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 an 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? Isn’t it 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 and spend the next couple of months ticking them off my list. Mission accomplished.
Almost anyone with a powerful passport and their health can visit 100 countries if they have enough money. 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.
I’d always thought of this challenge as something worth pursuing, and then I realised all it would take for me to complete it would be enough money.
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. It gets less meaningful, too.
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 100% worth it, I’m at the point where I’d like to spend it on other things, too. Like rent on a kickass apartment. And going out with friends. And a gym membership. And a pair of jeans.
For me, the moment when I realised I could achieve my goal as long as I was willing to spend a certain amount of money to do so was the moment it became unattractive.
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, 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.
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 want to spend 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.
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 a couple of 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 time I arrived in a country, 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 guilty of this right now. I recently spotted a cheap flight to both Tanzania and Rwanda, then immediately planned one of the biggest trips of my life to the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
My original plan of treating myself to a relaxing getaway in Zanzibar and Kigali has now turned into me sleeping at the top of an active volcano and trekking with wild mountain gorillas. Which, obviously, is totally badass, but it does mean that I now have less than 48 hours in Rwanda, rather than the seven days I originally planned for. When I leave, I’ll have barely scratched the surface. It was one of the countries I was most looking forward to exploring this year.
And that’s why this challenge ended up being a pain in the ass.
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 was preventing me from learning as much as I should have about them.
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.
Once you start visiting countries to visit more countries, you start visiting places you don’t care about. And because those places don’t interest you, you don’t feel as much of a drive to fully explore them.
And on top of that, 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.
I’m guilty of both of these, and the countries I visited during that time are the ones that mean the least to me. I had no 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 not healthy to have your entire life revolve around one 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. 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 books I read were travel memoirs; the websites I read were travel blogs; the 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 love my life in Lisbon.
But at the same time, having this 100 countries challenge hanging over me resulted in me getting sucked back into a travel addiction. Knowing that I had just 18 months to cram in 20 countries led to me racing from new country to new country on a monthly basis.
Some of those trips were incredible; some of them I regretted taking.
Sometimes, after a week of being away, I’d look on Facebook and see all of my Lisbon friends drinking wine in the park; having group meals at my favourite restaurants; arranging weekend brunches; 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 ones as possible.
In the future, I’m going to focus more on returning to the places I love, rather than just 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’ll probably slow down my travels, too, and spend more time enjoying my life in Portugal.
As I mentioned in the post 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.