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?

Jan 032016

So, I’m currently dodging large bugs even larger african militias in West Africa right now. One new country down this trip, and four more to go, which will bring me to having just six left to check off. Currently in Ziguinchor, Senegal right now, on the way to Guinea-Bissau. Assuming I get a visa tomorrow. Assuming I find a taxi, assuming, well, just assuming things don’t go tits up. It’s Africa after all!

Since Ian (who I traveled to Israel and Palestine with in 2014, and went to Chad, CAR, Togo, and Benin with in 2015) appears to have a few fans on my blog, he agreed to write a guest blog for me while I was busy over the coming weeks. The first part is below…so feel free to leave him lots of feedback and encouragement. Enjoy this a break from my usual picture-heavy writing style, and get to explore strange out of the way places even I haven’t made it to yet! Here goes!


I don’t have a big family. Just my parents, me, and some extended relatives who don’t live anywhere close and we don’t like very much anyway. Consequently, holidays really mean nothing to me and never result in any familial obligations which prevent me from travelling. Thanksgiving has therefore become just another day off from work and one which becomes a part of yearly trip overseas, sometimes alone, sometimes with friends. Last five years have been Israel, Poland, Italy, Ireland, and Las Vegas. 2015 would be similar. I would go, park myself for a week, and dive into the area.

The planning and the pieces of the puzzle that would become this year’s trip took shape throughout the year. The first part was the outbound, which really was the back end of my inbound from the African adventure I had with Jason back in September. When booking in February, I found an $1165 round trip business class fare on Etihad from CAI-AUH-JFK, with a return leg leaving JFK on 11/22. A few months later, the ex-OSL mistake fare on OneWorld came up, and I found myself with a round trip OSL-HEL-JFK for $480 in business class, leaving on 12/1. And until September, all I could definitively tell anyone about my Thanksgiving plans were that they were taking place between Cairo and Oslo.

Figuring out where that place was, and making it work into my budget, mileage balances, flight times, etc. became a task. I had toyed with abandoning the “park myself” bit and bouncing around Africa, but that was going to be far too expensive. Cape Town sounded nice, but ate up to much time/money/miles getting down there from CAI and then back up to Oslo for the outbound. And then I started focusing in on the Caucasus region. Looked at Georgia, and flight connections through IST were decent, but I thought it more prudent to go there in the spring or summer when the weather was better. The visa for Azerbaijan would be a pain. And so I set my sights on Armenia. More specifically, I set my sights on Nagorno-Karabakh.

I’m a political science/current events/history junkie. If you have such an affliction, unrecognized states and “frozen conflicts” are better than cocaine. Not that I’ve used cocaine (but if you know a guy…). For a brief history, the current Nagorno-Karabakh came about as a result of ethnic tensions, ethnic cleansing, and outright war between Armenia and Azerbaijan as the USSR crumbled and gave birth to new republics. In the early/mid 90s, Armenian (and Russian) backed forces ended up fighting (Russian backed) Azeri forces occupying a large chunk of Azerbaijan, creating a buffer zone, and forming a quasi-independent country…which no one recognizes and has just been hanging out for the past 20 years.

I wanted to go there. Getting there though, was a process.

There is an airport outside of the nominal capital, Stepanakert. Up to all the latest standards, but there’s a slight hiccup in that the Azeris threaten to shoot down any plane, military or civilian, that would try and use it. So that would mean flying to Yerevan (EVN) and then going by road hundreds of miles to get there. But flights into EVN from CAI weren’t working for me, with very few airlines flying there to begin with. I ultimately found the best use of time and money was to drop my last leg to CAI, take a taxi from AUH, overnight at the Hilton in Sharjah (8,000 HHonors points + $45), and then go DXB-EVN the following morning on FlyDubai (coach, $280), landing at about 15:00 local time. The final flights I booked were an award on Aeroflot in business (25,000 DL Skymiles) going EVN-SVO-OSL on 11/30.

Now, getting from Yerevan to Stepanakert. The sensible side in me said “you don’t know the roads, it will be getting dark, you should just hire a driver for the 5+ hour drive. Or overnight in Yerevan and take a bus in the morning.” The other side of me said “rent a Lada Niva with 4wd, make the drive yourself, and that have your own wheels for the week.” The Lada Niva side won, and so I rented a car through Caravan ( for around $300 for the entire week, with a GPS.

Hotels in Stepanakert were fairly straightforward. The two best options seemed to be the Hotel Armenia or the Vallex Garden Hotel ( ), and since the latter had a gym and an indoor pool, it won.

A trip was born.