John Clouse has the thickest, most dog-eared passport in the world. Turn to Page 16 of the 1998 Guinness Book of World Records and you'll find the reason.
He holds the record for traveling to all 192 of the globe's sovereign countries, and to all but six of the non-sovereign or other territories that existed in early 1996.
Mr. Clouse, a hearty walker, great talker, and record stalker, is the reigning Marco Polo of the '90s, says the Travelers' Century Club (TCC) in Santa Monica, Calif. Club membership is limited to the tiny, fanatical group of travelers who have visited 100 or more countries.
"Clouse is the No. 1 world traveler now," says Klaus Billep, TCC chairman. But since Guinness and TCC are at odds over the definition of a country or sovereign area, Clouse, a lawyer from Evansville, Ind., is running in two races, so to speak. While Guinness counts 264 countries and nonsovereign areas in the world, TCC comes in at 309, including some remote islands that add a little more danger, drama, and expense to the quest.
Yet Clouse, who has spent about $1.25 million roaming from A to Z in the past 40 years, says he travels for the love of it, not to outrun anybody else who may be keeping a list. And by either count, he is now down to just three remote islands to visit.
"What is a country is hard to say," says Clouse. "TCC says if the place is far removed from the parent country, either geographically, politically, or ethnologically, then it's on the list," says Clouse. "TCC is the arbiter of this nonsense, but it's kind of fun."
Guinness tends to use political criteria more heavily, not geographic remoteness of political possessions.
Clouse has continued his journeys since making the record book, and has not only visited every country in the world, but some two or three times. Now he's focusing on the remaining three islands.
"Yeah, I'm trying to finagle my way to three places: the Paracel Islands, owned by China in the South China Sea," he says. "And on two occasions the weather has kept me away from reaching Bouvet, an island in Norwegian Antarctica. No. 3 is Clipperton, a French island about 700 miles west of Acapulco."
Reaching these islands can take months of preparation with hopes pinned on hitting a day when the weather is good, or the boat chartered for the occasion has delivered on its promises.
"You have to get a group of people together to cut down on the costs," says Clouse. Regular or irregular airlines do not fly near any of the islands.
Delphine Cooper of South Bend, Ind., a member of TCC, is also on the hunt to visit all the world's countries. Last year she made it to Bouvet.
After circling the island trying to find a safe place to go ashore among the honking seals, the captain of the chartered boat carrying Ms. Cooper and others put her in a Zodiac (rubber boat).
"I caught the weather just right," she says. "It's not a beautiful island, but it's thrilling to know that I'm one of the few people that have ever set foot on it. What makes a place unique for me is the margin of difficulty to get there."
Clouse agrees. To reach Danger Island, in the British Indian Ocean territory and part of the Chargas Archipelago, Clouse chartered a boat with others, including Tony Allman, a fellow world traveler from Auckland, New Zealand.
"It was a huge, pounding surf," says Clouse, a fit septuagenarian, "and we convinced some sailors to tow us in. It was so rough that Tony lost his pants, but we made it. And all I could think during the rest of the day was that we have to go back through the surf again."
For years Clouse was No. 2 behind another lawyer, Parke Thompson from Akron, Ohio, who was listed in the Guinness book as the leader in countries visited. But an injury has kept him at home.
"I was in Guinness for 10 years," says Mr. Thompson, "And then John edged ahead of me. I'm [older] now and have been out of circulation for about three years. I've traveled everywhere and seen so much, so I was ready to call it quits."
Clouse is reluctant to list favorite places, saying that usually his last trip is full of the adventure and beauty he seeks.
Clouse says he does love East Africa. "It's one of the most beautiful places in the world," he says. "In Kenya and Tanzania the weather is gorgeous almost every day, and Lake Nyasa must be what the garden of Eden looked like."
His stories tend to swirl out of the act of travel and the people he meets rather than the places.
"As I've gotten older," he says, "I like to stay in nicer hotels, and even on a tight budget in the early days, I've never stayed away from great restaurants."
After all his traveling he says, "I don't believe there are evil empires and evil people. Yes, there are some bad leaders in the world, but seeing people as individuals has taught me that they are all basically alike. You can be in some [terrible] place and someone will extend hospitality to you."
Clouse travels light, with a small suitcase, and seldom travels first class. His complete collection of National Geographic magazines is his main source for research.
"I have a strange policy," he says of his traveling habits of over 40 years. "When my socks and underwear begin to wear out, I take them with me, wear them a few times, and throw them away," he says. "More than once a maid has chased me down the hall waving underwear at me. Now I put a label on them: 'I don't want this.' "
Clouse began his traveling adventures just after World War II when severe frostbite in the war sent him to England for recovery, then to Paris and other parts of Europe.
"I thought, boy, this is the life," he says of his travels then. "And when I got out of law school and was making a little money, I started to travel." Years ago he stopped taking photos and now keeps a journal of his travels.
He has crossed the Atlantic Ocean at least 100 times, and the Pacific Ocean 40 or 50 times. His 18-year-old son, Chauncey, had visited over 100 countries by the time he was 5 years old. But for now, it is not "like father like son."
"We live about seven miles across the river from Kentucky," says Clouse. "My son would not go those seven miles.... He'd say, sorry, Dad, I've got something else to do."
Clouse concludes that the right attitude is synonymous with the lightness of his suitcase.
"Travel without a lot of mental baggage," he says. "Try not to go with preconceived notions that the place will be dirty or hostile, and if it is, go with the flow and make the best of it."
"Learn a few words like please and thank you," he suggests. "That really pleases people, and if you learn as much about a country as you can before you go, you won't get back and say, 'If only I had walked another three yards, I would have seen the world's largest ball of string' or something."