The Final Fifty
Greetings from Terminal 1 in Singapore’s Changi Airport—or perhaps HKG, or NRT, or en route to LAX depending on when you read this. I’m on the way home from my latest global adventure.
A long time ago—five years, to be precise—I had an idea to visit every country in the world. I like travel, I like big goals. Smash the two together and you get: 192 official countries, plus a bunch of other places.
So I started working toward it, around the same time I started publishing this online journal that people from almost as many countries are now reading.
I set the deadline of April 2013 to coincide with my 35th birthday. I’m 32 now, so we’ve come to the final three years. This year I had an extra challenge—from September-December I’ll be based entirely in the U.S. due to the upcoming Unconventional Book Tour. No international travel for four months! Yikes. I knew I had to work hard to get ahead during the first half of the year.
While hopping around the world over the past two weeks, I did a personal check-in on the progress. Am I on track? Am I in trouble?
The verdict: it looks like I’m doing OK. I’m not tremendously far ahead of schedule, but I’m not far behind either. 144 countries down, less than 50 (technically 48) countries remain… a few easy ones, a bunch of hard ones, and another big group in the middle. Here’s what they look like.
Easy Countries I’ve Just Never Made it To. For whatever reason, I’ve just never been to these places. Monaco is easily reachable from the south of France. (Other small European countries include Andorra, Luxembourg, and Lichtenstein—all of which I’ve made it to.)
Since it’s proven elusive in two attempts thus far, I’m not sure it’s easy, but my third attempt to visit Belarus is coming up in July or August.
I still haven’t made it to Australia, which is good in some ways because I like the idea of saving a few countries I’m really excited about. I was hoping to get down that way this year, but it now looks like it will be 2011 before I make it. From Australia I’ll go to East Timor, my final country in South Asia. And finally, I’ve never been to Norway and am thinking about making it my last stop at the very end of the journey.
The Five Stans of Central Asia. Otherwise known as Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kazakhstan, and Kyrgyzstan. All of them require visas of varying difficulty. I can do Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan on the same trip. Afghanistan will probably be a quick trip to Kabul and back.
I haven’t figured out the other two yet, but will make a plan after I make the first trip. This is the only major world region I’ve never been to, so I’m looking forward to my first visit—hopefully as one my final summer trips of 2010.
Rogue States and Other Interesting Places. Over the course of three trips to Seoul, I’ve been unsuccessfully trying to take the DMZ tour that technically counts for a visit to North Korea. It looks like the tours are canceled now due to the latest hostilities from Pyongyang, but hopefully they’ll pick back up at some point and I can return. Otherwise, the only option will be to go with an organized trip from Beijing, which is only allowed a few times during the year for U.S. citizens.
I also need to get started on the plans for Iran, which as an American requires going on a group tour with a local sponsor.
Cuba is another country that is difficult for U.S. passport holders. Cuba itself is happy to welcome Americans (and the immigration officials won’t stamp your passport, saving you from getting in trouble later), but back home, it’s technically illegal for most U.S. citizens to make the trip. I’m in the process of applying for a license, which some people have said is easy to get and others say is nearly impossible—so we’ll see what develops. (And yes, I also know I can go off-the-record via Cancun, Nassau, or Toronto. We’ll cross that bridge if we come to it.)
North Africa. Three countries in a row are missing from my map of completed countries. Morocco is easy—I’ve just never made it there. By all accounts, Libya looks to be a challenge for most Westerners, requiring an Arabic translation of your passport along with other random approvals in advance.
Algeria is also a challenge, but presumably less so—we’ll find out soon, as I’ll be sending off my duplicate passport to the Algerian embassy as soon as I get home.
South Pacific and Micronesia. The big, blue Pacific contains a large group of countries I haven’t been to. To start with, you’ve got Vanuatu, Solomon Islands, and Palau. It’s important to closely coordinate the flight schedules of that region, as I figured out when I went to Fiji in January and missed out on going to Tuvalu.
Similarly, further up in Micronesia, you’ve got the Federated States of Micronesia, Kirabati, Marshall Islands, and Nauru. Most of these look fairly easy; I’ve just never been there and have little knowledge of the region.
Biggest Continent Ever. What can I say about Africa? So much… because it’s so big and so daunting. Fifty-two countries, including plenty of challenging ones. I’ve been actively traveling on the continent since 2002, and I’m only halfway finished.
I’ll do Rwanda and Burundi together, flying into one and out of the other. I may also try to visit Congo #1 (DRC) from Rwanda—and if not, then I’ll do it together with Congo #2 (Brazzaville) by flying into one then heading over to the other. I also need to go to Gabon and Malawi, two countries that are relatively easy.
Last year a friend tried to arrange a visa for me to the Sudan, but was unsuccessful. I’ll look at sorting this out in 2011, and if I can’t get to Khartoum I may go to Juba, the capital of the South.
My final Portuguese-speaking countries will be Guinea Bissau, Sao Tome, and Angola. Guinea Bissau also falls under the rogue states category—the flights from Europe are on a weekly schedule, so to avoid spending too much time there I’ll look at going over from Dakar, Senegal for a couple of days.
This fall’s book tour and next year’s upcoming World Domination Summit will raise money for our Charity: Water project in Ethiopia. I’m hoping to visit the project sites with a small group of readers in the fall of 2011.
There aren’t many places in the world that are truly dangerous, but Somalia would be #1 on whatever that list would include. Because of that, I’m planning to go to Somaliland instead—not its own country by U.N. standards, but almost completely autonomous of Mogadishu. If I can head there after next fall’s Ethiopia trip, that would be ideal. Another dangerous and difficult country, Yemen, is right next door and will be my final Persian Gulf country.
Then I need to go to Djibouti and Eritrea—two nearby countries. I tried to visit Eritrea last year, but ran into visa trouble due to a border dispute with Ethiopia.
I don’t know much about Mauritania, but it looks like I’ll get there from Paris. Further east, I know a bit more about Niger and Burkina Faso—I’ve just never been. If I wanted to cheat, I could count an airport stopover in the capital of Bamako I had a few years ago. But I don’t want to cheat, so back to Mali it will be.
I’m not sure how Chad will work either. Probably another Air France trip, along with the Central African Republic.
Then, there are a few Indian Ocean / African countries as well. Madagascar can be reached via Johannesburg on South African Airways, although for some reason it looks like I can’t book a Star Alliance awards ticket there. From Madagascar I think I can go to the Seychelles and Comoros. If not, then I can get there from Kenya or even the Persian Gulf, depending on price, schedule, and so on.
Have I missed anything? I don’t think so. I said to a friend recently that I was surprised to find, overall, everything is working out pretty much how I hoped. There are certainly plenty of challenges. I have setbacks, I make mistakes, I get tired, and so on.
I’m not ruling out disaster somewhere. But overall, I’ve settled into a good routine. I plan a trip a few weeks in advance, I go out on the road for two weeks, I come home for three more weeks and plan the next trip, and repeat. After two more trips (July and August), I’ll be home in the States for the remainder of the year. It’s not time to rest yet!
If you’re pursuing a big adventure of your own, I hope you take encouragement from this process. Remember that if you take a big goal and break it down into small steps, it becomes much easier. Anne Lamott wrote about this in her great book Bird by Bird, and I tend to follow a similar approach Country by Country.
And now, onwards to LAX… see you all on the other side.
Interesting post! You sure have a lot of great countries and interesting journeys left!
Let me know if I can be of any help when you plan your Norway trip! I’d also be more than happy to guide you through Oslo if you would want a local guide!
Have you visited (or plan to visit) Antarctica? It’s not a country, but wouldn’t that be the ultimate place? Maybe you can do that last.
And, Greenland and the Azores? I know they are sovereign territories, but have you been there?
Seeing your progress after so long is crazy. Keep it up! Sounds like you’ve got quite a list of plane rides left though just nearly there!
When I first started reading your blog, it didn’t really hit me just what a huge goal you had going with visiting every country in the world. With today’s post, and all the logistics and difficulties involved, it finally hit home. Congrats on setting your sights so high, and getting to the final sprints of accomplishing it.
Look forward to reading about the balance.
Thanks guys! And hi from LAX.
Hope to see you in 2013.
Antarctica – haven’t been there, but I agree it would be a great trip, and I’ve actually thought about doing it after I finish the 192. I haven’t been to Greenland or the Azores either, but I’ve been to a few other places like that – Faroe Islands, Canaries, Taiwan, etc.
Rock and roll Chris. I’ll never stop being blown away by the magnitude of your goal here.
Australia (Sydney, specifically) is a great jumping off point for accessing much of Polynesian & Micronesia – just as cheap as Auckland, when it comes to flights.
Give me a shout if you ever organise a meet up there – since I live with a foot in both NZ and AU.
I was wondering with the Central Asian “stans” whether Turkmenistan is also on your list. Getting a visa there is a pain, but it’s a fascinating country.
Another thought for Afghanistan is to go across the border from the Pamir region in Tajikistan. There is a Saturday weekly market just across the border in Afghanistan. You can either go without a visa (you leave your passport at the border) or you can get a visa at the Afghan consulate in Khorog. It also could be interesting to hook up with some aid workers delivering milk to children in Afghanistan through the Aga Khan foundation.
Looks like a lot of fun!! Good luck!
Turkmenistan! How did I omit that? Not sure what I was thinking. I’ll update the list, but now I worry that I’ve double-counted something else. Thanks. 🙂
Wow Chris! That is incredible. What adventures you will have to tell your children one day! Everyone is rooting for you to make your big goal. I got it wrong in my interview with you — I thought you had four more years to go. I’ve gotten a lot of great feedback about your interview — you are an inspiration to many!
Safe travels back home.
This is so exciting! Thanks for posting all your plans.
I just got back from Norway yesterday. I highly recommend making it your last stop. We went through the fjords and stayed in Bergen, mostly. It was just magical, the sun was still up at midnight, the mountains were gorgeous, the food was great, and the people warm and friendly.
I love travelling vicariously through your updates. Maybe by the time you are close to your birthday deadline Cuba will be legal (I wouldn’t count on it though).
It would be cool if you combined Australia with a book tour and do every state, like you are doing in the US. It would be much easier than the US (6 states and 2 territories) and I think their would be alot of people interested in meeting up.
Just wondering, has this goal ever been achieved before and if so, by whom?
Do rule out a disaster, Chris! I wish you safety, prosperity, and fun.
One of my cousins was in the Peace Corps in Mauritania 2008-09; they got pulled out in August last year after a coup. (She was there for the 2008 election, and the description in her blog of the Mauritanians’ reaction to Obama’s election was fun to read.) It sounded like she really enjoyed her time there, most of the time.
I do some occasional work with a Congo-based NGO, which was founded by one of the most incredible men in the world (well, according to me). In 2007, he took me on a home-coming trip to DRC, where I got to see the village I was born in 22 years prior. We also got to travel to Eastern Congo, Kinshasa, and Zimbabwe. If you want to contact a very inspiring man and/or need some advice for your future travels in DRC, his NGO is mmhhope.org. And keep up the good writing!
EPIC. I love the craziness and realism mixed in together! It’s all completely possible and yet completely daunting too 😀
This site helped kick me off on my own crazy missions, and blog about them etc. Thanks for the continued inspiration!
Wow–I feel like my life is so lackluster…!
I recommend Greenland highly. The Polar Icecap is melting and dog sledding is one of the best experienced I have ever had — the dogs are crazy fast. The cold is doable but does sink into bitter in a flash.
I am right around 55 countries, but most of these have come by way of accident or boredom. I hope to make around 100 in the next 15-20 years.
LAX is the worst airport on the world IMHO. I should have taken you out for coffee. Safe travels home.
Great to see your progress so far – it’s an awesome goal so I wish you luck and good politics to achieve it!
I didn’t see Botswana on your list of African countries still to visit, so I’m assuming you’ve been here already. Do you have a post of that visit? I’d love to read it.
Re Sudan, I’ve heard quite confident rumours that it will split soon – so you potentially have a 193rd country to sqeeze in!
Good luck – and as they say in Setswana, sala sentle (go well)!
Yep, I’ve been to Botswana – 2006 I believe. And re: Sudan, you’re right! I’ve thought about the split but haven’t decided what to do about that. We’ll figure that out when the time comes, I guess.
If you spend more than a few hours in Paris on your way to Mauritania, I’d love to meet up for coffee or whatever you have time for! Friends who have been to Mauritania absolutely loved it, they went for a week-long trek in the desert.
Best of luck for the book tour!
hey Chris nice goal you have
I was wondering trough reading the list of what lasted – keeping in mind local wars and other political aspiration, what if after you finish your great goal there will be few new countries created 😀 what then?
have fun with visiting the rest of countries!
This is awesome, and I’m a little jealous. But, I do feel that I’m young enough and ambitious enough to accomplish the same goal before I die.
When you go to Morocco, definitely visit Fez (less touristy than Marrakech, Rabat, and Casablanca) and the tannery there (smelly, but way cool). Also, make sure you go through the Atlas Mountains. I thought the Atlas were very beautiful when I was there.
I wanted to share a link to my blog. I’m leaving on Sunday to spend 9 weeks in Tanzania doing a project with my boyfriend. There are a certain type of people that read your blog regularly, and I thought some might be interested. This is my big adventure that has been in the planning for almost a year. It continued to change, and it wasn’t until recently (especially the last 7 days) that things have really been finalizing. Just wanted to share, thanks!
I remember reading an article about Afghans setting up ski resorts in the mountains, away from the majority of the fighting. If you wanted to spend more time there/go skiing, that might be worth looking into.
It’s great to see someone setting goals and really achieving them. I have read the Unconventional Guide to Working for Yourself, and I am looking forward to August (when I get back from getting married and working at a summer camp) to set up my own blog.
While I admire the goal you set yourself as far as seeing every country before your 35th birthday. I must admit that there is a HUGE difference from seeing a place and experiencing it. Just going somewhere to get a stamp in your passport really does not count as visiting a country. My unsolicited advise. Slow down take the time to get to know a place. I have had the good fortune to have visited about 50 countries. I would love to get to them all but I know that is not realistic. Probably because I want to return to countries which I truly enjoyed. Travel is about learning new things, and being able to make personal connections. While I am sure you have had the opportunity to meet lots of people, being able to spend a week or two with a family will give you more insight into a culture than all the books in the world. I do enjoy reading your blogs. Have fun.
I’ve written about that very thing several times here. I certainly hope to return to countries I enjoy, and in fact I do that quite frequently.
I feel like I have no excuse to not be as awesome as I can be when people have goals like this. 🙂
My goals are closer to home, thankfully: Raising some money to get myself back out on the track! I need more seat time to work on my racing skills. 😛 Also would love to get my SR20DET sorted out by the end of summer so the engine swap doesn’t take nearly an entire year…!! (But oh, the car’s been worth every headache, haha.)
Hi Chris… man what an update! I admire your courage and determination and the fact that you are also making such a difference in the world. Especially for your readers here. You are opening the door to a brand new set of possibilities and that’s no small thing…
I have a couple of countries up on you (although very many of the places you have already been to I will probably never get to!) But I am lucky enough to actually live in Australia… and I have been to Monaco… and Vanuatu… and just a couple of other places where you have been. The world is such a big beautiful place… it deserves our attention. So glad you are giving it some!
I wish you a happy safe and peaceful onward journey… 🙂
Excellent, I hope you will visit me in Australia. I live in one of the most stunning places, Noosa about a two hour drive north of Brisbane:) Would love to take you on a search for koalas, kangaroos and possums!
50 (or less) to go! That’s impressive!
Do you have any contacts in East Timor? If not I might still know someone there. Let me know if you don’t and would like one.
Definitely don’t cheat on Mali – one of the greatest musical destinations of the world. Take time to soak it up.
Americans are allowed into N. Korea any time, as of recently, according to Koryo tours:
“Until recently, American tourists had only been allowed into North Korea during the Mass Games for a maximum 4-night stay. Fortunately in 2010, everything has changed – we can now welcome US citizens on both group and independent tours all year around (we took US citizens on our group tours in February and March, and can confirm these changes are in effect).”
Loving your amazing adventures and your inspiring way of looking at big life goals, Chris.
Also love “Bird by Bird”, Anne’s magic.
Your goals and plans are awesome. I no longer question your motives for just a quick visit to most. It would br a life time goal to spend even a week in each country. You spent enough time on your African m\health mission to know the difference between a quick visit and a stay.
My goal is to get 192 mastermind groups to each adopt a country to improve. They can do the reasurce and visit to find true needs for the country. Maybe some of your fwllow travelers can take that on. They can Google me to get hold of me. Twiter, facebook etc. I hope I’m not out of line mentioning this.
Ok, I know this MIGHT sound like a long-shot but hey, why not mention it? The US recently loosened travel to Cuba for people with family there. You have a pretty large network (think Miami and New York) and you might be able to find contacts who can bring you with them. My co-worker recently accompanied his fiancee to Cuba for about a week. He was pretty shaken up by the visit but we’re sentimental about the country here (Miami). Just figured I’d bring up another alternative to get to my people’s island 🙂
Vanuatu is my favorite country of all time. The people are extremely amazing. Take notes on this writing… you’ll thank me later. Be sure to check out Tanna Island to visit the world’s most accessible active volcano. You can stay at the Jungle Lodge below the volcano (I highly recommend the honeymoon suite – a tree house -, the private porch has the only viewing of the volcano from below). You’ll get a ride to the base and do a short climb to the outer rim where you will sit and watch it explode and land near you. Most amazing experience I’ve ever had. Do not miss it when you go to Vanuatu!!! The Jungle lodge also has a cultural tour where they take you through their way of life… best tour I’ve ever been on. Well worth it. You can also ash board (snowboard) down the volcano.
You will enjoy Cuba! You can go the student research route!
Hope you enjoyed Changi. (For those of you who haven’t been Changi airport is indeed something to be enjoyed). I flew through there a few weeks ago on a connection from Jakarta to Bangkok and was happy to see a little write-up from you on Bali in the Jetstar onboard magazine. Fun to see your tracks while on my own wordwide adventure.
Whoa!!! way to go Chris.
Great update, I was actually wondering where you were with this goal. Really cool.
Fantastic Chris. Dare I say you are on the homeward run?
I used to live in the Marshall Islands so definitely have fun with that one. Getting from island to island is usually pretty straightforward but not always so frequent 😉
I’m currently living in Cape Town and planning a big adventure to Madagascar. From all that I’ve read getting to the Comoros from Madagascar is pretty easy and they are quite close. I’ll be in Madagascar later this year, and though I don’t plan to go to the Comoros (expensive), I’ll double check travel issues.
Have you read the book Around Africa on My Bicycle by Riaan Manser? Awesome book (he’s South African) and he has some excellent stories to tell about securing his visas to places like the DRC etc.
All the best, Chris!
This post made me smile. I really enjoy reading about all your travel plans. Have you already made it to Turkmenistan by the way? I wonder why they didn’t call it “The Six Stans” and included Turkmenistan as well. In my opinion, that’s also Central Asia.
It’s tempting to tell you off for counting the UK as one country instead of four… but seeing as you’re putting in such an effort it doesn’t seem right!
But please do come to Scotland someday.
What an achievement so far! What will you be spending your time doing once you have completed the mission?
Thank you for sharing your experiences. There so interesting . Makes me want to travel to. I live in Parksville B. C. on Vancouver Island. It’s a Beautiful Island . Many people come here to retire and love it’s nice climate .Wishing you happy traveling. B.K.
Hi Chris. I enjoyed you letter Thank you. Have you been to Parksville, B.C.? Nice place too. Wishing you happy travels in the future. Barbara
Thanks for the mention in the Empire Building Kit…wicked cool. I forgot to mention I did peace corps in Uzbekistan and traveled to Kyrgyzstan a great deal as well. Happy to help in anyway to get you there. I did intl development work in Azerbaijan too, but seems you already hit Baki.
Just hit me on twitter @pmccrann if you want more info.
Keep up the inspiration!
I know you said you’ve visited most islands in the Caribbean – does that include Dominica? It’s only one of the most beautiful places on earth!
Enjoyed this post…lots of work involved in traveling the world. I just turned 60 (will stay 60 for the next 10 years at least). I have traveled much of the US, going to Hawaii this month…you encourage me to stay motivated to visit those countries around the world I have dreamed of. Glad a friend introduced me to your website…keep inspiring us all to live our dreams.
I don’t know if i’ve missed it but have you been to colombia or portugal yet? I’m half colombian half portuguese but I’ve been in New York since i was 8 and never went back. I don’t remember much but i do remember how the people are there. Stress free always listening to music planing an event with food and only the best coffee in the world. The same goes for portugal. You’ve inspire me to visit them and i will next year.
thanks for writing
Hi Chris, Your journey is so awe-inspiring! I see you have been to Bhutan. Have you been to Tibet or do you not count it as a country since it was invaded by the Chinese?
I was just in Monaco for the first time last week! For such a small country, it was very impressive!
Another possible route to Cuba is via agricultural missions. Some folks are allowed down there to try to sell commodities. If you found the right group, they might be willing to get you on a trade team.
Way to go Chris! Thanks for keeping us updated on your travels. Planning to go back to China (this time with kids) in 2013.
Good luck nailing down those final 50 Chris! Definitely looking forward to your book and your tour, and keep on trekking!
Great post Chris. My biggest dilemma is deciding where to go! Going on beach vacation are relaxing, but I really don’t want to do that too often.. there’s far too much of the world to see. I’m going to Russia next week, then considering a trip some time in the fall before I go skiing in Whistler in January.
The organized trip from Beijing to Pyongyang is one of the best trips I have ever done. Pyongyang is fascinating.
You want to do this. You will not regret it. Trust me.
You’ve saved some good ones for last. I loved the Central Asian Stans (how come you left Turkmenistan off? Have you been there already?) and am probably going back there next summer. Mountain scenery, great Islamic architecture, super-friendly people (OK, other than Uzbekistan). Iran is absolutely awesome, although as an American, there’s another layer of irritating bureaucracy.
North Africa: Algeria is in fact as much or more of a pain than Libya. The Arabic stamp is the only difficult part of the process for Libya; the rest is just expensive (but worth it).
The Horn: Somaliland is totally fine; easiest to get to from Harar and Jijiga in Ethiopia. Flights are dodgy, and overland to or from Djibouti is exceedingly uncomfortable. Djibouti is a truly dismal hole, but at least it’s expensive. Good luck with both Yemen and Eritrea; tried to get visas for both this year in Ethiopia and in Djibouti with no luck.
Good luck with completing your list!
Chris, I love reading about your travels, and I also love how you’ve tied your process in with GTD and _Bird By Bird_, a book I’ve been dying to read and hope to in the near future.
The only thing I can do for you is to wish you safety in your travels. Your courage in visiting some places despite known issues is very inspiring! May you be blessed with good luck and good memories!
The only thing to remember is not to despair if you do not accomplish it all by 2013. Things do come up, but that’s OK.
I can’t help but think that half the fun is the planning process. I know from planning both real and fictional trips to various sports stadiums that finding the perfect schedule is almost as rewarding as the travel itself.
Best of luck in the completion of your goal!
My goal is to hit every sports stadium in the four major North American (US and Canada) sports leagues. 27 down 95 to go…
A couple of tips to help you get to a few of the more difficult countries:
1. Kish Island is a Free Trade Zone for Iran and does not require visas from any nationality, including US citizens. It is in the Persian/Arabian Gulf and can be reached by dedicated flights from Dubai. It is more of an all-inclusive resort style island, so it won’t be the full Iranian experience for you, but until your visas come through for that great trip to Tehran and Esfahan, you may consider this.
2. Somaliland (capital Hargeisa) is the most stable area of Somalia and one that I think any adventurous person can travel to without worrying about having to hire khat-chewing technical crews to protect you in Mog. Since you went to Kurdistan and were based in Sierra Leone I think that you’d do fine.
3. Koryo Tours now hosts all groups of foreign tourists (including Americans) for private or group tours to many areas of DPR Korea year round as of this year. I don’t know how long the permissions last though!
I know you’ve finished your every country goals and also know you like to run, there is a marathon in N. Korea next year that Americans may be able to run in. Info here: http://experiencenorthkorea.com/pyongyang-marathon/
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