After the death of her husband, Jamie’s mum, Hayley thought life was too short not to enjoy it. Since then, the mum-and-son duo have travelled the world together
Little Jamie France-Meconi took his first steps in Thailand and has learned how to herd cattle with a Maasai tribe in Zanzibar. He also swam with sea lions in the Galapagos Islands and eyeballed a shark while snorkelling in the Maldives – all before the age of seven. So far in his short life, globetrotter Jamie has visited 70 countries with mum Hayley Meconi, 45.
And he is determined to become the youngest person to hold the Guinness World Record for visiting all 196 of the world’s sovereign states. This is currently held by Californian Lexie Alford, 25, who set it aged 21. The rules mean Jamie cannot enter until he turns 16 but he is confident he will make it into the history books.
“The next place I want to go is Australia, to meet a kangaroo and a koala,” he says. Hayley decided to take her boy travelling after his dad, Danny Gammans, died from a heart attack when aged 36 in December 2016.“
Jamie was just six months old and it put into perspective how short life is,” she says. “I wanted him to have the chance to see the world. Now, we are living our best lives every day.” Hayley, a former personal trainer, co-founded Making Travel Pay with her best friend, Hayley Light.
Since it was set up in 2017, it has helped 16,000 people set up their own sustainable, home-based travel businesses, where agents can sell travel online or to family and friends and earn a commission. Hayley says the business has made her a millionaire – and since her friend and co-founder tragically died last year, aged 39, Hayley has been even more determined to see as much of the world as she can.
Her adventures began in earnest in January 2018 when Hayley, her daughter Chloe, 22, and Jamie took a trip to Thailand. “We visited the big Golden Buddha and an elephant sanctuary,” says Hayley, who married businessman Jason Meconi, 38, earlier this year.
“Jamie took his first steps in Thailand… it was so special. We didn’t want to come home.” Since then, Hayley has tried to travel with Jamie at least once a month, with accommodation ranging from luxury hotels to campsites. In September 2019, they backpacked around the US for three months – hiring an SUV and travelling from New York to Florida – before going on to the Caribbean.
“Some places we stayed in cost £35 a night and others were £1,000,” says Hayley. “We absolutely fell in love with Utah. Jamie loved the ranches and couldn’t get enough of the horses. He wanted to ride them all the time. “It was beautiful because there was nothing around you for miles other than these big red canyons. It felt like we had complete freedom.
“We cleaned ourselves in the streams and we would watch the stars which, because there were no lights, looked magical. Jamie loved it.” That year, they also spent their first Christmas abroad, in the Maldives. “It was stunning,” says Hayley. “We went on a boat trip and Jamie learned how to spear a fish for dinner.
“One day we were out with a diving crew, snorkelling through the coral reefs. I turned around and this shark was suddenly looking at me with its mouth open. “I panicked at first, then realised it was a whale shark and we were safe.
“Jamie thought it was brilliant. He was just pointing at it, smiling, and wanting to follow it.” Hayley insists that making memories with her son is far more important to her than the cost of the trips. She says: “I remember sitting on a beach with the clearest water I have ever seen in Mexico, and Jamie running around with ice cream dripping down his face, thinking, ‘This is what life is meant to be like’.
When the pandemic hit in 2020, Hayley and Jamie were grounded. But as soon as the travel restrictions lifted, they headed to Turkey, then on to the Greek islands.
Tanzania was on the green list after Covid and on Boxing Day in 2021 they flew to Zanzibar, where they stayed for three months. For the first week, they stayed on a game reserve in the Serengeti, enjoying daily safari trips. “We got so close to the lions Jamie wanted to stroke them,” Hayley recalls. “We stayed in a hut and were not allowed to leave without security – once, I opened the door and there was a wildebeest standing there.”
During their time in the island paradise, the pair helped to build a school as part of an educational programme and lived with a Maasai family for three weeks. “We really immersed ourselves in their way of life,” Hayley says. “There were only two people who could speak English. With everyone else, we used gestures and smiling. They taught Jamie how to light fires, herd cattle and milk goats… the goats even slept in his bed at night.
“We also helped deliver a calf. Jamie wasn’t squeamish – he told everyone afterwards that we had a baby. “We saw them doing their Maasai jumping. They sang while they did it,” says Hayley. They taught Jamie, which he loved. It was very cool.” But it has not all been plain sailing. “In Yemen one night, a storm blew our tent into the water,” says Hayley. “Our clothes were soaking wet and we had to try to save our stuff.
“We’ve also had challenging moments when Jamie’s felt unsettled and there have been dramas on flights – but that’s part of having kids.” When he’s not travelling the world, Jamie is a regular schoolboy in Preston, Lancs. Hayley sometimes takes her son out of school during term time but mostly fits their trips – which she regards as educational – in during holidays and at weekends.
“Education is important but not all classrooms have four walls,” she says. “Jamie can sing in Swahili and he can say hello and a few other things in six different languages. He has learned about humanity and compassion, and has done everything from swimming with sea lions to riding horses in the water.”
Their immediate itinerary includes Bulgaria, Thailand, Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei, Taiwan and Indonesia. By the end of 2024, they hope to have ticked 90 countries off their list – and it was the people they met on their travels who suggested Jamie could be a record-breaker.
“They kept saying he could be the youngest boy to travel the world,” says Hayley. “Jamie loved the idea… he wants to be famous and to own his own airline one day.”
Follow Hayley and Jamie’s travels on Instagram @travelqueenuk