A Year In Review 2021. Sitting down to write my yearend review, really feels like several different years rolled into one with the beginning part of the year being an echo of a distant memory. My year can be broken down into four parts. The first couple of months still found me in Bangkok into my 12-month extended Thai Covid lockdown with a great beach trip in Thailand. In March after being away for over a year, I returned to the US, splitting my time mostly in Boston and Chicago (with a couple of roadtrips in between). Missing travel my patience wore thin, and in August I returned to the road and traveled for over three months, finally visiting some new countries after an 18 plus month hiatus. And as always, the fourth part of my year, found me in the US for Thanksgiving and Christmas. The year will end with a NYE back to Bangkok.
I really had no expectations of 2021. I learned after all of my failed previous predictions in 2020 to not plan or hope for much and simply be hopeful and flexible. I was able to visit 3 new countries bringing, my count to 145 UN countries out of 193 UN members. I had planned to visit Sudan (a new country) but a military coup altered my plans and Djibouti (a new country) failed to issue me a visa. This was my third aborted trip to Djibouti. Several years ago, I traveled to Hargeisa, Somalia (Somaliland) a de facto part of Somalia, and I also planned a brief visit to Mogadishu, Somalia, in 2021 but here again, my visa was not issued, and my trip was canceled as I was transiting on a connecting flight to the capital of Somalia.
Here are the countries I visited in 2021 in chronological order. Bolded names are new countries.
- United States
- Saudi Arabia
- South Sudan
- United States
Below are 5 of the new countries I was supposed to have visited, only 3 were successfully navigated. Saudia Arabia had strict entry rules for entry, I was not allowed to transfer through Cairo, Addis Ababa, Istanbul, Dubai, and Nairobi, meaning it was quite difficult to get from Chad to Saudi Arabia. I ended up “transiting” through France. My transit was for ten days as I was killing time to meet up with my friend in Saudi Arabia at a future date.
My planned trip to Sudan was canceled as a coup toppled the government just days before my arrival. I hastily booked a trip to Baghdad as an awesome replacement.
As I was transiting from Juba, South Sudan to Mogadishu, Somalia. I was contacted by my tour provider that my Somalian visa still had not been issued and there were serious concerns. I had an overnight transfer in Addis Ababa, and as I landed in Ethiopia it was confirmed (as I turned by phone back on) that my Somalian visa would not be issued.
After Somalia, I planned to travel to Djibouti. I had applied for my evisa three weeks before my arrival, but I received an email rejection. My emails to immigration went unanswered. So with the added rejection of my Somalian visa, I ended my trip, and returned to the US a week earlier planned and missed two awesome travel experiences.
- Saudi Arabia
- South Sudan
Despite my goal of traveling to every country in the world, there are always some repeats. In 2021, I revisited 7 countries. I returned to Armenia for a 6-week visit, after breaking my streak in 2020 of annual visits since 2003. I was able to spend some substantial time in Yerevan. While I visited France for over 10 days, my third visit, I spent my time sick, waiting out my illness in an Airbnb next to the airport. I spent one night in Cairo as an overnight transfer, my first time back since 2009. Sadly, I did and saw nothing. Iraq was my 100th country back in 2016 and not sure if I really ever expected to revisit. My 2016 visit was in northern Iraq, Kurdistan. Of course, it is near impossible not to think of Baghdad when you mention Iraq. When my trip to Sudan was canceled, I quickly looked for a replacement. Iraq had serendipitously switched to an evisa and the security situation was greatly improved. Fortune was on my side. I also spent one night in Addis Ababa as a transfer, again, sadly I did not do or see anything besides the hotel.
Here is a brief recap of travel 2021 highlights and of course some low points.
Thailand. I returned to my favorite island, Koh Mak, for my third time in 12 months. This was also my longest stay as I was really able to enjoy and relax on this beach paradise for over a week. Highlights included a snorkel trip, and two different couples came to join me at different times on my trip.
United States. I spent most of my time visiting my father outside of Boston punctuated with three one-week trips to Chicago. I was also able to visit friends in Newport, RI several times, an extended trip to Cape Cod, and a great weekend with the boys at Sebago Lake in Maine.
Armenia. I was able to spend a substantial time in Yerevan, over 6 weeks. My focus was on the planning and organizing of the Extraordinary Travel Festival. ETF will be held in Yerevan in October of 2022. It will be the largest gathering of accomplished and avid travelers in the world. I was able to sneak in two great road trips outside of the capital.
Chad. Several years ago, I started seeing these amazing photos of the Gerewol Festival in Chad. I circled the date for early October and hoped I would be able to manage a trip there. I spent 6 nights in the bush, camping next to a group of the Wodaabe people. I was there to witness the Gerewol Festival, a matchmaking festival held at the end of the rainy season.
France. I felt deathly ill as I left Chad on my way to Paris. It was a very long plane ride. I had reserved an apartment near Charles de Gaulle airport. I spent a week hoping for a recovery but finally lost hope and visited a local hospital. After spending several hours, I learned I had bronchitis and started an antibiotics regimen. At the hospital I received a covid test, multiple blood tests, and a CAT scan. The total cost was 130 Euros. I was disappointed I was not able to explore any other parts of France, but fortunate that I had somewhere to rest and receive some medical care.
Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. KSA historically has been one of the most challenging visas to get. In fact, I had an aborted trip in 2018. I had signed up for a conference that was to be held in KSA, where I was issued paperwork for a business visa. Unfortunately, I could not find an embassy to process my paperwork and my trip was canceled. This time I received my evisa within an hour of applying. I spent two weeks driving 2500 km across this vast nation. While KSA is not ready for prime-time tourism, this country has a lot of potential.
Iraq. I spent 8 days roadtripping from Baghdad to Basra. This was a fantastic visit. Incredibly welcoming with hospitable people. Great food. Rich culture and history. The country is untouched by tourism, and I would love to return to explore more.
South Sudan. This is the world’s newest country, having only been born in 2011. This nation has suffered greatly with hundreds of thousands perishing in a long civil war. Some stability has returned to this impoverished nation. My highlight was spending two nights camping alongside a group of people from the Mundari tribe. The Mundari are semi-nomadic and live a life very connected to their cattle.
I use App in the Air in conjunction with Tripit and a trusty Excel sheet, I was able to create this flight map of my travels in 2021. My recap in the air –
- 29 flight segments
- 58,110 miles flown
- 131 hours in the air
- 12 different airlines
- different airplanes
- Flew in 14 different countries
- Flew on 4 different continents
This was an increase from 2020, but nowhere close to my stats in 2019. I also like how they state I am ranked #4975 in the world … I think more accurate to say ranked 4975 of the people on this app. And also when I see 131 hours in the air that can be a bit depressing, since that equates to 5.5 days in an airplane.
My first flight was in March when I flew from Bangkok to Boston. I decided to use my miles to get a free business class ticket. My thoughts were that I would have some additional room in business class which was a good idea with Covid. This flight was a bit eerie. Narita airport was deserted. I arrived at my gate and only a handful of people were milling about. I was welcomed aboard and was a bit surprised. Out of the 60 business class seats, I was the only passenger. On the rest of the plane were only an additional 5 passengers in economy. While it was a treat sitting in business, the experience was a bit underwhelming with substandard food.
For airports, I would like to recognize Juba International Airport in South Sudan as one of the worst airports I have visited. The entire terminal is one, crowded and un-air conditioned, small room. I waited 90 minutes for my bag, jammed in with hundreds of people from more than one flight. South Sudan is also a somewhat corrupt nation, and the staff was angling for money, and in fact $150 was exchanged once they spied a camera. And leaving Juba was no more pleasant, as 4 staff spied my camera again in the x-ray machine and were quite aggressive.
While I always enjoy compiling my annual statistics there is one stat not to be excited about: my carbon footprint. In 2021, my carbon footprint according to Tripit (on the app, but irritatingly not displayed on their website) is 138 CO2. I chose to work with Gold Standard who was recommended by Tripit and highlighted in an article in NYT. I plopped down $1000 to support two wind farms, one in Indonesia and one in India. Two favorite countries of mine to visit. While $1000 does not cover all of my output, it covers a good chunk of it.
I spent a lot of quality time back in the Boston area. This was in contrast to 2020 when I spent only several days in the US. It was great to be back in the US to catch up with family and friends.
Here is the breakdown for 2021
- 133 nights at my father’s apartment outside of Boston
- 55 nights at my condo in Bangkok
- 39 nights at my condo in Chicago
- 92 nights at hotels, apartments, and Airbnb (23 different hotels)
- 26 nights at different friends’ houses
- 8 nights in a tent
- 5 nights sleeping on an airplane
Traveling During Covid
The complexity of travel has increased during Covid. Rules change at a whim. Countries close down and then open up just as quickly. Hotels are closed, airlines shut down routes. And the never ending Covid tests. I took 13 Covid tests during the year, not that many compared to some of my travel friends. But an added cost and complexity of hunting down a Covid test in a foreign country and attempting to determine the timing of the test and results in conjunction with the incoming country’s rules. The prices ranged from $20 to $100.
Most Bizarre Travel Moment
This was the most bizarre travel moment and probably most embarrassing. When passing through the metal detector at the airport in Riyadh, I set it off multiple times. I had taken everything out of my pockets, belt off, watch off, etc. I sarcastically pointed to my pants … and the security guard nodded yes. So, in public, not in a private area, I took off my pants put it in a bucket for the scan and then successfully walked through the metal detector.
I also have continued my podcast, Counting Countries, where I interview some of the most incredible and prolific travelers in the world. The guests have traveled to every country in the world or are in the progress of completing the goal. It is near difficult to highlight any specific guest since they are all so engaging and inspiring.
December saw my 99th episode being published. I have been interviewing these world class travelers since 2016. February will see my 100th episode with a special guest.
I spend a considerable amount of time producing this show. I have recently joined Patreon, where you can help partner and support future productions and get extra content.
I made my second attempt of making a “real” video for my underutilized Youtube channel. This video tracks my 8-day roadtrip from Baghdad to Basra. Take a look.
Years past, I have had the great fortune of producing and being featured in two adventure travel documentaries.
Hit The Road: India was filmed in 2012 and released in 2013 cross iTunes, Amazon, Vimeo, etc. The film met some success as it was licensed by KLM and Virgin Airways, screened at eight film festivals, and was ranked #3 on iTunes UK in the documentary category.
And the hits keep on coming. Epic Channel in India licensed the film to play in India over a several week time period. That is pretty cool. Except the fee we earned was kept by our sales agent in India for his fee.
Our second film, Hit The Road: Cambodia, was released in 2016across iTunes, Amazon, and Vimeo. The HTRC was filmed in 2016 but took some time to be birthed.
OK, this is not 2021 news, but I have published three books over the years. You can check them out on Amazon.
And, also thanks to Covid, I finally sat down to work on my 4th book which will be out some time in 2022. I have attended the Wai Kru Sak Yant Festival 7 times in Thailand, documenting this amazing event. This book will share nearly 200 photos from over the years.
And besides travelling to ever country in the world, I am creating a list of at least one book for every country. This is an ongoing project with more books being added in 2020.
I have continued my rewarding relationship with Travel Massive, the launchpad for travel with nearly 60,000 members. I am one of the Chapter Leaders in Bangkok and also the Asia Coordinator. During Covid, we transitioned to virtual events. Travel Massive re-invented itself in 2021 and I have contributed some content onto the new platform. Check it out!
I am hoping for some great travel experiences in 2021. But again, I really have no idea of what the future will hold. My plan is to restart my aborted West Africa roadtrip from 2020. Back then, the plan was to drive through 6 countries in West Africa. After reaching my second country, Gambia, Covid reared its ugly head, and my trip was canceled.
My main focus will be the Extraordinary Travel Festival, which will entail a couple of visits to Armenia to plan and organize this event. This festival will be a multi-day event in Yerevan where we are expecting 300 plus people to meet. We will be hosting 40 speakers, pre-conference trips, parties, and dinners. It should be awesome!
Hopefully, I will be able to squeeze in some other new countries.
So to everyone, Happy New Year and keep on counting countries.
And if you want to see some of my best photos … take a look at these links.
And to see my year in reviews for previous years, you can take a look here.
A Year In Review 2021