Drew Binsky got paid to travel the world

It took 1,458 flights and 1,117 buses and trains for Drew Binsky to reach his goal of traveling to every country in the world.

And he did it in less than a decade.

CNBC spoke with Binsky nine hours after he touched down in his last country — Saudi Arabia — about how he financed his 10-year travel spree.

Visiting every country in the world

According to your tally, you’ve been to 197 countries. How do you define “country?”

You’re hitting me with a hard one right away. It’s very political. The U.N. has 193 recognized sovereign states. I add four to that — Kosovo, Palestine, Taiwan and Vatican. Some of these are observer states of the U.N., and they are also the four most recognized of all the unrecognized “countries.” I think I’m like the 250th person to visit every country.

Is there a name for this group?

The “every country” club. It’s a small community, and I’m friends with maybe 20 of them. There’s a lot of drama. It’s like: “You actually haven’t been to North Korea because you only went to the border of South Korea.” I don’t get involved in all that.

You’re planning to stay in Saudi Arabia for two weeks. What’s the average amount of time you spent in each country?

The average is about a week. There are about 10 countries that I spent more than three months in, and I spent more than six months in Vietnam, Philippines, Thailand, South Korea and Czech Republic.

But some of them — Luxembourg, Monaco, Liechtenstein, and there’s a couple of countries in the middle of South Africa — you can go in and do everything you want to do in 24 hours. In the future, I plan to stay a minimum of two weeks because you can really soak it in.

How do you organize your visits?

It might be shocking to hear this, but my plan is to have no plan. I really like to be spontaneous. The best moments in life happen when you step out of your comfort zone and you don’t know what’s going to happen next.

I have a unique way of traveling in that I rely on my social media followers and local friends. They pick me up, and they show me their country. Most of the time I arrive in a country I don’t know where I’m sleeping that night.

Binsky said getting visas to places such as South Sudan (here) is the hardest part of travel planning.

Courtesy of Drew Binsky

So planning isn’t too hard?

Getting visas is the single biggest challenge. I’m very fortunate to have visited 160 countries without needing a visa. But the 40 visas that I needed — Iran, Turkmenistan, North Korea, South Sudan, Venezuela, Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria — they’re hard for political reasons.

Which countries did you save for the end?

I handpicked my last six countries because I’m shooting a docuseries, and I wanted the last six to be different. So we did Ghana, Ecuador, Venezuela, Palau, Jamaica and Saudi Arabia.

Traveling during the pandemic

How did the pandemic affect your plans?

I had six countries left in March 2020, which I planned to visit in a twelve-week span. Here we are 18 months later, and I finally finished.

I’ve had about 80 Q-tips shoved up my nose over the last 18 months. But I did manage to visit 20 countries: Mexico because they were the only country open in June 2020, then Egypt, Afghanistan — pre-Taliban takeover — Iraq, Dubai, Turkey, Tanzania and Dominican Republic. It’s been a battle but one that’s been fun to fight.

Binsky works while he travels, like here in Myanmar.

Courtesy of Drew Binsky

To confirm, you visited 20 countries during the pandemic?

Yes, which is crazy — fourteen were revisits, plus my final six countries.

Did you get Covid along the way?

I did. I haven’t publicly talked about it. I picked it up in Iraq, and then in Afghanistan I realized that I couldn’t taste or smell. I tested negative in Iraq, but they barely put the Q-tip in my nose — it was like a fake test. I wasn’t super sick, but I stayed in my hotel for seven nights, which was pretty miserable. But I didn’t want to infect anyone.

Earning money on the road

What are your major sources of income?

I started out teaching English in Korea. I made $2,000 a month, and housing was free. I was 22 years old, so it was awesome at the time.

Then I got a head start on Snapchat in 2015, and I got sponsored by a bunch of brands. I got paid $5,000 to go the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro to make Snapchat stories. For a whole year I was making a living off Snapchat. I made $30,000, which is a lot when you’re a budget backpacker.

My first 300 videos, I didn’t make a penny.

Drew Binsky

Travel blogger

I was also using my travel blog to reduce travel costs by working with hostels and budget airlines. Then I started making videos in 2017. My first 300 videos, I didn’t make a penny. It was pretty slow.

While I was living in Bangkok, I made a video about this guy who makes these really good burgers. You pay whatever you want — there’s no price. That video got like 7 million views. I’ll never forget when I looked at the earnings, and it said $10,000. I was like ‘Holy crap!’ It was five hours of work.

Well, it turned out that was the most I made from any video in the next 18 months. Still, it was a sign that you can make a lot of money through ads on Facebook.

A large part of Binsky’s travel style relies on meeting locals, he said.

Courtesy of Drew Binsky

Then I started posting on YouTube, which now makes between $20,000-40,000 a month. On a really good month, it could be more. Facebook is similar.  

This sounds like a lot of money, and it is a lot of money. But now I have a team of about 23 people, so I’m paying a lot of salaries.

Do you have other sources of income?

That’s only ad revenue. I charge brands that I work with between $15,000 to $30,000 per video. Then there’s my merchandise, which is not really that profitable. It’s more for growing the community. I also sell travel hacking courses for $150 a pop. There’s a lot of different revenue streams.

Do you meticulously record your travel costs?

No, I don’t nickel and dime myself. It kind of ruins the fun. I’m still pretty frugal. I’m not going to spend money on first-class tickets unless I have points. I still eat street food, and I still sleep in modest hotels. Even if I make 10 times the amount that I make now, I don’t need to be flashy.

Is any of your travel comped?

I come out of pocket and pay for almost everything, except with tourism boards — they cover everything. Usually when I work with a hotel, I do a paid sponsorship. If a hotel offers me a really nice room for two nights, I’d rather just pay for it and not have to post about it.

The ups and downs of travel blogging

What’s one memory that you’ll never forget?

It’s probably spending 24 hours with the pygmy tribe in the Central African Republic. They are genetically the shortest human beings in the world. I had to fly into the capital of Bangui, take an eight-hour taxi ride into the middle of nowhere and walk through the forest for two hours.

We found a local guide on the way. They told me not only had they never seen a white person, but they had also never seen a non-pygmy. They had never left their tribe to go out into the city.

Binsky said he started recording his travels after receiving a video camera as a gift several years ago.

Courtesy of Drew Binsky

How about a memory you’d love to forget?

Food poisoning. Probably the worst I’ve had is in Yemen. I’ve had for poisoning about 30 times. I got really sick in Iran and India too. But I’m also eating stuff that I know is risky. At the end of the day, you just lose 10 pounds and move on.

One of Binsky’s worst bouts of food poisoning happened in Yemen, he said.

Courtesy of Drew Binsky

What’s next?

We’re making a really cool docuseries about visiting every country. I’ve got a book coming and an NFT project, which I’m really excited about. I’m building meetups in different cities around the world. But I don’t want to lose the core of going out there and meeting people and inspiring people to travel.

Editor’s note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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Aide: Whitmer’s Fl. trip paid for by fund created after election

The lack of details has dogged Whitmer since the March trip was revealed in April.

LANSING, Mich. — Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s private round trip to Florida to see her ailing father was paid for from a fund that’s used for travel not covered by tax dollars, her chief of staff said Friday.

The cost was $27,521, with Whitmer personally paying $855 of that amount, according to the Michigan Transition 2019 website, which lists donations and expenses. The nonprofit was initially formed for inauguration events.

The lack of details has dogged Whitmer since the March trip was revealed in April.

“As chief of staff, I acknowledge we could have done a better job of answering questions about this trip with more clarity while also balancing the need to protect the governor’s security, and for that I take responsibility,” JoAnne Huls told senior staff in a memo.

Whitmer left Michigan on March 12 and returned on March 15.

“She continued to carry out her duties as governor while she assisted her father with household duties like cooking and cleaning. … The governor’s flight was not a gift, not paid for at taxpayer expense, and was done in compliance with the law,” Huls said.

The Associated Press last week confirmed flights to West Palm Beach using aviation-tracking website Flightradar24. The Gulfstream 280 business jet is registered to Air Eagle, whose agent is John Nicholson, executive vice president of Detroit-based PVS Chemicals, according to state records.

On May 7, when asked who paid, Whitmer said: “I’ve said everything I’m going to say about my trip to go check on my father. It was a quick trip. It was an important family reason for doing it, and I’ve got nothing to add.”

She said her office does not discuss her travel because of an “incredible number” of death threats. A group of men is charged with plotting to kidnap her over her coronavirus restrictions.

Huls said Whitmer took her father, Richard Whitmer, to a medical procedure Monday at the University of Michigan.

“Mr. Whitmer’s procedure was successful, and we are hopeful that his condition improves,” Huls said.

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Time Is Money: A Quick Wage-Hour Tip on … Providing Paid Time Off for COVID-19 Vaccinations | Epstein Becker & Green

With the United States in the midst of dealing with the coronavirus pandemic, there has been focused attention on the rollout of vaccines approved for emergency use by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, and the actual number of individuals being vaccinated. Presently, 250 million COVID-19 vaccine shots have been administered and individuals 16 years of age and older are eligible to receive the vaccine.  Now, in an effort to get more people vaccinated, employers are being encouraged to provide paid time off for employees who have not yet been vaccinated against the virus.

Federal Tax Incentives to Provide Paid Time Off

With the opportunities for employees to schedule or receive vaccinations generally limited to within business hours, employers have experienced an increased number of requests for leave from work in order to obtain a vaccination.  With more than half the adult population in the United States having been vaccinated, but the rate of vaccinations slowing by the day, there is an increasing push for employers to do more.  What is an employer to do?

To encourage employers to provide their employees with paid time off to be vaccinated, the federal government has provided certain employers with a tax incentive.  Specifically, the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (ARPA) extends federal tax credits for private employers with less than 500 employees in the United States that voluntarily decide to provide paid sick leave or family leave for each employee receiving the COVID-19 vaccination and for any time needed to recover from the vaccine through September 30, 2021.  For example, if an eligible employer offers employees a paid day off in order to get vaccinated, the employer can receive a tax credit equal to the wages paid to employees for that day (up to certain limits).  For more information about the tax credits, the IRS has published guidance for employers. On the federal level, while employers are not required to provide employees paid leave, there is a tax benefit to doing so.

State and Local COVID-19-Related Paid Sick Leave Laws

While the paid leave requirement under the federal ARPA is voluntary for employers, employers need to be aware of legislative developments at the state and local level that require employers to provide paid leave.  In California, for instance, employers with more than 25 employees are now required to provide up to 80 hours of paid supplemental sick leave (in addition to other available paid leave under state sick leave laws) for employees unable to work or telework for qualifying COVID-19-related reasons.  Those reasons include (i) the employee is subject to a quarantine or isolation period related to COVID-19, has been advised by a healthcare provider to quarantine due to COVID-19, or is experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 and seeking a medical diagnosis; (ii) the employee is caring for a family member who is either subject to a quarantine or isolation period related to COVID-19, has been advised by a healthcare provider to quarantine due to COVID-19, or is caring for a child whose school or place of care is closed or unavailable due to COVID-19 on the premises; and (iii) the employee is attending a vaccine appointment or cannot work or telework due to vaccine-related side effects.

The law is retroactive to sick leave taken beginning January 1, 2021, and prevents employers from requiring employees to use other paid or unpaid leave available before using the COVID-19 supplemental paid sick leave.  The law expires on September 30, 2021.  For additional information, see 2021 COVID-19 Supplemental Paid Sick Leave FAQs.  Note, Massachusetts is proposing a COVID-19-related paid sick leave law.  On a local level, Philadelphia has enacted similar legislation.  See COVID-19 pandemic paid sick leave resources.

Should an employer in California require its employees to receive a COVID-19 vaccination, the California Department of Industrial Relations (DIR), having recently updated its Guide to COVID-19 Related Frequently Asked Questions to include wage and hour issues and vaccinations, has indicated that employers must pay for their employees’ time, including travel time as well as any time employees spends waiting to receive the vaccine.

State and Local COVID-19-Related Paid Vaccination Leave Laws

While California has provided for expansive COVID-19-related leave, New York has enacted more narrowly-tailored legislation requiring all employers to provide a paid leave of absence for a “sufficient period of time,” not to exceed four hours (unless otherwise authorized by the employer), for employees specifically to receive the COVID-19 vaccination.  Employers are required to provide such leave per COVID-19 vaccine injection.  The paid leave is in addition to any other paid leave benefits employees are entitled to, and cannot be charged against such other leave.  Unlike the law in California, the paid benefits are not retroactive and only cover the employee.  The law does not prevent an employer from requiring proof of vaccination.  However, employers should caution employees not to reveal any confidential medical information.  The law expires on December 31, 2021.  For more information, see Paid Leave for COVID-19 Vaccinations.

New York is the only state presently to require employers to provide paid leave for the express purpose of obtaining a COVID-19 vaccination.  However, several municipalities are enacting similar laws.  Chicago, for example, passed an ordinance that prevents employers from requiring its employees to be vaccinated only during non-working hours, whether vaccination is voluntarily sought or employer-required. For those employers requiring employees to be vaccinated, the ordinance requires the employer to compensate the employee at the employee’s regular rate of pay for the time spent to get vaccinated, up to four hours per dose.  Ordinances in several cities in California also require employers to provide up to four hours of paid leave to attend COVID-19 vaccinations.

Many states and municipalities of course have had paid leave laws providing preventive care prior to COVID-19 that can be used for vaccination-related purposes as well as recovery from vaccination side effects.  In fact, to promote health and safety in the workplace, guidance from states, including California, Colorado, Illinois, Massachusetts, Nevada, New Jersey, and Oregon, explicitly confirms employees may use this leave for vaccination-related purposes.  Employers need to be mindful of these state and local requirements.

Non-COVID-19-Related Wage and Hour Considerations

Where there are no leave laws requiring employers to provide paid time off to receive COVID-19 vaccinations, the facts and circumstances in each case will determine whether time spent traveling to and from a vaccination site, or waiting for and receiving a vaccine, will be deemed hours worked for purposes of calculating minimum wage and overtime.  Under the Fair Labor Standards Act, whether time spent by an employee to receive a vaccination must be treated as compensable likely depends on when the vaccination occurs and whether the vaccination is required by the employer.  The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) has not offered specific guidance on this issue.  However, in the context of an employer requiring COVID-19 testing, similar to requiring receipt of a vaccination, the DOL has indicated that the employer is required to pay employees for time spent waiting for and receiving medical attention at their direction, or on their premises during normal working hours.  See COVID-19 and the Fair Labor Standards Act Questions and Answers.

Myriad legal issues arise, at both the federal and state level, related to an employer implementing a mandatory vaccination policy, which is beyond the scope of this blog piece.  In addition to wage and hour laws, employers need to consider other potential legal issues including but not limited to employment discrimination and retaliation, family and medical leave, privacy, genetic information, workplace health and safety, collective bargaining, and workers’ compensation.  At present, it appears that most employers are choosing to encourage, and not require, employees to obtain their COVID-19 vaccinations.

What Employers Should Do Now

  • Review state and local paid sick leave requirements to determine whether and how they may apply to COVID-19, and be on the lookout for any legislative developments;
  • Consider adopting a written vaccination policy in order to ensure employee awareness and consistent practices;
  • Prohibit retaliation against employees for taking leave for COVID-19-related reasons including receiving the vaccination and provide training to HR personnel and managers to ensure compliance.

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You Can Get Paid $1,000 to Watch 5 Seasons of ‘Friends’

You Can Get Paid $1,000 to Watch 5 Seasons of ‘Friends’ | Travel + Leisure

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