Dec 142017
 


Bonus points if you get the reference in the post title…

So, it all started innocently enough. I wanted to fly the newish Delta A350, and an opportunity arose that made sense to take a long weekend and go to Seoul.

Then, due to an early 2018 work trip being moved, a one-way ticket to Europe I’ve been holding for around 10 months already will have to be used just one or two weeks later since I can’t get away in February as planned.

So the problem is, I have a one-way to Seoul, and a one-way to Europe. Unfortunately, these are both trips AWAY from home. I started by looking at two one-way tickets to complete them. Long weekend in Seoul, full week in Europe. but that’s boring. I kept thinking about them as separate trips. That just wasn’t doing it for me.

The first trip was limited on time, since I’ll have six days max to pull it off. The second trip I can span two weekends, so I should be able to get 10-11 days out of it.

Then…I found it…the ticket that pulls it all together. A great Seoul-Europe-Seoul fare that will get me almost all the way home on “Trip One” and then get me from Europe back to Seoul on “Trip Two.” Oh, wait, I still would need to one way tickets to complete this. Plus…not sure where the adventure is.

Without pulling the trigger yet, it’s currently looking like the trip may be:

First Trip would essentially be:

  • DeltaOne A350 to Seoul
  • Two nights in Korea
  • Finnair A350 to Helsinki
  • Overnight in Helsinki
  • Finnair to Berlin
  • ICE first class train Berlin to Frankfurt
  • Overnight in Frankfurt
  • DeltaOne from Frankfurt to DC

Second Trip gets much more complicated since I have longer:

  • Lufthansa First to Frankfurt/Munich
  • ICE first class train to Leipzig for a night
  • Train to Dresden for a night
  • Train to Berlin for two nights
  • Finnair A350 to Seoul
  • Aeroflot to Vladivostok for two nights
  • Aeroflot business class to Petorpavlovsk-Kamchatky for two nights
  • S7 business class to Seoul
  • China Eastern business class to Shanghai for a night
  • DeltaOne from Shanghai to DC

Is it insane? Absolutely! I haven’t had insane New Years trips in several years. I somewhat miss the days when it always meant ticking off a new country:

2003: started small – Czech Republic (17 countries visited)
2004: little more adventurous: Poland and Hungary (26 countries visited – 9 new)
2005: Taipei, Australia, New Zealand via Malaysian Airlines First Class – now we’re talking! (32 countries – 6 new)
2006: Australia again in Malaysian Airlines First Class – plus New Caledonia and Vanuatu (35 countries – 3 new)
2007: Rio, Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay, Brazil, Iguazu – I’m addicted. (45 countries – 10 new)
2008: Belarus, Baltics (60 countries – 15 new)
2009: Turkey and Jordan (66 countries – 6 new)
2010: Iraq – full on crazy now! (73 countries – 7 new)
2011: UAE, Iran, Afghanistan (82 countries – 9 new)
2012: Rwanda, Burundi, Kenya, Somalia, Djibouti… (108 countries – 26 new)
2013: Libya…then to Myanmar and Hong Kong on a whim! (131 countries – 23 new)
2014: Equatorial Guinea, Cameroon, Gabon, Congo, DR Congo, Angola…yup, crazy! (154 countries – 23 new)
2015: Madagascar, Malawi, Uganda, Tanzania, Zanzibar (177 countries – 23 new)
2016: Senegal, Guinea-Bissau, The Gambia, Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone…and no Ebola! (190 countries – 13 new)
2017: Nothing! Every Country Complete and I want a rest.
2018: Back to the Crazy…Maybe!

So, time to jump back on the wagon! Your encouragement welcome!

One great thing about this post – people ask me all the time when I “decided” I would visit every country. It was definitely before 2005 because I remember when the DPRK opened up to Americans for the first time, I knew I “had” to go in case it might be my only chance since I wanted to visit every country. However, 2011 looks to be the year I decided to “go for it – adding 23-26 new countries a year over the next four years.

So, looks like I have over 39,000 miles to fly in the next month. Fasten those seatbelts, this will be a long one!

Aug 072017
 



One of the most frequent questions I got last year was “after you’ve been to every country, what will you do next?”

Over the last two years, the only community of “Country Collectors” or “Competitive Travelers” (take your pick) has actually come together quite a bit more, thanks to a combination of Facebook and various other websites. It’s a small club of 200-300 people by most accounts, and it’s been interesting to watch how people travel after going to every country.

Many people can’t stop collecting, so they go for the Travelers Century Club list of 325 distinct places. Others start ticking off US States, or Russian regions, or the UNESCO heritage list. There’s an endless number of possibilities for those of us who are list focused.

My plans were to at least take the next year to revisit places I had enjoyed, and spend a bit more time doing fun trips. My results at that have been decidedly mixed. Due to heavy work travel, I found myself in Croatia, Thailand, and Vienna over the last year – getting to see all three more in depth due to spending a week at a time in one city. I also made a round the world trip back in February, returning to places I’d already been and flying a variety of fun routes.

Then of course, I got sucked into the “list” thing a bit in the spring, when Ian convinced me to go to South Ossetia, Nagorno-Karabakh, and Abkhazia since they are quasi-independent. I’m still very interested in doing more of these autonomous places, but happy to take the pace slower.

So, with that, I figured I would celebrate the one year anniversary of going to every country with a bit of a fun trip. The routing would be somewhat determined for me, since I had a few tickets I had bought over the past year which would soon expire if I didn’t use them (non-refundable, but date-changeable) so it became a matter of piecing things together to make those work.

I toyed with all kinds of routings. I wanted to take some “fun” flights just for the experience. I wanted to try and get to some places I hadn’t been in a long time. Due to the existing tickets, I also had to go to Sydney, Singapore, and Helsinki. Yeah…not exactly on the same side of the Earth, eh?

So, this is how it all shook out. I didn’t set out to hit all six permanently inhabited continents, but that’s how it’s going to happen. The final routing looks like this, barring any surprises:

You might notice the trip ends in Detroit. Thats because I land back in the US on not only the one year anniversary of my getting to every country, but also the day before my NEXUS membership expires. …and just my luck, they’re requiring an interview for me to renew.

That puts me in Detroit/Windsor at the front end of a long holiday weekend before my birthday…so who knows where the last five days will take me. I’m intentionally leaving it open-ended for another week or two at least.

The start is also a little uncertain. I’m considering being brave and flying non-rev down to Santiago to start the trip, but fortunately I have a backup refundable award ticket booked on another airline just in case. So the front and end are a little questionable, but the middle is solid now. Who knows, since I’ll be in Detroit maybe I’ll make a quick two day hop to Europe or Asia at the end. All depends how things shake out!

Rather than go through all the details, I’ll just highlight a few of the flights/travel parts I’m really looking forward to:

  • Air Canada 787 from Santiago to Buenos Aires
  • The Private Room in the AmEx Centurion Lounge in Buenos Aires
  • My first South Atlantic crossing: Sao Paulo to Johannesburg
  • My first South Indian ocean crossing: Johannesburg to Perth
  • Singapore A380 suites from Sydney to Delhi, with a 23:55 connection to enjoy Singapore and the Private Room
  • Uzbekistan Airways 767 and 787 from Delhi to Moscow with stops in Amritsar and Tashkent
  • Russian SAPSAN train first class from Moscow to Petersburg
  • Allegro train from Petersburg to Helsinki

Feel free to share any must-see things to see/do along the way. Leaving in just a couple of days now…

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 (www.caravan.am) 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 ( http://vallexgarden.com ), and since the latter had a gym and an indoor pool, it won.

A trip was born.

Jan 232015
 

I’m not right in the head. We’ve established that a long, long time ago. The one sensible thing I’ve done travel-wise lately is cancel my New Years crazy trip for the first time in 10+ years because I was simply too tired to go after several trips.

Of course “tired” lasted about two weeks, and I was all rebooked for about 5 weeks after I’d originally planned to go. Same general routing, same countries planned, everything should work out. Well, maybe.

First, the Eritreans. They don’t like giving out visas. As a matter of fact, I’m about to get on a plane and still don’t have one. Hopefully it’ll show up in time…if not, maybe I can convince them to deliver it to me on arrival. Or I’ll spend a night in an Eritrean holding cell.

Then, there’s those Houthis. You know, the ones who overran Sana’a this week and have basically overthrown the Yemeni government. Of course, after conferring with people on the ground I’m still going. The airport’s open after all, so why not?

Finally, United. I love United. More precisely, I love the stuff you can sometimes get away with on united.com. Flying back to DC from Eritrea the easy route would be one stop via Istanbul. Who would want to do that when you can also stop in Saudi Arabia, Lithuania, AND Kiev for no extra miles?! Plus, the Lithuania and Ukraine stops are nearly 24 hours so a chance to re-visit. Plus, my having “been to Ukraine” is mildly tainted. See, I was in Kiev once before…in 1989…when it was technically the Ukrainian SSR. So, this is a chance to legitimize what was country #5 for me…or it could be #179…depending how you want to count it.

The routing should be more or less fixed now:

eamap

Rough Expected Outline:

I. DC to Lake Malawi in United First and South African Business
II. Malawi (country #172)
III. Lilongwe to Johannesburg, overnight in Sandton
IV. Johannesburg to Antananarivo, overnight in ‘Tana (country #173)
V. Andasibe Park and Lemurs!
VI. To Comoros via Mayotte on Air Madagascar, exploring Comoros (country #174)
VII. Comoros to Mombasa on East Africa Safari Air, Kenya, overnight Mombasa
VIII. Mombasa to Zanzibar on Fly540, overnight Zanzibar (country #175)
IX. Zanzibar to Dar es Salaam on ZanAir, overnight Dar
X. Dar to Uganda on Kenyan Airways in Business, overnight Entebbe (country #176)
XI. Entebbe to Istanbul on Turkish in Business, day in Istanbul
XII. Istanbul to Sana’a, Yemen on Turkish in Business (country #177)
XIII. Sana’a, Yemen – Horton Hears a Houthi!
XIV. Sana’a to Asmara, Eritrea on Yemenia in Business
XV. Asmara, Eritrea (country #178)
XVI. Asmara to Vilnius, Lithuania via Taif, Saudi Arabia on Turkish in Business
XVII. Vilnius, Lithuania
XVIII. Vilnius to Kiev, Ukraine, on SAS and LOT
XIX. Kiev, Ukraine
XX. Kiev to DC with Lufthansa EuroBusiness and United First

Sit back and fasten your seatbelts, this promises more drama than Fiji Airways and my escape from Lebanon combined!