Challenge: Travel to one new country every year

Photo courtesy of Ottoman Imperial Archives

Got any travel plans for this year? Still think that travel isn’t in the cards for you, despite your wish to the contrary?

I have a challenge for you. And I think you can achieve it, both this year and every year from here on out.

Travel to every country?

I don’t know anyone who has read about Chris Guillebeau’s quest to visit every country in the world by age 35 and hasn’t been inspired by it. It reminds me of Tom Lehrer’s famous quote about accomplishments:

“It’s a sobering thought, for example, that when Mozart was my age, he had been dead for two years.”

(Mozart died at age 35, for reference.)

I know that Chris stated that to visit 100 countries cost him about $30,000. Which, as he points out, is less than a yearly wage for someone living in the US.

It still seems like a lot to me.

And at any rate, I admit that while the “idea” of visiting every country in the world seems appealing, I’m not even sure if it’s something I would really want. Many countries? Sure. More than I’ve seen? Most definitely. But with 190+ countries out there, it doesn’t seem so important to see every single one of them.

That said, I’ve got a plan that allows and encourages you to travel, costs much much less than a yearly wage, and is something you can accomplish while holding down a day job.

The challenge

I challenge you to visit one new country every calendar year.

Here are the rules:

  • It must be a new country. A country you’ve previously been to does not count, no matter how cool it is.
  • The travel must happen in the calendar year. Booking something this year for next year doesn’t count.
  • Visiting more than one country a year is fine, but they don’t count toward next year. There are no “rollover countries” on this challenge.

That’s it. There are no other requirements. You don’t need to be anywhere for any specific length of time. Stay for a day if you want. (Though I’d try to stay longer if possible.)

Why this challenge?

There are a few purposes to this challenge:

  • It will force you to travel, while not upending your life. Travel is a good for the spirit, as I’ve written about many times.
  • It’s a way to tackle the challenges of travel but in a bite-size way. This isn’t a backpack-across-Europe kind of trip, which can be a bit too much to contemplate. This is as simple as nip-over-the-border and have a meal.
  • No matter how simple, this will force you to plan just a little bit, which you will find useful when you do plan larger, more expansive trips to places. Consider it “practice travel” if you want.
  • Just having a goal that takes you out of your routine, no matter how far in the distance, is a very invigorating feeling. Being able to say to yourself, “hey, in eight months I’m going to go on a small adventure!” feels really good.
  • Spreading out your travel on a yearly schedule allows you to better plan financially for it. This is good especially if you’re new to travel. Call me old-fashioned, but I suggest people pay with money, money that they have. I stress that this doesn’t have to be an expensive endeavor.
  • It will be an adventure. That alone is a reason to undertake it.

Beginners have it easy

Beginners to international travel who take on this challenge have it easy almost everywhere in the world. In the US, you’re always relatively close to either Canada or Mexico. In fact, even if you’re at the Geographical Center of the continental United States, you’re still less than 800 miles from the Canadian and Mexican borders.

If you’re in Europe, you have it even easier, as many countries are small enough that you could probably walk to the border with a little effort.

About the only folks who will have it tough starting out are the Australians, as the closest countries are only New Zealand and Papua New Guinea across the water. But for everyone else, it should be easy to commit to a small trip this year with a little planning.

Progressive difficulty, but not too much

Already checked off the North American countries? What now?

Now it starts to get more interesting. Interested to see the jungles of Central America? A country in the Caribbean? Time to see Europe? Want to fake it by heading to St. Pierre and Miquelon (which while off-the coast of Newfoundland is technically part of France)?

By this point, you can flex your travel muscles a bit more. Get creative.

My challenge history

I first undertook this challenge halfway through 2012, so I’ll start my challenge at 2013:

  • 2013: Japan, South Korea
  • 2014: Sweden, Denmark, Norway

Informally, aside from a lull in 2011-2012, I’ve sort of been pursuing this challenge anyway for a while. For instance, my new countries going back to 2007:

  • 2007: (A whole bunch in Central Europe)
  • 2008: N/A
  • 2009: India, Australia, New Zealand
  • 2010: Spain, Morocco

What will my 2015 country or countries be? Stay tuned.

Will you take the challenge with me this year? Let me know, either here or on Twitter at @unlikelyradical. Step up and let’s go.

Also, I can’t take credit for this idea, as it was suggested to me by a friend, but I’m just turning this great idea into a challenge for you.

Mike Pumphrey

Mike Pumphrey

I'm the founder and author of Unlikely Radical, a site to help people succeed with money, achieve their goals, and live intentionally.

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Mike Pumphrey
Posted on February 9, 2015