In 2018 two friends decided to try and visit as many capital cities in 24 hours as possible using only scheduled transport.
From 25-26 November, Adam Leyton and Chris Fletcher (both UK), visited nine. Using trains to take them from London-Amsterdam via Paris and Brussels, they then flew to Berlin, took a bus to Prague, a second flight to Bratislava, a train to Vienna before a final journey by rail to their destination, Budapest.
Their journey took 23 hours 50 minutes, giving them the record for most sovereign capital cities visited in 24 hours by scheduled transport.
Given their ambitious record, we caught up with them in Edinburgh during the launch of Guinness World Records (GWR) Day 2019.
GWR Day this year takes place on 14 November and has the theme Spirit of Adventure which aims to encourage people to push themselves (whether as an individual or in a small team) and attempt a record during a global day of record breaking.
How do you two know each other?
AL: We met through mutual friends 10-12 years ago. Mates first then we had some joint work.
CF: We had a little side project that turned into a business.
Whose idea was it to attempt this record?
AL: I think that will fall on me. I broke the record for most countries visited in 24 hours a few years back. This was something I was looking at at the same time and couldn’t get a route. I’d say it was mid-2018 I found five potential routes and said to Chris 'I'm going to have a crack at this, do you want to come along?' because I need another pair of eyes, help with social media. I think we should do this together. Some routes were too risky, but he agreed to come along.
Was nine the maximum number on all routes?
AL: When I did countries the record before was 11, had been for 23 years, I did 12. I always knew 13 was doable, it wasn’t at the time. With this, touch wood, I think 10 is really hard. Nine was tough, there was a huge element of risk. You’d have to accept some seriously tight connections.
CF: We built failure points into this plan, so if it doesn’t work out we’ve got a £10 flight home from Berlin.
AL: We knew if it was going to go wrong, which it nearly did (more on this later), it would probably near Amsterdam and in Amsterdam, getting our emergency flight to Berlin. Or at 3 a.m. in Prague. Luckily we didn’t need it.
Do you enjoy the travelling or the logistics?
AL: I think it’s the logistics. I spent a lot of time on the internet with timetables planning this. I think it’s different if there are two of you, you can’t just have it in your head. There were a few connections where I said 'this is a two-minute connection. We can make it, you just need to learn that route'. We spent weeks walking it through on Google Street View, looking at pictures of stations. It's how you break a record.
How long was the planning process?
AL: I was looking at this for three years. I think it started getting serious three-six months before.
CF: It’s also waiting for timetables, you can’t plan it too far ahead because they change.
So your final route involved train stations, which are counted as landmarks you need to visit…
AL: You could see where [previous record holders] had been. Don’t reinvent the wheel, you’re always going to do Paris-Brussels-Amsterdam because with the train you can do that in 3 hours 18 minutes.
CF: That was supposed to be the enjoyable bit: London-Paris on the train, sit back, have a meal. Paris-Brussels-Amsterdam, sit back have a meal…
AL: Total opposite.
So were there dramas?
AL: London-Paris was fine until 10 minutes outside Paris the train just stopped. The train manager said 'there’s a security risk, they’ve closed the station, we should be 20 minutes’' We had 38 minutes to make our train.
CF: If our train isn’t arriving, the other isn’t leaving. No problem.
AL: We sat there for 40 minutes, probably arrive the same time our train would depart. We were at the front of the train, knew where we needed to run, train had gone. We were then an hour late, knew we'd then have best case 40 minutes at [Amsterdam] Schipol Airport. We had four hours to sweat on that train (from Paris to Amsterdam) knowing we could do nothing but panic.
So everything got back on track at Amsterdam?
AL: We had to go into Amsterdam then change trains to Schipol. We got the alert from KLM saying they were boarding and we were in the city centre. We got to Schipol at 20:14 and the flight left at 20:40 so we had 26 minutes.
CF: To get from the train station, through security to whatever gate it was.
AL: We just ran and ran and ran. I think we were so late it was okay to run to the front of the queue at security waving your arms saying ‘we’re trying to break a record, I need to get on this plane’. They were really accommodating, as were the other passengers, and let us get to the front. We did that it eight-and-a-half minutes, how did that happen?! It was split-second timing. But with hindsight, that was the easy bit.
When we landed at Bratislava, that flight goes on. They have to get all the passengers leaving at Bratislava onto a bus while they sweep the aircraft to make sure no bags have been left. Until they do that the bus can’t go.
CF: It's 20 m to the terminal, we could see it.
AL: That was at 07:24, the bus into the city was at 07:27. It’s 100 m through the terminal, if the bus goes now we can make it and it moved off. Amsterdam was tight but Bratislava was the tightest connection.
You maximised your time by the fact the journey took 23 hours 50 minutes…
AL: We knew, best case scenario we'd have 12 minutes. It was always going to be tight at the end but figured if everything else want to plan we’d make it.
The Adrenalin must have been really pumping…
AL: It's 24 hours of Adrenalin.
CF: We got a little sleep on the bus to Prague and on the plane to Bratislava.
AL: When we got to Prague airport at 5 a.m. we were both struggling, we needed food and coffee. It was a 45-minute bus from Prague to the airport...
CF: Which was hell.
AL: ...and I think we were feeling a bit rubbish at that point. I think that was the low point. But you get to the end and just crash.
How did it feel once you reached Budapest?
AL: Brilliant. You know when you get there that you’ve done it. The two of us doing it together is nice.
Were you nervous coming into Budapest?
AL: After what happened in Paris and stopping short of the station, I’m seeing the platform rolling past and thinking ‘come on, we can’t count this until we set foot on the platform’. I was nervous. At that point you know you’ve broken the record but still need sufficient evidence, so you’re celebrating but know how much work is needed for the evidence package. You need to prove it. I spent a month afterwards collecting bits and pieces.
Is it better doing it with a friend?
AL: It’s nice to have someone else with you and experience it together. It’s harder in that you can’t just have it in your head, you have to share that information. We hadn’t discussed how we’d work together, but it just happened. I had my head in the timetable and platform and Chris is looking for the escalator.
CF: It’s just teamwork. We’ve been together 10 years so we know each other’s strengths.
AL: I think if you’re on your own you’re thinking ‘am I going to make this, is there any point’, but with someone with you you’re bouncing off each other. It’s much better having someone with you.
What advice do you have for selecting your team?
AL: You have to 100% trust that other person, know their strengths and weaknesses and what they bring to the party. You need someone who isn’t going to slow you down, they need to bring something to that attempt that is going to complement it and help.
CF: Someone’s going to lead this then distribute the weight between you.
What will your adventure be?
Feeling inspired to attempt a Guinness World Records title yourself? Discover your Spirit of Adventure by finding out more about GWR Day, including how you can get involved on the day itself (Thursday 14 November). We realise everyone’s adventure is different, so whether it's taking on a new challenge, fulfiling a desire for adrenaline or perfecting your existing skills – there's a record waiting for you.