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.
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?