At the start of his career, James Asquith was as money-driven as anyone you will ever meet. After graduating from the London School of Economics, he worked as an investment banker in London at HSBC. Following that, he became the Vice-President at Deutsche Bank and finally the Head of Corporate Bond trading at SMBC.
Though clearly moving up the corporate ladder and achieving success many of us could only dream of, something didn’t quite sit right with what he was doing. He had always enjoyed travelling but found it difficult to get the time off work in such a demanding industry. One day, something clicked and James left finance for good.
The 33-year-old told MyLondon: “I enjoyed working in finance, but over the years it became a bit lethargic, a bit boring, and I wanted to incorporate travel into my working life as well as my personal one.”
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Despite initially enjoying finance and graduating from a prestigious university, James travelled at every possible opportunity. “I used every opportunity to travel during my time at university, so I’d often plan long weekends away, and make the most of the long holidays to try and fit in as much travel as possible,” he said.
As a student, funding his expensive trips was difficult, and borderline impossible but he worked as hard as he could to fund his passion. From the age of 15, he worked three jobs, saved up and made several investments with the plan that one day he would get to explore the world.
James persisted and eventually went on to become the Guinness World Record holder of the youngest person ever to travel the world and visit every country. He became the record holder at the age of just 24 years and 192 days when he arrived in the final country, the Federated States of Micronesia, on July 8, 2013.
He visited his first country outside of the UK – Lithuania – between May 26 and 31, 2001. He then visited every other country on the planet between July 4, 2008 and July 8, 2013.
Speaking of this achievement, he said: “It was a very personal journey and I never set out to get any type of record. I wanted to visit the world to educate myself and understand about cultures, religion, history, and people. I learned much more traveling than I ever did in a classroom at university.
“It almost felt a large part of the journey was over when I visited the last country, but little did I know at the time that it was just beginning.”
As the Guinness World Record holder, James is a clear authority on which countries are best to visit. Some of his favourites include Italy for its food and Colombia for its culture. He is also a big fan of the United States. “The US is so diverse, from Alaska and Hawaii to the incredible national parks and the culture, music and food in the South from Nashville to New Orleans,” he said. And what he learned by visiting all those countries was that happiness does not come from simply being wealthy.
Despite moving up the corporate ladder in investment banking, something which can typically earn someone hundreds of thousands of pounds, another country makes James’ favourite list due to its sheer authenticity. He continued: “Countries like [the collection of islands in the Pacific that make up] Tuvalu are very small but family oriented. No one cares too much about money.
“They have some of the most beautiful islands in the world, where almost everything grows on Tonga, and there’s an abundance of fish – so locals are very content with all the food they could want, warm weather and a beautiful setting.”
With a world record under his belt, James had a decision to make. Stick with a boring and lethargic career, or take the leap and fully immerse himself in travel. That’s when he decided to set up HolidaySwap, a platform designed to let people securely swap or host their homes in 185 countries for just $1 per night, with the aim being to make travel cheaper.
“I kept getting asked by many people how they could travel more for less. I was randomly on a flight from Romania to London when the idea came to me about how I could make travel cheaper; by creating a true sharing economy platform, where users can remove the largest cost of travel – the accommodation,” he said.
With the world of finance firmly behind him, James is as happy as he’s ever been. He now hopes to inspire others and had some advice for those stuck in a career they’re not very fond of. He said: “There’s never going to be the right time to do something, so you just have to put yourself out there and go for it, otherwise you’ll end up regretting missed opportunities. You’ve got to make sure you’re doing something you love otherwise what’s the point?”
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