Last summer, my Royal Air Maroc flight from Casablanca landed at Malabo International Airport in Equatorial Guinea, and I completed a 50-year mission: I had officially, and legally, visited every recognized country on earth.
This means 196 countries: the 193 members of the United Nations, plus Taiwan, Vatican City, and Kosovo, which are not members but are, to varying degrees, recognized as independent countries by other international actors.
n five decades of traveling, I’ve crossed countries by rickshaw, pedicab, bus, car, minivan, and bush taxi; a handful by train (Italy, Switzerland, Moldova, Belarus, Ukraine, Romania, and Greece); two by riverboat (Gabon and Germany); Norway by coastal steamer; Gambia and the Amazonian parts of Peru and Ecuador by motorized canoe; and half of Burma by motor scooter. I rode completely around Jamaica on a motorcycle and Nauru on a bicycle. I’ve also crossed three small countries on foot (Vatican City, San Marino, and Liechtenstein), and parts of others by horse, camel, elephant, llama, and donkey. I confess that I have not visited every one of the 7,107 islands in the Philippine archipelago or most of the more than 17,000 islands constituting Indonesia, but I’ve made my share of risky voyages on the rickety inter-island rustbuckets you read about in the back pages of the Times under headlines like “Ship Sinks in Sulu Sea, 400 Presumed Lost”.
I’ve had hundreds of adventures inside these countries, but for certain countries, the adventure started before I could even get in. The difficulties I encountered trying to get tourist visas taught me, in their own way, about places I had yet to visit and their relationship with the wider world.
Anyway, some of the toughest countries to get into were Angola, Chad, Saudi Arabia, Somalia (unsurprisingly), and Kiribati, among others. (Interestingly, North Korea was not on the list, as U.S. citizens are, contrary to popular belief, allowed to visit — albeit only through expensive tours mandated by the North Korean government. Podell offers further details in the article (encouragingly, most of the challenges seemed to be circumstantial or no longer relevant).
Other citizens of the world wishing to follow in Podell’s footsteps should check out his books, Around the World in 50 Years: My Adventure to Every Country on Earth and The Survival Guide for the Adventurous International Traveler. I will definitely be adding them to my collection as I pursue similar aspirations.
Do feel free to share your own travel experiences and advice.