Couchsurf couple in Saudi Arabia on mission to visit 1,500 airports

Alan and Agnieszka Forbes have stayed with locals in Saudi Arabia on their recent trips around the world (Picture: Alan Forbes)

As they get closer to their goal of visiting 1,500 airports, Alan and Agnieszka Forbes can add couchsurfing in Saudi Arabia to their list of travel experiences.

The couple, who also ‘collect’ Wetherspoon pubs, embarked on a restricted itinerary this week which includes meeting strangers on a 5,500 mile round trip to India.

By the time they return home, Alan will have landed 994 airports and Agnieszka 494 of their global trips to date. They’re aiming to hit their goals of 1,000 and 500 respectively during a trip to New Orleans in early March – by which time they plan to stop counting.

If that sounds like the fantasy of well-heeled retirees, their hosting plans through a couchsurfing app suggest otherwise. En route to India, Alan, 62, and Agnieszka, 44, spent two nights this week with a host in Dammam before another in the Saudi capital Riyadh, with locals hosting them for free.

They are due to arrive in Mumbai this morning as they continue to tick airports, a hobby which has taken them to some of the most remote and exotic places in the world.

“My kids think we’re crazy about couchsurfing at our age, but it’s a great way to meet other people from all over the world,” Alan said. “It’s a bit like Airbnb but you pay nothing, and we welcomed our first guest to our home in Surrey on January 1.

Alan and Agnieszka are invited to dinner by their couchsurfing host in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia (Photo: Alan Forbes)

“Sometimes you have your own room, but other times you literally stay on the couch.

“The idea is not to stay somewhere for free, because in many places we visit you can get a relatively cheap hotel, but to meet people and experience the local culture.”

“We are still in our twenties in our heads and we feel young at heart. we love to travel and we have both worked in luxury and luxury and stayed in five star hotels for nothing.

“We’re still traveling the way we used to, which in my case was 40 years ago, and it’s really about meeting locals and finding out what life is like in places where you’re not never been before.

“Our two hosts in Saudi Arabia were incredibly welcoming, they showed us around their respective cities and offered us fabulous food, they refused to let us pay for anything.”

Agnieszka Forbes aims to visit 500 airports before she and husband Alan stop counting (Picture: Alan Forbes)

The couple, from Woldingham, flew from Gatwick to Vienna on Monday, paying £8.77 each for a one-way flight and £35 for a hotel before flying to the Saudi city of Dammam the next day.

After traveling 500 miles in a rental car, they took off from Riyadh yesterday en route to Mumbai via Kuwait.

The month-long trip, which passes through Abu Dhabi, Tel Aviv and Krakow on the way back, will cost them less than £1,000 in total after finding cheap flights and accommodation.

The couple stop for a photo on the highway on their way to Riyadh in Saudi Arabia (Photo: Alan Forbes)
Alan and Agnieszka pose on the runway at Ba’kelalan airport in the Malaysian state of Sarawak (Photo: Alan Forbes)
Alan and Agnieszka walk past a toy dinosaur on the Salar de Uyuni salt flat in Bolivia (Photo: Alan Forbes)

While they’re in southern India, Alan will add six new airports to his list and Agnieszka seven – before she also adds the Israeli stopover to her tally.

Former travel industry workers are also planning a few weeks in Morocco before March to take them to 999 and 499 respectively.

They then plan to fly to New Orleans using Avios flight reward points for numbers 1000 and 500.

“The idea is to hit 1,000 and 500 airports at a specific time,” Alan said.

“But it’s really about the journey along the way. We went to India three years ago and absolutely loved it, so we’ll focus on the south this time, returning to Goa and descending to the southernmost tip.

“It’s a fantastic country to travel to, it’s hot, dry and cheap.

“We meet a couple we met in Turkey who will be our guide in Mumbai.”

Keen hikers have also visited 822 Wetherspoons and find exploring new parts of the UK on the chain map just as exciting as far-flung adventures.

Wanderlust was always to become a concern for the couple, who met ten years ago and married in June 2021.

Alan, who has three children and a grandchild, worked for an airline after leaving school before becoming a partner in a travel agency.

He then worked several part-time jobs, including as a dog walker, airport baggage handler and with autistic adults. Agnieszka, originally from Poland, worked for a chain of five-star hotels in the Caribbean as sales manager for Europe.

The couple add a touch of British pub to the landscape in front of Machu Picchu (Photo: Alan Forbes)
The couple smile in another stunning setting on the Kinabatangan River in Malaysia (Photo: Alan Forbes)

Alan started moving through airports more than four decades ago before Agnieszka joined him in 2012.

Experience Collectors quit working four years ago, since when they consider traveling a full-time activity. Their list of memorable airports includes a mountainous location in Mestia, Georgia, and a hub in Potosi, Bolivia, which was once the tallest commercial facility in the world.

Another highlight is a facility with a 798 meter strip on the beautiful Greek island of Kastellorizo.

Travel activities at home include a National Trails collection, with the couple having completed 15 walks in England and Wales totaling 2,000 miles.

Alan, who has written an unpublished book about his travels called But I Digress, is planning a low-key celebration this year as he finally shakes off his airport obsession.

Alan and Agnieszka Forbes have breakfast at Souq Al-Qaisariyaat Al Hofuf (Photo: Alan Forbes)

“We’re hoping we’ll party on the plane with a glass of champagne,” he said.

“We won’t be overwhelmed, it will just be that this particular obsession will be sated.”

“It will be a low-key thing, and we will continue to travel, we will not count anymore.”

Seasoned travelers are aware of the cost of living crisis, but find their long-haul adventures much cheaper than package tours to the same destinations.

“We try to avoid expensive countries in general and although we’ve couchsurfed in America before, the trip to New Orleans will be a treat for us,” Alan said. “If you don’t have any commitments at home, it can be much cheaper to winter abroad, as many Brits do in Goa.”

“We just want to travel while we can and do it on a budget. If we have to go back to work next year, so be it, but for now, we’re just enjoying our freedom while it lasts.

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