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Update on the Journey to Every Country

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I made it back from my recent trip to Asia and the South Pacific. Next up, the two remaining countries in Latin America—Guatemala and Nicaragua—then over to the Ukraine and Cyprus. After that, a big trip to Africa… and so on.

I’ve always said that I’m not a real travel writer – see Rolf Potts or Robert Kaplan for two of those – and lately I attempt it even less. I do some destination pieces for magazines, I put photos on Flickr, and from time to time I’ll post my trip reports here, but mostly I think I’ve evolved to where I spend more of my time doing what I’m good at.

That said, a bunch of people have asked for updates on how the quest to visit every country in the world is going. It’s still going! Here’s my attempt at providing a decent answer.

***

My 32nd birthday is next month, which means I’ll officially have three years left to make it to the final 65 countries before my self-imposed deadline. It’s possible but difficult, especially since the list of remaining countries is fairly intimidating.

Some days I think as long as I approach it logically and consistently, I won’t have any major problems. Other days I think about places like Chad, Iran, and Uzbekistan, and then I start to worry. At any rate, I’ve settled in—this is just what I do. I head out, I hop around, I focus on visiting new places, and so on.

Even with the focus on visiting new places, I inevitably go back to many of the same ones over and over. I’ve now been to Hong Kong at least 15 times, which is probably my most visited transit city. Other frequent stops, by way of airport code, include BKK, LHR, FRA, JNB, AKL, NRT, and YVR. Each of these places (and more) are like second homes to me now.

In Which I Learn to Give Intelligent Answers

“What have you learned?” is the question I hear almost every week in one interview or another. Sometimes it’s an earnest question; other times it’s asked in a cynical way—like “How could you possibly learn something about each place from only visiting for a short time?”

Well. The way I think about travel is that it is not so much about packing something away into a learning box, like a teapot or pack of matches from every country. Oh! There’s my Namibia box. And over there! It’s my Romania box. That’s not how it works, at least not for me. It’s about being open to possibility wherever you go. It’s about walking around without an agenda, allowing yourself to laugh at things you might not laugh at elsewhere.

Also, I believe there’s something noble about a quest for its own sake. Like mountain climbing, for example. I certainly don’t return as the world’s expert on Samoa after a three-day visit, but that’s not what I’m trying to do. The people who wonder about motivations may not have yet found something they really love that’s worth doing strictly for the sake of doing it. I hope they do—meanwhile, I’m having fun.

Yes, Fun

Someone else asked if travel is “still fun” for me. This is another question that is hard to answer in a sound bite. Travel is fun, except when it’s not, and that’s perfectly fine. My theory is, if you think travel is supposed to be 100% fun all the time, I’m not sure how much you’ve actually traveled. Sometimes it’s not fun at all, and that’s OK. Most things that are worth doing aren’t always that easy, so you have to take the bitter with the sweet.

In my case, I’m interested in radically experiencing life, and travel is one important part of that. If other people are writing in about feeling the life draining out of them while doing a bullshit job every day, the least I can do is enjoy what’s happening with me around the world.

The advice for doing something really big is the same no matter the task: you’d better know in your heart why you want to do it, and you’d better have enough internal motivation to keep going when times are tough. Between that mindset and trying to make everything fun and wonderful all the time, I’d take that mindset.

On to Practical Concerns

My two-year secret passport has turned into only an 18-month passport. I forgot that many countries won’t let you in without at least six months of life left on the passport, even if you’ll be long gone before the six months comes around. Now when they scan it at immigration, the computer beeps and the immigration person gets confused. Since the whole reason I got a second passport was to make travel easier, this is frustrating.

I used to take a round-the-world trip and visit five new countries. That’s something you can do when you haven’t been to 125 of them. Now, I go a long way for two or three countries, and the days are coming when I’ll take major trips just to make it to one new place. I’ll also need to get more strategic and stop making mistakes, like neglecting to realize I should have visited Tuvalu when in Fiji last month. Now I’ll need to go back—and Fiji is a nice enough place to go back to, but it’s also a long way away for me.

Mostly I just keep planning and traveling. Can I get to Cape Verde on a TAP Portugal award while I’m in Europe later this month? Yes, indeed I can. Can I get the visa sorted in time? Yes, I think so. Et voila—Cape Verde is now on the list of planned stops, right after the Ukraine and Cyprus.

***

I started writing these notes from Malé, where I arrived from Singapore. The Maldives is a fun place (see it before it sinks!) where most hotels cost $800 a night. I found a place for $150 and was thrilled—what a deal! Everything is relative.

At 1:00 a.m. I made it in and did some of my online work from the hotel. Then I slept seven hours, which managed to feel like twelve hours after a few days of little sleep. In the morning I went to the rooftop cafe and drank my coffee while looking out at the island. I’m in the Maldives! I wrote in my journal. This is where people save for years to go on holiday. Who gets to drop in to a place like this just for the sake of dropping in? My life is crazy good. I love it.

The next night I had the interminable eight-hour, attempt-to-sleep-on-metal-chairs delay. Shake it off, I said to myself when I was finally back in Singapore. You can catch up on sleep in exactly three years and one month. Until then, you’ve got 65 countries left. No slacking!

So I’m home now, and I leave again next weekend, then I come home, then I leave again. It’s like going to the office, except the scenery changes. All in a day’s work, yes?

###

Image: Caveman

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    44 Comments

    • Rishi says:

      Man… I think it’s a blessing to be able to travel and explore the world the way you have been. I think you’ve helped me set a new goal for myself. I’ve been to 5 countries, i think i’ll set a goal to have visited 10 by the end of next year.

      Keep sharing your adventures.

      -Rishi

    • Karol Gajda says:

      haha, this rocked Chris. It’s awesome to read that you’re having fun, even though it’s not always fun. I had a reader e-mail me recently about doing something they love. But there were parts to it they didn’t love so they were thinking it was just a “dream” and “romanticized.” I e-mailed them something similar to what you stated in this post:

      “I think we all have romantic visions of what we want in life. Nobody tells us about the tedious tasks and the stuff that just isn’t very fun. That said, if it’s something we truly want, it’s all worth it.”

    • David says:

      Travel isn’t always fun, but the things we define as “fun” rarely endure to become the things we remember as being fulfilling or rewarding.

      For that matter, going to the gym isn’t “fun” either, but carries its own reward.

      Finding satisfaction in the thick of challenge is a worthy art. Not always fun, maybe, but pleasurable all the same.

    • gavinmac says:

      Nice update, thanks. Good luck getting to Chad.

      Tikal, Guatemala is well worth seeing.

    • Mark Dowdell says:

      I like David’s analogy. Doing certain things for the fun of it is well and good, but no matter what goal you’re trying to reach, there will be negative things you just have to put up with. It’s a matter of figuring out which aspects of life you’re willing to devote that effort to putting up with those negatives.

      With you and traveling, the reward is much greater in value than the setbacks you must constantly face.

    • Monique says:

      I also agree with David’s comment. 🙂

      Writing and Music are both fulfilling for me, but they aren’t always fun activities. If I’m not on top of my game, going to choir rehearsal can be humiliating. Rereading what I’ve written only to realize that it’s utter crap is also frustrating. In the end it’s totally worth it, though.

      And a lot of times, even in the middle of a tough rehearsal or a tough post, it still feels like fun. 😀

    • Randall says:

      Wow! It makes me tired just reading all you have done! Travel is great in itself. Travel is enjoyed as much after you come home in the stories and memories that you would not have if you never went. I love your goal of visiting all those countries. It’s like a quote I heard one time about becoming a millionare. “It’s not that important to achieve and accumulate one million dollars, it is more about the person you will become in the process.” Travel changes your (our) world view. It makes you a wiser person if you will let the world speak to you. You are always richer because of it!

    • One of my favorite paragraphs of all time:

      The advice for doing something really big is the same no matter the task: you’d better know in your heart why you want to do it, and you’d better have enough internal motivation to keep going when times are tough. Between that mindset and trying to make everything fun and wonderful all the time, I’d take that mindset.

      Thanks Chris!!

    • Devin says:

      I love the learning box concept. My version consists the small gifts, sometimes big ones, I give my daughter when I travel. I also require that I have a good story to tell her about where I have been. It forces me to think about what is meaningful about a place and help me remember why I travel. My learning box is her room, which shares space with Hannah Montana.

      I am at about 55 countries and hope to make a hundred before I die.

    • Nice update. I’m a little confused, what determines which countries you go to? I get the round the world ticket bit, but some of the journeys seem a little random. Eg Uzbeckistan and Cyprus and Cape Verde.

      Any insights would be interesting.

      Thanks

    • Chris says:

      I’m not going to Uzbekistan on this trip. Cyprus is part of my OneWorld RTW ticket, and Cape Verde is an awards stop with Star Alliance miles. As to what constitutes a country visit for me, see this post.

    • Melissa says:

      How do you do this when you don’t have a lot of money? Is this sort of life goal an elitist endeavor? Do people with less resources have to settle for less – say, for aiming to only visit all the countries in North America?

    • Chris says:

      For me it is a question of values and priorities; I guess other people can decide whether it is elitist or not. But I don’t think it’s entirely a question of money, because plenty of people without a lot of money still find a way to travel or do whatever is important to them.

    • Greg Blencoe says:

      Thanks for the update. It is so inspiring to read about your goal of visiting every country in the world by the time you are 35!

      I have only traveled to about 15 countries. But I agree that traveling is not always fun. Though, I think those stressful times (and the incredible times) are just inherently part of traveling. While you can do your best to make everything go well, there are going to be problems at times. My attitude is to just accept it, do your best to make the most of whatever situation you encounter, and focus most on celebrating those amazing moments that happen while traveling.

      And while I know you will accomplish your goal, in my view the real goal in life no matter what you are doing is to enjoy the ride. And this is exactly what you are doing.

    • Chris, my wife is from Iran and she is returning for her first visit after 32year! in September – I am a little anxious as she is also – can understand your emotions. If we can be of any assistance with insider perspectives, let me know – she still has 3 brothers and 1 sister there – I plan to visit myself sometime also, but the first visit is best left to her as she has a lot to catch up on. Anyway, sometimes the remote countries are the most enjoyable – untouched by a lot of modern “progress”

    • Spent most of my life trying to understand people who would even ask “Why are you doing that?” because I didn’t realise that some people actually don’t have dreams, or see them as fundamentally important. Now, I spend time trying to help them understand me (or us) so they realise they don’t need permission to have dreams.

      I’m at 3 countries (spent half my childhood in San Diego and Tijuana) but at least country #3 was Ireland. Once we live there, I’ll add 20 more in rapid succession. No goal to see them all, just to see the ones I’m already fascinated with.

      And then I’ll set another goal . . .

    • I love you Chris & what you do, but I can’t really say I understand your travel as I’m much more a slow travel, deep immersion kind of girl (plus that just makes more sense as a family).

      BUT it makes YOU happy and that is really what it is all about. I enjoy reading about it because I tend to think more like Rolf Potts, but you open my mind to a different way at viewing travel.

      I hate planes so it’s fun to read someone who relishes long flights and why. Always intriguing!

    • Wyman says:

      Thanks for telling us more about your travels. Memories have a way of leaving out the unplesant parts. They even become comical. Steping off an air-conditioned plan in Saudi Arabia the first time was like sticking my head in a 124 degree oven. I have many great memories of the two years there. I also met my wife of 53 years from New Jersy. Being from California I would never of met her.

      I liked Randall’s qoute about, it’s not the goal but who you become while reaching it.

    • Wyman says:

      Hey everyone,

      I just went to the frequently asked questions from the “contact” navigation button at the top. Chris has some really great answers. You should read them if you haven’t.

    • June says:

      Bravo for having a dream and going after it with all your heart and soul! The last thing you want is to reach a certain age, look back, and regret what you DIDN’T do.

      Take a peek at Patrick Leigh Fermor’s travel books sometime, if you don’t already know them. Ditto for Colin Thubron and Willam Dalrymple. They are probably my three favorites. Brilliant. But perhaps you know them already.

    • Thanks Chris – inspiring as always.

      A friend always used to say “You can sleep when you’re dead”… I love the spirit of that… don’t stop when there’s still adventures to be had, go full out… though practically – life gets a little less fun is you don’t sleep for TOO long – but still better than working a boring job.

    • Tyler Link says:

      You may not have looked this far into the future (though it’s only three years away), but what do you intend to do after you’ve visited every country in the world? Where do you go from there? I know some of these visits are less than leisurely so maybe you’ll continue to travel, but with less stress and more time to enjoy your favorite destinations.

      But at 35 you’ll still have a lot of life ahead of you. Do you anticipate “settling down?” Will you turn your attention to a new goal, completely unrelated to travel? I’m curious what your thoughts are (surely the thought has at least crossed your mind) even if you have no idea what’s next.

    • Shauna says:

      Hey, Chris, can you buy yourself more time to visit countries on a technicality? What I mean is that if your 35th bday comes around and you still have a handful of countries left to visit, and you visit them WHILE you’re 35, can you still say you visited them all by age 35? Hey, I’m always looking for the loophole…. ;o)

      Anyway, it’s really all about the journey, isn’t it?

    • emma says:

      “radically experiencing life” – what a beautiful way to articulate your desired manner of living, and one which resonates with me whole-heartedly. Re: reaching your goal – you’ll do what you’re meant to do, and you will do it radically, and it will be, and that will be that.

    • Katana says:

      Awesome!

      You know what, I love being able to say to myself, “if i know someone who’s visiting all the countries in the world, than i can definitely do _____________”
      it IS all relative, and you are awesome for reminding me how relative it all is. 😀

      nothing has meaning but the meaning we give it, so if it’s important, than it IS always worth it. and worth doing more of it.

    • Natalie says:

      I also love the paragraph that Brooke pointed out. It’s my birthday next month too Chris – so Happy Birthday in advance. Except I’m turning 33 and running a competition to get people to donate a birthday coffee or drink to me in turn for leaving a dare that I then choose the top 3 of to undertake on my birthday – I figure I’ll be doing something pretty radical on my actual birthday.

      Looking forward to hearing about your Africa travels, the continent I have not yet conquered….

    • James says:

      Recently discovered your site and your quest. Always find it interesting as travel is a major interest of mine. Coincidentally there was an article recently in the Observer magazine about someone who has been to every country in the world. There are officially 193 UN recognized countries I believe, but the folks on the mosttraveledpeople website have expanded this to 871 places/territories. They include things like each one of the US states, and various islands around the world belonging to other countries. When you have finished with the UN countries, you could always continue the quest…..

    • Very nice post, now you have me wanting to get my passport together to head out on a similar adventure.

      Thank you.

    • Chris says:

      @Tyler,

      I think travel will always be a part of my life in one form or another. I don’t plan to retire in three years. 🙂

      @Shauna,

      The goal is every country (192) before my 35th birthday. If I don’t make it, I’ll have to do something, but I would be disappointed.

      @James,

      Yes, there is also another list that has about 300 places on it. By that list I’ve already been to 160 or so, but I’m using the UN list to keep it simple for now.

    • Meg says:

      “You’d better know in your heart why you want to do it, and you’d better have enough internal motivation to keep going when times are tough.”

      I couldn’t imagine anyone putting it better than this!

      Cyprus is an absolutely gorgeous place. I got to see all the pictures of when my husband spent a month there for work back in 2006. I’m still jealous that he got to stay on that little bit of paradise… But we’ll get there someday, for all play. (No work, or at least not fun work!) Apparently awesome Greek food, too….

    • Steven says:

      Your descriptions of quick visits remind me of what I have to wait years to do; fly somewhere on vacation and try to relax and take in the sights, all the while knowing that the time will pass much too quickly. Then it’s back to the airport and a flight back home. I want to travel to many places in the future, but for now, I fill the gaps in my own travel with the things that you and others write. It may take a while, but I’ll be out on the road someday… Thanks.

    • Ash Menon says:

      @Joel

      I completely relate to seeing people with no ambition. It scares the daylights out of me when I see some people, even friends of mine, content with just getting _a_ job anywhere to pay the bills. Day in, day out. It’s not that they’re financially desperate for anything they can get,they just don’t care.

      Good luck for your remaining countries, Chris! We’ll be rooting for you!

    • Karen Nardella says:

      Chris you inspire me with your writing. It seems just when I stumble your email arrives and picks me right back up. I aspire to write in such a way that it affects another in a positive way. Thank you for the share and God speed you in your journeys adding blessing for you and those you meet along the way as you go.
      Take care and have a fantab’ulous day. Karen

    • Lucy says:

      I wouldn’t class myself as a daredevil traveller, but I’ve been to Uzbekistan and would definitely recommend it. The weirdest part of the trip was before I even got there – I boarded the plane to Tashkent and found the lady next to me thought she was flying to Berlin. No idea how she managed to get on the plane…

      Please feel free to get in touch if I can help with questions or anything.

    • Gaurav Kishore says:

      Thanks for continuously sharing your experiences and adventures. I wish you all the best and hope you are able to cover the remaining countries in the time you have set for them. This morning I came back from a month long India (Rajasthan and Agra) trip. I am dead tired and can’t think of another trip for next few months. Your passion and motivation for traveling is no doubt commendable and contagious at the same time. I hope I get seriously infected with the same travel bug :-).

    • juds123 says:

      I wouldn`t limit myself to countries. I prefer cities/ towns in my list. There are also two or more places in each country with respective charms and quirks for immersion and interaction. Rather than declare “I`d set foot there”, I like to say “I experienced _____ (name of place)! “. 😉

    • Ariane says:

      Good luck Chris and thanks for the updates! If you’re in Spain (Madrid or thereabouts) next month, shoot me an email.

    • Shauntelle says:

      I really LOVE this and it was perfect for me to read this morning to remember the direction I want to take my life in. Thanks Chris, for the inspiration, as always!

    • Heather Rae says:

      I love that you made this your goal and you work toward that goal, taking a very practical approach. I find that when I set a goal for myself, sometimes it’s fun and sometimes it’s not fun. But accomplishing that goal feels amazing. Like you said, “The advice for doing something really big is the same no matter the task: you’d better know in your heart why you want to do it, and you’d better have enough internal motivation to keep going when times are tough.” SO TRUE.

      Thanks for keeping us updated on your progress. I love hearing about it!

    • Chris – glad to see you’re still enjoying the fast-paced travel. 65 to go means you’re on the home stretch.

      When you go back to Fiji you have both Tuvalu and Kiribati to visit.

      When people ask me why I travel like I do (quite similar to your travel), I say I’d much prefer to push myself to do more following my dreams than to later on look back in regret at the missed opportunities.

    • Marcus says:

      I really like the paragrapgh where you talk about “Fun” – well said! It can be related to so many other things.

    • Audrey says:

      Although places like Uzbekistan and Iran do sound scary from afar, we were humbled by the hospitality we received in Uzbekistan during our visit a few years ago. We were repeatedly reminded by people we met that they separate the actions of the government from its people (this was in Bush years). We have not been to Iran, but have heard similar stories of incredible kindness from other travelers who have been.

      We just returned from an unexpected (last minute) trip to Antarctica – nice to have an opportunity to see the seventh continent.

    • rebekah roxanna says:

      Uzebekistan and Iran are easy. Uzebekistan is full of European backpackers. I did Uzebekistan in 2007 and Iran in 2005

    • Hey Chris!

      Wow, you look great. Good to see you are following your dreams whole heartedly. As I read your travel journals I come up with a thousand things I want to write in your comments section, then read the other comments and mine seem silly. But for the most part, I’d like to say.
      ~ well done, I think what you are doing is awesome. More awesome then the book of Awesome.
      ~ Happy Birthday.
      ~ I think all writers questions their motives, why they travel, why they write. Motivation. My entire blog is based on the learning by doing aspect. You can talk about something for ever but until you hit the go or publish button on your computer, get your bag packed, head over to the airport and get on that plane, the you are only talking. You walk the walk. That’s so impressive.
      ~ You are one of the hardest working writers I have come across. My since compliments.
      ~ Every time I write you, I get a quick response. Thanks.

      Happy travels. Happy writing. Go Chris!

      Julie

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