100 Countries by 30
On January 27th I completed my goal of visiting 100 countries by my 30th birthday. At 12:15 AM I landed on British Airways #139 in BOM, had the e-visa documents inspected and BOOM! – my arrival was loudly stamped in my passport around 1 AM. This was my third passport, and my first time in India, my 100th country. The next day I celebrated my achievement, along with the my 30th birthday, with friends at a villa on the beach in Goa, India. We traveled India for 3 weeks, and then I headed to SE Asia, rounding out one more round-the-world trip before I returned home.
Four years ago I faced a dilemma in my career and lacked direction in life. Having achieved all of the goals that had brought me to DC, I didn’t know what to focus on next. I couldn’t find the energy to change course and pursue the policy career I had envisioned, and was frustrated by the direction politics and careers in public service were going.
Determined to keep forward momentum, I began to create arbitrarily life goals to keep me getting out of bed in the morning: I would spend two weeks with each of my grandmothers. I would travel around the world with each of my siblings. I would visit 100 countries… by when? I knew I had to have a deadline otherwise I wouldn’t feel a sense of urgency. Sketching out a plan of how I could achieve it, I determined that if I really pushed myself, I could visit 100 countries by my 30th birthday.
Off I went! Once I committed to the goal, it became a lot easier to justify booking plane tickets to obscure locations, and to devote a lot of my income to travel. It also forced me to prioritize friendships and the time I spent socializing in my beloved home base, Washington DC. Although some friends didn’t understand my obsession with travel, and grew agitated that I was away so often, most of them supported me fully. Fortunately, my goal coincided with new global travel for work, which allowed me to claim work as an excuse for my travel as well.
The travel itself was not without challenges. Being interrogated at gunpoint in the Azerbaijan desert, running out of money in Algeria, catching stomach parasites in Burma, weathering blizzards in Istanbul, chartering a plane in Guyana, and not knowing to pack a snack on a 10-hour JetStar flight with no food, were just some of adventures I faced.
But the highlights definitely outweighed the challenges. Going on 3 days of game drives in the savannah of Kenya, seeing more wildlife than I ever thought possible. Visiting the Olympic stadium in Helsinki with my younger sister where my grandfather played basketball. Making new life-long friends at a hostel in Rio de Janeiro. So, so, many new friends from staying in amazing hostels around the world. Hiking a glacier in New Zealand, performing on stage at the West End in London, and crawling into the hidden closets of Corrie Ten Boom and Anne Frank in Holland. Hot air balloon rides in Burma and Mexico with family and friends who feel like family. Attending the Paralympics in Brazil to cheer on friends to the finish line. Climbing the Great Wall of China and the Great Pyramids of Egypt with my brothers. Dancing the night away in Bogota, Tel Aviv and Mykonos. Traveling for business, tackling global challenges with colleagues from around the world for my company.
Reaching 70 countries, I began to think about which country I should try to make my 100th. I wanted it to be a big country, important and with a large variety of things to see and do. I also wanted a place where I could throw a big party. India fit the bill perfectly, and I quickly locked it in as #100. Reaching #100, however, was more challenging than I anticipated. What constitutes a “visit” to a new “country”? After much prodding from fellow travelers, I took about 6 countries off the list where I had only spent an airport layover, determining that more time was required for it to qualify as a visit. I decided to follow, for the most part, the United Nations list of recognized countries, with a few exceptions. If I’ve visited Hong Kong, mainland China, Macau and Taiwan, how many countries have I visited? I settled on two. Kosovo isn’t recognized by the UN, but it is recognized by the US and over 130 other countries, so I counted it. No two people will probably agree on what exactly constitutes a “visit” and a “country”, but I’m confident I struck the right balance for me, and didn’t take any short-cuts on my way to reaching #100.
Although I have many travel companions, four of them really have endured more of me than others. Rusty, Dustin, Ravi, and Salil. Each of them joined me for over 10 countries, and I couldn’t have reached my goal without their support and companionship.
Finally, I’d like to share a few observations and thoughts that went through my head on my flight to India on January 27th:
First, I am incredibly fortunate to have had the opportunity to travel as much as I have the last 5 years, and I’m very grateful for that. The first flight I ever took was from DFW-ATL-LGW when I was 20 years old. Some of my friends have traveled more lifetime miles than I have all before their 10th birthday! I got an incredibly late start but was able to achieve my goal because of a combination of factors: 1) A job that gave me the flexibility I needed 2) living in close proximity of four international airports, DCA, IAD, BWI, PHL 3) a time of historically low global airfare costs driven by competition from low-cost carriers 4) the ability to capitalize on the final years of the “miles and point” boom, which is quickly coming to a close.
Second, travel has made me more confident in life, and of my place in the world. It really is true, that people fear what they don’t understand. By exploring this much of the world, I now understand it that much better, and even though the world’s challenges are still daunting to me, I feel I can begin to wrap my arms round them. I feel I’ve taken a big step in finding my place in the world and knowing where I can make an impact.
Third, that my friends make the story of my life. I’ve learned that most friends are only in your life for a season, and that’s okay, because they will probably return. I’ve learned that brief encounters in far-flung hostels or bars can result in durable friendship that last a lifetime. Travel accelerated my understanding of the need to prioritize my time, and to spend time with those who make me a better person, not a pettier one. And I’ve also realized that there are dear, dear friends who love me and support me unconditionally… Who are like family. And for them, I am especially grateful.
Fourth, sibling trips really are awesome. Love you, Ben, Jared and Laura!
I'm launching this site, Embracing the Wilderness, as a home for my long-form notes with advice for embracing your own personal adventures, including travel hacks and creative content meant to inspire you to break out of your routine.
- The United States
- United Kingdom
- The Vatican
- The Netherlands
- Costa Rica
- New Zealand
- United Arab Emirates
- Czech Republic
- Russian Federation
- South Africa
- Sri Lanka
- El Salvador
- South Korea
- Trinidad and Tobago
- San Marino