For many people, 2020 has been a year where travel has been non-existent.
The global pandemic has largely curtailed leisure travel since March, as countless countries around the world imposed border restrictions and airlines grounded flights.
But for one Emirati woman, the story has been a little different.
Earlier this year, Khawla Al Romaithi took a trip that touched down in all seven continents in record-breaking time.
In February, the doctor, mother and Abu Dhabi resident set off on a journey that took her across the world in the space of three days, 14 hours, 46 minutes and 48 seconds.
Guinness World Records this week certified her trip as the fastest that anyone has ever travelled to Antarctica, Oceania, Europe, Asia, Africa and the Americas.
The previous record was set by Americans Kasey Stewart and Julie Berry in December 2017 and was more than five hours slower.
For Al Romaithi, the idea for the record-breaking excursion came about due to a long-seated love for travel.
"After seeing more and more countries, my mindset changed. As my kids grew, they were fascinated with new cultures so we went to several World Heritage Sites. Our journeys evolved to include adventure, doing activities like climbing Machu Picchu and taking boat rides under Brazil's Iguazu Falls," Al Romaithi tells The National.
“I'd heard of many nationalities travelling to countries around the world but it’s not very often you hear of an Arabic mother doing the same. I wanted the UAE and its people from all nationalities to be happy and proud,” she explains.
It certainly isn't the first time the Emirates has been linked with a record-breaking feat, with the country already holding the titles for world's tallest building, largest high-definition video wall and the fastest police car in service, to name just a few.
"I wanted to show the world and our society that Emirati people, just like their country, are capable of achieving extraordinary record-breaking milestones," Al Romaithi told Guinness World Records.
From Antarctica to Australia
Setting off from Antarctica, Al Romaithi brandished the UAE flag in the world's southernmost continent before flying to Africa. From there, she travelled to Asia and then took a flight to the UK in Europe before journeying to North America. From New York, she travelled down to South America then ended her journey in Oceania’s Australia. The trip ended on February 13, 2020.
Luckily for the self-funded Emirati, her excursion took place right before the full impact of the coronavirus was known.
“Although Covid-19 was out there, I was lucky that it had not been declared as a pandemic when I went on the trip. It never occurred to me it would change the world as it has, so I was extremely lucky," she says.
Al Romaithi points out that the trip wasn't without its obstacles, however.
“It was a difficult journey; the attempt demanded a lot of patience, especially in airports, as well as having to deal with constant plane rides."
In addition to having touched down in all seven continents, the Emirati has visited all 195 countries recognised by the UN. She has also visited additional territories including Gibraltar, French Polynesia and Greenland.
Travelling gives Al Romaithi a new sense of appreciation for her home country, while also highlighting the similarities that people in countries all across the world share.
“Being a people's person and knowing a few languages helped me to break down barriers, strengthen bonds and make more international friends along the way," she says.
"It made me be more appreciative of what we have in the UAE thanks to the leadership that has developed our country."
Having received confirmation from Guinness World Records that she had smashed the previous time for travelling to all seven continents, Al Romaithi was lost for words.
“To get the award, you have to go through a rigorous assessment and qualification process. I'm beyond speechless that it truly happened.”