This SFO worker traveled to 195 countries in just 16 years – SFGATE

While visiting the island of Socotra in Yemen, Welds observed a lagoon, the ocean, mountains and sand dunes all at once. 
Romaine Welds almost died on the way to Mount Everest. 
First, the Bay Area man, who works as a ground agent at SFO, survived the flight to Lukla, Nepal — said to be the world’s most dangerous airport. Then Welds outfitted himself with warm clothes, hand warmers and everything else he thought he’d need to endure a winter week in the Himalayas. From there, he began trudging up the mountain with a fellow traveler. 
Welds wasn’t planning to summit Everest; he just wanted to do the weeklong trek to base camp. 
He soon realized the heavy load was making him sweat, and in turn, the sweat was making him cold. And it wasn’t just hypothermia; he was also suffering from altitude sickness. 
“I was losing my grip,” he said. After spotting a place where he could warm himself up, Welds knew he couldn’t do it alone, so he hired a porter to help him with his gear. Together, they reached the Mount Everest base camp. There’s a photo of Welds surrounded by multicolored prayer flags with a smile as bright white as the snow on the surrounding peaks.
Welds toasted to the end of 2017 and the start of 2018 with a 15-day journey to the Mount Everest base camp.
“That hike pushed my body to the limit,” Welds said. But the Nepalese adventure was just one of the numerous quests he undertook while working toward his goal of visiting every country in the world — all while working full time at the airport. 
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In September 2022, Welds landed in Antigua and Barbuda, the last country on his list of 195. “More people have been to space than have been to every country in the world,” he beamed. Moreover, Welds has reason to believe that he is the first Jamaican and first Caribbean person to achieve the feat. 
This achievement may place Welds in a league of his own, but he remains approachable. In fact, if you’ve flown out of SFO, you may have spotted him. 
Welds’s 195th country was Antigua and Barbuda. He celebrated in September 2022 by sipping a mango daiquiri at the Sandals Grande Antigua resort.  
Welds works as a lead ramp service technician for United Airlines. He’s the guy who takes your bag from the jetway when it won’t fit on the plane or the guy you see waving lighted wands to guide airplanes around the tarmac. He even lives close to the airport, just 10 minutes away in San Bruno.
Welds, now 37, didn’t take his first airplane ride until he was 21, when he immigrated to the United States from his native Jamaica. While Welds was waiting at the airport in Jamaica for his inaugural flight, the pilot announced that engine trouble would delay their route to Miami. 
“Engine trouble is not fun to talk about on your first flight,” said Welds, recalling how his then-wife laughed at his fears. But Welds has had the last laugh. 
Thanks to his status as a United employee, he pays nothing for flights originating within the United States and just the tax for international flights. For other airlines, he pays a heavily discounted fare. “I can jump on any flight as long as there is a seat available,” he said. His bags are perpetually packed.
A post shared by Romaine 🇯🇲 ▪︎TRAVEL ▪︎ ADVENTURES ▪︎ PHOTOGRAPHY (@travelingtheworldwithromaine)
Welds didn’t start his travels with the idea of seeing every country in the world. His life changed after joining a friend on a trip to Machu Picchu. 
“He taught me the ropes of traveling on a budget,” said Welds, who learned how to find cheap food and hostel accommodations. On the way home, Welds read an article about Easter Island in the in-flight magazine and decided he wanted to see that, too. 
Welds while visiting Niger. As a United employee, he pays just the tax for international flights. 
To build his confidence, he started traveling around the United States, visiting iconic spots like the Grand Canyon and Niagara Falls. Then he branched out internationally, working his way through various checklists: the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa) countries, the seven “wonder cities” of the world, the seven natural wonders, and finally, every country in the world.  
Of course, not every country Welds has visited is safe to visit. Take Afghanistan, which Welds visited shortly before the Taliban takeover in 2021. 
“At any moment, you could be kidnapped and executed,” he said. “You had to keep a low profile.” For Welds, that meant looking down rather than straight out a vehicle window so passersby wouldn’t see his face. It also meant donning local garb as a way of blending in. He used that same tactic in Iraq, with amusing results. “When I dressed in local dress, they thought I was a rich sheikh,” he laughed.  
Welds wearing traditional garb while visiting Iraq. “When I dressed in local dress, they thought I was a rich sheikh,” he said. 
Welds during a trip to Burkina Faso in West Africa with a crocodile at the lakeside village Bazoule.
How did Welds manage to balance a full-time job and the grueling pace of hitting 195 countries in just 16 years? His secret is working double shifts so that he can accumulate the number of hours he needs to work in a month in half the time. 
He worked almost nonstop and then found himself hunting with pygmies in the Democratic Republic of the Congo or taking a polar plunge in Antarctica. 
Having both a U.S. passport and a Jamaican passport helps with logistics. For one, he can travel on one passport while the other passport is at an embassy awaiting a visa — for more than a year in the case of Eritrea. And each passport has its political advantages: His Jamaican passport allowed him to visit North Korea, now off-limits to travelers with American passports, while his American passport has gotten him into places that make it difficult or more expensive for Jamaicans to visit.
Now that Welds has achieved his goal of setting foot in every country, he might work his way through the list of 30 or so U.S. states he has left to visit. He also hopes to slow down and focus on festivals and tribal life like his role model, the British photographer Jimmy Nelson. “He’s living my dream,” says Welds, who documents his own travels on his Instagram account @travelingtheworldwithromaine
Welds observing glaciers while in Greenland. 
Welds is also eager to revisit many of the places he has already seen — Africa, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Brazil, Tahiti, Kiribati and Papua New Guinea, whose linguistic diversity he found “mind-blowing.” 
In fact, Welds wouldn’t mind going back to just about anywhere. He has found only two countries not worth returning to — Nauru and Paraguay, which he found dull. That said, nowhere has tempted him enough to keep him still.    
“I still like to roam,” Welds said. “Staying in one place seems a bit boring.”
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