On a surface level, there are some very good reasons why I’m trying to achieve this goal. I absolutely love travelling. I believe it’s the most rewarding and exciting thing you can do on this planet. I think you learn more travelling than you will ever learn in a classroom. My career and academic background – working as a global economic and political risk analyst – is geared around understanding why and how different nations work. Perhaps naively, my goal in life is to learn as much about the world as possible.
What better way to do this than to visit these countries in person? I’ve often covered countries at work for years. I’ve built up such a strong image of what they would be like, only to visit and for them to be completely different to what I had in mind. Economic growth in Romania had been strong for years when I covered it, so when I visited I expected it to be a booming high-tech industrial hub. In person, it felt like almost the opposite. That I felt I understood anywhere, without visiting, is perhaps a symptom of a view we all hold. We think we know everything and that our personal world views are bulletproof. But really, even so-called ‘experts’ are basically making it up as they go along.
I had never intended to visit as many countries as possible. But through travelling on my ‘gap year’ – a term I use with reluctance, given how close to the bone the famous ‘gap yah’ YouTube video is – and in between university holidays, the countries started to tally up. I took a year-long sabbatical from work in 2016, with the aim of getting to 100 countries. Then I would stop. I thought. Once I got to a hundred, the damage was done. If you’re 50% of the way there aged 27, you’d be stupid not to at least try to finish the lot. “This will be much easier to boast about if you’ve been to all of them,” was my thought process here.
Like any goal, there are dangers. As a species, we believe that once we have achieved or completed an important goal, then we’ll be able to relax and be happy. “Once I get this promotion/pass this exam/purchase this consumer good, I will finally arrive at the point of contentment and eternal happiness.” Obviously, this isn’t how life works. The feeling of success after achieving something is fleeting, before we then start looking for something else to fill the gap. I have to remind myself that visiting every country will not be a personal ‘I’ve completed the world’ panacea. So I’m doing my best to enjoy the process as much as possible, even when it can at times be challenging.
Pushing The Boundaries
Fortunately, it’s a challenge that continues to force me out of my comfort zone, to places and into cultures which I wouldn’t immediately have been driven to explore without the goal in mind. And for me this has been the best part of the journey so far. Most of my favourite experiences have been in places I’ve known little about beforehand, or actively expected to be challenging. These are the ones that leave an imprint on you.
For now, Covid-19 has put a fairly large spanner in the works, I can’t lie. Who knows when normal travel will be possible again? In any case, the ambition is still there. And will at least push me to visit as many countries as I feasibly can in the coming years.