegians had visited 16 countries in 24 hours in 2009.  With this an idea was born.

Fast forward to the depths of winter in February 2012.  I’d spoken to fellow Australian and crazy-minded person Philomena about revising the record attempt for the coming spring.  She was up for it and we began looking at maps and times.  At first we were lazy, with the idea being just to match the Norwegians with 16 but improving the time.

The addition of our Dutch friend Yvo focused our attempt.  He had the most important line; “If you did 16 in 23 hours, wouldn’t you kick yourself that you didn’t do 17?”  We agreed, revisiting the map and looking at starting in Bosnia in an attempt to break the world record.

Yvo also added the technological skills with a website, Twitter and all the social networking skills to gain us a following and help explain what we were doing.  This meant that we found our fourth teammate – Liselott, a Swede so impressed with the idea that she HAD to join.

The supplies!

So, with a map, a GPS tracker showing our ‘live’ location, an Esky brimming with food and an iPod full of music we were ready on the afternoon of June 1, 2012 to give this darn thing a shot.

We headed over to Samac in Bosnia and Herzegovina to start ‘our run’.  After filling the car up and ourselves with a full meal of cevapici (sausages) and pljeskavica (burger), we headed to within 100m of the Bosnian-Croatian border.  At 8.18pm we jumped into the car.

Our journey started well. Our border crossing took less than a minute each, with the border police scanning our passports and waving us through.  On the return leg, they decided to give the passports a full once-over and took three, four minutes.

We were soon in country #2 – Croatia, and a short time later #3 (Serbia) before leading north along the highway towards Hungary.

We had calculated when we should reach each country and set the departure time so we would reach the “proper borders” at night.  We reached #4 Hungary and were a full hour and change ahead of schedule.  This was going to be EASY!  But then the first mishap.  Our GPS took us into the town of Szeged, rather than around.  We took a set of country roads all the way to the Romanian border.  We were now only 40 minutes ahead, but had reached #5 Romania.  A quick photo op and then we re-entered Hungary.

In the middle of the night we also realised that out in-car chargers (two of them) were not working.  Nothing was charging – phones, laptop, GPS nothing!  Given it was in the wee hours of the morning, there was also nothing we could do.

Just before dawn we reached #6 Slovakia.  A short 40 minutes later we were in #7 Czech Republic as dawn broke.  We had made the decision to alter our mapped route, after the “Szeged incident”.  We turned immediately around and headed back into Slovakia.   Soon we were in #8 Austria, a country we would become very familiar with in coming hours.

We travelled down Austrian highways reaching #9 Slovenia, the halfway point in distance, at the halfway point in time.  We were still ahead of our calculated schedule, but alpine tunnels were making us lose small amounts of time in each country.  Also taking time was an enforced 5-10 minute wait in the fuel stop in Austria whilst we charged our GPS tracker, without which we would have no proof of a world record.  A quick 3 minutes in #10 Italy and we were on our way across the Alps to Germany.

Given it was now day time, we contacted our support team in Belgrade to look up an answer for our car-charger issues.  The resulting information was “yes, you have blown a fuse, but you can change it”.  This suddenly meant that as we reached #11 Germany, we had one team member with their head under the dashboard, trying to follow the instructions of another team member who had the car owners manual advising them which fuse to replace.

Amazingly the on-road MacGyver action worked and as we re-entered Austria, we had power back to the chargers!  Another hour or so later and we crossed into the 12th country on our trip, Liechtenstein.  10 minutes later we popped into #13 Switzerland.  But we were now only 10-15 minutes ahead of our schedule.  We couldn’t afford any more mishaps, tunnels or issues!!!

We reached #14 France still only 10 minutes ahead of schedule, but France had something the previous half dozen countries did not, a motorway devoid of tunnels.  We were able to reach the speeds we needed!  But suddenly what we had feared the entire trip happened.  A meeting with French highway police.  We thought the area we were in was a 130km/hr motorway, but apparently that particular spot was 110km/hr, so we were doing a bit over the speed limit.  However a quick “Je suis desolee” by the driver and being profusely apologetic saw us on our way without too many time issues.

When we reached #15 Luxembourg, we now all started feeling quietly confident.  We were now ahead by 25 minutes!  #16 Belgium was soon afterwards and we had a quick celebration that we had reached the 16th country faster than the Norwegian pair had three years earlier.

As we circled Liege on the motorway bypass, we knew we had done it.  A quick change of music to “Euphoria” by Loreen (Sweden’s successful 2012 Eurovision entry) and we crossed into the Netherlands at 7.48pm, a perfect 23 hours 30 minutes after we jumped into the car at Samac. The champagne was uncorked, photos taken and legends (even if only in our minds!) were born!

On reflection, we noted that as countries join the EU, and more importantly the Schengen zone, and as infrastructure improves, this kind of trip has and will become easier.  Europe is the only place you could do this record and we look forward to an attempt by some crazy group of people in the future doing 18 countries in 24 hours.


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