I know, right?
That’s a weirdass title for a blog post.
But here’s the thing: for the past five years or so, this has been one of my goals in life. I’ve never shared it publicly until now, but I’ve always had in the back of my mind that I was going to travel to 100 countries before my thirtieth birthday.
And a few months ago, and less than a year before the finish line, I decided to stop pursuing this goal.
Let’s Be Honest: It’s a Pretty Easy Goal if You Have Money
I love setting myself challenges. I’m constantly working through a list of goals to see how I can better myself and my life.
Visiting 100 countries before the age of 30, though? It began to start feeling like it was just a financial challenge.
I have around 20 countries left to visit in the world, and if I wanted, I could book flights to those remaining destinations tonight and spend the next couple of months ticking them off my list. I’m incredibly lucky to have both the money and the time, so it would be easy to do so.
Almost anyone with a powerful passport and their health can visit 100 countries if they have enough money to do so. There are 100 safe countries in the world. There are 100 countries that are easy to get to. There are 100 countries that have a well-worn tourist trail. Flights are so frequent that you could visit five countries over a week’s vacation if you wished.
Money, money, money.
Almost all you need is money and you can achieve this goal.
And I get it: you don’t have to be rich to travel, and travel doesn’t have to be expensive. But it gets far more expensive the faster you travel, and to visit 100 countries before the age of 30 means doing a hell of a lot of fast-paced travel. It means making your travels all about quantity over quality.
And let’s not even start on the impact such frequent travel has on the environment.
I’ve spent a ton of money on travel over the past five years — most likely six figures worth — and while it was a fantastic investment and entirely worth it, I’ve reached the point where I’m almost embarrassed by how much I now spend on travel. On how I visit countries with struggling locals who can’t even afford to even eat and there I am, blowing thousands of dollars on plane tickets and hotels year after year after year. I want to spend less money on myself and more on the people who genuinely need it.
I believe travel is an incredible investment in yourself and it can bring so many benefits to your life — it well and truly changed mine — but chasing an arbitrary number of countries before a certain time means spending much of your money on yourself. I want to start helping other people instead.
I Was Doing It to Impress People
I used to frequently think to myself: man! How cool will it be to be able to tell people I visited 100 countries before I turned 30?
My 20s have been all about achieving; you can’t say I didn’t rock the hell out of the decade. How many people can say they got a Masters in Physics, built a successful business, scored a publishing deal, met the love of their life, change people’s lives, and travelled the world for five years straight, all within the space of a decade?
Wouldn’t hitting up 100 countries be the cherry on the top?
I mean, sure, it sounds cool. I’m sure some people would be impressed by it.
But honestly, that’s the only reason why I’d be doing it.
And that’s a pretty dumb reason.
It’s not that I was travelling to impress people, but that I was sometimes travelling faster than I’d ordinarily choose to do so because I felt as though I had to hit this target.
There are more important and impressive things in life and travel than visiting as many countries as you possibly can in a certain time frame; I want to focus on those instead.
It Limits Where You Can Go
You’ve read my blog posts: you know how many times I end a blog post with a vow to return to a place very soon.
How many times do I actually follow through on it, though?
Because if you have a goal of visiting 100 countries and you still have 20-odd to go, you prioritise the new over the loved.
Which obviously isn’t an awful thing to do.
I love visiting new countries. Some of my favourite countries are places I visited for the first time this year, like Mozambique, South Africa, and Namibia. The problem comes when I want to return to all of them, but feel as though I can’t.
I’d love to return to Mozambique to check out the northern parts of the country, but have felt as though I couldn’t, because I should be heading to Madagascar or Ghana or Sao Tome and Principe, instead. The best part of working online and for yourself is that it gives you unlimited amounts of freedom. You can work anywhere in the world; go wherever you like; hang out with whoever you want; change your situation if you’re not happy.
So why was I tying myself down to only the destinations I hadn’t been to before?
I’d love to return to Indonesia to hop across lesser-known islands for a month. I dream of spending three months eating my way around Italy. I want to take the Trans Siberian across Russia. I want to go hiking in Nepal. I want to explore more of the Maldives. I want to eat everything in Greece.
For a long time I’ve been prioritising new destinations over those trips, and as soon I told myself my challenge was no more, I felt like a weight had been lifted. I felt as though I’d reclaimed my freedom.
Now, I can mix up my travels and return to the places I love as well as exploring brand new countries.
It Makes You Travel Faster
Back in 2015, I had a spare two weeks to go anywhere in Europe. I went to Latvia, Estonia, Finland, Sweden, Lithuania, and Poland. I CAN’T BELIEVE I ACTUALLY DID THIS.
Last year, I planned to visit Germany and France for just over two weeks over summer, then decided to squeeze in trips to Luxembourg, Monaco, and Andorra on the same trip.
Even this year, I set myself a goal to visit every country I hadn’t yet been to in Europe. All eleven of them. In one summer.
Those fast-paced jaunts around the continent are not the type of travel I enjoy.
It was a compulsion. FOMO as well, probably.
Every year, I would spend two-ish weeks racing around as many countries as possible before slowing down to my normal pace of travel and immersing myself in a destination once more. Let’s just say my travel highlights include experiences like the eight months I spent exploring Mexico’s cuisine and the two months I spent basing myself in chaotic Saigon, not, say, the two days I spent rushing around Stockholm and the three days I wasted in Fiji.
Every time I arrived in a country on one of these fast-paced jaunts, I’d remind myself that I didn’t know when I’d be back in this part of the world again, so I should make the most of it and visit all of the neighbouring countries.
Often, this would end up taking away the focus of my original trip.
I’m so much happier when I get to travel slowly and immerse myself in a single destination at once. Fast travel exhausts me, stresses me out, and results in me having been to a ton of places but not knowing all that much about many of them.
You Learn So Much Less About the Places You Visit
Let’s say you decide to start travelling on your twentieth birthday. Even if you evenly spread out the countries you visited, and even if you were travelling nomadically, you’d still need to visit 10 new countries every year until you turned thirty. And that’s the best case scenario.
Trying to visit so many places in that time is going to result in you knowing very little about the places you choose to visit, and for me, one of the best aspects of travel is getting to slot into a new way of life in an unfamiliar city and take advantage of the opportunity to learn more about how people live in that place. You can’t do that in two days.
Let’s take Poland: I arrived in Warsaw and was burnt out from my ridiculous Baltics/Scandinavia trip I had just finished. I arrived, checked into my Airbnb, spent two days inside, then took a taxi to the airport. I have seen nothing of Poland.
Fiji: I arrived, I got sick, I spent three days in my hotel, and then I left.
I spent one hour in Monaco.
As I mentioned above, these rushed visits were just a tiny fraction of my traveling life. They happened once a year, if that. But they still happened, and I still feel guilty for not making the most of my time in these destinations.
When you travel quickly, which you’ll have to do to meet your country counting goal, you can barely scratch the surface of the places you visit, and that meant I ended up constantly craving to return and do those places justice. Which, of course, I couldn’t because I had this goal to visit 100 countries to tackle first.
The countries I visited for a few days mean the least to me. I had few meaningful experiences in them; I discovered nothing about myself; I met none of the locals; I learned little about the culture; and it was just a case of me spending money to see a tiny amount of a place and say I’d been to the country.
It Makes Travel Your Entire Focus in Life
Some of the most miserable times of my life have been when my life focused on one thing. And as wonderful as travel has been for me, making it my entire world was a surefire route to a breakdown.
It’s my belief that it’s not healthy to have your entire life revolve around one single thing for years on end. And that’s not me saying that you shouldn’t love travel or be nomadic, but that it’s important to cultivate other interests as you do so. As an example, by the end of my five years on the road, I struggled to hold a conversation with somebody who had zero interest in travel: after all, the only books I read were travel memoirs; the only websites I read were travel blogs; the only work I did was travel writing; and the only hobby I had was to travel and plan future travels.
Moving to Portugal and making it my base is one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.
Returning to the same apartment in a city filled with the same friends in-between trips was all I needed to become a more well-rounded human. I get to travel and I get to live a “normal life”, too. I love my life in Lisbon and I’m tremendously grateful for the path that led me here.
But at the same time, having this 100 countries challenge hanging over me resulted in me getting sucked back into my travel addiction. Knowing that I had 18 months to cram in around 20 countries led to me racing from new country to new country on a monthly basis.
All of these trips were incredible — in fact, some of the best trips of my life were ones I took in 2017.
Sometimes, after a week of being away, I’d look on Facebook and see all of my friends drinking wine in the park, having group meals at my favourite restaurants, arranging weekend brunches, forming stronger connections, and actually getting work done.
And every single time, I’d vow to travel less in the coming months.
And then I’d fail because OH MY GOD, LOOK AT THOSE CHEAP FLIGHTS TO CAMEROON! I’VE NEVER BEEN TO CAMEROON BEFORE! I SHOULD GO! EVEN THOUGH I KNOW NOTHING ABOUT IT, BUT IT’S A NEW COUNTRY!!!!!
Over the past couple of years, I’ve learned that a life that’s 100% travel doesn’t work for me. I need somewhere to base myself in order to keep my mental health in check. If I’m counting countries and hitting up new destinations every few weeks, I can’t keep myself healthy, and that has to be my priority in life.
What Does This Mean for My Future Travels?
I’m going to stop travelling for the sake of it.
My travels so far in 2017 have been some of the best of my life, because I’ve been focusing less on increasing my country count and more on visiting the places that excite me. I’ve been taking more defined trips, that have been about getting to know a single destination, rather than heading to as many different places as possible.
As an example, when I found inexpensive flights to South Africa at the start of the year, I opted to spend two weeks solely in Cape Town rather than trying to cram in as much of the country as possible. The previous version of me would have been moving every two or three days in order to see as much of South Africa as she could, then came away feeling exhausted and knowing little about the places she had passed through.
In the future, I’m going to focus more on returning to the places I love, rather than only going to new countries.
I’m going to travel to a place because I want to go there, not because it’s close to where I currently am, or cheap to get to, or will rack up my country count.
I’m going to slow down my travels, too, so that I can get to know the places I visit better, and spend more time enjoying life in Portugal.
As I mentioned above, as soon as I realised I didn’t want to pursue my 100 countries challenge, I felt like a weight had lifted.
I’m excited to start being a better traveller.