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

Globetrotter retirees couchsurfing in Saudi Arabia on a mission to visit 1,500 airports

Alan and Agnieszka Forbes stayed with locals in Saudi Arabia on their recent world trips (Image: Alan Forbes)

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

The couple, who also “collect” Wetherspoon pubs, this week embarked on a mini-route clashing with strangers on a 5,500-mile round trip to India.

When they return home, Alan will have collected 994 airports and Agnieszka 494 from their previous worldwide trips. They’re aiming to meet their goals of 1,000 and 500, respectively, on a trip to New Orleans in early March — at which point they plan to stop counting.

Sounds like the whim of well-heeled retirees, but their apartment plans via a Couchsurfing app suggest otherwise. En route to India this week, Alan, 62, and Agnieszka, 44, stayed with a host in Dammam for two nights, followed by another in the Saudi capital, Riyadh, with locals accommodating them free of charge.

They are due to arrive in Mumbai this morning as they continue to check off airports, a pastime that has taken them to some of the world’s most remote and exotic locations.

“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 hosted our first guest at our home in Surrey on January 1st.

Alan and Agnieszka Forbes

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

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

“The idea isn’t to stay somewhere for free because in many places we visit you can get a hotel relatively cheaply, but meet people and experience the local culture.

“We’re still in our 20s in our minds and we feel young at heart. We love to travel and we have both worked in the luxury and luxury end of the market and stayed free at five star resorts.

“We still travel the way we did, which in my case was 40 years ago, and it’s really about meeting local people and finding out what life is like in places you’ve never been before.

“Both of our hosts in Saudi Arabia were incredibly hospitable, they showed us around their respective cities and treated us to fabulous food, they refused to let us pay for anything.”

(Image: Alan Forbes) Wick

Agnieszka Forbes wants to visit 500 airports before she and husband Alan stop counting (Photo: 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 a 500-mile drive in a rental car, they left Riyadh via Kuwait for Mumbai yesterday.

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

Alan and Agnieszka Forbes

The couple stops for a photo on the highway while driving to Riyadh in Saudi Arabia (Image: Alan Forbes)

(Image: Alan Forbes)

Alan and Agnieszka pose on the tarmac at Ba’kelalan Airport in Sarawak, Malaysia (Photo: Alan Forbes)

(Image: Alan Forbes)

Alan and Agnieszka march in front of a toy dinosaur on the salt flats of Salar de Uyuni in Bolivia (Photo: Alan Forbes)

While in southern India, Alan will add six new airports to his list and Agnieszka seven – before also adding the Israel stopover to her list.

The former travel industry workers are also planning a few weeks in Morocco before March to bring them up to 999 and 499 respectively.

They then plan to fly to New Orleans using Avios Flight Rewards points for numbers 1,000 and 500.

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

Alan and Agnieszka’s five best airports and pubs


1. Mestia, Georgia

2. Papa Westray, Orkney Islands

3. Potosi, Bolivia

4. Ba’kelalan Airport, Malaysian Borneo

5. Kastellorizo, Greek island

Wetherspoon Pubs

1. The Man in the Moon, Newport, Isle of Wight

2. The Caley Picture House, Edinburgh

3. Royal Victorian Pavilion, Ramsgate

4. The Opera House, Tunbridge Wells.

5. The Minister of Justice, Keswick

“But it’s really about the journey along the way. We were in India three years ago and absolutely loved it so this time we will focus on the south, back to Goa and up to the southernmost tip.

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

“We’re meeting up with a couple we met in Turkey who will show us around Mumbai.”

The keen walkers have also visited 822 Wetherspoons and find exploring new parts of the UK on the chain’s map just as exciting as far-flung adventures.

Wanderlust has always had to become an occupation of sorts for the couple, who met a decade ago and married in June 2021.

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

He then took on a variety of part-time jobs, including dog walking, airport baggage handlers and working with autistic adults. Born in Poland, Agnieszka worked for a five-star hotel chain in the Caribbean as sales manager for Europe.

The pair add a British pub touch to the scenery in front of Machu Picchu (Image: Alan Forbes)

The pair add a British pub touch to the scenery in front of Machu Picchu (Image: Alan Forbes)

The couple smiles against another stunning backdrop on the Kinabatangan River in Malaysia (Pic Alan Forbes)

The couple smiles against another stunning backdrop of Malaysia’s Kinabatangan River (Photo: Alan Forbes)

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

The experience collectors gave up their job four years ago, and since then they have considered traveling as a full-time job. The list of airports to remember includes a mountainous site in Mestia, Georgia and a hub in Potosi, Bolivia, which used to be 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 back home include a National Trails collection, with the couple having completed 15 2,000-mile hikes in England and Wales.

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 his obsession with the airport.

Alan and Agnieszka Forbes

Alan and Agnieszka Forbes enjoy breakfast at Souq Al-Qaisariyain Al Hofuf (Image: Alan Forbes)

“We hope to celebrate with a glass of champagne on the plane,” he said.

“We’re not going to be overwhelmed, it’s just going to be that particular obsession being sated.

“It’s going to be a low-key thing and we’re going to keep traveling, we’re just not going to count anymore.”

The savvy travelers are aware of the cost of living crisis but appreciate their long-haul adventures are far more affordable than package holidays 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 have no commitments at home it can be a lot cheaper to winter over abroad, as many Brits do in Goa.

“We just want to travel while we can and 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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Justin Scacco

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