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The Road to 193: Visiting Every Country in the World

Many years ago, I wrote an article entitled “The Road to 193”, in which I somewhat nebulously outlined my plans to visit every country in the world over the course of my lifetime.

Like many of you, with my travel plans having ground to a halt and life progressing at a slow pace these days, I’ve had the chance to reflect on my past travels and daydream about future adventures. And there’s nothing like a black swan event like a global pandemic to remind me that unexpected things will always come up in life, and that if I don’t take active steps to make my goals a reality, they may simply never happen.

And so, I feel it’s the right time to revisit and reiterate my aspirations to eventually visit all of the UN-recognized sovereign states, and to plot out a strategy for progressing towards this lofty goal over the coming years and decades.

Cape Town, South Africa

Why Visit Every Country in the World?

Whenever the idea of visiting every country in the world is floated in conversation with fellow travellers, it’s usually accompanied by a debate as to whether this goal is something worth pursuing in the first place. After all, shouldn’t travel be about more than tallying up a list of countries and checking items off a list?

No doubt, there are many cities around the world where not even a lifetime would be enough to fully absorb the place, let alone a country, let alone all the countries. That’s part of what makes travel such an enrapturing pursuit in the first place – knowing that there’s an endless world out there to explore, an endless series of new adventures to look forward to.

I think there’s a subtle distinction to be made between aiming to see as much of the world as possible, and visiting all the countries purely for the sake of it.

I’ve always championed the belief that every place on Earth has something unique to offer to the discerning traveller, and I do feel that no single definable objective captures that spirit better than visiting all 193 recognized countries.

Sometimes, I hear about fellow travellers on the Road to 193 doing things like stepping across a border into a new country, only to return immediately and check it off their list. My aim will be to avoid doing this whenever possible, and ideally spend at least one night, if not a couple of nights, within the borders of each nation in order to get a proper taste of the place.

And if that isn’t possible, and I don’t feel I’ve done a place justice (as is currently the case for, say, Bosnia & Herzegovina, where I stopped briefly in the port town of Neum on the bus ride across Croatia to buy something at a convenience store) – then the country will be added back to the end of the list, so that I make sure I pay it another visit if and when I complete my goal on paper.

141 Countries to Go…

I’ve visited 52 of the UN member states as of February 2021, which leaves me with 141 countries to go on the Road to 193.

Written out like that, the task appears just as daunting to me as you might imagine. If I estimate that I’d be able to visit 10 new countries per year on average, this is a task that will take me the next 14 years, until I’m 40 years old, to complete.

It’s important to set actionable and measurable goals, after all, so I think that’s a fair barometer to measure against as I aim to make slow but steady progress towards this goal year after year.

Now, obviously, some countries will be easier than others to visit, especially since many of the 52 countries I’ve already visited count among the “easier” countries for Canadians to enter without a visa.

I was fairly young the last time I discussed the Road to 193. Now that I’m a bit older and have clearer sense of where life is going, it’s important to lay out the logistical considerations that will be essential in making this goal a reality.

Jaipur, India

Short-Term vs. Long-Term Goals

I think it makes sense to tackler the more challenging countries sooner rather than later. Some of my more adventurous trips over the next couple of years are going to be focused around more distant destinations like Africa, the South Pacific, and Central Asia.

Africa will be the biggest challenge, with no less than 52 countries left to explore after Ghana and Egypt (and plenty of reasons still to return to both of those).

Besides the sheer numbers, though, there are many more factors to consider: the costs and efforts required to obtain visas, the high cost of travel within the continent, and not to mention the greater risks that remain associated with travelling in many African countries.

It’s all part of what we’ve signed up for as dedicated travellers, but there’s no denying that the risks of visiting, say, Mali or the Central African Republic do bear some consideration.

It’s another reason to focus on travelling to this part of the world in the short-term future: I’m more comfortable taking on a daring travel style these days than in the future when I have a young family that depends on me. 

The islands of the South Pacific have been a source of longstanding fascination for me. Having completed a journey through Micronesia on the United Island Hopper, I’m looking forward to exploring more of these remote, rarely-visited islands further south across Melanesia and Polynesia.

(The threat of global warming means that the local way of life on these islands may be radically different in a couple decades’ time, as some of the islanders are already facing the prospect of being forced out of their homelands by rising sea levels within their lifetimes. That’s another reason for me to prioritize visiting these countries before it may be too late.) 

Central Asia and its environs, like Iran and the Caucasus, will also be a big area of the map to tackle. Thankfully, quite a few of my friends have expressed interest in exploring these places, too, so I look forward to bringing a few travel buddies along in this part of the world.

Samarkand, Uzbekistan

Speaking of which, I’ll also have to give some thought as to which new countries to visit on my own or with my friends, and which trips bring along Jessy as my travel companion.

As much as we’ve enjoyed extended journeys along the Trans-Siberian Railway in the past, as Jessy embarks on a career of her own, she’d probably be less enthusiastic spending her precious vacation time accompanying me to places like… the Guineas: Bissau, Equatorial, Papua New, or the regular one. 

Instead, I’ll be saving the more traditional tourist destinations that I haven’t visited yet, such as South Africa, India, Peru, or French Polynesia for trips that we’re able to go on together, while saving the more audacious trips for my own agenda.

(Okay, French Polynesia isn’t one of the 193 sovereign states, but an aspirational Bora Bora trip is definitely something I’m aiming for, too.)

After tackling some of these gaps in my travel map, I’ll leave the “easier” destinations, like Europe, Central America, or the Caribbean for the more distant future, which are more feasible to visit with a young family in tow. I also envision spending lots of time in Asia, so the remaining Asia-Pacific countries I’ve yet to visit should also be pretty easy to reach.

The Magic of Miles & Points

Being able to earn and redeem points for flights and accommodations won’t necessarily bring you to every country around the world in a straightforward manner, but it can certainly give you a leg up in terms of planning out the trips.

Say I wanted to plan a trip to Gabon and Equatorial Guinea. Well, the fifth-freedom flight by Royal Air Maroc would cost $518 one-way in economy class… or alternatively, with Royal Air Maroc joining Oneworld now, only 9,000 Avios in business class.

The same principle applies all over the world, not only with Avios but also with Aeroplan now that the latter is distance-based, too. Throw in Aeroplan’s ability to book stopovers for 5,000 points on a one-way, and the possibilities grow even more numerous.

For the hardcore traveller who wants to see as much of the world as possible, credit card welcome bonuses and loyalty program sweet spots are the ultimate secret weapon.

Malabo, Equatorial Guinea

I will say, though, that they can also offer a different temptation of their own. Indeed, over the past few years I probably would’ve gotten to visit quite a few more countries if I hadn’t always been so focused on flying the “perfect” itinerary with new business class and First Class experiences at every turn. 

Now that I’ve been fortunate enough to complete most of my aviation-related bucket list items, I’d like to focus my travel efforts more consciously on exploring new destinations as the world opens up again over the next few years.

Conclusion

The idea of travelling to every country in the world is something that every kid has thought about when staring at the world map.

I myself vividly remember spending long hours gazing at the map on my wall, wondering what life was like in all the different countries out there from Afghanistan through Zimbabwe, and it’s a real privilege to be in a position to pursue this goal in earnest in my adult life.

Being grounded by the pandemic has definitely brought this objective into sharper focus for me, and I’m looking forward to getting started on exploring the remaining 141 countries once things start to get better – and to document the journeys here over the years and decades to come.