I got my travel mojo back! 2020, 2021 & 2022 were all years of limited travel and missed opportunities. F Covid! This year was my year of revenge travel, and I came out of the gate swinging. (There are great affiliates in this post.)
I ended 2022 at 152 countries. And this year I made some serious progress while Chasing 193. I visited 19 new countries bringing me to 171 UN member countries. I can finally see the end of the horizon with 22 UN member countries remaining. 22 does not seem like an insurmountable number at this point.
The New Ones.
Africa is considered by many who are Chasing 193 to be the most challenging continent with 54 countries. And in the last couple of years, I made a substantial effort to visit these countries. I am happy to report I am now at 52/54 with just Libya and Sao Tome remaining.
I left Boston in early January for a 65-day visit to Africa. Finally visiting Djibouti and Sudan. This was my 4th effort to visit Djibouti and 2nd effort to visit Sudan. For Djibouti I canceled 2 previously planned trips for the excessive prices of the trips and a non-processed visa for the third attempt and had to cancel my trip to Sudan during the coup of 2021. I finally reached Lac Abbe, long on my list to visit in Djibouti. And it exceeded expectations except for my ill-timed projectile vomiting at sunset due to food sickness as a sandstorm whipped around. Sudan just a couple of months before the awful civil war in 2023 is a gem; hospitable people, lovely nature, and rich history and culture. I hope for a cessation of the violence affecting so many millions. Unfortunately, I was not overly fond of ROC, Gabon, Equatorial Guinea, or Central African Republic. ROC and Gabon offer a poor value proposition. Very high costs, limited stuff to see, and sadly two awful tour guides. Equatorial Guinea offers even less to see but at least I hung with a pleasant but inept local guide. Central African Republic will be recalled for the airline losing my luggage for 3 days, 40 C weather, the Wagner Group, and a young man who dove through the window of my moving taxi to try and steal my mobile phone. He was unsuccessful.
I then recharged my batteries in Thailand and returned to Africa for a 50-day trip. Lesotho and Eswatini were both great visits. I stayed at an amazing lodge in the mountains of Lesotho and in Eswatini I stayed at a great safari lodge which was crazy cheap and full of animals. After that I then headed to the Maputo, the capital of Mozambique. It was a three-day city tour with Walter, a fantastic guide sharing the history of the city.
Off to Madagascar for a two-week trip which had been canceled in 2020 due to Covid. Madagascar does not disappoint. Rugged beauty, amazing lemurs. An untouched country. After Madagascar, it was time to turn in some points and stay at the Le Meridien in Mauritius. The winter weather was perfect with the island being totally agreeable.
Then a trip to Botswana, which was rather underwhelming. I tried to save money by arranging day trips out of Maun but was rather unsuccessful. And the last country on this leg was Malawi. I spent the week exploring the country with a driver, visiting the lake, the plateau and going on safari.
In the summer, I completed the continent of South America with a trip to the “Guyanas”. I visited both Martinque and French Guina which are both part of France and are not independent countries. French Guiana has two highlights, visiting Devil’s Island and the European Space Station. Cool! Then I traveled overland to Suriname and Guyana. Two unique countries when compared with the rest of South America. Suriname used to be a Dutch colony, while Guyana used to be British.
And in September, I visited three new countries in the Caribbean. All pleasant enough but none overly inspiring. I rented a car on each island and visited the highlights.
As always, even though I am focusing on new countries, there are always repeats. Out of the frying pan into the fire. Early January, I departed the US and headed to Mogadishu. This was my second visit to Somalia, my first being to Hargeisa in Somaliland, the de facto state. Next up a respite to Addis Ababa. I have never connected with Ethiopia and this trip was no different. I still have not been won over. There was a one-night layover in Nairobi, does it even count?
Then back to Thailand for some time in Bangkok and a great trip to my favorite Thai island, Koh Mak. I always like to point out, there is no 7-Eleven on the island. Then a return visit to Cambodia for my 4th visit to Angkor Wat, one of the most special places in the world and a visit to Sihanoukville on the coast for a conference. Then multiple visits to South Africa, this time a visit to Johannesburg and three additional stays at the airport hotel as well as a night in Clarens in the national park.
There was a return trip to Thailand before I headed to the US for an extended summer trip which included visits to Boston and Chicago as well as Cape Cod and Newport, RI. And I went to Wisconsin to attend the TBEX travel blogging conference. I attended my first one back in 2014 in Athens. Always great to be back.
Finally, I returned to Thailand with a repeat visit to Singapore for a conference, back to Thailand, and then my final trip to the US. I again split my time in Boston for the holidays as well as Chicago.
Here are the countries I visited during 2023 in chronological order. Bolded names are new countries. Italics not real countries.
- United States
- Republic of Congo
- Equatorial Guinea
- Central African Republic
- South Africa
- United States
- French Guiana
- United States
- Antigua and Barbuda
- Saint Kitts and Nevis
- United States
- United States
Here is a brief recap of travel 2023 highlights by country and of course some low points.
Somalia. There is no “Petra” or “Taj Mahal” in Mogadishu, but it is not often you are chauffeured around in an armored truck with three soldiers with AK-47s. So regardless this will be a memorable experience.
Ethiopia. I spent 3 nights here waiting to meet friends in the next country of Djibouti. I visited a new NomadMania region where I visited the historic Debre Libanos Monastery.
Djibouti. This tiny and strategic country on the Horn of Africa took years to finally visit. This was to be my 100th country back in 2015, but I was so irritated with the expensive prices I canceled my trip. The next year, the same thing happened. And in 2021, I had a trip planned which did not come to fruition after my visa was not processed.
Sudan. This country had been on the list for a long time. A previous trip had been canceled in 2021 due to a coup, and sadly the country has been torn apart in civil war shortly after I departed. Sudan offers some of the same culture/history as Egypt without any tourism. I spent two weeks taking in the warm hospitality, the Nile, and its rich history.
Egypt. In 2009, I spent a full week exploring brilliant Cairo. This time I was back for nearly 3 weeks visiting Cairo, Alexandria, Siwa Oasis, Luxor, and Aswan. Such an amazing county. Egypt is a top tier destination – great pricing, great infrastructure, great food and so much to see. The low light being guided by an admitted and convicted rapist in the Siwa Oasis on the Libya border.
Republic of Congo. Brazzaville, the capital, surprised me with its modernity. Overall, I was underwhelmed by the country which was abetted by my overpriced and unprofessional guide. Avoid Lawanda Tours. An added bonus was a visit to a local doctor with an ear infection from the contaminated water in the hotel shower.
Gabon. Gabon was another disappointment being guided by 241 Tours, another company to avoid. A memorable experience was viewing a Bwiti ceremony. Not sure what happened exactly but I know I hadn’t seen it before.
Equatorial Guinea. I spent my time on the island in the capital of Malabo. Highlights included a daytrip driving around the island. And many other places, this would be considered a lowlight.
Central African Republic. The hits keep coming. Luggage lost for 3 days by the airline. A cool 37 C – 98 F every day, wearing the same clothes every day. A canceled tour. A delayed tour. And an attempted strong-arm robbery, as the thief dove through the open window of my moving taxi. We fought only for seconds as I managed to maintain possession of my mobile phone and push him out the moving taxi window.
Comoros. A silver lining. A lush and tropical island in the Indian Ocean. It is the same ocean as the Seychelles or Mauritius but literally no tourism. I spent a couple of days exploring the island, capping off the day with a sunset swim in the ocean.
Thailand. After 10 countries and 65 days, it was time for a break as I returned to Thailand for some R&R. I spent time in my condo in Bangkok, catching up on work and seeing friends. The highlight was a return trip to my favorite island, Koh Mak. This island is so underdeveloped there is no 7-11. (If you have to Thailand you know that is a big deal.)
Cambodia. I returned to Cambodia for my 5th visit since 2004 and my 4th time to Angkor Wat, one of the most special places on earth. I also attended a travel conference in Sihanoukville, an ocean side town.
South Africa. Back to Africa for another extended trip. I flew into JoBurg to pick up a rental car for a multi-country trip. And returned several times in between flights, sleeping at the airport hotel.
Lesotho. This tiny nation of 2 million is surrounded on all sides by South Africa. I spent three nights in the mountains at a great lodge, eating the best fresh bread, hiking to a magnificent waterfall, and hanging with the locals on a bar crawl involving donkeys.
Eswatini. Another landlocked nation of 1.2 million, and it is the only absolute monarchy remaining in Africa. I visited the excellent Hlane Royal National Park and had an amazing rhino walk with just me and my friend.
Mozambique. Another land crossing to the vibrant capital of Maputo. I went on two lively and engaging city walks with Walter and got a good feeling for the city and its history. As the trip ended, I double backed to Eswatini and then to Joburg on a long drive.
Madagascar. Another canceled from 2020 during Covid. I spent two weeks exploring this magnificent island. This island does not disappoint with more lemurs and baobabs than I could count. I also chilled on the fantastic island of Nosy Boraha.
Mauritius. More R&R as I used some points for a free stay at a resort on the beach and rented a car to explore the island. This is the least African country within Africa. I felt like I was on a tropical Indian island as the majority of the islanders trace their heritage to the subcontinent.
Botswana. I based myself in Maun, a center for safari. My goal was to find safari day trips but that was easier said than done. I was able to go on two safari day trips as well as a scenic flight.
Malawi. This small nation packs in a lot with its eponymous and well-known lake. Highlights included a safari, hiking on a plateau and spending time on the lake.
USA. Summer means my annual trip to the US including Boston with side trips to Newport, RI and Cape Cod as well as a trip to Chicago. One highlight was attending the MicroCon conference and meeting the leaders of many micronations.
Martinique. This Caribbean Island is part of France so “it doesn’t count”. I spent the night here as I was transiting to French Guyana. This was no small feat as it took me three days to get to my final destination. A flight from Boston to Miami, slept overnight. A flight from Miami to Martinique, slept overnight. And then the next day, a flight from Martinique to French Guyana. Highlights from my brief stay included my AIRBNB host who picked me up over an hour late at the airport but still insisted on charging me $30 for the ten-minute ride. A second highlight was a guy who picked me up as I hitchhiked. He let me struggle through our conversation in French and as he dropped me off he broke into fluent English.
French Guyana. This is another country that doesn’t count since it is part of France. They speak French, use the Euro, and wear berets. Great experiences include visiting Devil’s Island, a former French penal colony, and the European Space Station of course in South America.
Suriname. I crossed overland to visit Suriname, a former Dutch colony, where they speak … Dutch. With some money and fresh paint, the capital Paramaribo would be a colonial gem.
Guyana. Another land crossing and after 13 hours I arrived in Georgetown. Guyana used to be a British colony and English is the lingua de franca. I got a haircut here and took a scenic flight into the thick jungle to visit Kaieteur Falls, the world’s largest single drop waterfall. Take that Niagara Falls!
Dominica. After not receiving visas for my trips to Libya and Turkmenistan I made a U-turn and headed to the Caribbean. I rented a car to explore Dominica’s thick canopies and waterfalls. It is sparsely touristed.
Antigua and Barbuda. I will recall Antigua fondly for my AIRBNB with dark yellow water in the shower and a steal drum performance on top of a mountain overlooking the ocean.
St. Kitts and Nevis. I took a ferry road trip to adjacent Nevis Island. I relaxed at Alexander Hamilton’s house, his birthplace.
Singapore. I returned to Singapore for my third visit since 2004. This city-state grew on me compared to my previous visits. I attended another travel conference as well as catching up with a number of my friends who are based in Singapore.
I use App in the Air to create this flight map of my travels in 2023. And in conjunction with Tripit and a trusty Excel sheet, I was able to create this recap.
- 70 flight segments
- 96, 731 miles flown
- 241 hours in the air
- 27 different airlines
- Flew on 4 different continents
This was a much busier year compared to my air travel from the previous three years.
As you can see by my post, I enjoy tracking and creating statistics about my journey. One other list I keep track of with the help of Nomad Mania is my list of airports, I have passed over 300 different airports during my travels. I always love checking out a new airport and even better if it is random. I enjoyed flying through SMS or the airport in Sainte Marie Airport, a tiny airport on the island of Sainte Marie which is off the east coast of Madagascar. It is just two rooms. I could walk to my hotel from the airport, dragging my bag. And on my way back to the airport, the hotel provided a horse and carriage to drop us off.
While I always enjoy compiling my annual statistics there is one stat not to be excited about: my carbon footprint. I donated $1000 to the Armenian Tree Project to offset some of my carbon. $1000 purchases about 35 trees, each tree captures approximately 46 pounds of carbon a year. That works out to 1,610 pounds of carbon each year. Over 25 years that works out to 40,250 pounds (20 tons of carbon).
I love tracking the different airlines and airports, but I also love a great land crossing. There were a series of land crossings in southern Africa; including South Africa to Lesotho (and return) and South Africa and Eswatini (and return). I had rented a car in Joburg and drove to these two additional countries. These crossings were straight forward enough.
I also crossed by land from Eswatini to Mozambique. My rental car company did not allow me to cross so this added a bit of logistics. I had to find a place in Eswatini to leave my rental car for three days and a driver to bring me to Maputo and retrieve my three days later. The border crossing was very quiet, but the paperwork took a while and there was a group of guys who stopped us upon exiting attempting to make us buy some “insurance”.
In South America, I crossed overland from French Guiana to Suriname and then Suriname to Guyana. I found a shared van to take me to the border, then I jumped on a pirogue to cross the river, and then found another shared taxi to take me to Paramaribo. (There are no flights between the capitals.) Getting from Paramaribo to Georgetown was a lengthy affair. I was picked up at the hotel at 4am, we then drove around collecting other customers, we then drove to the border, processed through immigration, waited for the ferry, took the ferry, taken in a shared van to Georgetown, and I was then dropped off last at my hotel. This trip took over 12 hours. (The flights between Paramaribo and Georgetown does not operate daily and the flights are about $400 one way for a 30 minute flight).
As I mentioned above, I rented a car in South Africa and drove to Lesotho and Eswatini. It was straight forward albeit with some very long stretches of road, some which were in quite rough shape.
I ended up driving in Madagascar since the driver I hired continually fell asleep. So on the last day, I drove for 4 hours so he could nap while I chauffeured him around.
I also drove on the adjacent island of Mauritius. The car was only around $30. Surprisingly, for one of the richest countries in Africa, I was stopped twice by the police and asked for bribes. I ended up paying off (10 Euro) one of them as I was driving to the airport.
I also took to the road on my three island Caribbean jaunt to Dominica, Antigua, and Saint Kitts. Unless you are sitting at a resort all day, renting cars is the only economical way to explore the island. Irritatingly, each island you required to buy a local “license” from around $20 to $50.
I am tracking close to my annual modus operandi of – 90 Bangkok – 60 Boston – 30 Chicago.
Here is the breakdown for 2023
- 91 nights at my condo in Bangkok
- 56 nights at my father’s apartment outside of Boston
- 44 nights at my condo in Chicago
- 130 nights at hotels (54 different hotels)
- 14 nights at AIRBNBs
- 9 nights at different friends’ houses
- 3 nights in a tent
- 8 nights sleeping on an airplane
This year was a bit better in the hotel department compared to last year.
Princess Bora Spa and Lodge. This hotel is found on the remote island of Nosy Boraha in Madagascar was a true gem. Great villa on great grounds with a beautiful beach. 150 Euro a night also included all meals at the lodge. This is a fantastic place to relax and unwind.
Le Meridien Ile Maurice. While a bit cookie cutter, this giant monstrosity in Mauritius was also an appreciated respite. A large, comfortable room with direct access to the beach made for a great visit.
Semonkong Lodge. This was a simple lodge in the mountains of Lesotho. But this was a situation where everything simply worked. A fire was made each night in my room by the staff ensuring a deep slumber. The restaurant had excellent food. And the bread. I won’t forget the fresh bread and butter for only $1. And the lodge was a very reasonable $50 a night.
Leon Hotel. I can’t say I will recommend Leon Hotel in Brazzaville too soon. First, the contaminated water in the shower infected my ear giving me a nasty ear infection and a visit to the doctor. Second, not mincing words, the staff at the hotel were none too bright. I had a couple of early departures, and the staff simply could not inform me of when breakfast was served. 6am? 6:15am? 6:30am? 7:00am? All of these different times were given by different staff members. The real number … closer to 8am until everything was set up for the buffet.
AIRBNB – Cyril. Another poor experience was my AIRBNB – Cyril (avoid) in Antigua and Barbuda. The experience began poorly as the host posted the wrong address within Google Maps. It was 100 F and the small AC was only in the small bedroom, making the apartment sweltering hot. Prior to bed, I decided to cool and clean off with a shower. The water felt slimy, but I assumed this was just my imagination. After finishing, I realized that this was no fiction, and the water was a fetid yellow. I wasted a couple of hours with AIRBNB customer service finding a new apartment.
Another pet project is getting haircuts (or sometimes a shave) around the world. This is a simple mechanism to experience a slice of local life. This is usually a great way to meet some people and learn about the country, whether it is the barber or the other people getting a cut. This year I got cuts in Cambodia (including a Baileys on the rocks), Egypt, Guyana, Mauritius, and Saint Kitts and Nevis. Take a look, Haircuts Around The World.
As usual, I get to speak to so many interesting and inspiring people throughout the year. I have published 116 full length interviews and a number of bonus shows as well. Check out Counting Countries and subscribe today. Counting Countries is in the top 2.5% of all podcasts (out of 3.3 million). Not bad!
I spend a considerable amount of time producing this show. I have joined Patreon, where you can help partner and support future productions and get extra content.
I made a couple of videos here and there, including the longest drive ever. Check it out!
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 2016 across iTunes, Amazon, and Vimeo. The HTRC was filmed in 2015 but took some time to be birthed.
OK, this is not 2023 news, but I have published three books over the years. You can check them out on Amazon.
And besides travelling to every 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 2023.
I have continued my rewarding relationship with Travel Massive, the largest professional travel network with nearly 60,000 members. In Bangkok, I am one of the Chapter Leaders and also the Asia Coordinator. I have hosted and organized events in Bangkok, Chicago, and Wisconsin this year.
Extraordinary Travel Festival.
It is official. After the great success of the first Extraordinary Travel Festival in Armenia, we have announced that the second event will be held in Bangkok on November 15, 2024. Why would you want to come? First, the amazing network of community of the world’s most traveled people who will meet in Thailand. Second, over 20 fantastic speakers, it is like TEDx, but everyone is sharing travel stories. Third, it is a great opportunity to explore Bangkok, Thailand and the region. We have already announced great trips to Bhutan and visiting UNESCO sites in Thailand.
Completing The Quest.
So checking my predictions at the end of 2022, I stated my goal was to be at 53/54 in Africa. I ended up 52/54. That is a win to me. I am planning/attempting to visit both Libya and Turkmenistan in 2024 assuming I can get a visa. Unfortunately, I was unable to get my visas for either country in 2023. In 2024, I plan to visit New Zealand and some Oceania. And visit my last African country, Sao Tome, in May. And I hopefully will attend a sing sing in Papua New Guinea in August. Stay tuned!
So to everyone, Happy New Year and keep on counting countries.
Don’t miss out on looking cool while you are on the road.
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.