30 countries under 30: My experiences across the globe

I’ve been exploring the world since I was 5 years old, and I hope my children will do the same.

I spent a few days at the De Wildt Cheetah Centre in South Africa in 2012.

To my future children,

My first passport was issued when I was six months and three days old (though I didn’t go overseas for the first time until I was 5). I didn’t know then how important travel would be to me, how it would shape my life and force me to grow up, through both good experiences and bad. One day I hope travel will do the same things for you.

This month I will achieve a goal I set for myself when I was young (it was so long ago I can’t even remember how old I was): I wanted to travel to 30 countries before I hit 30 years of age. My only rule was that I had to spend at least a whole day in the country, if not one night (in the case of the Vatican). I’m about to beat that goal (I turned 27 in June and will be in Guatemala — the 30th country — in a few days’ time). I could have easily completed my goal years ago (I haven’t been to a new country in over four years), but sometimes life gets in the way, and that’s OK. I realize that you might be born and raised outside of Australia, and so this goal might not be that impressive to you. One thing you have to realize is that Australia is very far away from most countries, making travel all the more important for Australians. In the 2015–2016 year, around 10 million Australians traveled abroad, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics. That’s out of a total population of just over 24 million, meaning that almost half of all Australians traveled overseas in that year.

With one of my new friends Amy on our Sail Croatia cruise in 2011.

Over the course of my life, I’ve had five different passport numbers, four Australian passports, and one German. I know my most recent Australian number by heart, I’ve had to enter it on so many immigration forms since 2011. Here’s the full list of countries, and most of the years I visited. Side note: My biggest pet peeve is when immigration officers don’t stamp in order, and trust me, this almost never happens.

  1. Australia (1989–2014/2016)
  2. America (1994/2002/2008/2011/2012/2013/2014–2016)
  3. Canada (1994/2002)
  4. New Zealand (?/2008/2009/2012)
  5. Japan (2001)
  6. England (2001/2011)
  7. France (2001/2011)
  8. Italy (2001/2011)
  9. The Vatican (2001/2011)
  10. Germany (2001/2011)
  11. China (2006)
  12. Bangladesh (2006)
  13. Singapore (2006/2008)
  14. Malaysia (2008)
  15. Kenya (2008)
  16. Egypt (2008/2009)
  17. Greece (2009/2011)
  18. Thailand (2009)
  19. Mexico (2011)
  20. Monaco (2011)
  21. The Netherlands (2011)
  22. Spain (2011)
  23. Serbia (2011)
  24. Hungary (2011)
  25. Croatia (2011)
  26. Switzerland (2011)
  27. Austria (2011)
  28. Swaziland (2012)
  29. South Africa (2012)
  30. Guatemala (2016)
Exploring the streets of Barcelona, Spain with the guys in 2011.

There was no particular reason I wanted to do 30 countries under 30, but I have your grandparents to thank for the travel obsession. We were never really well off, but your uncle and I grew up comfortably. Your grandmother was in the public service, though she retired when I was around 8, and your grandfather was a carpenter. With both of them having immigrated to Australia from other countries, travel was always something they prioritized, and so they saved up so we could explore the world. Sometimes I resented them for the travel, because all my friends were camping or at the coast together during our months out of school. But looking back I don’t regret it at all. And I hope when we do the same thing, you will not resent me for it either.

I hope you will love travel as much as I do. I hope you will have many great experiences — and also bad ones. Because that’s how you will learn. Many studies have been published about the benefits travel can have on a person’s life. This includes things like having a better memory, stress reduction, gaining independence, being able to accept different views and cultures, having more success at work, and increased cognitive function and creativity. On that note, here are some of my general recommendations.

You don’t always need to plan a trip out in advance; spontaneity is half the fun.

Out of the three months I spent in Europe when I was 22, I’d only planned a month of it before I got there. Yes, this caused me a bit of stress before the trip, but once I got there, everything fell into place naturally, and I got to do some things that I wouldn’t have done otherwise, like book a last-minute island-hopping tour in Greece.

Don’t be scared to change plans — even if you will lose money.

If someone tells you about some amazing event or landmark or even another country but you’re scheduled to do something else, think about when you’ll ever get to do that thing again. Is it worth changing your plans for? If the answer is yes, just do it. Don’t overthink it, because chances are you won’t regret it.

Get out of your comfort zone.

Don’t just stick to the typical tourist things. Get out there, explore cultures, check out remote areas. This is how you really experience a country and meet interesting people. Some of your best memories will be when you ventured out on your own.

Skydiving in Queenstown, New Zealand in 2009.

Be adventurous.

Activities are one of the best things about traveling, so get your scuba license, do extreme sports like bungee jumping (which, by the way, I’ll never do again), skydiving, and heliboarding. My entire two-week trip to New Zealand in 2009 was about adventure: I did horseback riding, parasailing, snowboarding, hang gliding, bungee jumping, skydiving, and riding ATVs through the snow (although I got sick and had to head back to the hostel early). This was one of my favorite trips of all time, and one of the reasons New Zealand is one of my favorite countries. There’s nothing like boosting adrenaline to cement a country and friendships firmly in your life.

Travel light.

One of the worst things you can do is overpack before your trip. Chances are you’ll pick up clothes and souvenirs on the way, so make sure you have room for them in advance. Just remember you can buy pretty much everything you need wherever you’re going, so don’t overthink the packing process — especially with clothes. As a last resort, you can always get a box and head to the post office to ship things you don’t need anymore back home (during the Europe trip, I sent at least three boxes back to Australia).

Document as much as you can.

Keeping a travel diary is not easy, but it’s totally worth it. Taking even 10 minutes every day to write down what you experienced will help you remember things later. I only managed to keep a diary for the first few weeks of my Europe trip, but every time I read those parts there are little details I’d forgotten that make me smile.

The Temple of Poseidon at Cape Sounion, Greece in 2009.

I’m sure after Guatemala I will have more to add to that list — it’s a country I know nothing about and a very last-minute travel decision (I have my cousins to thank for that).

Now that 30 under 30 is within sight, I’m setting myself a new goal. I want to hit 40 countries under 40. With my record over the past few years I know this won’t be the easiest thing to do, but hopefully I can make it happen (and by writing this down and sharing it with the world, I’ll be more inclined to do it). So, with that, here’s my bucket list of new countries I want to visit, in order of ones I want to visit the most. I would also love to return to Canada, Japan, and South Africa.

  1. Antarctica. This has been on my list for as long as I can remember. It’s pristine, it’s stunning, and it has some of my favorite wildlife like orcas and penguins.
  2. Cuba. I wanted this to be my 30th country originally, and I am still planning on going next year. Mostly I want to visit Havana, see how the country’s relations with America have affected the lifestyle before it becomes too much of a tourist spot.
  3. Scotland. Beautiful landscapes and castles, what more could you ask for?
  4. Peru. Mostly because of Machu Picchu. But I also want to learn more about the culture.
  5. Mozambique. I can never get enough of beaches and wildlife.
  6. Sweden. The cities look beautiful, there are always esports events being held there, and the people seem like a lot of fun.
  7. Brazil. While the cities seem great I really want to get out into the rainforest and explore.
  8. Russia. Pretty much just want to go to St. Petersburg because of that Anastasia movie.
  9. Iceland. The culture in Iceland fascinates me. Also, they have lagoons and stunning views of the Aurora borealis.
  10. Vietnam. The rice fields are visually interesting, and the country has a unique history.

While I learned a lot from traveling with family, it was the trips with friends and by myself that taught me the most. I want to share some of those experiences with you, to show you what travel can do. So every day this month I will be posting one of my photos from each country on Instagram (minus photos for four of the countries, as they are sitting in boxes in your grandmother’s garage in Australia), with a story about my most memorable lesson or experience in that country. It won’t always be good; sometimes I learned the hard way. But hopefully the posts will ignite in you the same passion for exploration.

See you.

Love,

Mum

I spent countless hours sitting on this cliff while volunteering in Swaziland in 2012.
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