50 Country Countdown: Part 1
Adventures, adventures, adventures.
I’ve got a birthday coming up. One with a zero at the end. I had started writing a melancholy post about life, the universe, and woe-is-me everything, and I bored myself. No one wants to read that crap, especially not on something that’s allegedly a travel blog.
So instead, something a bit different. My goal before my birthday this year is to visit 50 countries. I’ve got 3 more to go, and if all goes to plan, I’ll get to all 3 by mid-August. What I thought I’d do is write a chronological list with each country I’ve visited, plus a photo maybe and a little story that sticks out about each. Something funny, interesting, personal maybe. The story of my travels, so to speak. So yeah, still self-serving, but maybe slightly more interesting to a wider audience.
If I’ve timed it right, I’ll have gotten you all caught up right in time to see the final 3, before I head home and drown my birthday sorrows in coffee ice cream and sushi.
Since nearly half the countries I’ve been to I’ve visited more than once, and about half of those way more than once, this chronological list blurs the “chrono” part a bit, as they’re listed based on when I first visited, but the moments mentioned might be far more recent. Also, some are more interesting than others, but, that’s the nature of it all, right?
Little Fluffy Clouds. This is one of my favorite photos, taken in southern Arizona during a massive road trip around the US in 2010. I’d lost the original, only recently finding it on a harddrive I thought was dead. I need a new road trip. Soon.
61 Likes, 3 Comments – Geoffrey Morrison (@inveterate_adventurer) on Instagram: “Little Fluffy Clouds. This is one of my favorite photos, taken in southern Arizona during a massive…”
I count the US as one of my countries visited not because I was born there, of course, but because I’ve explored there. 47 out of the 50 states, to be exact. I’ve driven across both ways twice, and its where my love of travel and the excitement for an epic road trip was born. I have fond memories of sitting in the back of the family Subaru, watching the world flash by, as mom, dad, and wee Geoff ventured south to the Chesapeake Bay (that crazy bridge and tunnel), north to New Hampshire and Maine, and more. My dad made me a little lap desk so I could color and read. Good times.
I’m not sure how old I was when we first drove up to Canada. I remember parts of Montreal and Quebec City. Much, much later, a work trip brought me to Toronto. What a lovely city and people.
48: United Kingdom
An epic sunset on the Applecross pass. Scotland is amazing.
66 Likes, 8 Comments – Geoffrey Morrison (@inveterate_adventurer) on Instagram: “An epic sunset on the Applecross pass. Scotland is amazing.”
As a teenager, my family and I made our first big international trip. I got a passport and everything. We drove out to the Cotswolds and saw lots of amazing things.
This is one of the hardest countries to sum up, though, since I’ve now been here more than any other country. Somewhere over 14 times, and that’s not counting overnight layovers travelling to or from somewhere else.
London I Love
London grew in fits and starts, bound for a millennia by the slow crawl of humanity. Population density was requisite for a city 300 years ago. As roads began overflowing with humans, horses, sedan chairs, and carriages, London dug down, instead, into the dark depths of dirt, and built tunnels and machines to convey passengers with great rapidity.
So what do I pick? The road trip with Kay to Stonehenge, Oxford, and the best fish and chips I’d ever had (in York)? Driving around Scotland with my dad? Any number of memorable nights and days with Jelley, Grace, Heena, Hayley, Gil, or Holly. Drinking until dawn with Zoe and Georgia?
But my most memorable moment would have to be meeting my BFF Thaynara, not least because she’d kick my ass if I didn’t.
Happy Birthday shitface
42 Likes, 1 Comments – Thaynara Oliveira (@thaynaravic) on Instagram: “Happy Birthday shitface”
It’s an incredible country. It’s similar to home, yet different. Everyone is lovely, and it’s a place I feel quite comfortable, yet still marvel at the differences enough to make it still feel like an adventure.
However, now I visit primarily to see friends. Such a wonderful lot.
My first work trip, and my first trip to Asia, was to South Korea. That trip sticks out for two reasons: Meeting my friend Serena, and getting cured of being a finicky eater. After spending my entire life, until 2003, eating basically nothing interesting (in hindsight), I watched with a combination of horror and awe as friend and colleague Grant devoured everything put in front of him. “What is that,” I asked. He shrugged, and ate more. What happened was some sort of revelation, that I could try things, but not have to like them. So I tried things. A great many things. And, holy shit, food is good!
Except for kimchi. That shit is evil.
I’m amused by the thought that nearly my entire diet now are things I’d never even tried before 2003. Life evolves.
After my old boss Mike left Home Theater, I became a lot more important and correspondingly, got to go on a lot more work trips. 2004 was the beginning of this, including back-to-back-to-back trips to Japan, Europe, and Mexico.
The unintended consequence of this was a bizarre mishap in my social life. Right before Japan I’d gone on a few dates with someone. After what would be our last date, I told her I was going to be travelling a lot for the better part of the next 2 months, but would love to see her again as soon as I got back. This being a pre-Facebook era, there was no way to really verify this I suppose, so all she heard was I was flaking on her, so she treated me from that point on like I’d killed her dog. By the time she realized that, no, I was telling the truth and wasn’t an asshole, it was too late. So it goes.
The Beauty and Wonder of Japan: Part 1
Magnificent. It had been a rough few months. After getting sidelined by a broken leg, I spent nearly 3 months laid out at home. It was challenging. Then, in late April, I got the all clear from the bone doc, and the next day I was on a flight to Japan.
But anyway, Japan. What can I say about Japan. The food, the people, the architecture, the… everything. I love Japan so much. It’s probably why I’ve been there 8 times (soon to be 9). One of the joys of travelling is being in a place that is distinctly different than home. Japan is so that, from driving on the other side of the street, to the serious signs full of cartoon characters, to being surrounded by a sea of black shiny hair. Also random outdoor vending machines, spotless subway systems, and incredible architecture.
And the people. Polite and friendly to a degree that you can’t help but smile in response. I don’t know what it would be like to live here, but to visit is delightful.
Up close and personal with Tokyo’s 59-foot Gundam statue
It’s even bigger than it looks. Standing in front of it, my head tilted back — it’s huge. It’s sci-fi come to life: an 18-meter/59-foot tall Mobile Suit from the anime series ” Gundam.” Built initially to celebrate the series’ 30th anniversary, the enormous statue has traveled around a bit.
It’s hard to pinpoint a single memory to highlight. Drunken karaoke with Greg, Brent, and Danny? Exploring Ginza at night with David, to the terror of our hosts? Celebrating Phil’s birthday in Shinjuku? Meeting the charming Mayu and enjoying a lunch of the best ramen on Earth?
Or maybe the quiet moments on my own, like sitting on a bench in Kanazawa, or exploring Gunkanjima “Battleship Island,” maybe walking the streets of Kyoto in the rain, I don’t know. It’s probably my favorite place to visit.
45: The Netherlands
My childhood friend Abby wanted to do a spring break somewhere, and because the flights were cheap, we settled on the Netherlands. Maybe it was because it was early April and cold and rainy, maybe it was because I hadn’t learned how to travel with friends yet, but… I didn’t love it. It’s fine, but I just don’t get why so many people are so crazy about Amsterdam. I’ll freely admit I need to go back when it’s warm and sunny. From here we drove to Paris.
Just passed through on the way to France. There’s a history joke there, if you want, but I’ll skip it because I feel bad enough skipping Belgium.
After 5 years of French lessons, 9 years prior, I finally made it to France. Didn’t remember a damn word… at first. It started to come back to me.
A magical dawn rainbow at the island fortress of Mont Saint-Michel. A double rainbow, actually, but my camera only had the range to pick up the faint outline of the second. One of the most amazing places I’ve ever been. They warn you not to walk out here, as the tide comes in dangerously fast. The risk and muddy sneakers were worth it for this shot, taken in June of 2014.
112 Likes, 12 Comments – Geoffrey Morrison (@inveterate_adventurer) on Instagram: “A magical dawn rainbow at the island fortress of Mont Saint-Michel. A double rainbow, actually, but…”
I’ve visited France a ton as well, 8 times, and it is as wonderful as people say. The food is great, the scenery is great, and as long as you’re not in Paris, the people are great too. Top tip: apologize for not being able to speak French, and everyone will treat you wonderfully.
Nice, Monaco, et la Cote d’Azur
Often, while travelling, you visit a place that while interesting, doesn’t live up to the hype. The Batu Caves were that way for me, for example, with their poured concrete floors, piles of trash, and embedded gift shops. That was not the case with Nice and Monaco.
This is another one that’s hard to narrow down the best moment. Expecting to stay in Nice for 3 days and staying 2 weeks, meeting Jelley, Lena, Janice, Paige, and the rest of the crew from Meyerbeer Beach hostel. Sunrise rainbow over Mont Saint Michel. Disneyland Paris with Thaynara (her first Disney adventure!), Cherbourg, another spot I expected to stay for a day and stayed a week, so chill.
But I think, it’s this, which is also one of my favorite pieces of writing I’ve ever done:
96 Hours at the 24 Hours of Le Mans
It’s the greatest auto race in the world, taking place once a year, for 24 hours straight. Running at full throttle for most of the 8.5-mile track, it’s the ultimate test of man and machine. Here’s what it’s like to be there.
My first visits here were to Cabo, which is sort of like Mexico-lite. It wasn’t until years later, after I’d befriended in London my now-roommate Carolina, that I got to see the far more real Mexico of Tijuana and Ensenada. My memories are more of that, Christmas with her family, and the incredible food.
Seven Tijuana Tacos Not To Miss
Tacos are awesome. Simple ingredients combined in myriad ways to create something incredible. If you’ve never had real tacos, you don’t know what you’re missing. I sure didn’t.
Germany is, oddly, rarely a destination. With the exception of my first visit, it’s someplace I’m usually passing through. No real reason for that, just turned out that way.
But that first visit was to a trade show in Berlin, and fulfilling a lifelong dream, I rented a car and drove it flat-out on the Autobahn. That was only about 112mph, but still, the feeling of having that pedal flat to the floor and zoooooming past other cars. Brilliant. I did it again with my dad in our rented Renault SUV diesel, and this year in a Fiat 500X… diesel. It’s like the rental companies know what I want to do and are conspiring to give me slow cars.
Still fun though.
40: Czech Republic
I’d heard so much about Prague before I went that I was a bit let down by the excessive touristy-ness of it. Like Amsterdam, I’ll chalk this up to a bad visit and pledge to give it another chance in the future.
I don’t have the best luck with Italy. The vast majority of my negative travel stories involve Italy, or more specifically, Italians. From getting robbed on a night train for over $4,000 of gear, to blatantly rude and almost gleefully unhelpful behavior across the entire country. There are many lovely Italian people, but my interactions have been bizarrely and consistently negative. As far as countries I’d revisit, it’s last on the list.
But it’s still on the list, because it is rather gorgeous. Climbing Mt Etna was a real treat, as is Venice, which despite what you may have heard, is an awesome place to explore and get lost. It’s just a whole different world.
Discovering The Delightful Italian Town Of Taormina
Up and down the Italian coast are countless gorgeous towns. The blue Mediterranean waters, the rocky cliffs and shores, it seems they were made for postcards. Far in the south, on the island of Sicily, is Taormina.
But if I have to pick a single story, it’s the town of Taormina, on the east coast of Sicily, perched high above the Ionian sea, home of some amazing restaurants and many memories relaxing with my BFF.
38: Vatican City
Vatican City has 5.88 Popes per square mile.
Denmark is lovely, especially Copenhagen, but my amusing story here goes back 10 years before I ever visited. 15, actually. For my first visit to the UK, I needed a Passport, obviously. The thing is, I was under 18. Kids Passports last 5 years, not the normal 10. This is a fact we hadn’t realized, until I noticed… 2 days before we were leaving for the UK the second time. So my dad and I bolted into Boston to get a rush Passport. Lots of stress, lots of money, but it happened.
Flash forward 10 years. This time I knew my Passport was expiring, in November, but no worries I had no international travel planned and that was 4 months away. Suddenly a work trip materialized and, guess what, most countries won’t let you in if your Passport expires in less than 6 months. So, in the span of a few days, I had to move into my new house, ship a big fall issue of the magazine I was editor of, and do a rush job on a Passport. Ah, stress.
I don’t recommend any of that. Denmark was cool though.
My first trip to Sweden was a day trip across the bridge while I was in Copenhagen.
Late night Helsingborg #sunset. Just the middle of a great night out. #travel #Sweden #midsummerday
34 Likes, 3 Comments – Geoffrey Morrison (@inveterate_adventurer) on Instagram: “Late night Helsingborg #sunset. Just the middle of a great night out. #travel #Sweden #midsummerday”
I had no idea that 5 years later I’d meet several wonderful Swedes, and end up spending a bunch of time there. It’s a lovely country, with lakes and endless green… in the summer, obviously.
One of the coolest subway systems in the world: the Stockholm Metro. A Stockholmian (is that a word?) friend took me down here on a recent visit. This is Rådhuset, but a bunch of the stations are this cool. #stockholm #metro #europe #scandinavia #sweet #rådhuset #subway #station #rock #travel #travelphotography #cave #subterranean #organic #brutal #sweden #stockholmare #underground #blueline
54 Likes, 7 Comments – Geoffrey Morrison (@inveterate_adventurer) on Instagram: “One of the coolest subway systems in the world: the Stockholm Metro. A Stockholmian (is that a…”
A particular standout was a visit around the holiday of Midsummer, out drinking with Maya and Erika, watching a spectacular sunset at nearly 11pm.
35: South Africa
In a way, the entirety of my life now is a direct result of a conversation at Maureen and Phil’s dining room table. Maureen mentioned that she wanted to go to South Africa, but because of Phil’s work, she didn’t have anyone to go with. I immediately said that I would. Not thinking I was serious, having given it zero thought, she said not to kid. I said I wasn’t because, as you all probably know, convincing me to travel somewhere really is as simple as “hey, let’s go there” and I’m in.
South Africa is the exact opposite side of the world from Los Angeles, almost precisely the antipode. To get there from the US involves one of the longest flights you can take.
It’s so worth it, just to be able to see so many amazing animals in their natural habitat. Elephants, lions, cheetahs, hyenas, hippos, and so many more. An absolutely incredible experience.
But like most of my adventures, the key factor was a who, not a what, eventually leading to this. And that, of course, leading to my extended travelling.
Looking back, that simple conversation over brunch was one of the decisive nodal points in my life. Funny how those pass and don’t seem like much at the time, but become so later on.
34: Kingdom of Eswatini, aka Swaziland
On the South African adventure, we spent a few days in Swaziland. This land-locked country is stunningly beautiful, with mountains in the west and plains in the East.
Though getting charged by a wild boar, petting a wild nyala, and spraining my knee jumping in a pool (because of course I did) are all standouts, it was getting up before dawn and watching the sun rise from atop a mountain, overlooking the savanna below. An amazing moment.
In 2013 my dad and I embarked on a rather epic road trip, starting and ending in Zurich, and covering 8 countries and 2400 miles.
My fondest memory was actually our last night, with a delicious dinner at Storchen.
Vaduz was the emptiest capital city I’ve ever seen. A handful of buildings, seemingly all banks, and no people.
My first visit to Austria was with my dad, on the above-mentioned road trip. While fun, that’s not what comes to mind when I think of this country. That would be my friend Mary.
We’d met in Australia, and my subsequent visits to Austria have been largely to hang out with my friend. I’m actually writing this on her sofa right now and she’s not at all looking over my shoulder making sure I say how awesome she is.
Little City, Big Heart There is something about this city. It’s probably my most visited place after London and Tokyo. And yet, I’ve written nothing about it. A strange discrepancy for someone who writes about pretty much everything. This was my longest visit yet.
The awesome Predjama Castle in Slovenia. Built into a cliff, with a huge cave behind. Visited a few years ago on a roadtrip through 8 countries with my dad. #castle #castles #cliff #cave #slovenia #predjama #predjamacastle #europe #travel #travelphotography
41 Likes, 6 Comments – Geoffrey Morrison (@inveterate_adventurer) on Instagram: “The awesome Predjama Castle in Slovenia. Built into a cliff, with a huge cave behind. Visited a few…”
This country is delightful. Initially just a stop between Budapest and Venice on our road trip, Slovenia, and specifically the capital Ljubljana, were fantastic and my dad and I quickly fell in love with it. The food is fantastic (especially the restaurant Compa), the city center gorgeous, and the people lovely.
I’ve gone back twice since, including last year staying a week, even meeting up with Kaylee, a fellow American I’d met in Croatia the year before. It’s a gem of a city that’s fairly light on tourists… for now.
Rawr. The 115-year-old Dragon Bridge. Not sure where they got the name. #slovenia #ljubljana #dragon #clouds #rawr #castle #bridge #travel #travelphotography #wings #europe #green #statue
38 Likes, 1 Comments – Geoffrey Morrison (@inveterate_adventurer) on Instagram: “Rawr. The 115-year-old Dragon Bridge. Not sure where they got the name. #slovenia #ljubljana…”
Perhaps the funniest story from here is getting pulled over on the highway from Budapest to Ljubljana, then being asked to step out of the car… and then enter the police van… and being told I needed to pay a “special fee” and that cash or credit card would be equally fine. Uh huh.
Ljubljana, Slovenia: An Overlooked Gem Of Europe
Don’t get me wrong, the big capitals of Europe like Paris, Madrid, and Rome, are great. But they’re also big and quite crowded. If you’re looking for that quintessential European vibe without all the hustle and bustle, it’s hard to beat Slovenia’s Ljubljana. Planning a big trip?
Much later I learned that it was legit, that I needed to buy a road tax sticker when I entered the country. This notice was written in Slovene, a language spoken by only 2.5 million people, in small print, on the side of the road. Yep, totally legit. State sanctioned totally legit.
This was another adventure with Maureen and Phil. We met in Hong Kong and worked our way, zig-zagging largely by train, all the way to Beijing.
A #tbt to one of my favorite pictures I’ve ever taken. The little one came with the room. More info here on the big one: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rubber_Duck_(sculpture) #rubberduck #rubberducky #rubberduckyyouretheone #hongkong #kowloon #throwbackthursday #victoriaharbour #china #cute #animals #reflections
35 Likes, 4 Comments – Geoffrey Morrison (@inveterate_adventurer) on Instagram: “A #tbt to one of my favorite pictures I’ve ever taken. The little one came with the room. More info…”
Hong Kong is amazing, Shanghai was great, and as far as things done, walking along the Great Wall was a solid life moment.
On the same trip were some amazing people I still call friends, Hayley, Henrik, Nadine, Eleonor, and of course, Kay. Kay is absolutely my kind of bonkers and we have had several adventures since, always involving food and colorful language.
One of the things that stands out most were the epic overnight trains. Some of these took more than a day, trundling along with crappy air conditioning and no dining car. What do you do to pass the time? Drink. Drink many, many bottles of cheap Chinese wine and have an absolute blast.
One single moment? A night out in Xi’an, where we found a restaurant where the hostess claimed the waiters spoke English (they didn’t) and we had to order with multiple complex dietary requirements using nothing but hand signals, a few pre-written Chinese symbols, and a lot of misunderstanding. It was epic. And fun. And the food was fantastic. If I recall, the bill was less than $70 for the entire meal.
One final international trip for 2013: Sweden, Norway, and UK. I was joined by my special travel buddy I wrote about earlier, and we met up with a bunch of the awesome folks I’d met earlier in the year.
A #tbt to a day spent frolicking amongst the fjords with a friend. The incredibly beautiful Flåm Railway from Bergen and back. #norway #bergen #train #mountains #travel #clouds #fog #throwbackthursday #railway #rail #locomotive #travelphotography #europe #scandinavia #flåm #grammasters3
59 Likes, 4 Comments – Geoffrey Morrison (@inveterate_adventurer) on Instagram: “A #tbt to a day spent frolicking amongst the fjords with a friend. The incredibly beautiful Flåm…”
The highlight was probably a fjord day trip, by train and boat, that had waterfalls, mountains and more. Simply stunning countryside. Slartibartfast deserved his award.
I don’t know even where to begin with Australia. I’ve written about this magical place so many times before. From my 5 day bender in Melbourne with Paul, Paddy, Norah and Rachael, to incredible few weeks in Byron Bay with Mary, Maja, Erika, and Rowin, to the Great Ocean Road with Marie-Eve and Catherine, to chasing a shark on the Great Barrier Reef, and of course Fraser Island and Cairns with Heena, Zoe, Georgia, and Grace. It’s a country of adventure, and a huge part of how my travels have played out over the following years.
Australia: Ending on High Note
I fled 1770, days late and angry, a little after 1 in the morning. The moonless sky rich with stars as if beckoning for better things beyond. It would be almost 20 hours before I’d stop. Twenty hours, 1,300 kilometers, 800 miles, and one seat.
Honestly, I could do a whole post like this just counting down my favorite moments from Australia. If I had to single out one “travel” moment, it would be on a road trip in Western Australia, after hours on desolate highways, I found myself in Esperance. A fierce lightning storm was brewing over the Southern Ocean, letting me take some of my favorite pictures ever.
25: New Zealand
This is easily, the most photogenic place I’ve ever been. Staggeringly beautiful. I think photos tell the best story of this gorgeous place.
That Wanaka Tree. There was about 2 minutes when the sun dipped below the clouds but was still above the mountains. This lit up the fall foliage juuuuust right. Such a magical place and one of my favorite road trips ever. And OK, technically this is a repost, as it was one of the first I posted to Instagram. But back then it needed to be square, and I think it looks cooler wide.
145 Likes, 8 Comments – Geoffrey Morrison (@inveterate_adventurer) on Instagram: “That Wanaka Tree. There was about 2 minutes when the sun dipped below the clouds but was still…”
A #tbt to that loveliest of countries, #newzealand. This is the #road to #mtcook. #mountains #landscape
47 Likes, 2 Comments – Geoffrey Morrison (@inveterate_adventurer) on Instagram: “A #tbt to that loveliest of countries, #newzealand. This is the #road to #mtcook. #mountains…”
I still carry with me a fake painted leaf from the fake tree that sits atop Bag End. This spot meant a lot to me.