JTA — In 2012, Drew Goldberg spent part of his junior year of college studying abroad in Prague. It was only his second time leaving the United States — the other time was for Birthright, the free Israel trip for Jewish young adults.
The trip to the Czech capital was life-changing, literally. Goldberg spent the next five months balancing his studies with traveling, managing to visit more than 20 countries. After that he was hooked.
Now he’s closing in on a goal inspired by the Prague trip — visiting each of the 193 countries recognized by the United Nations. In just a few months, the 28-year-old will have done it.
He’s managed the feat by making traveling his job.
Goldberg, who goes by the name Drew Binsky online, posts daily videos of his travel adventures and earns $5,000 to $30,000 each month through ad revenue and sponsorships.
His videos include everything from learning what it’s like to live in North Korea, discussing race in South Africa and talking to Syrians who fled their homes due to war. Goldberg has 4 million followers on Facebook, Instagram and YouTube.
He also holds two Guinness World Records — for visiting the most UNESCO heritage sites in 24 hours (12) and for fastest time to pack a suitcase (35.59 seconds).
“I haven’t stayed in one place longer than two weeks in eight years,” he told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency in a video interview from Manila, where he shares an apartment with his Philippines-born girlfriend Deanna.
This spring, Goldberg will embark on the last leg of his eight-year trip, traveling to the five countries he has yet to visit: Ghana, Saudi Arabia, Ecuador, Jamaica and Palau. He will bring along a film crew and hopes to make a documentary of the visit.
“It’s surreal,” he said. “I’ve been working with this goal for eight years.”
Goldberg grew up in a Jewish family in Scottsdale, Arizona. He attended Temple Chai, a Reform congregation, where he had his bar mitzvah.
After graduating with an economics degree from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Goldberg took a job teaching English in South Korea. He created a travel blog to document his experience traveling throughout Asia over the next 18 months.
Goldberg makes a point of visiting Jewish communities in the countries he visits, and he says traveling has helped him connect with his Jewish identity. He has visited Jewish communities in Afghanistan, Turkmenistan, Ethiopia and the Philippines.
“I feel more connected with the religion from a global perspective because I’ve really gone in the houses of Jews around the world,” he said.
Though he says he has been well-received as a Jewish person, it helps that he publishes under the name Binsky, his childhood nickname, which is less obviously Jewish than Goldberg.
“I think it’s not the worst thing in the world to have an alter ego, especially when I’m traveling to countries like Syria and Libya and stuff,” he said. “It’s not the best to rep Goldberg.”
Goldberg says he enjoys teaching people about Judaism in areas of the world where there are few Jews.
“In general I think I’m in a very good position to promote Judaism to Muslims and to people who aren’t familiar with the religion,” he said.
Goldberg generally feels safe while traveling and says he wasn’t worried visiting North Korea since he was on an organized tour. Still, there have been some scary moments, such as falling asleep to the sound of bombs raining down just miles from his hotel in Libya, and missing a car explosion by only an hour in Yemen. On a recent trip to Syria, he had to lie about having visited Israel to enter the country.
“I had to hide all my videos about Israel on my website,” he said.
Goldberg says he won’t stop traveling once he has hit his goal, but will shift his focus to longer-form content and post less frequently. He also hopes to get a travel show like Anthony Bourdain, the late food travel personality who Goldberg considers an idol.
“It’s so cool to be able to take people along with me and inspire them and teach them about the world,” he said. “And I get more satisfaction out of doing that than experiencing it myself.”