Travel has been the best education I could have ever imagined. It has taught me to become comfortable being uncomfortable and about the power of perspective. It has taught me how to let expectations take a back seat and replace stereotypes with real experiences. It has forced me to trust strangers and to lose sight of the familiar comforts of home and friends. Travel has been about appreciating life, seeking the unfamiliar and experiencing this incredible world so that, one day, landing somewhere and staying put becomes the greatest adventure of all.
On December 31, 2019, I arrived in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil marking the completion of my quest to visit every country in the world – all 193 United Nations Sovereign States. On the heels of this milestone, I have compiled and ranked my 100 most memorable travel experiences.
For this countdown, I’ve tried to avoid listing things like “Italy” as a top memory and instead focused on more specific locations, experiences, activities or events. As with all of the content on Searching4Sam, my goal is to share stories and tips in hopes of inspiring and better enabling YOU to get out and achieve whatever travel goals you may have. Please don’t hesitate to get in touch anytime with questions or comments. I am happy to answer them and provide whatever information I can to help.
The below entries are a personal opinion based on my experience. I did not receive financial compensation from any of the organizations or individuals mentioned in the countdown. Unless noted, all of the displayed photos were taken with my iPhone.
Let me know what you think! I hope you enjoy!
100.) Swimming in Jellyfish Lake | Rock Islands, Palau | January 2015
Jellyfish Lake is a ‘must-visit’ when in Palau. Over the course of many years, the surrounding rocks eroded in a way that created this isolated marine lake. The lack of exposure to Ocean water altered the evolution of the lagoon’s native species, most notably the golden jellyfish. In the absence of natural predators, they lost their ability to sting. Intimately swimming (and even touching) thousands of jellyfish was a unique experience and one that I’m not sure can be replicated anywhere in the world.
99.) Walking on the Athabasca Glacier | Banff National Park, Canada | June 2006
Banff is the world’s third oldest national park and a destination whose natural beauty attracts visitors from around the globe. The Athabasca Glacier is six kilometers (3.7 miles) long and up to 300 meters (980 feet) thick. It is a Canadian Rockies highlight and the most visited glacier in North America.
98.) Swimming at Varadero Beach | Varadero, Cuba | September 2019
Highlights from my time in Cuba include many things, one of them being a day at Varadero Beach. In 2019, TripAdvisor Traveler’s Choice ranked Varadero the #2 best beach in the world. I can’t imagine a better way to visit Cuba than with Fr. Vigoa.
97.) Staying overnight at a local home in the Hindu Kush Mountains | Panjshir Province, Afghanistan | September 2018
I traveled to Kabul to help three friends conduct a training course for a group of local volleyball coaches. Away from the gym, we toured the city and spent an evening at a local home in the gorgeous Panjshir Province. It was a comfortable complex and, of course, the overall hospitality was as top notch as anywhere in the Middle East. The following day, I found myself on Kabul’s Shamshad TV evening news recapping my experience in Afghanistan.
96.) Volunteering with Amigos for Christ | Chinandega, Nicaragua | June 2012
In and around the village of Chinandega, I worked with a local non-profit to construct the foundation of modern bathrooms and a clean water supply. Between sticky but rewarding sessions of digging and drilling, our group climbed Cerro Negro, one of the region’s most active volcanoes. If you’ve ever wondered what a real chicken fight looks like, check out this video.
95.) Visiting Alcatraz Island | San Francisco, California, USA | December 2017
Alcatraz is a small island off the north shore of San Francisco. It was originally developed as the foundation of a lighthouse but has since served as a military fortress and, from 1934 to 1963, one of the world’s most iconic federal prisons. Of all the pure touristy attractions in the world, this is one of my favorites. If walls could talk, it’s hard to imagine any would have stories more interesting than those of Alcatraz.
94.) Seeing loaded bazookas carried on the street | Mogadishu, Somalia | December 2018
Somalia is the only country in the world without a central form of government. I spent Christmas Day in Mogadishu and learned that, due to the unrest, it is common for law enforcement officers to carry loaded bazookas on the street.
93.) Taking a Scavi Tour underneath St. Peter’s Basilica | Vatican City | June 2009
Visits to the Vatican necropolis underneath St. Peter’s Basilica, where the tomb of St. Peter is located, are only possible with special permission from the “Fabbrica di San Pietro”. Tours are organized according to the schedule set by the excavation’s office. Although my dark and low quality video doesn’t paint the most inviting picture, I’ve twice taken this tour and enjoyed the significance of what it offers.
92.) Bathing in a Japanese Onsen | Kyoto, Japan | April 2016
An onsen is a Japenese hot spring used for traditional bathing. They come in many shapes and types and are scattered across Japan. My sister and I enjoyed a relaxing morning at the Kurama Onsen, a short train ride north of Kyoto. For the best experience, I would recommend reviewing some onsen etiquette before participating.
91.) Doing a handstand on the equator | Rolas Island, São Tomé & Príncipe | January 2019
The equator passes through 13 countries in the world, with the twin-island nation of São Tomé & Príncipe being one of the least-visited of the group. Rolas Island is home to the exact intersection spot and makes for a fun day trip from the capital city.
90.) Taking an overnight “junk boat” cruise | Hạ Long Bay, Vietnam | May 2015
A three-hour drive east of Hanoi, the beauty of Hạ Long Bay’s dramatic limestone stacks can be absorbed from the comfort of a two or three-day junk boat cruise. The surrounding landscape allows for kayaking, cave exploring and even beach volleyball. Visiting here is a top recommendation when traveling in Southeast Asia.
89.) Horseback riding in Terelj National Park | Mongolia | July 2016
As the foundation of Genghis Khan’s legendary empire, Mongolia’s huge, sparsely-populated area occupies a generous portion of East Asia. Horseback riding across the steppe in Terelj National Park provided a well-founded sense of 21st century nomadic life. Other Mongolian memories include taking archery lessons, standing on the Genghis Khan Equestrian Statue and holding a giant Cinereous Vulture.
88.) Being submerged by the Mapu a Vaea Blowholes | Tongatapu Island, Tonga | May 2019
The Mapu a Vaea are natural blowholes on the northern coast of Tongatapu Island. When waves crash into the reef, water blows forcefully upwards through the natural rock channels creating a plume-like effect. I enjoyed the excitement of being in the middle of the action, but was also happy to escape unharmed.
87.) Watching National Day fireworks from the Marina Bay Sands infinity pool | Singapore | August 2013
The Marina Bay Sands Infinity Pool must be one of the most-selfied locations in the world. From 57 floors up, it provides a stellar panoramic view of downtown Singapore. On August 9th, 2013, I watched the National Day fireworks display from the pool’s edge.
86.) Witnessing a traditional whirling dervish | Khartoum, Sudan | December 2018
A whirling dervish (or sufi whirling) has many styles and meanings. In addition to a form of religious meditation, the Sudanese are known to have used the ritual to energize military troops before battle. In Khartoum, the traditional African “ceremony” can be observed every Friday evening near the Hamed al-Nil Tomb in Omdurman.
85.) Walking on the airport runway | Funafuti, Tuvalu | April 2019
The Funafuti Airport sees so few flights a week that the runway doubles as a picnic area, a market and even a soccer field – something I haven’t seen anywhere else in the world. The tiny South Pacific nation of Tuvalu was country #175 on my quest.
84.) Visiting Machu Picchu | Peru | July 2014
Machu Picchu is a spectacular and world-renowned archeological wonder. Literally meaning “old mountain” in the indigenous Quechua language, it is a 600-year-old citadel situated high in the Peruvian Andes. In addition to the ruins, the site is also known for its only residents – llamas and alpacas.
83.) Playing on Saudi Arabia’s first hockey team | Kuwait City, Kuwait | December 2018
I was invited to Kuwait City to play (and help coach) the Jeddah Eagles, Saudi Arabia’s first hockey team, in a regional tournament. It’s special and exciting to see these guys pioneering the game of hockey in a non-traditional market.
82.) Ziplining through the jungle | Monteverde, Costa Rica | December 2016
Ziplining in Monteverde is one of my best memories from Costa Rica. I can’t speak to other companies, but Sky Trek provided an enjoyable experience. At nearly a kilometer long and 150 meters (500 feet) high, they claim to have one of the longest and highest individual lines in the world. The course ends with a newly-developed bungee jump. For the record, my four siblings are the inspiration behind the “4” in “Searching4Sam.”
81.) Hitchhiking | Everywhere | Many times
When hitchhiking from Freetown to Conakry, I found myself in a run-down vehicle that had seen better days (a normal occurrence in Africa). However, this car was equipped with a feature I hadn’t experienced before – any significant bump in the road would cause the spare tire to become detached and fall out from the bottom of the car. This happened several times and resulted in us stopping and the driver getting out to reconnect it. We would then continue driving until the next bump. Over the years, I’ve hitchhiked and picked up hitchhikers too many times to count. In the United States, hitchhiking is often viewed as an unreliable and even dangerous activity, however, (despite the scenario from Guinea that I just described), this is not the case in many places around the world and I’m grateful for the generosity of strangers and the countless hours I’ve spent riding with them.
80.) Watching Argentina beat the Netherlands in the 2014 World Cup semifinal | Buenos Aires, Argentina | July 2014
In South America, football is like religion. Watching Argentina advance to the final of the 2014 World Cup from downtown Buenos Aires was one of the most exciting sporting events I’ve experienced. The below photo (it is not mine – it was taken from the internet) shows the streets of Buenos Aires following the victory.
79.) Taking a day trip to Yemen | January 2019
Visiting Yemen was a travel milestone but unfortunately bittersweet and a whirlwind due to the nation’s tragic humanitarian crisis. Hopefully meaningful progress is in the near future. Three friends and I entered by land from Oman after a Yemeni immigration official issued us visas at the border and allowed us to pass. Yemen’s Arabian Sea coastline is gorgeous – reminiscent of South Africa or western Ireland.
78.) Experiencing Mount Bromo at sunrise | Java, Indonesia | April 2015
Arriving in time for sunrise provides an unforgettable encounter with one of Southeast Asia‘s best-known active volcanoes. The hike starts before dawn but is well worth the early wake up. Afterwards, take a drive across the bed of volcanic ash to the 253-step staircase leading to a viewpoint of Bromo’s steaming crater.
76.) Volunteering as an English teacher | Bagamoyo, Tanzania | May-June 2011
My friend Sarah and I spent a summer teaching English at a secondary school in the Tanzanian village of Bagamoyo. I particularly remember teaching the game “Squares” and when some students got their kickball stuck in a tree and I tried to knock it out with a water bottle. Experiences like my time in Bagamoyo play a unique role in shaping global perspectives and establishing a sense of purpose. Before leaving Tanzania, we took a few days to visit Zanzibar Island and go on a safari in Mikumi National Park.
75.) Fleeing a Mount Agung Volcano eruption | Bali, Indonesia | November 2017
After spending a weekend in Ubud for some friend’s wedding, my Sunday evening flight back to Singapore got cancelled due to the Mount Agung eruption causing the airport to close. After the closure continued through the subsequent 48 hours, two friends and I hired a car on Wednesday morning and drove (for what ended up being) 15.5 hours from Bali to Surabaya (we put the car on a ferry to cross to Java). On Thursday morning we flew from there to Bintan and then took another ferry to Singapore, arriving home on Thursday afternoon.
74.) Attending the Chaoyang Theatre Acrobatic show | Beijing, China | June 2015
This show is China’s version of the circus, a performance that includes a blend of Chinese cultural acts and acrobatic stunts. I found the “hamster ball” motorcycle drive to be particularly entertaining. Unfortunately, the only photo I have is of the stage before the show began. The below video is not mine – it is an official trailer.
73.) Staying at Lagen Island Resort | Palawan, Philippines | April 2016
The four El Nido Resorts are the pinnacle of luxury. My three-night stay at Lagen Island is arguably the most comfortable accommodation I’ve experienced anywhere in Southeast Asia, and maybe in the world. It doesn’t hurt that Filipinos are hospitality specialists.
72.) Feeding giant tortoises | La Digue Island, Seychelles | February 2016
The Seychelles is an Indian Ocean paradise and was an ideal place to travel to from Singapore for the Chinese New Year holiday. Taking the speed boat from Victoria to La Digue made for a great day trip. I’ve also seen giant tortoises in Mauritius and the Galápagos but was only able to feed them here.
71.) Visiting country #100 | Liechtenstein | September 2017
The principality of Liechtenstein was the 100th country I visited and a meaningful milestone on my “every country” journey. My sister and her boyfriend (now husband) Matt joined as we rented a car in Zürich and drove from there through the mountains. We took advantage of the gorgeous day by exploring Vaduz on foot and hiking to the castle.
70.) Swimming with whale sharks | Oslob, Philippines | January 2015
Whales sharks are the world’s largest fish, often weighing more than 15 tons. I swam alongside these gentle giants with some rockstar Filipina colleagues from the Cebu-based NGO that I helped establish. I’ve heard that Belize and the Maldives are also great places for this, however I have only done it here.
69.) Celebrating New Year’s Eve on a party boat | Kish Island, Iran | January 2017
Kish Island is Iran’s Hawaii. It is a gorgeous resort destination off the country’s southern coast that boasts a more relaxed and laid-back lifestyle than the mainland. Tourists of almost any nationality can enter visa-free for 14 days. I spent New Year’s Eve on a party boat cruise in the Persian Gulf and made several Iranian friends who I am still in touch with today.
68.) Climbing to the summit of Mount Kinabalu | Borneo Island, Malaysia | January 2016
With a towering peak of 4,095 meters (13,435 feet), Mount Kinabalu is Southeast Asia’s tallest mountain. My sister and I conquered the two-day trek together, an adventure that required us to wear a winter hat on the equator. Watching the sunrise from above the clouds was the backdrop of our initial descent.
67.) Playing in hockey tournaments across Asia | 2012-2018
The company I worked for in Singapore for six years established a hockey team that competed in recreational tournaments around Asia – Hong Kong, Manila, Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur and Singapore. My two brothers and many friends often joined our team making these some of the most genuinely fun weekends I’ve ever had. A handful of these tournaments were followed by us hosting a charity hockey school to fundraise for our NGO.
66.) Skiing at Valle Nevado Resort | Santiago, Chile | July 2014
Valle Nevado is a well-known ski resort located in the El Plomo foothills of the Andes approximately 46 kilometers (30 miles) east of Santiago. Being from the northern Hemisphere, I was excited about the novelty of skiing in the “summer.” The weather Gods worked their magic and provided a clear blue sky. It was a stellar welcome to South America.
65.) Trekking and swimming up Mayfield Falls | Jamaica | July 2017
Mayfield Falls is located in inland Jamaica and consists of 21 widely-spaced cascades. Visitors trek upstream in the river through the exotic Jamaican jungle and enjoy secret underwater passageways. The finale of the river walk was the “washing machine,” where several waterfalls come together from different directions. My mother, sister and I all loved it.
64.) Visiting the Korean DMZ from the north | Kaesŏng, North Korea | March 2016
During my week in North Korea, the most significant trip we took outside of Pyongyang was the two-hour drive south to the Joint Security Area (JSA) of the Korean Demilitarized Zone (DMZ), the world’s most heavily-guarded national border. Interestingly, I had visited the south side of the site on a tour from Seoul just six weeks earlier.
63.) Visiting Fátima and Medjugorje | June 2009, June 2017
Fátima (Portugal) and Medjugorje (Bosnia & Herzegovina) are two of the most significant Roman Catholic pilgrimage destinations. Many miracles are known to have occurred here, most notably the Miracle of the Sun and numerous apparitions by the Blessed Mother. Both sites are easily accessible by road from larger cities (Lisbon and Sarajevo) and can be visited in one day.
62.) Motorbiking between Chiang Mai and Pai | Thailand | October 2017
Although slightly less visited than Bangkok and Phuket, the mountains and lush countryside of northern Thailand see millions of tourists every year. My friend Rob and I rented motorbikes in Chiang Mai and rode through the windy mountain roads to Pai, stopping at an elephant sanctuary on our way back. I recommend this road trip as a great Southeast Asia long weekend option.
60.) Cliff jumping in the Blue Lagoon | Cominotto, Malta | June 2012
The Blue Lagoon makes for a great day trip from the Maltese capital city of Valletta. The cliff jump is said to be roughly 21 meters (70 feet) high and not recommended, but a few friends and I could not resist.
59.) Celebrating Mass with the Mangyan tribe | Mindoro Island, Philippines | March 2013
If you’ve followed my travels at all, you may have noticed that I am a practicing Catholic and enjoy attending mass all over the world. I believe I have been to mass in ≈ 65 countries and have visited churches in ≈ 115. The remote location of the Philippines’ indigenous Mangyan people and their traditional basket-like skirts were a couple of the things that made this particular celebration unique and unforgettable.
58.) Visiting Auschwitz Concentration Camp | Birkenau, Poland | July 2015
Auschwitz-Birkenau, a site that saw Nazi Germany exterminate more than one million people during World War II, needs little introduction. After a morning tour of the facility, I don’t think I spoke a word for three hours. Visiting here is a heavy experience, and, for a number of reasons, a top recommendation when in the region.
56.) Slaughtering a sheep | Terelj National Park, Mongolia | July 2016
Observing the technique used by a nomadic Mongolian to slaughter a sheep was a memorable experience and something I will never forget.
55.) Hiking to the peak of Lion’s Head Mountain | Cape Town, South Africa | November 2014
Although I have dozens of terrific memories from South Africa, hiking to the top of Lion’s Head Mountain is probably #1. The ladders and chains near the summit make for a unique climbing adventure. Being with my mother and two sisters made it even more special. I recommend saving this for a clear day (although virtually every day in Cape Town is clear).
54.) Snorkeling at the Great Barrier Reef | Cairns, Australia | November 2015
Covering an area of approximately 133,000 square miles, Australia’s Great Barrier Reef is the world’s largest living structure and one of the planet’s most extraordinary natural wonders. More than two million tourists travel to Cairns each year to experience the reef’s tremendous biodiversity. I had fun using a GoPro to snap some underwater selfies.
53.) Taking a safari by boat on the Chobe River | Kasane, Botswana | March 2019
A safari by boat allows for a unique perspective on wildlife, an experience that is unquestionably one of my Top 10 in Africa. Also, is there anything better than an African sunset? #nofilter My sister and I enjoyed staying two nights at the Zovu Elephant Lodge. I suggest booking a two or three-day all-inclusive package.
52.) Floating in the Dead Sea | Jordan | July 2015
Visiting the Dead Sea is a must when in Jordan (or Israel). The water of the Dead Sea is 9.6 times saltier than the Ocean, therefore, making it effortless to relax and float on the surface. It was a surreal feeling to carelessly fall backwards and not sink – sort of like a waterbed. I brought a book with me and had fun creating a touristy photograph.
51.) Canyoning in the Swiss Alps | Interlaken, Switzerland | July 2007
Switzerland’s central town of Interlaken is an adventure-seekers paradise and the site of an impressive Swiss Alps display. I went “canyoning,” a non-technical descent down a canyon that usually includes sliding, jumping, repelling and swimming, with my family and found it to be one of the most exciting ways to discover and absorb the surrounding landscape.
50.) Hang gliding over São Conrado Beach | Rio de Janeiro, Brazil | January 2020
I kicked off 2020 with an afternoon hang gliding experience over Rio. I booked with Gui (guigamafly) and would recommend him. The prime conditions allowed us to fly and absorb the incredible views for roughly 12 minutes. Full video of the flight is here.
49.) Going on a “mystery vacation” | USA | July 2011
In the summer of 2011, my parents planned a “mystery vacation” for the family. All we were told was that we would be traveling for six days and to be ready to leave our house in St. Louis at 5am on July 11. We soon learned that this trip would consist of flying to Denver and driving from there to Las Vegas. Stops along the way included Vail, Arches National Park, the Grand Canyon and Hoover Dam. I hope to one day do something similar with my kids.
48.) Flying in the cockpit of a Cessna | Paramaribo, Suriname to Georgetown, Guyana | July 2018
From Paramaribo, my next stop was Georgetown. I intended to travel by public bus, a journey that would have taken roughly eight hours. As I was leaving my hotel, the receptionist mentioned Trans Guyana Airways. I had never heard of them, but ended up going to Paramaribo’s tiny Zorg & Hoop Airport and buying a ticket on the spot for US$200 one-way. I think this is the only time I’ve paid cash for an international flight. When boarding, I asked the pilot if I could sit in the vacant cockpit seat next to him. He said no problem.
47.) Seeing Dave Matthews Band play their first concert in South Africa | Cape Town, South Africa | November 2013
If I had to choose a favorite musician/band, it would be DMB. I’ve seen them 13 times and each show is as entertaining as the last. As a Johannesburg native, when Dave announced the band’s first ever South Africa show, nothing could have kept me away. My mother and two sisters also joined this trip, one that included the Cape Town vicinity and a Kruger Park safari.
46.) Driving on the world’s highest motorable road to the Khardung La Pass | Ladakh, India | January 2015
The Khardung La Pass is north of the Himalayan town of Leh and the gateway to the Shylok and Nubra Valleys. The road to the 5,600-meter (18,380-foot) summit is labeled the ‘highest motorable road in the world.’ On our last afternoon in Ladakh, some friends and I hired a driver to go check it out. The views were spectacular, however I got altitude sickness from the quick ascent and needed to return to Leh after only a few minutes at the top.
45.) Swimming with wild dolphins | Zanzibar Island, Tanzania | June 2010
After my friend Sarah and I spent several weeks teaching English at a secondary school in the remote Tanzanian village of Bagamoyo, relaxing on Zanzibar Island provided an ideal balance. The wild dolphins off the southwestern coast were surprisingly playful, and swimming with them made for one of my best experiences in Africa.
44.) Experiencing dozens of cruise ship horns ring in the new year | Monaco | January 2018
I knew that spending New Year’s Eve in Monaco would be a treat – the tiny principality is a French Riverian spectacle and a cherished haven for the rich and famous. However, it’s hard to describe the feeling of ringing in the new year to the sound of cruise ship horns racing through one of the world’s most extravagant harbors. The Monaco Christmas market is a terrific added bonus.
43.) Hiking to the Tiger’s Nest Monastery | Paro, Bhutan | September 2016
Hiking to the iconic Tiger’s Nest Monastery (Paro Taktsang) was the centerpiece of my time in Bhutan, a trip that was facilitated by Singapore-based Country Holidays. Although this cherished Himalayan nation is pricey to visit, everything from road-side marijuana to penis worshipping to archery to the ingenious philosophy of Gross National Happiness (GNH) make it a frequent bucket list-topping destination.
42.) Riding the Shanghai Maglev – the world’s fastest train | Shanghai, China | March 2016
The world’s fastest train is not the shiniest, newest or even the one with the most expensive tickets. Charging only US$8/person/ride, the Maglev (derived from “magnetic levitation”) serves the 19 miles from Shanghai’s Pudong International Airport to the Longyang metro station on the outskirts of Shanghai. The night I rode it, the train was empty and appeared to max out at a speed of 301 kilometers per hour.
41.) Driving the Great Ocean Road | Victoria, Australia | December 2014
The southern coast of Australia is home to a spectacular coastline. Ocean currents build up steam all the way from Antarctica and smash into the limestone rock creating some of the most dramatic landscape in the world. The 12 Apostles are the Great Ocean Road’s most-notable site and one of Australia’s most-visited destinations. Despite almost crashing into a kangaroo while driving between The 12 Apostles and Port Campbell, this was one of my favorite road trips and a highly recommended adventure.
40.) Flying Singapore Airlines A-380 Suites Class | Beijing, China to Singapore | November 2017
Singapore Airlines routinely ranks among the world’s best carriers. I experienced the height of SQ’s offering when I flew from Beijing to Singapore in an A-380 first class suite. I booked the ticket with miles and ended up being the only first-class passenger on the flight, something that led to my own double bed. Depending on who you ask, this is the pinnacle of commercial air travel. Other similar experiences include flying Emirates first class from Abidjan to Accra (there is a story highlight on my Instagram), Thai Airways business class (upstairs on the 747) from Islamabad to Bangkok and American Airlines’ “flagship” business class for 16 hours (the airlines’ longest route) from Dallas to Hong Kong.
39.) Attending the City of Dreams’ House of Dancing Water Show | Macau | May 2017
The House of Dancing Water Show is performed at Macau’s City of Dreams Resort & Casino on the Cotai Strip. I often refer to the production as a “water-based Cirque du Soleil.” I found the acrobatic stunts to be overwhelmingly entertaining. Unfortunately, I only have one photo from that night (I must have been too consumed by the performance to remember take more). The below video is not mine – it is an official trailer.
38.) Obtaining a Republic of Congo tourist visa | Bangui, Central Africa Republic | February 2019
When traveling to every country, obtaining the required visas will inevitably create challenges. In Bangui, I decided to stop by the Republic of Congo Consulate to determine whether they could help me. The visa application formalities proceeded as usual, but the Ambassador was not in his office to officially sign and place the visa sticker in my passport. Another Embassy staff member was frustrated with the situation and consequently drove me by motorbike across Bangui to the Ambassador’s house where we found him watching TV and avoiding work. After asking me a few questions, he approved my visa while sitting on the couch in his pajamas. I traveled to Brazzaville two weeks later. This is one of many visa stories. Other noteworthy episodes include the time I visited Afghanistan as a certified volleyball coach, traveled to Libya on a business visa as a “consultant” for a Libyan Oil & Gas Corporation and when I agreed to leave a $2,000 cash “deposit” at the Embassy to get a visa to Pakistan.
37.) Aiding Typhoon Yolanda disaster relief efforts | Tacloban, Philippines | August 2015
“Super Typhoon Yolanda” was one of the most powerful tropical cyclones ever recorded. It devastated many regions of Southeast Asia, particularly the Philippines. The storm killed approximately 6,300 Filipinos and displaced more than six million. The Cebu-based NGO that I co-founded aided the disaster relief effort in Tacloban, resulting in a sobering and eye-opening experience for myself and all other humanitarian aid staff.
36.) Encountering a snow leopard | Naltar Valley, Pakistan | May 2017
Snow leopards are among the most elusive cats on Earth and have evolved to live in some of the world’s harshest conditions, primarily the steep and rocky mountains of south and central Asia. The snow leopard that I encountered was not completely wild as it had been rescued by the Naltar Valley locals in hopes of one day being released back into its natural habitat, but getting up close to the gorgeous feline was a treat.
35.) Visiting Leptis Magna | Al-Khums, Libya | April 2019
Leptis Magna is roughly 80 miles east of Tripoli and one of the most dramatic archeological sites I’ve experienced. Dating back to the 7th century BC, it is among the best-preserved Roman ruins in the Mediterranean and a top experience in Africa. While visiting Libya, my guide advised me that he was “quite sure” I was the only tourist in the country.
34.) Exploring Jökulsárlón Glacial Lagoon | Iceland | August 2016
Jökulsárlón is a large glacial lagoon in southeast Iceland and a destination that proved to be a highlight of my road trip across the country. With a depth of 248 meters (813 feet), it is said to be Iceland’s deepest lake. Some of the ice is believed to be over 1,000 years old.
33.) Coaching the Galkan HC Hockey Team | Ashgabat, Turkmenistan | November 2018
Following my trip to North Korea, I traveled again with the Howe International Friendship League, this time to Turkmenistan. The local Turkmen players were surprisingly talented and super hospitable. Away from the rink, we did a homestay in the mountainous village of Nokhur and visited several of the country’s spectacular mosques.
32.) Eating a tarantula | Phnom Penh, Cambodia | May 2015
I get the “what’s the craziest thing you’ve ever eaten” question a lot. I usually respond with this – a tarantula. However, to be honest, the spider was fried and over salted making it taste more like a potato chip than anything exotic. Other memorable snacks include chicken hearts in Taiwan and pig intestines in the Philippines.
31.) Navigating street riots on a motorbike | Port-au-Prince, Haiti | July 2018
My experience in Haiti was flipped upside down due to the public unrest that resulted from the Haitian Government sanctioning a nation-wide spike in fuel prices. The order was an attempt to remain compliant with an IMF restructuring demand, but locals didn’t comply. I managed to navigate the riots by motorbike to get to and from the Marriott hotel, and after 48 hours locked inside was able to fly out to Miami.
30.) Watching a ping pong show | Bangkok, Thailand | October 2016
I’m going to let Wikipedia explain this one for me. As far as I know, ping pong shows only exist in Thailand. My friend Rob provided some wise insight regarding these “performances” – it is best to go into the show with a human interest mindset and no other expectations. I have at least one photo or video to share for every entry on this top 100 countdown except this one.
29.) Running (my own half-marathon) around the perimeter of an entire country | Nauru | May 2019
Nauru is the world’s #1 least-visited country. A person from Nauru is a called a Nauruan, which is the world’s only palindromic nationality. Interestingly, the circumference of this tiny Pacific Island nation happens to be exactly 21 kilometers (13 miles), the same distance as a half marathon. Despite the rain, I enjoyed jogging around the ring road.
28.) Visiting the “Edge of the World” | Saudi Arabia | December 2018
Visiting the “Edge of the World” along the Tuwaiq Escarpment is one of the most popular desert treks from the Saudi Arabian capital city of Riyadh. My experience here was nicely complimented by attending a Formula E race and One Republic concert the night before.
27.) Walking behind Sapo Falls | Canaima National Park, Venezuela | November 2019
Although maybe not as well-known as Venezuela’s iconic Angel Falls, access to walking behind this waterfall made for an unforgettable trek. I learned here that wearing socks on wet rocks is an easy and creative way to help avoid slipping – a nice travel hack. If you’re a USA passport holder trying to travel to Venezuela but struggling to obtain a visa, the information here might help.
26.) Island hopping by sea plane | Palawan, Philippines | November 2016
I can sometimes be an ‘AvGeek,’ so whenever a unique flight is part of the trip equation, I’m excited. Southeast Asia is full of gorgeous islands making it an ideal region to travel by seaplane. I flew Air Juan from the Manila harbor to Busuanga Bay Lodge, landing on the water in front of the resort.
25.) Visiting the temples of Angkor Wat | Siem Reap, Cambodia | September 2014
Temples in Asia are like churches in Europe. Every attraction in the area revolves around them and after a while many of them begin to look the same. That changes at Angkor Wat, a 12th century temple complex that is noticeably more compelling than any other in the region. It is the largest religious monument in the world and can be entered at a nominal cost of US$20.
24.) Gathering for family reunions | Cancun, Mexico | December 2009, December 2013
Where would we be without family!? My father is one of 11 children and they twice chose Cancun as their family reunion destination (actually, they chose it three times, but I missed one of the trips). I have 34 first cousins on that side of my family and being together in one place is always a special time.
23.) Swimming to the edge of Victoria Falls | Livingstone, Zambia | March 2019
The Livingstone Island Tour is a staple attraction when visiting Victoria Falls. Swimming to the edge of the 108-meter (355-foot) falls was every bit as exciting as you can imagine. Being with my sister Betty made it even more meaningful and unquestionably a top memory in Africa.
22.) Attending the 2014 and 2018 Winter Olympics | Sochi, Russia and Pyeongchang, South Korea | February 2014, February 2018
The Olympics are the height of sports diplomacy – an incredible display of nations putting differences aside to bond over the achievements of their greatest athletes. I was at both Sochi and Pyeongchang and struggle to identify more memorable sporting events. Making accommodation arrangements well in advance is key when planning to attend the Olympics.
21.) Flying in a chopper to a private island | Balesin, Luzon, Philippines | June 2017
Balesin Island is a private, members only destination located 60 nautical miles east of Manila. A friend of mine, who is a member, took my brother, two friends and me to the island by chopper for the day. We enjoyed a memorable afternoon snorkeling from a yacht, eating a fresh seafood lunch and exploring the different “country themes” around the island.
20.) Playing in an outdoor hockey tournament in the Himalayas | Leh, India | January 2014, January 2015
For the past decade, a core group of New Delhi-based expats have lead adventurers from around the globe to Leh, the picturesque capital of Ladakh, for the opportunity to explore a beautifully isolated region while growing the game of hockey. A recreational tournament takes place every January on a frozen reservoir in the town center. Leh rests at an elevation of 3,500 meters (11,500 feet) making this ‘rink’ among the highest in the world.
19.) Traveling to US state number 50/50 | New Mexico, USA | August 2018
Within my “every country” expedition there was also an “every US state” expedition. I completed this with my sister Betty when we entered New Mexico by car from Texas. The following day we visited the gorgeous White Sands National Monument.
18.) Running with the bulls | Pamplona, Spain | July 2012
I’ve experienced few events as exciting as San Fermín’s Running of the Bulls. For the past 700 years, the week-long festival has attracted millions of visitors to Pamplona, Spain to honor and celebrate Saint Fermin, the co-patron Saint (along with Xavier) of Spain’s Navarre region. The fiesta runs round-the-clock from July 6-13 and, in addition to the iconic encierro, includes dozens of traditional activities. In a 2012 version of vlogging, I made this video to document my participation.
17.) Flying in a prop plane over Mount Everest | Kathmandu, Nepal | February 2014
Mount Everest is the pride and joy of Nepal. However, if hiking to basecamp (or the summit!) doesn’t align with your interests, budget or schedule, I recommend taking a scenic mountain flight. They operate regularly from Kathmandu and provide stunning views of the world’s tallest mountain. I flew with Buddha Air and had a positive experience with them.
16.) Celebrating six consecutive New Year’s Eve’s on six different continents | Rio de Janeiro, Brazil | January 2020
Interestingly, the first five happened on accident – I didn’t realize at the time the trend that was being created. With six complete, the question now is whether there’s a way to spend NYE 2021 in Antarctica?
- 1 – 2015 – OCEANIA – Auckland
- 2 – 2016 – N. AMERICA – Lake Tahoe
- 3 – 2017 – ASIA – Kish Island
- 4 – 2018 – EUROPE – Monaco
- 5 – 2019 – AFRICA – Malabo
- 6 – 2020 – S. AMERICA – Rio de Janeiro
15.) Blueprinting Pakistan’s first outdoor ice rink | Naltar Valley, Pakistan | May 2017
My friend Rob and I were invited by the head of Pakistan’s Winter Sports Council to the Karakorum Mountains to help design the country’s first outdoor ice rink and begin paving the way for the growth of hockey and figure skating. The natural beauty, delicious food, friendly people and meaningful cause made this one of my most memorable trips.
14.) Visiting the Uyuni Salt Flat | Uyuni, Bolivia | December 2019
Containing upwards of 11 billion tons of salt, the Uyuni Salt Flat is the largest on Earth. In addition to occasionally being used by Nasa to help position satellites, it made for compelling photographs and a memorable finale to our three-day excursion from San Pedro de Atacama (Chile) to Uynui.
13.) Tracking wild Komodo Dragons | Rinca Island, Indonesia | April 2014
Komodo National Park is the highlight of Indonesia’s remote Lesser Sundra region and one of the most exciting experiences I’ve had in Southeast Asia. Trekking across Rinca Island in search of a Komodo Dragon, the world’s longest lizard, is nothing short of modern-day Jurassic Park. The below image was featured in a photo contest by a newspaper in my hometown.
12.) Celebrating New Year’s Eve twice in the same year | Auckland, New Zealand and Honolulu, Hawaii | January 2015
I channeled my inner Marty McFly and caught an 11am flight on January 1st from Auckland to Honolulu. Crossing the International dateline meant that I landed the previous day and was able to ring in 2015 a second time on Waikiki Beach making for a memorable travel stunt.
11.) Walking a cheetah | Livingstone, Zambia | March 2019
Livingstone’s Mukuni Big 5 Reserve allows adventurous visitors to intimately interact with their big cats. Walking next to the world’s fastest land animal will unquestionably get your adrenaline pumping and is one my top memories in all of Africa.
10.) Taking a fjord cruise | Milford Sound, New Zealand | December 2014
A trip to New Zealand would be incomplete without visiting the world-famous Milford Sound. Despite the rainy weather, it’s obvious why many of the most well-traveled and credible adventurers routinely rank Milford Sound as the world’s most beautiful destination.
9.) Swimming with wild sea lions | Santa Fe Island, Galápagos, Ecuador | June 2018
Ecuador’s exclusive biodiversity takes center stage in the world-renowned Galápagos Islands. The finale of our day-trip to Santa Fe was snorkeling off the north shore. The water was filled with dozens of energetic and playful sea lions. One even nibbled on my fin! If you’re swimming here, be sure to bring an underwater camera. Although I screwed up by not having one, this was as unforgettable as anything I’ve done
8.) Camping and swimming at the base of Angel Falls | Canaima National Park, Venezuela | November 2019
Venezuela’s spectacular natural beauty is unfortunately unknown to many. At 979 meters (3,212 feet) high, Angel Falls is the world’s tallest waterfall and the heartbeat of Canaima National Park. Camping and swimming at its base with a fun group of fellow adventurers made for a top-notch excursion.
7.) Four-wheeling in the Sahara Desert | Merzouga, Morocco | January 2017
My week-long Moroccan road trip is one of the best experiences I’ve had, not only in Africa, but in the world. It was highlighted by two days in the Sahara Desert, and more specifically racing across the sand dunes on a four-wheeler. Most tours in Morocco only allot for one day in Merzouga, however, I would recommend spending two to provide more time for desert activities like this.
6.) Paragliding in the Southern Alps | Queenstown, New Zealand | December 2014
Queenstown is often referred to as the adventure-seekers capital of the world. Three friends and I took advantage of a beautiful summer day by booking a paragliding experience through Everything Travel Group for NZ$209/person (which also included a one-way gondola ride). It’s hard to beat absorbing Lake Wakatipu and the surrounding Southern Alps from a free-flying glider.
5.) Tracking white rhinos on foot | Hlane Royal National Park, Swaziland | February 2018
Hlane Royal National Park’s “rhino drive” is one of the few game drives in all of Africa that allows adventurous safari-goers to exit the vehicle and track rhinos on foot. Coming face to face with a group of 5,000-pound mammals in the heart of the Swaziland wilderness was a breathtaking episode that I’m grateful didn’t end in any way other than peacefully.
4.) Riding in a hot air balloon over thousands of pagodas | Bagan, Myanmar | October 2015
The central Burmese town of Bagan is one of the world’s greatest archeological sites and has seen a significant tourism spike in recent years. An early morning hot air balloon ride over its 2,200 Buddhist pagodas and serene countryside was a magical experience and firmly rests as one of my all-time best travel memories.
3.) Having the site of Jesus’ crucifixion to myself | Jerusalem, Israel | January 2019
The traditional site of Jesus’ crucifixion is inside what is now occupied by the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in the Christian Quarter of Old City, Jerusalem. On my last morning in Israel, I decided to stop by this church one last time before leaving for the airport. Incredibly, I found the crucifixion site to be totally vacant. I sat for 10 powerful minutes with the lavishly decorated area all to myself, an episode that remains one of the most meaningful I’ve ever had. Two busloads of tourists then arrived and flooded the second level of the church with their cameras and rosaries creating a scene similar to what I had encountered in previous days. At that point, however, nothing could have ruined or taken away from what I had just experienced.
2.) Playing hockey alongside North Korean teammates | Pyongyang, North Korea | March 2016
I spent a week in North Korea helping train the DPRK National Hockey Team. On the final night, we mixed up the teams giving our visiting group of guys and the local players the opportunity to skate with and against each other. I played most of this game with two DPRK line mates. Aside from hockey, I probably could not have had less in common with them given my perspective on the world and the life I’ve been fortunate to live. However, once that puck dropped, our relationship ran like a Swiss watch. We knew exactly where to go, what to do and how to best work together to score goals. Nobody cared about political discrepancies, demarcation lines or nuclear weapons. We built a magical bond through the game of hockey and this remarkable demonstration of humanity will forever be one of my best memories from anywhere in the world.
1.) Completing my quest to travel to every country in the world | Rio de Janeiro, Brazil | December 2019
It’s overwhelming for so many years of constantly pursuing a goal to culminate into one moment. My gratitude is through the roof for everyone who supported and encouraged me along the way, and especially to those who joined me on one of these 193 adventures. Thank you all for being part of an unforgettable experience!