Around the World for 412 Days

I started in South America heading West and ended in North America, a complete loop around this beautiful and very interesting planet we call Earth. From Oceania through Asia, Africa, the Middle East, Europe and finally back to the Americas all in 412 days of on-the-road non-stop backpacking travel. It was mostly done as a solo female traveler but several friends, family and long lost friends were a part of it too….not to forget the countless beautiful souls I met along the way.

Below you will find my recap, an overview of how I did it and what it was like traveling for this long, in addition to fun statistics and photos.

It was quite a fun trip, a dream trip really (and yes I realize not all can do it for maaany reasons -not just obvious ones – $, family, etc – but also difficulty in just getting a passport for some) in which all objectives set were completed. It was full of challenges and getting comfy being uncomfy (situations)….things that push you to be better, see things differently and constantly shape who you are and what you want to be. Although long and sometimes a crazy ride I feel it was the right time for it and has gotten me ready for what comes after long-term travel. I am now home with family, resting and preparing for what is next. This was the longest time I´ve been out of the US and Seattle without visiting ever (1 year 8 months since last visit) considering that I lived abroad for 6 years that a feat. I am ready to work again and create a home base.

The year was spent following summer and eating my way around the world. At times it was overly hot, namely Melbourne – Australia, Hanoi – Vietnam, Dakar – Senegal, Hong Kong and Accra – Ghana too. It made me realize that 365 days is a veeery loooong time, something that never occurred to me before, until I had to daily fill each day myself (compared to having a routine – job, school, sports or kids – sometimes) did I realize that when counted out individually it is a lot…and I did over 400 days (even if most think years fly by…). I learned many things along the way too but the most impactful I learned in Africa. Not just patience… I learned that the best present is actually being present, it is never, ever material (I actually knew this last part before but never understood the replacement)….a harsh real world realization when you are in a country that does follow God, Christmas is coming and it’s important for many but there are no gifts and barely any trees to celebrate with (mainly because people can’t afford gifts nor would they spend precious money like that)…For them the gift is actually just you…You ARE God’s Gift to Others…(this is an example, it doesn’t have to be just Christmas people…any big Western World gift giving moment…having people with you should be the ultimate gift) a much better world if you think about it…and for me a sad hard lesson when you are far away on a holiday where you are the biggest gift of all…bam!…ok I’ll stop.

Statistics (of this trip)

December 31, 2018 to February 15, 2020
21 new countries (25 in total if you add previously visited ones…Italy, Belgium, Portugal and Spain)
15.5 passport pages filled (plus 1 new passport)
11 different sim cards used
5 health care systems tested (additionally 2 dentists)
1 new language learned (French)
1 cold + pink eye
1 malaria test (negative)
1 new allergy found (MSG, my first)
9 books read
23 friends visited/seen (not including 6 family members)
18 different currencies used
133 cities I stayed in (who knows #visited)
5 sunglasses (3 destroyed)
2 iphone cables purchased
2 journals used

+28,468 photos taken (most in NZ then Vietnam and Korea — least in Togo, then Brunei, and The Gambia)

I traveled with a rolling suitcase, a back pack and a day pack. After 4 months my parents visited and took an old suitcase and a chunk of stuff back with them including most of my triathlon gear, winter clothes I still had from S. America, my computer and semi-professional camera. I had purchased a new suitcase and backpack because it was time, then later a smaller camera in Japan, thinner warm jacket and basically used my iphone as my computer. Things in my bags changed all the time especially when someone met up with me; they helped bring me stuff and bring stuff back (thanks Kirsten, Mom and Dad!). When off traveling I usually left my roller suitcase with a hotel/hostel or local friends (thanks Alex, Sean, Shizuko – Sue, GianCarla and Sineta) and took off for a few weeks with the regular backpack packed for anticipated stops, specific activities and climates (sometimes unanticipated activities did happen and I’d just make due with available items). I only purchased 10 new clothing items the whole trip (well and socks) and 2 pairs of shoes and some sandals. Having the iphone as my computer meant I did many things on it including writing blogs (slowly and painfully…haha) and in the end sucked because it had no space (due to my 18,000 photos constantly filling 80% of it’s capacity) aka I had to delete most apps, couldn´t open apps sometimes, couldn´t take photos and sometimes what I wrote was later deleted by the phone….more space would be the answer here and I did buy some on the cloud but far from enough….any who just so you know it was a great plan with the iphone until full and then it just became a hassle. Most of the time I resorted to my new camera or if the phone’s photo memory was full I used Instagram to take photos (this also got full and I would do screen shots)…just a manic photographer{s problem….oops….this also was the reason why blogs had few photos…my bad.

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My ”year” was approximately as follows in these countries:

Chile —> Australia (1.5 months), New Zealand (90 days), Japan (3 weeks), S. Korea (3.5 weeks), Hong Kong (1 week), Vietnam (1 month), Malaysia (3 weeks…with 4 day Brunei stopover), Singapore (3 days), Sri Lanka (2 weeks), Brussels (12 hours), Italy (3 weeks), Senegal (1.5 months), Guinea-Bissau (5 days), The Gambia (5 days), Cabo Verde (4 days), Benin (3 weeks), Togo (3 days), Ghana (1 week), Ethiopia (1 month), Dubai (4 days), Oman (5 days), Portugal (1 week), Madrid (1.5 days), Malta (4 days), NYC/Newark (1 day) —> Seattle

The first half of my trip I only visited 7 countries then had a huge increase on the second half visiting a whopping 18, for a total of 25 distinct countries on my trip. The main cause for the increase was time spent, proximity to other countries, layovers and country size. Brussels (Belgium) I did on layover (have been before), was there few hours but had enough time to run in the park so I count it; Madrid (Spain) I also did as a layover twice (I have been before and lived here before)…ha ha no run this time but some good wandering, tapas, drinks and friends; Singapore, Togo, UAE (Dubai), Brunei, Malta and Cabo Verde each only got 3-4 days for my visit, obviously I wanted at least a week or more in each, but my time frame changed (ex. Stayed too long in previous country, wanted more in another, visa took longer to process, flight price better for certain dates) and I still wanted to at least check them out (2 cities visited in most countries except Singapore and UAE…); and then there were ones where I did 5-7 days only like The Gambia, Guinea-Bissau, Portugal, Oman and Ghana which is quite different given most countries on average (besides those mentioned above) got nearly a month during the year. If you notice that is 13/18 countries from the second half that got a week or less!

Bigger first time things:
Couchsurfing, housesitting, driving leftside, driving a motorbike, full Ironman, rock climbing outdoors, swimming laps under a waterfall, going to the continent of Oceania, breaking a bike, using an international drivers license, using translator app for full conversation, seeing a leopard/orangutan/chimpanzees in wild, first Arab nation, voodoo ceremony, visiting family’s hometown

Second time things:
Scuba Diving classes (17 years later), French classes (10 years later), visiting Portugal (13 years later)

Going for such a long trip you must still live your life, you don’t just stop doing what you  enjoy or do normally, otherwise you wouldn’t be able to keep going long term. Things that you do back home, for instance, sport massages, teeth cleanings, facials, manicure/pedicure, haircuts and other normal and needed treatments along the way were kept in my life…it was just always by a new person, in a different country and maybe a new method…but that was the interesting part of the experience! For example, I got massages the most and I had blind masseuses, ones that used stones, deep deep massage, thai massage, static electric massage and just general massages…very cool to experience such diversity. Making a home for yourself everywhere was fulfilling…even if that home is a suitcase and a new bed every few days…it was needed. It was important to take a longer break from non-stop travel…maybe every 3-4 months a week off (maybe longer is needed) in one place, sightseeing without going far…I mean really everything is touristy if you don’t know it…just turn down a new (to you) street and you will realize you are still exploring lol (you can even do this in the cities you actually live in!). I took many breaks like this, I even took a month off ha! but usually I’d go 2-3 weeks pretty much non-stop then take a week off somewhere.

For me a big part of my daily routine is exercise and I made sure that it was always included…I did it everywhere I went (beyond walking tons) …maybe not daily but routinely and I even sought out specific things like finding pools or renting bikes to go for a ride no matter the cost because I knew it brought me tons of joy. I ate out A LOT but I do like cooking my own meals and if I was around a bit in one place I would definitely do it. At one point I was very tired of traveling (at about 8 months) and all I wanted was a kitchen to cook in and I loved it when I finally could cook (even if the simplest meals)…but this is hard because you also want to try local dishes which are on the street so compromise was key on this point.

Exercise Stats:

Ran in all countries except Spain because I’ve ran there before…plus the layovers were short.

Swam in most except Singapore (did take a dip after a run though), Togo, Ghana, Brunei and Portugal (nor Spain or Belgium…just too short).

Biked in 12 countries…Japan, S. Korea, Benin, Senegal, Australia, New Zealand, Brunei, Italy and also Vietnam, Sri Lanka, Togo and The Gambia but very leisurely.

Triathlon: NZ, Australia and Senegal

Best runs: Naples streets – Italy, The Gambia, Vietnam – several, Bijagos Island – Guinea-Bissau, New Zealand – several, Seattle, Singapore – all – Mamelles hills circuit to beach run, Dakar, Senegal and Ethiopia – run camp w/ elites was a great experience (no best run though).

1003 miles ran
2703 miles cycled (113 rides)
+80 days swam…(45 were IM training)

Races: Ironman (IM) Australia, Tarawera 21k trail Run, 42k Cadbury Marathon, 70.3 Ironman Taupo NZ, 2 sprint triathlons (NZ, Senegal), 1 duathlon (NZ), 86 miler cycle race (NZ)

Took 4 running shoes with me, donated those, bought 2 more

Often I had no clue what I would do the next day and don’t even start with what city or country I had up after the current! For long term travel I was constantly researching cities, countries, things to do/see either online or via word of mouth…but sometimes no one was around to get info and online had little too (especially in West Africa). I also left most research about a country until I was physically there (I do this nearly always) because I feel you learn more about it being there, it is quicker, more impactful and you can research more in depth once you hear about it…I prefer to start by experiencing it, let curiosity come, tradition and history absorbed and then I dive deeper.

Instead of planning my trip I was very flexible often deciding in the morning my direction for the day; fate or moods ruled my itinerary with a vague idea of desired things to do. Flights or next countries were a hassle since I had all options and many seemed good… though little by little I’d decide, sometimes a month before but most a week or two before. The only reason I’d decide a month before was if I needed proof of exit from a country…most didn’t bother or were fine hearing you were taking a bus though not the case for Ghana or Japan for example (S. America too even though I didn’t travel there this time – most travelers edit an old ticket in word and print lol). I used some airline miles towards the end of the trip I´d saved over many years as flights within Africa were expensive generally but reaaally cheap with miles…500$ in cash v. 20,000 miles. Asia had plenty of 30$ flights between countries and Europe around was about 100$ RT (with bag) so besides these Africa and the Pacific leap was the highest price…even Europe to USA had one way flights around 200$ so really quite affordable. My rule was, spend cash if less then 300$, therefore that is what I did most of the time.

The countries I had planned to visit before starting my trip were New Zealand, Australia, S. Korea, Vietnam, Brunei, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Italy and Ethiopia. The rest were all added based on what was going on, where I was, cheapest flights, other’s ideas and some on the list changed along the way. For instance I thought I would maybe do Dubai on a layover and then I included it in my travel plans. Hong Kong was added later to the above list but Indonesia was high on the original list but bumped off when timing with friends – family fell through (because them nor I knew our exact plans lol). Pakistan and Madagascar were must visits but then Pakistan I skipped because I knew it would be challenging and by the time I could go I was just too tired of traveling for a challenge like that….plus the visa is expensive/not easy. Finally, Madagascar was no go because I waited too long and rainy season hit….I wasn´t dealing with that as a tired traveler in Africa…sadly pushed until further notice!

Countries I camped in: Guinea-Bissau, The Gambia, Ethiopia, Vietnam and Oman (glamping) – also if in car camping counts ha ha Oman, Australia and NZ.

Countries I hiked in: Oman, Ethiopia, Japan, S. Korea, New Zealand, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Brunei, Cabo Verde, Ghana, Australia, Vietnam, Benin, Portugal

Peaks summited: Mt. Kinabalu – Malaysia, Mt. Agou – Togo, Mt. Wellington – Australia, Mt. Rocco(san) – Japan, Mt. Hallasan and Mt. Samgaksan – S. Korea, Mt. Lantau – Hong Kong and Mt. Bwahit – Ethiopia

I saved 5 years for the trip. I traveled without a budget but had a backpacker style of saving in mind. It meant I didn’t do everything cheap because I didn’t want to miss out on lasting experiences but still tried to save where I felt comfortable. Therefore I didn’t always stay in hostels or always eat on the street corner and I certainly didn´t cut corners on health care. I did rent cars or fly to other cities in the same country sometimes just for peace of mind and luxury (oh and a break from buses).

I splurged on nice hotels from time to time (I’ll be honest I did use Credit Card points for a few of them – a benefit you find with many US card companies) then again sometimes a nice hotel only cost 20$ (Or $10 like in Ethiopia – breakfast included ha ha) I even splurge once on glamping one night (100$).  On the other hand I did Couchsurfing but generally only to get more of a cultural immersion on a short stay. I slept in cars a few times too but only because it seemed logical; one person, lots of space and It’s like camping so I did it or  I might crash at someone´s home or hotel I just met because there is a backpacker side to me that fills me with unique experiences, in the moment fun and it feels safe (gut feelings people).  You never know and it all depends on the situation and your mood.

Meals not considered street food in most places didn’t generally break the bank, just the mind (when you know the same stuff costs 3x less and is just as good or better elsewhere) so sometimes I splurged for it´s different atmosphere representing a different world…sometimes one I didn´t always have available! It was a real treat when I did, trust me! You would probably think from mostly eating on the street that one would have major issues but I only had slight stomach problems when I changed to drastically different cuisines from time to time which my stomach took 2-3 days max to adjust (nothing harsh). Most places I traveled cooked with fresh ingredients and I tried to pick the best option I saw or go on a local´s recommendation. I looked for lines, occupied tables, clean or sanitary looking stand or oils used…..) a better way to do it but it doesn´t always work out (for instance in India and surrounding countries it might look clean but it could be a fake sense of sanitation). If you stay longer than 2 weeks it might be worth the risk anyway…it just takes time to get the local bacterias into your system…unlike the highly sanitized US food system or Europe that actually seem to weaken our stomach…humm.

Travel insurance I purchased from time to time not all year long (for example, on exercise escapades – Ironman or in Europe where everything costs more). It is good to have as you never know I just took the somewhat educated risk approach. I didn´t take malaria pills since I wasn´t just going a week or a month (because meds for it are quite brutal for your body and well people live where the disease is and they don´t take stuff nor did many seem to have had or hear of cases…so again educated risk) instead I took other measures like using bug spray and mosquito net. I also knew it was dry season and most mosquitoes die off so risk was very low….however I did carry some meds I purchased in Africa just in case (later I learned there are 3 strains and that they might not work so a test and doctor´s prescription is best asap with any fever). I got meds there because well as long as it is semi developed they will have the correct prevention or resolution there….again they are who deal with it and know best….with this disease! Thankful thought I never had to use them and of the places I traveled I only felt that Benin had a higher probability of contracting it….because it is next to Nigeria where the highest probability is overall…the rest felt perfectly fine. However, I did get a malaria test done once when I got a cold (just in case) since it was odd for me to even have a cold (first in over 1.5 years or longer!), all came back negative and the test was cheap, quick and painless….finger prick, 2 blood specimens and return 1-2 hours later for results. Another thing many don´t realize is what a traveler´s body goes through along the way…so many unexpected things come up from your skin reacting to different climates to hormone changes brought upon from moving and plenty of other random stuff….not to mention the mental side…that are all part of this adventure sparked by non-stop change.

I will mention safety real quick because I am sure many wonder how it was as a single female traveler. To tell the truth I felt very safe everywhere. I sometimes felt driving wasn´t safe but I´ve seen way worse so generally I hoped a local knows how to drive locally. In big cities I was more cautious of my surroundings and stuff but in general people respected me and it felt safe walking around alone. I did try to adapt to some cultures more…aka less skin showing but in heat I generally was fine even in a tank top and skirt to the knees. A general rule of thumb is always be aware of your surroundings and walk with confidence (aka you aren’t lost even if you are)…don’t go where it is dark at night (ex. park or dark empty streets)…ignore people talking to you (unless it sounds like a warning) and keep moving…stay away from neighborhoods that don’t feel or look right and on public transit (or place known to have some crime) know where your stuff is, keep it close and only take it out if others seem to be doing so. Really all of this applies everywhere, including in your home town, it is just common sense. Much of the world is pretty darn safe and most of the time bad things happen out of just being at the wrong place at the wrong time or because you made it easy and obvious for someone to take advantage of you (like they say in Colombia – Estás dando papaya). The only place I had something bad happen to me was in Ethiopia and it was something that can happen any where. It was actually the first time I’ve had anything happen in 77 countries traveled…which is insane! Places I felt the safest were New Zealand, Senegal, Oman, Brunei, Singapore, Dubai, Japan and Korea.

Transportation:
39 flights taken
109 buses/long distance transport (over 1 hour) – In all countries I used a bus (most buses were Senegal, then Vietnam/Italy tied and Benin)
12 countries a ferry was used
4 rail systems used (not metro) – with metro used add 10 others
4 motorbikes driven (countles taken in Vietnam, Benin, Togo, Sri Lanka)

I had several main focus’ or objectives for my trip which divided my “year” into thirds and I am proud to say that all objectives were completed. For those who don’t recall I had sports (Ironman training and finisher – Oceania), new experiences (several new ones – Asia) and learn French (I’m not fluent but I feel way more confident and understand plenty – Africa).

I walk away still with some of my savings in my pocket but more than anything I am far richer then ever before for just doing it…seeing all the cultures, food, people, ways of living, clothes, hairstyles, historical areas, architecture, languages, religions, sports, development, traditions and motivations (well and more)….Watching all of this and more change and become intertwined or adapted further around the globe was simply amazing. To see reasons behind why another culture is the way they are based on exchange of ideas or past/present exploration is fascinating.

A simple example, seeing Tokyo and Seoul’s fashion and how it is so powerful that my former company Nike and many others follow these cultures for ideas of design. I got to see where the inspiration that Nike had seen previously from these cultures to create the look for shoes or clothes I’d helped sell…. then later flip that idea and be in Dubai and see what I saw 9 months prior while visiting those 2 countries as trending actually come to life again in a whole new season/year on the other side of the planet…like mind blowingly cool to witness past/present/future in fashion…and it is just one simple, easy to follow, example! From there you can do that with food, architecture, engineering, general ideas, sports, sustainability and many more things.

There is no way for me to capture it all here so I won’t continue. My only suggestion is that you go out and see it, experience it and keep going out. Oh and don’t just go to the touristy, Instagramable places, think for yourself people…follow your interests and research (applies to things to see and countries to visit). Also don’t forget to talk with the locals because sometimes they are the best part of a place…not some stupid monument you saw on the gram or online. Okay, it might not be stupid and likely you should see it, go see it, then find something else you like. Some of my favorite times traveling were when I decided I wanted to do a specific thing and researched it…for instance, waterfalls, hiking, architecture, street art…that specific research drove me to places with no or few tourists and made me happier and more aware of where I was…follow your heart and soul…we all have our own ya know. I also enjoyed this aspect sometimes with my mom or friends…I’d say what do you want to see next…my mom said…”I think Japan has hot springs”..she researched…they sure do…done and thanks to her we did something she enjoys but I probably would have missed on my own…

The world is huge but it is small.

It is safer than you think or see on tv.

It is really rich – with people, experiences, foods, styles and traditions.

It is…

Beautiful.

Eye opening.

Friendly.

Diverse.

and

Incredibly impressive!

 

Final Recap:

Most surprising countries for me on this trip:
Japan, Ethiopia, Brunei, Benin, Cape Verde, Oman

Favorites countries on this trip: Vietnam, Sri Lanka

Least favorite food: Benin/Togo (I eventually got used to it aneven d missed it), Brunei (traditional food can be odd) and Hong Kong (very diverse but local dishes I just didn´t enjoy much)

Best food discoveries: Udon noodles, Japan;  Injera with egg, Ethiopia; Double boiled cheese, Benin; Amazing olives, Italy (wish I knew the kind); String Hoppers and Cashew Curry, Sri Lanka; Milmyeon, S. Korea; Banh mi , Banh Khot and so many others but I don´t know names, Vietnam; Street Sandwich, Senegal

Good Drinks: Bissap with mint, Senegal; Smoothies and coffee in Ethiopia; Portuguese wine

Most Unique food: Camel´s milk

Top 3 experiences: Benin – lots of surprises – most interesting was voodoo stuff; Italy – visiting family´s hometown with my mom; Vietnam – jaw dropping beautiful scenery, experience motorbiking and rock climbing

Most beautiful and spiritual encounters: various religious places Sri Lanka; churches in Tigray, Ethiopia; churches in Porto, Portugal; St. George Basilica, Malta; Daishoin temple, Japan, Porto Novo mosque, Benin

Place I didn´t want to leave: Borneo – I just couldn´t get enough, ran out of time and flew back to Kuching because I loved it so much

Best Sunsets: Kuching, Malaysia; Matera, Italy, Queenstown and Tauranga, NZ; Sri Lanka most days; Fatick and St. Louis, Senegal; Cabo Verde; Bijagos, Guinea-Bissau

Where I loved the Architecture: Hong Kong, Oman, Portugal, Singapore, Benin, Italy, Sri Lanka, Malaysia, Japan, NZ, Malta, Dubai

Coolest buildings: Tata Somba, Benin, Burj Khalifa and many others, Dubai, Jibreen Castle, Oman, Art Deco in Napier, New Zealand, Temples of Sri Lanka, Castles in Japan

Favorite cities: Dunedin and Napier area, NZ; Kuching, Malaysia, Martina Franco, Italy, Victoria, Malta, Melbourne, Australia; Phong Nha, Vietnam; Porto, Portugal

Animal Encounter: Sri Lanka (leopard); Malaysia (probiscus monkey & orangutan)

Best Biking Experience: Cotonou to Ouidah, Benin; East Coast Trail, S. Korea; Shimani Kaido, Japan, Queen Charlotte Drive, New Zealand; Puglia, Italy

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If you go, do so without fear; don´t fret over languages you don´t know; don´t worry if you miss a bus, plane, train; know your friends and family will miss you but they will always be by your side; and even when things get tough they eventually work their way out, it is all part of life…even on the road….Don´t forget to smile and take the time to realize things happen for a reason, you must go with it, go forward, always forward, and it is ok if a pause is first needed.

….¨stop being afraid of what could go wrong and think of what could go right¨

 

Read specific blogs below:

Australia

Benin

Brunei

Cape Verde

Chile

Dubai

Ethiopia

The Gambia

Guinea-Bissau

Italy

Malaysia

New Zealand 

Oman

S. Korea

Senegal

Vietnam

2 thoughts on “Around the World for 412 Days

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