Local teacher says he has visited every country and territory

By: Maria Allard | Grosse Pointe Times | Published July 11, 2017

 Grosse Pointe Public School System educator Rufus McGaugh holds up a photo he took of the Iguazu Falls between Brazil and Argentina from the Brazil side.

Grosse Pointe Public School System educator Rufus McGaugh holds up a photo he took of the Iguazu Falls between Brazil and Argentina from the Brazil side.

Photo by Erin Sanchez

GROSSE POINTE CITY — In the early 1970s, Rufus McGaugh set a goal to visit every country and territory on all seven continents of the world, and every state in the U.S.

It was a lofty aspiration that took a lot of planning and budgeting, but the Grosse Pointe City resident was determined to achieve his dream.

And it came true.

As of last month, McGaugh said, he completed his journey of visiting approximately 252 countries and lands in the world when he traveled to Libya along the northern coast of Africa for three days. Why did he decide to risk visiting Libya, currently embattled in a civil war?

“Because it was the last country on my list. I flew into Libya on a small plane. I had to stay one step ahead of ISIS all the way,” the world traveler said. “The first day, I met a man on the ground, and we traveled around the capital of Tripoli.”

Through his tours, McGaugh has witnessed war, poverty, famine, natural disasters and countless breathtaking landscapes in every corner of the world.

“I’ve done some dangerous places,” said the globetrotter, who also has done his share of mountain climbing along the way.

One reason the global sightseer wanted to travel was so he could share the experience with his students in room A-66 at Brownell Middle School in the Grosse Pointe Public School System. Once full-time, McGaugh is now semiretired and still shares his love of travel on a part-time basis when teaching students at the middle school and high school levels in the district.

The adventurer also was motivated by his love for travel and his appreciation for beauty.

“There are so many unique and beautiful spots in the world,” he said.

It’s hard for him to pick a favorite place. McGaugh has been close enough to photograph the highest Buddhist temple in Nepal and described the Dolomite Mountains in Italy as “absolutely gorgeous.” A photo of a man in Yemen making his way through the streets hangs in McCaugh’s kitchen at home to remind him of his time in the Middle East.

“I was one of the first Americans to get into China in 1979,” McGaugh added.

McGaugh’s journey also took him to Antarctica for nine days.

“It is the most pristine spot on earth because man has not screwed it up yet,” McGaugh said. “There are a few research stations. The only way to get down there is a boat.”

The first country McGaugh visited in the late 1960s was Vietnam, although it was not an vacation. At the time, he was among the thousands of young U.S. military members fighting overseas in the Vietnam War. He also spent time in Thailand on a brief getaway while in the service. A few years later, he backpacked through Europe with a group of buddies, which really planted his desire to see the entire world.

McGaugh always traveled light and — with every stamp on his passport — he also made sure to pick up the occasional souvenir from his travels. His collection includes a jaguar mask from the Caribbean country of Dominica, a chess set from Mexico, a wine holder from Costa Rica, a box of cereal called “Sheddies” from Wales and Scotland, and a box of laundry detergent from Kyrgyzstan.

The Grosse Pointe teacher also has collected an assortment of hats and shirts from the countries he has visited. But that’s not all. McGaugh has a hodgepodge of unused airplane barf bags he’s brought home from his travels, which he often showed to his middle school students through the years.

Most of the time, McGaugh traveled solo. He also met with tourists groups and saw the sites with his wife, Monica, and sons, Eric, 21, and Jason, 14. Monica has visited 63 countries, Eric has set foot in 39 countries, and Jason has been in 14 countries.

“I just like seeing what it’s like outside of the community, the state and the country,” Eric McGaugh said. “I like to see the different cultures. I think my favorite was the safari in Kenya. We were there for the wildebeest migration.”

McGaugh said he couldn’t have done all his travels without the support of Monica.

“She’s put up with all this nonsense with me,” he joked. “I am deeply indebted to her for all this.”

McGaugh primarily traveled during the summer months and even during Christmas and Easter breaks from school. McGaugh saved money by lodging in places other than hotels.

“You name it, I’ve slept it. Park benches, upon fields, youth hostels, tents, anything to save a few bucks.”

And while some people would eat their way around the world by trying new and exotic meals, food didn’t appeal to McGaugh so much.

“I was always on a budget on a teacher’s salary. I would skip meals.”

Every summer, he said, he would return home an average of 12 pounds lighter. Others have kept up with McGaugh’s expeditions. When the educator runs into former students or members of the community, they usually ask the same general question.

“How many countries now?”

He can now say all of them.