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?

Oct 152011

So, first a caveat.  This is going to be mostly a picture post, but I think you’ll understand why after looking at the pictures.  We had the entire day in Palau, and then a 1:30am (yes, in the morning) flight out of Palau.  Plan was to make the absolute most of the day.

I’d been bothering the tour company that everyone recommended for months, and they said they only ran the tour with four or more people.  One week out, still was just us…but they said they had two more, and we were set to go.  With our good luck, when we got there, they were a last-minute cancel, so we had a private boat snorkeling tour.  Excellent!

The plan was to head to Jellyfish Lake, which anyone who watched Survivor is probably very familiar with.  We were super excited to see it…and anything else along the way!  Fortunately, just being the two of us on the boat, the guides were awesome and took us to lots of great snorkeling sites!

Stop number one was at “the spa.”  This is a place where the water is relatively shallow – maybe 4 to 5 feet in a bit of a cove, and the shells and animals have decomposed over years to form soft clay/mud on the bottom of the ocean.  Dive down, scoop some up, slather it on yourself, rinse, repeat.  It was pretty amusing, especially watching the giant boat full of Japanese tourists do it!

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Oct 142011

We arrived into Guam late afternoon, just in time to head to the Sheraton, check in, and have a semi-relaxing evening.  It was only around 4pm when we made it to the hotel, and after two weeks on the road our most important mission was laundry.  Fortunately the Sheraton surprised us…not only with a suite upgrade, but with three laundry machines in the building.  I don’t remember the exact cost, but they were $1 to $1.25 per load – and nice and convenient.

Of course, we needed laundry supplies, so it was off to the most popular place on the island…K-Mart!  Those who live in the U.S. mainland probably assume that K-Mart has more or less faded into our past as one of those tragic relics of the 70s and 80s.  Not in Guam.  K-Mart is the social hub of the island, and packed to the rafters with people.  I’ve only ever been to one Wal Mart (don’t blame me, it’s the only option in the middle of Oahu!) and it reminded me of that.  But even bigger (both in size, and the size of the patrons.)  You could get literally everything here.

Stocked with Tide and Red Bull it was back to the Sheraton, where we joined a member of the U.S. Navy in completing laundry pretty quickly.  With that out of the way…what else does one do on Guam?!  Not much.  We decided after two weeks a little Americana was in order, and grabbed dinner at California Pizza Kitchen.  Guam is definitely one place you need a car, unless you don’t plan to leave your resort…and I can’t imagine a resort vacation on Guam!

Up early the next morning, our plan was to drive around the island before our early evening flight to Palau.  Up to the executive lounge for breakfast, which was packed with Japanese package tourists consuming Japanese breakfast.  It was nice to have a Japanese option for breakfast instead of the typical sugar and carb-laden US/continental options.  Oh, and lots of ice cold Diet Coke.

That done, we were off to drive around Guam.  Our first stop was not far from the hotel at the giant rotating statue of Pope John Paul II.  Unfortunately, it’s been broken a few years, and no longer rotates.  However, the headline story in all the local papers we saw was how a donation had been received, and soon it would rotate again.  Yes, this qualifies for headline news in Guam.

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