Sal Lavallo defines himself not as a traveller but as a learner and an individual filled with curiosity and thirst for discovery. By the age of 27, Sal has already travelled to every country in the world (193 nations) the youngest person to achieve this feat. However, the underpinning drive that led him to travel the world was not simply exploration. He wanted to devote himself to understanding the vast complex, diverse landscape of humanity and the multiplicity of interconnections that extend further than one might initially presume.
Sal had a very cosmopolitan, international upbringing. Having studied for two-years at United World College, an international boarding school, the friends Sal made enabled him to travel to over 50 countries! Sal’s focus on culturally inclusive development during his undergraduate degree at NYU led him to found his own NGO, Trail of Seeds. It was during his student days, he got a first insight into international living, before moving permanently to Abu Dhabi to work as a management and strategy consultant. It is from then until January 2016, when Sal realised in between studying and full time work he had managed to travel to 115 countries. This became a motivation for him to complete the rest of the countries left to further enrich his research, bringing us to November 2017 whereby he had completed all 193 nations of the globe.
“The way people manifest and perceive identity changes constantly”
The word identity is ubiquitous in our daily lives and how we define ourselves. But defining exactly what identity is and the factors that it hinges upon is more mystifying. ‘Identity’ is a multifaceted term, it is a complex agglomeration of thousands of things and, according to Sal, the way people manifest and perceive identity changes constantly. With an Italian father and a German mother, Sal has often pondered where he fitted in with the different cultures. Linking into a wider binary between whole and half, at times many of us, including Sal, feel compelled to pick an identity. Rather Sal argues that one should embrace as many identities that one can and intertwine them.
For Sal, identity is not fixed – there are many intersectionalities to it and, perhaps more interestingly, identity is not prescribed, rather it is highly selective. While some elements of one’s identity are not a choice, for example, if one classifies race as a factor of identity, but the vast majority are interchangeable. As humans we have a tendency to select, almost ‘cherry pick’ our identities according to a situation. The flexibility to adjust identity can create crises for some, as many try to deconstruct the identities they’ve not only inherited but have also been conditioned to accept. While many have written about the multiplicity of identities, many have forgotten to explore the lived experiences of this, a gap Sal is trying to bridge.
“Humans want to connect but they also want to disconnect from others. We like to tell people who they are not”
The binary surrounding inclusion and exclusion is often analysed within the realm of identity formation. Sal remarked that ‘as humans we desire connection; identity is a manifestation of this desire to connect with others around us’. Travelling across the world, at every destination the strangers Sal engaged with all displayed the urge to relate to him and his experiences. Human beings desire connection, it is as if it is a form of validation, approval to who they are and thus, their identity. People are also quick to classify others as not part of a society if they don’t obviously share common characteristics. This is true in politics, citizenship and everyday life. To quote Sal, ‘humans want to connect but they also want to disconnect from others. We like to tell people who they are not’.
Sal’s methodology is simple. Talk. Talk to as many people you can – anywhere and everywhere. The importance of dialogue cannot be over-emphasised. Engaging in conversation with strangers allows humans to interact, connect and, above all, learn. Sal rightly notes that during his time travelling many “people (not just tourists but researchers) are quick to make things foreign”, as travellers we need to make greater effort not to alienate different places and people.
“People (not just tourists but researchers) are quick to make things foreign”
The role of linguistics here is vital, Sal says. Whilst a lack of translation makes communication difficult, rather than the language, the tone of voice adopted by travellers, Sal believes, can play a pivotal part in connecting with people. Even if one does not understand the language, they will be able to understand the tone adopted and the associated emotions to it.
I ended asking how he defines a country and whether if a new country was to be created tomorrow, would he go and visit it? “It is a heated discussion as people often do contest over what constitutes a nation; after all, the world is not perfect. If a new country was declared in any part of the world, I would definitely travel to it. If I could I would try to travel to it on the day of its independence to see how the nation is constructing itself from the very start”.
On behalf of Compass, I would like to thank Sal for taking his time to sharing his views on world travel and we hope it has inspired potential travel enthusiast within the Geography department to travel the world too! Sal is very keen to connect with people and you can follow him and learn more about his travel on various social media platforms. His website contains more information (https://www.sallavallo.com/) and links to his social media platforms.
DISCLAIMER: THE VIEWS EXPRESSED IN THIS ARTICLE ARE THOSE OF THE AUTHOR ONLY AND DO NOT REPRESENT THE VIEWS OR OPINIONS OF COMPASS MAGAZINE AS A WHOLE OR THE UNIVERSITY OF CAMBRIDGE DEPARTMENT OF GEOGRAPHY.