Aug 232016
 

So, this is it. In just about a week I will board an IcelandAir flight and takeoff for Reykjavik, Iceland. Iceland will be my 196th, and final country in the world to visit!

Of course, that would be far too easy after the logistics of planning the first 195 countries! As a brief history, what led up to this point:

First off, the journey has covered approximately 2.4 million miles to this point and a total of 157 airlines. When mapped, it looks something like this:

welt479061471981708

As of 1988, I had visited five countries: The US, Canada, Mexico, the UK, and the Soviet Union.

By 2000, that list had only increased to 11, taking in France, Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands, and South Africa.

From there, things started going faster:

2002: 16 countries, including first trip to Asia
2003: 23 countries, including first trip to Central America (Costa Rica)
2004: 31 countries, including Australia
2005: 34 countries, including being part of the first group of Americans to visiting North Korea in decades
2006: 41 countries, including lots of South America
2007: 55 countries, including a big trip around the Middle East
2008: 65 countries
2009: 72 countries, including most of Europe and Southeast Asia complete
2010: 81 countries, includiong Afghanistan
2011: 102 countries, including my first RTW trip
2012: 130 countries, with about half of the new ones in Africa
2013: 149 countries, including several trips to Africa and Central Asia
2014: 171 countries, notably Syria, Nauru, and Angola
2015: 185 countries, finally visiting Yemen, CAR, Chad, and Eritrea
2016: 195 plus one to go….Iceland!

The question I get all the time is, “when did you really start doing this?” I guess I was in casual traveler mode, going to new places when convenient from around 2002-2010. By 2005 I’d decided that one day I would go everywhere, which is why I jumped on North Korea when the chance was there, since it was unclear how long they might allow Americans in. 2010 was when things really started picking up, and I added 20+ new countries per year.

Of course, I don’t do anything the easy way. First off, I opened my trip up to family, friends, and coworkers, and will be going to Iceland with around 40 people to share the final country experience.

Then, because IcelandAir essentially costs the same to fly to Iceland or to Europe with a stop in Iceland, I had to add something on. But, I had no idea what…so because tickets were selling quickly I booked into London after Iceland and back a week later from Helsinki. But, what to do in between?

First thought was “let’s do an epic train adventure!” But…I’d rather save that for London to Singapore by train some day when I have time…so what else. Then it hit me. My previous trips to Latvia, Lithuania, and Ukraine were incredibly brief, so let’s spend a few days there. Perfect!

So, the trip was set, and the route:

kefmap

Trip report will be split into roughly these parts:

1. Washington to Reykjavik with Iceland Air, arrival in country #196
2. Reykjavik City Tour and Final Country Celebration
3. Blue Lagoon and the Reykjanes Peninsula
4. The Golden Circle Tour
5. Other Iceland Musings and Reykjavik to London with Iceland Air
6. Overnight in London, London to Riga with Air Baltic
7. Day in Riga and Riga to Vilnius with Air Baltic
8. Day in Vilnius and Vilnius to Kiev with Ukraine Intl Airlines
9. Exploring Kiev
10. Chernobyl Tour
11. Kiev to Helsinki with Ukraine Intl Airlines
12. Day in Helsinki, and Helsinki to Washington with Iceland Air

I can’t believe the end is finally in sight, but here it comes! Thanks to all who have virtually joined the travels along the way, as well as those who have actually joined me for some of the trips…it wouldn’t have been nearly as fun and rewarding without you!

Aug 172016
 

You knew this post would be coming at some point. It’s the question I get the most often when I tell people I’m about to finish visiting every country in the world in just two weeks. Inevitably, they ask “what’s next?” It’s actually a pretty easy question to answer. Two things immediately pop to mind: first, I want to spend a little more time at home. There’s things I want to get done that I haven’t with so much traveling, so at least in the short term that will be nice. Plus, I have a few work trips to Zagreb and Bangkok coming up later this year, so that will close out 2016 more or less.

Second thing I want to do is go back to places I really enjoyed and spend more time diving a little more in depth. Some ideas that are already brewing:

Ukraine, Lithuania, and Latvia: I’ve already tacked this on after Iceland since it was the same price on Icelandair to fly to Europe with a stop in Iceland as it was to fly just to Iceland. Lithuania and Latvia I only got very short overnights in my first time, so this time I’ll take a full day in each to walk the old towns and take in the cities. It should be nice weather in September as well! After that, I’m off to Ukraine. You could debate if I really visited Ukraine at all, since when I was there it was 1989 and it was the Ukrainian SSR. So, I’m going back now to remove any doubt…plus I’ve been really curious to take the Chernobyl tour. I remember being a kid when the reactor blew and worried the whole world was going to die from radiation.

Syria, Yemen, Sudan, and Saudi Arabia: I’d like to visit all four of these more in-depth once it becomes feasible. Saudi Arabia because of a very difficult to get tourist visa, same with Sudan. Yemen and Syria will have to wait until things quiet down a bit.

Finland: I want to take a full week in the summer and go north of Helsinki and maybe do a road trip. Some camping, hanging out in lake country. Just a quiet laid back trip.

Namibia: I only got to see a tiny fraction of the country, and I really want to see more. From sand dunes to the Skeleton Coast to Swakopmund, I’d like to spend more time there.

Palau: When I went the first time in 2011 I wasn’t certified for SCUBA yet, and what I saw snorkeling was mind-blowing. I want to go back now, go deeper, and see more of the country! I guess you could add Belize and Bonaire to this last as well – three places I really want to go dive!

Russia: Probably more medium term goal, but I want to take 3+ weeks and do the Trans-Siberian. Take the train from Helsinki to St Petersburg, high speed down to Moscow, and then the Trans-Siberian to Mongolia. I’d like to break it up along the way as well, and maybe stop and see some smaller towns and more of rural Russia. A couple of years will give me a chance to strengthen my Russian more so I can really maximize the trip.

Being a bit of a list maker, there are two more goals I’m toying with:

All 50 States: I’ve visited 42 of the 50 states, and I’ve grouped the 8 remaining into either 4 or 5 trips. Suggestions and locals to show me around would be welcome in all of them:

  • First, I want to fly to Atlanta, rent a car, and do a loop covering Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, and Mississippi. New Orleans is the only must-do on this list, so I’d love any other recommendations people have. Definitely a 2017 trip.
  • New Mexico is also on this list. I have friends there, so will probably take a 3-4 day weekend and do some hiking and relaxing at some point in 2017
  • Iowa – yes, I grew up in Minnesota for 15 years and never made it to Iowa, despite being a less than two hour drive from home. I’m thinking it might be fun to fly to Minneapolis, visit family, and then drive down for a college football game either this fall or next. Any Iowa readers want to join me?
  • South Dakota – as above, somewhat embarrassed, although it’s a longer drive from Minneapolis. Definitely going to do Mount Rushmore. I’ll likely fly there for a weekend at some point. Any other must-sees while I’m there?
  • Last but not least will be Oklahoma. Haven’t given much thought to this one, so any suggestions welcome! I’d like to finish all the states in 2017.

So, after visiting all 50 states, the only other immediate list is my list of 215 Independent Places. This is 19 places beyond the list of 196 countries that I think are independent enough I really should visit them as well. So far, I’ve visited 11 of the 19 already (Hong Kong, Macau, Taiwan, Guernsey, Jersey, Isle of Man, Transnistria, Turkish Cyprus, Aruba, Curacao, Cayman Islands) leaving 8 to go:

  • Nagorno-Karabach – internationally-recognized as part of Azerbaijan, although the government of Azerbaijan hasn’t exercised any control in the region for over 20 years. Almost entirely filled with ethnic Armenians¬†it’s in western Azerbaijan and accessibly only from Armenia and uses the Armenian Dram as currency. They do issue their own visas/visitors permits though.
  • Abkhazia – an autonomous republic of Georgia according to the international community it lies between Georgia and Russia, and as recognized as independent by Russia and a handful of over smaller states. Russia is also cooperating with the Abkhazia military forces, so obviously the only way in is really from Russia.
  • South Ossetia – almost identical to the situation in Abkhazia, also sitting between Georgia and Russia. Should be able to make one trip from these two.
  • Western Sahara, also known as the¬†Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic. Annexed by Morocco from Mauritania in 1976, it has been largely administered by Morocco ever since. They want independence, and have been recognized by nearly 30 countries. Should be easy to do flying in from Morocco.
  • Niue – self-governing, but in “free association” with New Zealand. Sort of similar to Puerto Rico and the United States, except there’s no independence movement. Population has dropped in the past couple of decades from about 6,000 to 1,000 with most people fleeing for Australia or New Zealand. The major problem? Only one flight a week, and it often gets canceled.
  • Tokelau – three atolls that are a territory of New Zealand, with only about 1,200 people total. Unfortunately, there’s no airport, so boats are the only way to get there. There are occasional seaplane flights from Samoa too, which is good because you need to get a Tokelau entry permit from Samoa before going!
  • Cook Islands – like Niue, a self-governing democracy in free association with New Zealand. Plenty of flights from New Zealand, and resorts as well. Rarotonga has lots of resorts and a nice lagoon. Will need to combine with Niue and Tokelau to make a very interesting trip.
  • Somalia – so I’ve technically been before, but to the northern part known as Somaliland, which has its own currency and government and is quite safe. Mogadishu is separately administered, so it’s on my list to get to eventually. Definitely doable, but will be tricky…

That should keep me plenty of busy for a while! What does everyone else have planned?