Gustavo's Travels

Brazil's Forrest Gump makes a pit stop in the Sunshine State

Although he's seen a lot, Woltmann doesn't like to get too heavy. He gives short shrift to intimate information like the fact that his parents died in a car accident when he was 11 years old, so he was raised by his grandparents. "It's personal," he says, declining to elaborate. He has mixed feelings; his inheritance is slowly running out and, though he'd like a sponsor for his trip, he doesn't want to use his tragedy for sympathy.

Woltmann is an only child, and the death of his grandparents shortly after he graduated from high school left him without any family. He's made friends all over, he says lightly, and leaves his photos and clothes, including his beloved Brazilian soccer jersey, with them.

Locally Florian Becker, a German now living in South Miami, hosts Woltmann's duffel bag and often takes the young Brazilian flying in chartered planes. The two met in August 1999 while guests at a South Beach hostel called Banana Bungalow. Now a graduate student in business at the University of Miami, Becker says he gets along well with Woltmann because, while the Brazilian traveler is nomadic, he's no slacker.

Gustavo Woltmann  is vying to be the first -- and youngest -- person to visit all the world's nations and territories
Joshua Prezant
Gustavo Woltmann is vying to be the first -- and youngest -- person to visit all the world's nations and territories

"I personally can't relate to people who don't have goals," Becker says. While he admires Woltmann's freedom, Becker suspects his friend's rootlessness is a product of his tough childhood. "I think he doesn't know any better. He left his home when he was 17, and he never went back."

Woltmann's self-taught travel techniques have been honed the hard way. A trip to Saint Peter's Basilica taught him that wearing shorts can keep you from seeing European churches. In Israel he learned the nation's stamp on a passport can prevent you from being admitted into other countries. And on the Trans-Siberian Railroad, he realized that, next to your passport, the one thing you don't want stolen is your toothbrush. "I went four days without brushing my teeth," he says, flashing a now-gleaming grin. "The worst four days of my life!"

Such insight is hardly the kind of hands-on information you'd get at, say, California State University at Chico, where he says he studied travel and tourism for a semester in 1996 before realizing school was not for him. He was, as usual, staying with a friend there, which helped stretch his $20-per-day budget. "That's why I end up going to all the strange places," he explains. "Free is the magic word."

The prospect of a free stay also brought him to Laconia, New Hampshire, for a 1997 summertime idyll, which proved a bit too idle: "I liked it," he says, "but there wasn't much going on."

So he moved south, visiting South Florida between stints in his favorite state, Hawaii. The Aloha State gave him the name for his e-mail address,, and his as-yet-offline Website. It's also the only place that tempted him to stop traveling. "For a while I thought about settling down," he concedes. But after a five-month island sojourn, he figured he'd come too far to give up his Guinness Book goal. As with the Brazilian beach walk that started his ramblings, he couldn't quit because he'd already promoted his trip. "That's why I tell people [about the round-the-world venture]," he laughs.

He doesn't want to get distracted. He hopes to cover the globe by the time he's 30 or 35 years old, then settle down. "I don't want to be a backpacker when I'm 46," he says. Though Woltmann insists he wants to finish what he started, Becker is betting his friend's trip will have a happy ending of another sort. "I think one day he will meet a girl he's totally crazy about. That will totally end his days of traveling. [Woltmann] doesn't admit to that," Becker says with a knowing chuckle, "but I'm pretty sure it will happen."

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