Advanced Travel Planning: February – May 2010


As I finished up last year’s Annual Review, it became clear that 2010 was going to be even more of a monster year than 2009. I’ve got a ton of things going on, which is great, but I also need to keep working on my quest to visit every country in the world.

This is my “travel accountability” post – it’s safe to say that if you don’t care about trip planning, you don’t need to read it. Everyone else, read on…


Last year I wrote the original Advanced Travel Planning article, where I outlined the next few trips I planned to take. This time I have two major challenges:

1. I need to visit 20 new countries before September (from September-December I’ll be traveling only in the U.S. and Canada for my book tour). This effectively lops off a whole quarter of potential trips.

2. I’ve now visited 122 124 countries, so only 68 remain in my long-term goal – but the closer I get to the end, the harder it gets.

When I first started thinking about the year ahead, including the imperative to get to 20 new countries before September, I said to a few people that 2010 has too few months. I can’t add any months to the year, unfortunately, so I’ll just have to get creative and more strategic about the trips.

While on vacation in December, I set aside an entire day during Christmas week to make as many trip plans as possible. During this day, I planned the following tasks:

  • Pick up an additional 250,000 U.S. Air miles through the great 250% promotion from last fall
  • Call to reserve an awards ticket to Lithuania (arrival) and Belarus (departure)
  • Finish plotting my 2010 Star Alliance Round-the-World ticket and queue it for booking
  • Reroute an older OneWorld Round-the-World ticket to reflect a couple of itinerary changes
  • Check on any visa concerns or potential problems with my target country list (below)
  • Figure out how to get to Korea to resume the current OneWorld ticket
  • Figure out how to get to Japan to begin the next Star Alliance ticket

And so on – you get the idea. I spend hours and hours working on tasks like this throughout the year, but I’ve never devoted a whole day to the planning before. It was a good idea.

Target Country List

For the first time, I drew up a list of countries I hoped to visit this year. For no good reason, I’ve been paranoid about doing this before, but being strategic requires a target list defined in advance. Here’s the first two-thirds of the list:

Federated States of Micronesia
Marshall Islands

(As you can see, not every country is “difficult”—for some reason, I’ve yet to visit Norway, just as I haven’t been to the entire continent/country of Australia—but keep in mind I have to plan for each country in coordination with all the other trips and stopovers.)

A Few Notes on the Next Few Trips

I’ll be in Asia at least twice, but it’s tricky because I’m almost out of “new” Asian countries. With the exceptions of the -stan countries in Central Asia, it’s a short list. I need to visit East Timor and Papua New Guinea, two countries that are logistically challenging, and I also need to get to the Maldives, which is several flight hours away from every country except Sri Lanka.

I went to Thailand, Cambodia, and Laos around this time last year and really enjoyed being back in the region after a long absence. This time, I’ll be in Bangkok for several days in mid-February for meetings and the entertaining “dodge-the-traffic” running game I like to play there.

Central America and Europe

This trip is booked completely on my OneWorld itinerary I purchased last year. I might reroute part of it, but the itinerary is currently set up as follows:


Highlights include my final stops in Central America (Guatemala and Nicaragua), and a trip to the divided country of Cyprus where I hope to visit both the Greek side and the Turkish side.

This itinerary then continues on towards Asia, although I’ll be coming home again after that portion and saving the Europe–>Asia portion for later.

Major Trip to Africa

I try to visit Africa at least once a year. Last year I ended up in Namibia and Swaziland, where I also traveled overland in a bush taxi to Mozambique. This time I’ll be entering the continent via Cameroon, heading down to Gabon on an overland journey, then over to Malawi via South African Airways. Since I’ll be based in Johannesburg for at least one layover, I’m also hoping to head to the island of Madagascar on an awards flight.

If I really want to outdo myself (but also make it to another faraway country, thus saving the need to fly back there later), I’ll look at adding on Comoros or Seychelles while I’m in Madagascar. We’ll see.

South Pacific

Aside from Hawaii, New Zealand, and the Cook Islands, I haven’t spent much time in the South Pacific at all. It’s a big place, and there are eleven countries there. I’m a bit intimidated by the distance between them, but I need to get started on the region.

I made my first major trip last month, to Tonga, Samoa, and Fiji. Alas, at least one (possibly two) additional countries eluded me while I was in Fiji—so I’ll need to go back at some point.

Travel tip: As mentioned at the time of booking, the South Pacific is a great region for awards travel. I booked my trip directly to Auckland (with a free stopover), then to the island nation of Tonga, then over to Samoa and all the way back on a single award. You can also travel on a similar itinerary via North Asia (usually Japan) and get another free stopover that way.

The second Pacific trip will begin in Guam (not a country, but an interesting place nonetheless) and continue to the Federated States of Micronesia, then hopefully on to the Marshall Islands and / or Nauru.

Belarus + Lithuania

As a relatively simple trip, I plan to arrive in Vilnius, Lithuania, get oriented for a few days, and then travel by bus to Minsk, Belarus. The latter country has a reputation for being obstinate, so I’ll probably need to arrange my visa in advance. I used more Star Alliance miles (80,000) with U.S. Airways to book this trip, including a free stopover in Vienna.

While I’m out and about, I’ll need to see about a few overland trips and paid flights to the other countries. I can hop up to Norway from almost any other European country. I might be able to visit Algeria or Morocco while transiting in Paris or Madrid. It’s helpful to plan for side trips and stopovers when visiting other places along the way — this is a key part of my strategy to reduce costs and time away from home.

Domestic Travel

I need to go to NYC to meet with my publisher at some point, to Austin for SXSW in March, and a couple of short trips for speaking gigs — but otherwise I’ll be home in Portland when not elsewhere around the world.

Then in September, the domestic adventure begins… all fifty states, plus two stops in California and Texas, plus Washington, D.C. — followed by 10 additional stops in every Canadian province for a total of 63 reader meetups in 63 cities. This will be a major undertaking involving volunteers at each stop.

(Stay tuned for all the details on the Unconventional Book Tour. I’m actually scared to death about putting this whole thing together, but more on that later.)


I know it’s a fairly aggressive itinerary, but it’s a fairly intensive year all around. I’ll be using at least 400,000 Frequent Flyer Miles and spending several thousand dollars in cash for the first few big trips I’ve booked. (Thank God for miles – it would require much more money to do this any other way.)

Anyway, I’m looking forward to the challenge. Let me know if you have any questions about the logistics – I’m happy to help other travelers whenever I can. Here’s to a travel-happy 2010!

Are you going anywhere this year? Feel free to share your planned trips.


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  • Gary Arndt says:

    1) If you are going to Guam, you might as well go to Palau as the easiest way to get there is from Guam. Continental Micronesia, the same airline that does the Marshall Islands/Micronesia route also flies to Palau from Guam. It is another one of those things where you’ll probably have to fly back if you don’t do it while you are there.

    2) Unless things have changed, the only way to get to Nauru is via the Solomon Islands on Our Airline. Either you stay in Nauru for a week or for a few hours. There are no other options.

    3) To go to Kiribati you have two options: 1) Fly to Kiritimati Island from Hawaii. 2) Fly to Tarawa from Nauru or Fiji. Kiribati is the ONLY country in the Pacific which requires Americans to get a visa. You can get it in Suva or Honolulu. It is probably cheaper to do it from Hawaii.

    4) Vanuatu is easy to get to. Many flights from Australia or Fiji. There are also flights between Vanuatu and the Solomon Islands.

  • ABCcreativity says:

    wow – i loved reading this.

    i am going to turkey and egypt later on this month. i’ve only got the flight booked from winnipeg to istanbul, now i’m getting into planning how to do what, how to get around, and everywhere i want to go while i am there. very excited about cappadocia in particular, but all of turkey intrigues me and egypt seemed like a good side trip to make while i am there.

    given how challenging i am finding planning my trip (and i am not even trying to figure out how to use points and air miles) – massive kudos to you with what you are doing here!

  • Marc Winitz says:

    And here I thought I was such a player having been to 30 countries. Good tip on the value of award travel in South Pacific, I was unaware and book a reasonable amount of FF mile trips. Awesome stuff Chris. I can’t wait to hear more about this adventure!

  • Audrey says:

    Looking at the logistics and the miles involved in booking these trips and fitting in all the right countries and layovers really boggles my mind. I’m struggling with figuring out logistics for five countries in East Africa over three months for a project.

    If you would like any ideas for Lithuania or need a visa to Belarus, let me know. We have friends in Vilnius who have gone through the process. Just be sure not to mention anything that makes you look like a journalist on your visa application.

  • Chris says:

    Thanks, guys. And thanks especially to Gary, our resident South Pacific travel expert (along with Global Traveler), who always helps out when I get various islands confused.

  • Bruce says:

    Even though travel within North America may be less epic, I hope you’ll write about that too when you’re on the book tour. Looking forward to preordering the book! 🙂 Any idea when that might be? August?

  • Jen says:

    i loved the couple of months i spent in guatemala. please, please make sure you get outside of guatemala city. seriously, don’t spend your time there except for catching buses to better parts of the country.

  • Samantha Nolan says:

    You may already have this in mind, but personally i’d pop Papua New Guinea and East Timor onto your trip to Australia when you do get there. It’s easy to get flights from Sydney to Port Moresby. Although Australia is a big country so it really depends how much time you want to be away from home..

  • Emilio says:

    You have inspired me since I started reading your stuff last year. I am going to Argentina, Romania, and Japan with possible other trips to Paris, Vegas, and NYC. Hopefully more once I get away from my day job.

  • RK says:

    Hey Chris your trips sounds very exciting (as always). There is only one thing though I cant belive you are coming to Central America and did not include El Salvador as a stop!!! Its a really amazing country you should come visit us! Its pretty easy to get around by bus between CA.
    Just consider it ok!

  • Doug says:

    Dude! Every province in Canada? Even little ol’ PEI? I hope you say yes!

  • Graeme says:

    Do you ever regret having to leave a country in order to get to the next one on the list? I’m planning a trip this year but I just hate confining myself to a timescale!

  • Angela says:

    Wow! That’s really all I can muster after looking at your travel schedule, but I’m excited to hear all about it along the way.

    I hope you’re hitting Dallas on one of the two trips in TX. I’m happy to be your DFW based volunteer. Just let me know what you need… Look forward to meeting face-to-face at SXSW!

  • Sam says:

    WOW! This sounds amazing, in an exhausting kind of way! I really enjoy reading about your quest to visit every country because it’s not something I’d ever want to do myself. (I mean that in the best possible way!) I’ll be watching as you cross the finish line in 3 years’ time. Good luck.

  • Chris says:

    Q&A from above:

    El Salvador – I was there last there. Don’t worry, I wouldn’t skip your country!

    Guatemala – not sure what the plan is for that yet.

    Do I ever regret leaving a country – yes, sometimes. I wished I could have spent more time in Syria and Laos, for example. However, I figure I can always go back later.

    Book pre-ordering – I would love to know! I just asked my publisher about that – let’s see what they say.

    Every province in Canada – yes, I’ll be there. 🙂

  • soultravelers3 says:

    I’m with Graeme, I don’t know how you or anyone manages on a time table. We love slow travel and following our bliss, so always end up staying much longer than planned.

    We’ve spent two extra years in Europe than planned, seen way more of it than any of the well traveled Europeans that we know and still don’t feel finished although we will head to Asia this year just so we can immerse our child in Mandarin Chinese while she is still young enough to have that be easy.

    This will be the first year we deal with lots of plane tickets for our RTW family open tour & I thought ours was pretty daunting, until I see yours. 🙂 Unlike you though, I hate flights.

    If you need any advice on Norway, let me know. It’s quite a spectacular country, especially the fjords & September is a great time to go to beat the crowds as well as the coldest temps.

  • lisa says:

    hey Chris – not sure if you have destinations in mind for Nicaragua, but i think you’d be interested to know about two NGOs down there doing great community work: Love, Light and Melody and Lacrosse the Nations… i’ve been to Managua (MGA is super easy) every march since 2005 and it’s beyond words. (both the links have video footage, which helps!) can’t wait to follow your travels in 2010. it’s been great!!!

  • Carin Kiphart says:

    We are beginning a multi-year journey climbing 7 summits, scuba diving the big 7 and driving around the world. This summer we begin in SA and end in Cairo. We will be driving through Malawi. If you would like to join us for part of our driving expedition in either July (Durban to Arusha, Tanzania) or mid-Aug..on the way to Cairo. Let us know. Part of this expedition is about “community” and we are inviting anyone who wants to join us for part or all is welcome. As well we may be diving in the Maldives…possibilities for a joint venture. contact us if you’re interested. You can see our complete itinerary for the next several years on our website as well. Happy Trails to all!

  • Matt says:

    I love reading about your traveling and your planning process Chris.

    This year I am planning on visiting Cambodia and Nepal to shoot photos for a few weeks. After that I’ll be taking the family to Indonesia, possibly for an extended stay.

    I’m doing all of this using many of the methods and travel hacks you have laid out in your excellent Frequent Flyer Master and Travel Ninja e-books. Traveling with a family of 4 does present it’s own set of unique challenges though.

  • Jenna says:

    I’m planning a few domestic trips this year, including two to New York City, at least one to Vermont, and one combo trip to Seattle/Tacoma/Portland. Those are the easy ones. I’m also looking into going to Slovenia this summer (with my MFA program) and possibly taking a side trip to London, where I lived for a year about 10 years ago. I haven’t been to Europe since then and am itching to get back. I realize Slovenia and England aren’t exactly close, but it’s so much easier to jet around Europe once you’re already there. I’ve been looking into transatlantic airfare and am appalled at how pricey it is these days! (I sound like an old fuddy-duddy, I know.) I haven’t had to give much thought to travel hacking, but I think it’s time to figure something out.

  • kimberly davis says:

    I’m headed to Chile for 4 weeks — leaving in a week and two days. Planning time in Punta Nutales, the Atacama dessert, Pucon, and in and around Santiago…

    Have a bit more advanced planning to do myself.

  • Tim says:

    Moi, I am off to France again for Le Tour (which happily is part tax deductible thanks to two of my web businesses – coffee + cycling – thanks Chris G for the inspiration), which will also include a quick incursion into the delightful Pyrenees.

    In 3 weeks, Tim + 1 are off to Hawaii (also part tax deductible – coffee) for surfing.

    NZ for some heliboarding in August.

    Tahoe+UT+CO for snowboarding next Feb all on Qantas FF points (tip to Aussies: get a Westpac Altitude or Earth platinum Amex to ramp your points up on QF or Virgin/Emirates).

  • Steph H. says:

    Sounds like a fun filled year ahead! Having just ended several years of full-time travel, I am a bit jealous. But, I wish you well and will live vicariously through your stories.

    I hope to get to meet you in person when you come for SXSW – I live in the Austin area and will be attending the event. I am sure we could find plenty of folks for a meet-up!

    Carin Kiphart, off to check out your site!

    Steph H.

  • Fly Brother says:

    I had a trip to Haiti planned for this summer that’s been unfortunately waylaid. Waiting on a work visa for Brazil that will have me doing much in-country travel over the next year, but I’d like to hit Australia and/or South Africa on a southern hemisphere RTW before the year’s out. Hope our paths cross somewhere along the way.

    -Fly Brother

  • Jack says:

    Gary is right, if you are gonna be in Guam, you oughta hit all of the places in Micronesia at once. FSM and Marshall Islands are all reachable only from Guam and Palau is only reachable via Guam or the Philippines.

    If you’ve got any plans for any kind of layover in Guam, let me know if you are in the mood for a Pacific meetup. I know that the author of Zen Habits lives in Guam. Me? I live about 120 miles north in Saipan and if there was some kind of schedule get together, I’d fly down.

  • Tomas Stonkus says:

    Woo Hoo!

    I was born in Lithuania and I have lived in the capital (Vilnius) for 17 years. It’s so exciting that you will get to go there!

    I have not been there myself for about 8 years now! I have missed it so much. As soon as I get some things taken care of in here, I am going back to visit there as well.

    I am not sure how long you are staying there for but definitely check out the Old Town and the Downtown Vilnius. If I lived there, I’d definitely show you around, so you can see the good spots.

    One more thing, be sure to check out the churches, especially Onos Baznycia. The Old Town is overflowing with them!

    Anyways, I am going off on a rant, have a great trip!


  • Andi says:

    Wow, quite impressive!!! And I know of all people you can do it! Can’t wait to hear about each adventure you go on. Sorry I’ve been away for awile–I was in Brasil. Happy New Year! 🙂

    If you need any tips for Guatemala, Nicaragua, or Fiji please feel free to e-mail me. I fell in love with each of those countries!

    Btw, New Caledonia is super close to Vanuatu. I really think you should hop over there if you can. New Caledonia is by far the most beautiful place I have ever seen!!!

    Another btw, I created a new website. If you ever get a free moment I’d love it if you could visit…

  • Leslie says:

    How long will you be in Japan? Would love to meet you if possible.

  • connie barrett says:

    I lived in North Cyprus twice for a year each time and it was amazing. Like all places, it has changed but I hope you can go to my favorite village, Bellapais, where I had a house. There’s a great gothic abbey and you must sit under the tree of idleness; how can I not love a place with a monument to idleness. I moved to Ecuador two months ago so my travel will be to the USA a couple of times. I am also madly hoping that I can get to Columbia and Cuba, but it depends on my never ending quest to find someone to stay with my little dog. Anyone interested in house sitting in Vilcabamba, Ecuador?

  • AdventureRob says:

    With the ambition to travel all countries I guess planning had to come into fruitation soon enough!

    I did a lot of South East Asia last year and started Australia, I’ll be in Australia for the first 1/4 of this year, and probably go home for a bit to work on a business or 3.

    In October I’m off to Japan for 6 months – 1 year as I got a job there, which I’m really looking forward too.

    Keep on living the life Chris, I’ve not commented before but I try to catch up on your posts via Google reader.

  • Ladyexpat says:

    What an exciting travel year you have ahead of you Chris.
    I’ll be in Bangkok for a couple of days in Feb (19/20)…on my way back to Seoul via KL. Are you planning a meet-up in Bangkok?

  • Robin says:

    I’m heading to Japan in April. I’m pretty psyched since it’s my first trip to Asia! So far my travels have only led me to Europe and the Middle East.

  • Nicolaï says:

    Chris, by what criteria do you determine that you’ve visited a country? For example, most people don’t consider passing through NRT on the way to another country justifies saying “I’ve been to Japan.” On the other hand, your hyper-controlled, suppressed experience at the airport and hotel in Saudi Arabia sounds like an authentic experience for that country, and so it should count.

    So, how do you break it down?

  • Candy Paull says:

    When you’re ready for the book tour, I can connect you with the great people at Davis Kidd in Nashville. Hope you’ll be able to make it!

  • David Stern says:

    Australia seems to be a natural base for visiting PNG, East Timor and maybe some of the Pacific Islands. Need to base yourself in Cairns maybe for a couple of weeks flying in and out 🙂

  • jphripjah says:

    The Vilnius Old Town is very nice. Beautiful architecture.

  • Chris says:

    Checking in for a few more questions….


    Good question; I wrote about that here. (In short, I don’t count airport stopovers, but I count almost everything else.)


    I’d love to meet you too, but I won’t actually be in Japan this year – I just begin my trip from NRT. Next time!


    Yep, tentative BKK meetup on 19 or 20-Feb, I think.


    Your new site is great!

  • Etsuko says:

    Where are you in Japan?
    Interestingly that’s my big trip this year, coming up next month!
    It’s not as exciting as Chris’s plan but to me it’s an adventure – we’re taking the first overseas flight with 2 kids under 4 🙂

    I think I’ve never seen you say “I am scared to death” – what about?
    About having the book out or doing the book tour??
    You know I’d always love to help. Looking forward to seeing you towards the end of the year when you make stop in CA!!


  • Rodrigo says:

    It’s great you are visiting Guatemala and Nicaragua.

    I’m from El Salvador and I’ve visited Guatemala relatively often during all my life. If you have any questions related to Guatemala or Central America, feel free to ask.

    I’ve been to every country in Central America – except Panama, but I’ll go there this year when I find a cheap last-minute TACA fare.

    By the way your blog is great! You’ve inspired me to visit 25 countries before I’m 25 (I’m 21 now). I’ve visited 14 so far 🙂 It’s a bit more complicated with third world passports and being a Uni student, but still possible.

  • Benny the Irish polyglot says:

    Great stuff Chris! Glad our random travel plans may finally align – hope to run into you in BKK 😉
    Excellent overall plan of action there!

  • Cody McKibben says:

    Hope to see you again while you’re here in Bangkok Chris! I’m going to Cambodia (Angkor Wat again) on the 20th but if you’re here before then we have a big benefit for Haiti / afterparty for TEDx on the 13th or would love to catch up with you and Sean elsewhere.

  • Mark W says:

    Hey Chris!

    I’m a Malaysian living in the US and I bought your FFM in November. Funny how you call customers Rockstars. Good stuff! I actually did part of your frequent flyer mile challenge and got some miles. I will be traveling to Japan, Malaysia, Cambodia and Hong Kong second half of February and Brazil in November.

    My ex-roommate/classmate grew up partially in Papua New Guinea and my other roommate is doing some mission work in East Timor. If you want to get in touch with them and get some travel tips, let me know!


  • liz says:

    Your blog is so inspiring, by giving us the planning details, it makes a even doing a slice of what you are doing seem much more possible. I keep wondering how you handle the limitations on visiting other countries that won’t admit you once you’ve visited Israel, have you not visited yet, or just renewed your passport without the stamp? Thanks!

  • Christopher Kabamba says:

    I saw Malawi in that list… so close to Zambia 🙂
    But i want to believe you already been here (Zambia) 🙁

  • Bev says:

    Just finished reading your post on your ‘Travel Planning’ and I’m so happy to see Guam and Micronesian on the list. WooHoo!!! I can’t wait to hear about your experience when you come back!!!! Pls. post some photos and your experiences here to see.

  • Sherry Ott says:

    I’m exhausted just reading it! After reading all about these various rtw tickets you have – it’s making me think I better invest in your frequent flyer book.
    Best of luck with your plans. I think that once you put them out there for the world to see – it provides a weird sense of accountability. That’s how I ended up running my first marathon – but telling everyone about it!
    Excited to follow along!
    Happy Travels!

  • Adrienne says:

    I’ll be going to Vegas this month… but really – I would love to get back to Italy this year or visit a friend of mine in Japan (never been).

  • Kate says:

    How come you haven’t made it to Australia? When you do get here, it would be great to meet you Chris!

  • Sarah says:

    Chris, I’ll be somewhere in SEA in the middle of February. Likely Laos of Vietnam, but if on the off-chance we’re still around or back in Thailand around then, I’d love to meet up!

  • Jonathan says:

    Hi, Chris.

    Just learned about your site/blog/adventures. Best of luck with your goal!

    And, welcome to Portland!


  • Kylie says:

    I’m based here in Tehran until the end of June, then I’m heading over to Turkey to work for a few months.

    I’ve also got a short trip to Turkey and Jordan planned for next month.

    While I’m in Turkey I’ll try to jump across a few borders 🙂

  • Bullwinkle says:

    I’m just contemplating my (alas) single (long) trip for the year. (I don’t count the short trips.)

    I’ve been lurking now for a few months but had to comment on the Cameroon to Gabon overland portion. I was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Bitam – many years ago. Vehicles got stuck on the dirt/mud road, often. The local kids would always help to push the trucks out of the mud. After a few tourists gave them a tip, they started a bucket brigade to make mud at the dip in the road and solicit “tips”. (The road, btw, is part of the Trans-Africa highway. I’ll be curious to hear what condition its in as you travel.)

  • Wyman says:


    With ways to market your book on the Internet why are you wasting time doing old fashion book tours?

    I hope you are double dipping by giving business cards to everyone about your blog. Maybe your fans in each city can get a crowd of non-conformist out to your signings. Have a virtual assistant contact green clubs in each city. You may have already thought of that.

    If you give us a schedule we could all e-mail our friends in that city.

  • Chris says:

    It’s not only about promoting the book, but also about meeting readers all over the country. And yep, we’re building a site where people can sign up to come out.

  • Vi says:

    If you are going to Samoa and Fiji, may be you should check Tuvalu
    Islands which is only ~4m above the see level
    and can disappear shortly from the World atlas.

    You definitely need get Belarus visa in advance, also you probably
    will be forced to buy state medical insurance

    And you can take a train from Vilnius to Minsk
    I think it will be more interesting then taking a bus.

  • Jason T says:

    Man. I am having a hard enough time to get my wife and I from HYZ to FRA let along try to figure out a round the world trip, which would be nice though.

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