I blog when I go abroad, and occasionally when I do stuff in the UK too. There's a nicer interface over here.

Sunday, September 08, 2013


Bleh. I turn 40 next year. Not that this is a surprise, I'm pretty sure it was always on the cards for 2014. But bleh. Actually I'm not that fussed by the number and I don't really do "things to do before you're " lists, but the box-ticking fauxCD voice inside has been asking: can I make it to 50 countries in the world before I'm 40?

Defining what counts as "a country" is harder than it should be. Like, do I count England, Wales, Scotland as separate? There's a whole bunch of sites which let you tot up your total based on some criteria or other and I can't be arsed using any of them. I'm going to use the UN list. This sucks a bit - I struggle with not counting Gibraltar as separate, but fuck it, the UN seem like the best authority on this stuff really.

Oh, I guess I also need to define what my criteria is for having visited somewhere. It's pretty simple: I need to have been landside of whatever border control they have. So if I've only changed planes there and not gone through passport control, it doesn't count. That's it.

Apparently (if my notes and memory are accurate) I've been to 44 countries already. So I'm going to try and recollect the order and occasion of my first visit to every country in my list. It's very self-indulgent and possibly boastful of me, I know that. Sorry if you're offended. :-/

I was born in the United Kingdom (1). I think I was probably 7 or 8 when I first went to France (2), I recall a ferry to Cherbourg from somewhere. Still a kid, we went to Benidorm in Spain (3) on a package tour back when it was a huge deal to call your grandparents using local pesos from a phone box just to say HOLY SHIT WE'RE IN FOREIGN. I was at high school when my folks took me and a friend to Monaco (4) because a friend of theirs had a free place to stay, just in the bit of France to the east. On that holiday we nipped across the border by train to Italy (5) for a couple of hours. They had lira and everything.

Once I was old enough and had my own passport, I went to Amsterdam in the Netherlands (6) with a bunch of mates from 6th form. I remember sitting up at night with the barman in our hotel, drinking and playing a fruit machine. I also remember having our bags searched for porn on the way back, and another guy got caught with an enormous pile of scud. We thought his mullet was probably a worse crime.

So that would have been 6 countries (5 "abroad") by the age of 18 and a bit. Hmm. I only remember visiting France during my uni years, which I think means my next new country was one night in Belgium (7) off one of them new-fangled Eurostar trains, for some kind of conference my second job sent me on in, er, well that would have been 1997. I only really remember the train, my colleague Bella ripping strips off some cab queue jumpers, and us leaving the only day we attended early. Not long after that I got an overnight ferry to Denmark (8) en route to a couple of days in Copenhagen with my girlfriend. There was dreadful cabaret, and we visited the Carlsberg Brewery.

In early 2001 I went west for the first time, as Yahoo! sent me to the USA (9) for 2 weeks. I remember being really pretty freaked out - I'd never flown long haul, never been out of the country for longer than 10 days, never been such a vast distance from home, never worked in an office in another country All very alien. Turns out I quite liked long haul travel, and San Francisco.

Don't think 2001 brought anything new, but 2002 was a bumper year, because Anne (my gf at the time) and I went interrailing. This almighty trip brought me Luxembourg (10), Germany (11), Poland (12), the Czech Republic (13), Austria (14) and Switzerland (15), woooo!

That trip was ace. We stayed with Funky Simon in Luxembourg, who took us out to a London theme pub where he was DJing that night. In Germany we went to Berlin and my first digital camera broke at the zoo, its last photo being a spectacular yawning hippo. (Actually flickr says I took that in Cologne on another holiday, but it's a good photo so I'm keeping it in)

In Poland we stayed with Anne's friend ... er ... shit, I've forgotten her name. She knew a lot of Lauras but I don't think it was one of them. Anyway, that was in Wrocław, then we got a train to Krakow where we ate bigos and I got ill on the overnight to Prague, a horrible hot journey at the end of which Peter met us and put us up in his flat. He asked what we wanted to do, so we made him take us to a breakdancing competition at a club. He taught us the way of Becherovka. In Austria we visited Salzburg, which was gorgeous, and in Switzerland Lausanne and Zurich, in the latter of which there was lifesize Manowar posters in the HMVs. Back in Germany we hit Munich and stayed at a colleague of mine's empty flat for a weekend. We finished the trip in Amsterdam, in which we were joined by Edonica, Mike Techno, and Pikey Jones. We watched England beat Argentina in the world cup, and got raucously drunk. The train home was arduous, but at least we made it: Mike and Jones missed their flight, the arses.

To be honest, that's a fair bit of Europe done. 15 countries already, all the big ones (and one of the smallest) in the middle at least. The low hanging fruit was almost all gone, with a stag do in Ireland (16) in 2004(?) knocking off what was probably the most glaring omission to date. Almost didn't make it though, 'cos we nearly missed the flight. Spending 4 hours cramped in a vestibule with 8 men and 9 hangovers was an unpleasant way to get from Galway to Dublin.

In 2006 Yahoo! decided it would be a good idea to get me addicted to business class travel by throwing me on a Cathay Pacific flight to Taiwan (17) to deliver 2 days of training, and the same in India (18) on the way back. That opened my eyes. What's more, Anne and I broke up that summer, and I hated my job enough to up and quit it. They convinced me to stay, but had to accede to my demands, since I'd already spunked all my savings on an epic 5 week round the world trip. I blogged the whole bloody thing (that's the first post) in more detail than even GCERC, so I won't say anything more but just list the new countries I got out of it: UAE, Australia, New Zealand, Hong Kong, Singapore, and Japan (19-24). Whoa!

Actually, I got Canada (25) out of that ticket too, but that wasn't until May 2007. I am, in fact, wearing my Granville Island Brewing Company t-shirt from Vancouver as I type this. Later that year I went to Turkey (26), a grey but fun visit to Istanbul for a long weekend. Topkapi castle has great weaponry and stray cats in rude health.

SHIT. The list I maintain in Evernote just shrunk by 1. I found a duplicate. Bollocks. It's "only" 43. Carrying on...

On another trip to Australia we stopped off on the way home at Vietnam (27) in May 2008. Saigon is awesome. The museum of the war is quite sobering, crossing the road is a lot of fun, and the afternoon rainfall is amazing. I drank a rice liqueur which was dirt cheap and so vicious I had to check each eye worked individually after each sip. Still had two though.

By now I really had the hang of earning and spending miles, and went back to Australia for the most inauspicious holiday of my fucking life in summer 2009. I'm going to claim Thailand (28) for that trip, because despite being on a layover rather than a stop, and being escorted the whole time on a tour of Bangkok, for christ's sake I had a tour of Bangkok so of course I've been. I think I got a stamp, though it's possible I didn't technically enter the country. I was walked through the security lanes meant only for airline staff in both directions, which was ace.

Went back to Australia again in early 2010, for my brother's 40th (HINT HINT).  On the way back home I stopped in South Korea (29), spending the night at a Hyatt populated entirely by people on overnight layovers (they are popular at Incheon), and being tempted to go in the foreigners only casino. I didn't go anywhere near Seoul. It was bloody freezing there.

Oh, Europe! Hello! I went to Portugal (30) in 2010. Twice. Lisbon's bloody lovely. On my first trip I fell out of love with Megadeth, as I was wandering around Belem with my headphones on and cursing some godawful music which came on random. I checked the display so I could remember who I newly hated and ... oh dear, Dave. What have you done? (A Tout Le Monde, that's what)

Mor Europe! I also went to Finland (31) in 2010, to start -- OK, clearly I started in London, you pedants -- another trip to Sydney (2010 was the first, and to date only, time I've been lucky enough to go twice in one year). As with Korea, in Helsinki I saw fuck all, but I did stay overnight - got a free shuttle bus to an airport near the hotel and got drunk before flying out the next day.

My streak stopped at 5 years - no new countries in 2011. Took a more legitimate visit to Thailand in early 2012: 3 days on an island. I did another 3 days on an island in June 2012 too, this time visiting Africa for the first time by treating myself to a birthday-ish trip to Tanzania (32), Zanzibar to be precise. I was on the ground but airside in Ethiopia and Sudan on that trip too.

Earlier in 2013 I got a few trains. Nothing much to speak about, but I did at least rack up Sweden, Norway, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, Macedonia, Serbia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia, and Slovenia (33-43).  Actually, this has really tripped my fauxCD again, realising just now that I hit 11 new countries in 11 days. How pleasing.

Here I am at 43 then. How am I going to reach 50? Well, I've already got 2 trips booked for early 2014. I'm going to Australia again, this time stopping off in Malaysia (44) and Indonesia (45) en route. Visiting Bali in the latter, just to get acclimatised before Australia proper. And then a couple of months later I'm going to Russia (46) with a mate, largely to experience a bit of luxury travel at a more than reasonable price -- if you have and spend the miles, including a two-for-one voucher, you can go one way in business class, one way in first class, for £105 total. £52.50 for 7 hours in BA's premium cabins? don't mind if I do -- but also because, well, Moscow looks like fun.

I need 4 more. Doing it before my 40th birthday seems unlikely - I have no holiday entitlement for the rest of 2013 and the first half of 2014 is already pretty booked up, so I think I should try and do it before the end of next year instead. But yeah, where to go? As is obviously obvious, I'm lucky enough that I can regularly afford long haul holidays, so the world is open. That said, I'll only have a small bit of entitlement to play with, especially if I need to hold some days back for a metal festival or summat.

I'd love to try and hit 4 countries in a single trip but that seems kinda unlikely. The nearest countries, off the top of my head, are the bits of Eastern Europe we failed to hit on GCERC plus some islands, so Albania, Moldova, Greece, Cyprus, Iceland, etc. Oh, also yer landlocked postage stamp exporters like Andorra and Liechtenstein. Those are a pain in the arse to reach though. The Baltics are quite accessible and North Africa is quite close (compared to lots of the world) but some of those places seems a little unstable, just like the Middle East, and what's more most of the countries around there have just never appealed to me. I really want to go to North Korea, which would necessitate a trip to China too, but that's staggeringly unlikely to happen. The various -stans don't appeal too much unless I was to get a train across them with 10 other nutjobs...

Hmm. Hmm. Hmm.

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