30×30: COMPLETE!

Well, guys—I’m super excited to post that I’ve completed my 30×30 challenge! Seeing 30 countries by the time I turned 30 has been my personal goal for the last five years. Given that I started the decade of my 20’s with barely 3 countries on my list, it seemed like a pretty lofty goal. Funny how things can change in ten years! When I was 20, the world seemed like such a huge, unknowable place. It’s still a huge unknowable place to me now, but somehow that fact seems less intimidating than before.

How do you count countries?

Some people find these country challenges obnoxious, and some travel bloggers flat-out refuse to “count countries.” I kinda get it—travel’s not about scratching a place off on a map, but really experiencing it. On the other hand, I have a bit of a mastery complex, and nothing motivates me more than having a goal to reach towards. I filled up my first passport when I turned 25, and was kind of high on what that meant and how it felt. 30×30 seemed like the perfect goal for the next big milestone.

Different people measure “visiting a country” in different ways. For me, visiting a country isn’t just the geographical proximity—it means actually engaging with that country and its culture. I opted not to include Luxembourg, for example, because I just drove through it on the way to another country. I also didn’t include Kuwait, where I had an extended layover, or Cambodia, where I had to make an emergency visa run. I did include Taiwan because even though it was technically a layover stop, I left the airport and saw a decent bit of Taipei.

How can you travel so much?

Obviously living abroad in three different countries made things easier. I caught the travel bug bad when I first studying abroad in college, caught it again when teaching English in Thailand, and at this point, am probably incurable. Living in Germany means I get 5 weeks of vacation that, by law, I have to take, and Europe is much closer in proximity, meaning that it’s easy to jaunt to another country for a weekend getaway. But it wasn’t always this way.

A lot of people tend to assume I come from a wealthy background or have a high-paying job that funds all of my travel. In truth, I’m one of those Americans who graduated university with a ton of dreams and a ton of debt—over $100,000 worth. Getting to travel the way I have has required a firm grip on my finances; working constantly, even when staying abroad for long periods of time; and sacrificing things that aren’t a priority. When my peers were upgrading their cars, apartments, and furniture, I was living cheaply and banking money to go on trips. I distinctly remember a conversation with a guy who’d just bought a huge screen television, telling me he’d rather have the TV now and see the world when he retired. It all comes down to making choices. Me, I prefer not to wait. 😉

What I learned—

It’d be crazy for me to try to summarize what each of those countries has taught me in a single paragraph here, so instead, every day for the next 30 days, I’m going to do a little post per country I visited, sharing some memories, tips, travel inspirations, and lessons learned.

But the one takeaway that I think definitely applies to all of the travel I’ve done is something I genuinely struggle with—and that’s being okay with not being in control. When you travel, you’re going to feel small, insignificant. You’re going to be dwarfed by the world, swept along in things that are greater than you, unable to steer. I very much like to manage things when I can in my “real life”, so surrendering myself to the world’s whims can be a difficult thing. At the same time, it can be totally refreshing. When you remember that you can’t control it, it’s easier to feel at peace. You have to just trust things will turn out ok, and enjoy the adventure as it comes.

Obviously, the lesson hasn’t been 100% learned—I guess that’s part of the thrill. And one thing I want to focus on for my travel going forward is to slow down more. Really being in the moment and appreciating the experiences. Getting out of my shell more and talking more to locals, being more willing to take risks, opening up to the world more and more.

30×30 Country List:

  1. Germany
  2. New Zealand
  3. Canada
  4. Bahamas
  5. French Polynesia
  6. Netherlands
  7. Latvia
  8. Ireland
  9. Great Britain
  10. Czech Republic
  11. Italy
  12. France
  13. Spain
  14. Mexico
  15. Taiwan
  16. Thailand
  17. Philippines
  18. Singapore
  19. Brazil
  20. Colombia
  21. Panama
  22. Costa Rica
  23. Denmark
  24. Austria
  25. Sweden
  26. Scotland
  27. South Africa
  28. Namibia
  29. Poland
  30. Greece

For my 30th country, my plan was to go somewhere really challenging—really shove myself out of my comfort zone—and also treat myself to a place I’ve always longed to go: Egypt.

The poetry of that took a hit when a work trip forced us to reschedule another vacation and Tim surprised me with a trip to Greece for our anniversary. So my 30th country became Greece, and my 31st country will be Jamaica. That’s life (and first world problems)! So Egypt will still be my birthday trip, and I know it will be the perfect way to kick off a new decade of travel.