Looking Back on My Travel Journey as I Reach My 30th Birthday
As I turn 30 years old, I wanted to briefly reflect on the last 5 years that have contained a vast majority of my international travels and have provided me the experiences that have opened my perspective on what this world has to offer and what more there is to see. I will be the first person to say that my end goal is not to visit all 197 countries in this world, which not something you hear very often when speaking to travelers that want to explore the world.
There have been over double as many humans to visit Space (roughly 620) as there has been to visit every country in the world (roughly 250). This shows how truly difficult that objective is and it takes a very special person to be able to achieve that goal. My personal goals going forward have been made with this fact taken into account.
The vast majority of my travel growing up was exploring the beautiful states that are offered within the United States of America. The variety that can be experienced state-to-state and even from within a single state is incredible. 31 of the 33 states that I have visited up to this point in my life were first visited before 2018.
The only international countries I visited before 2018 were Canada, Mexico, & St. Kitts. I had also visited 3 dependent territories in Puerto Rico (US), St. Maarten (Netherlands), and Turks & Caicos (UK) but I had officially visited only 5 UN recognized countries by the start of 2018 at 25 years old.
2018 was the year that I view as the true start to my travel stories at least in the perspective that I have about them today. This was the first year I ever crossed an ocean to visit a country not located in the Americas. I started the year off by visiting 6 European countries over a 23 day trip in January/February, the trip I continue to use as a great building block due to various experiences and mistakes to grow from.
United Kingdom (England)
The biggest lesson I learned from this trip was that I was absolutely going to have to shrink the amount of stuff that I was traveling with. During this trip I had a large hiking backpack as well as a second backpack to carry my DSLR camera along with lenses and other items. My packing list not only was going to need to be condensed, I was also going to need to change away from the clothes that I was wearing and focus more on athletic dri-fits that were much easier to manage for extended travel times.
My second international trip of the year was much closer to home as I visited the country of Costa Rica for a week in November. This trip did not require implementing much of the added lessons I experienced during my first european trip because I had a rental car for the week and was traveling between 3 AirBnbs.
2019 was led off with a trip back across the Atlantic Ocean into Europe for my second time on the continent where I would visit 10 total countries (7 new) over 28 days. There were 2 main factors that I can really delve into as being huge stepping stones for what would continue to be my personal growth in travel. The first factor was that when I booked my roundtrip flights for this trip it was to fly over to Dublin, Ireland just like I did in 2018 but also to fly back home from Dublin as well. I booked that roundtrip flight without having anything booked in between arriving and leaving from Ireland.
This would be crucial in growing my trip planning process because I was coming up with an entire flight and trip itinerary mere weeks before leaving in comparison to in 2018 when the trip was booked months ahead of time with almost everything booked one after another. My initial intention was to fly from Dublin down to Portugal, Spain, & Morocco before heading back into the center of Europe, but due to flight prices and not being able to fit an itinerary up fluently, I proceeded to head further east in the trip which also brought some much colder weather into play as well.
The second factor, and the one that I feel has truly helped me embrace traveling with much less, is that I ended up deciding to purchase a nice/more expensive travel bag that I could use. This would change many things because up until this point, I had changed bags almost every trip I took trying to find one that fit my travels to what I needed. I ended up settling on a startup company known as NOMATIC that focuses on travel bags. I went with the 40L Travel Bag which drew my attention because it was carry-on size, water resistant, and has plenty of little pockets on the top or side to place smaller items. At the time it was on a New Year's Sale that brought the price down from $250+tax to $175 after tax. This was the first trip I took with this bag and I have used it for every trip ever since to the present day.
The 3 revisited countries during this trip were Ireland, Netherlands, and the United Kingdom (although I visited Scotland this time around). The new countries visited on the trip included:
Czechia (The Czech Republic)
The second trip of the year ended up being the second cruise I've ever taken which was for 2 weeks in November. My experience on this second cruise was much better than the first one, but at the end of the day, motion sickness is difficult to overcome on a rocking ship. During this cruise, I ended up visiting 4 dependent territories in US Virgin Islands, Aruba, Curacao, & Puerto Rico. I also re-visited St. Kitts & Nevis. The cruise ended up allowing me to visit 3 new countries to add to my list which included:
My trip in January and February of 2020 was a combination of incredible luck and ambition that has lead to it still being my favorite trip I have ever taken in my life because growing up, I couldn't have possibly dreamt I would ever get to visit my number one most desired country to visit. Looking back, it's amazing how everything was able to line up so perfectly. It was my most ambitious trip to date at 49 days and I was crossing the Pacific Ocean for the very first time.
The new country count during this trip for 49 days was 7 countries which for that amount of time, is pretty low compared to what I had done and what I would end up doing in future years, but the experiences were absolutely life changing. After the longest flight I've been on still to this day at 15.5hrs I touched down at my first destination of
The succeeding countries were:
New Zealand without a doubt has been the country that I have always wanted to visit (I grew up watching and reading The Lord of The Rings and getting lost in Middle Earth) but at the same time, it has always been the country I had always thought I was least likely to visit with it being so truly far away. I couldn't comprehend ever flying for that long and actually getting there at the time.
Out of the 7 countries on the trip, New Zealand was the one I spent the longest in at 15 days. I spent 4 days on the North Island driving from Auckland down to Wellington. I then spent the final 11 days on the South Island venturing out from Queenstown to a variety of locations exploring the incredible nature.
I flew out on January 8th and returned back home on February 25th. Unfortunately, we all know what happened right after when the lockdowns began and travel became almost an impossibility. The entire rest of 2020 as well as the entirety of 2021 was spent on little trips domestically within the United States. Each summer I returned to Cherokee, North Carolina which is my peaceful destination where I can step back and truly relax. I also re-visited the beautiful state of Utah where I was able to knock off a couple more National Parks that I had always wanted to see.
At the end of February 2020 I was left sitting at 29 countries visited in my life so far, and even though it would have been nice to reach a nice even 30, after how amazing that last trip turned out, I was kind of at peace that I would not be reaching another one for awhile.
After 2 years of only making domestic trips and sitting stuck at 29 countries visited, February 2022 ended up finally being the month that I would change that and reach my 30th country. What better way to do it than to visit the country that was a very close second behind New Zealand as the country I most wished to visit:
At the time, this trip was supposed to be the only trip I took in the year of 2022 so I went and made sure I was able to get as much as I could out of visiting Iceland for 11 days and drive the Ring Road. Visiting Iceland in the middle of winter was absolutely stunning but also presented quite a few extra challenges that required a good bit of flexibility and quick thinking and decision making. The weather during winter time is quite extreme and massive storms that cause lengthy road closures create a logistical challenge when driving the Ring Road route. Overall, it was an incredible trip that rivaled my New Zealand trip for favorite destination and I would have been content with that being my final trip for awhile.
However, as things would turn out, that trip would be just the start of what would end up being 12 months that would end up doubling my countries visited. The summer of 2022 would be my biggest leap of travel to that point and would be based around the two expeditions I would partake in that was organized by Wander Expeditions. This company is lead by Alvaro who is the youngest Spaniard to visit all 197 countries. The expedition locations end up being places that are logistically challenging and therefore, it makes it much easier to visit these destinations as a group with other travelers with a passion for seeing the world.
On the way over to the first expedition I would take at the end of June I would first make layovers in:
I would then arrive to the country where I would spend a week exploring both the cities as well as the mountains with Wander Expeditions in
The expedition began in the capital of Islamabad before a short flight up to Gilgit where we would reach Fairy Meadows up in the Himalayas by Jeep rides along the 2nd most dangerous road in the world, the highest border crossing in the world which is between Pakistan and China (closed due to Covid at the time), and the Hunza Valley.
We would then fly back to explore more of Islamabad before finishing the expedition in Lahore where we got to watch the daily border ceremony between Pakistan and India. Besides struggling with altitude sickness in the mountains, this was an incredible trip that fit in the category of beautiful destinations that I never truly thought I would get the chance to visit.
After the week in Pakistan I had a week to spend before making my way to my 2nd expedition so I decided to take it easy and not bite off too much before really diving in to adventure so I would spend the next week in the
The biggest revelation from this stop was that 1) Dubai is an amazing destination to have the Hilton Team Member Travel Discounts to stay in really nice hotels for cheap and 2) Dubai is miserably HOT in July. I played a round of golf at 11:30pm and have never been more soaked on a golf course.
My second expedition with Wander Expedition would lead me to visit the continent of Africa for the first time ever. I will say that for my first visit to Africa, West Africa is definitely similar to jumping straight into the deep end, especially when it is crossing 7 countries by land borders in a convoy of cars. We would start in Dakar and proceed in order of:
(back into Senegal due to The Gambia being completely surrounded by Senegal)
This was without doubt the definition of adventure travel as this drive took 2 weeks and included a wide mix of car troubles from flat tires, overheating, accidents, and everything in between. The adventure was also capped off with getting stranded in a small border village for 2 days on the border between Liberia trying to get into Cote D'Ivoire waiting to get correct paperwork that would allow us to cross. It was an incredibly exhausting adventure but also a very memorable one that showed me that if I can make it through that, then the travel goals I have should be more than attainable.
I would then have another long layover in Istanbul for a second visit on this trip before heading home.
For the rest of 2022 I would only do small domestic trips which would include revisiting my favorite peaceful location in Cherokee, North Carolina, Atlanta, and also visiting my nation's capital for the first time in Washington D.C.
January and February of 2023 would be the continuation of increased travel over the 12 month span that began back in February of 2022. This 2 month long trip would see me visit the most countries in a single year that I had ever done as well as complete the doubling of total countries I have visited in my life within a single years time. This trip, although a single continuous trip from January 3rd-February 26th of non-stop travel, could be broken into 3 parts primarily due to temperature differences as well as cultural differences.
The first section of the trip went as follows:
France (Nice) (Not a new country but a new destination within the same country)
The next section of the trip was much colder and awful weather due to wintery conditions and went:
Bosnia & Herzegovina
The final section of countries were much warmer weather again and just had more pleasant conditions and were:
Cyprus (Visited Northern Cyprus as well simply for historical interest purposes and an interesting border crossing)
The thing I loved about this trip more than anything was that I timed it out where I spent more days in specific countries that ended up being very worth spending more time in while sticking to my efficient travel to others that I would have been fine spending more time in but I was able to see a good amount and get enough experiences to have good memories in them. The countries I spent longer times in included Morocco which was almost a week, Croatia was split between Dubrovnik and Zagreb (although due to a mix of poor weather and other factors, this was the country I probably least enjoyed which was disappointing), a week in Jordan was perfect to knock out the 3 main areas I most wanted to visit, and then a week in Egypt split between Cairo and Luxor.
The countries I wish I had gotten a bit more time in are absolutely lead by Montenegro, it was an awesome stay and I could definitely spend more days there exploring. I also would like to revisit Slovenia from this most recent trip.
As I head through the rest of 2023 with no plans for any more international travel as I try to plan things out, I reach my 30th birthday and can reflect that if I never got a chance to visit another country in my life, the 58 countries I have been able to visit is much greater than I ever thought I would ever reach within my lifetime, so I could end travel still feeling accomplished. Especially considering that I have been blessed enough to visit the primary countries that were at the very top of my wish to visit and bucket list.
Countries that I have visited that I would gladly revist and really hope to spend more time in would include:
Ireland/United Kingdom (to play some top level golf courses)
These countries all have special trips in mind that I believe I could get a bunch more life-changing experiences out of without feeling too repetitive to my previous visits. There are only a handful of countries that I have visited that I really wouldn't ever want to re-visit, but these listed above are ones that I truly wish to see again at some point in my life.
As for new countries that I would love to visit, there seems to be an unending list to that because even though my goal isn't necessarily to visit every country in the world due to just being realistic with what I can and can not do, there are no countries I would be opposed to visiting if logistics and luck come together. That being said, the top of my list for countries I hope to see in the coming years include:
I could continue listing plenty of more countries as my list continues on and on, but these are primarily the ones I most want to visit sooner rather than later but pretty much my thought process is that I will try to visit any country that logistically ends up making sense during my planning process. If I can get the process to work out, I will hopefully visit at my next opportunity. It does seem as I look at the map that now that I have completed a good chunk of Europe, visiting high numbers of countries all within one trip, such as what I just completed this year, will not be as doable and I will have to focus on making the most of my time in a fewer number of countries.