The other day I was asked if one of my goals was to visit every country in the world. And after a lengthy pause, I replied by saying that while I certainly do intend to visit all 193+ countries at some point during the span of my life, I’m obviously not too dedicated to this goal.
Clearly, if visiting every country in the world was a top priority of mine, I would be traveling around to places such as Namibia or Latvia right now, places I’ve yet to visit, instead of finding myself back in Thailand for the ninth time since I began traveling in 1999.
So while, yes, I do want to visit every country in the world, I want to do so at my own pace and while being able to interact with each country as much as possible, as opposed to flying in, spending a night and then flying out simply to check a country off of ‘the list’.
However, if checking every country off of a list as soon as possible is a goal that one is fully dedicated to, I certainly think that is much better than simply wandering aimlessly around the world without any specific purpose.
I recall my first few years of wandering, a period of time that saw me in constant vacation mode as I hopped between countries, only skimming the surface of what travel had to offer. At that time, I was perfectly content checking places off my list even if all I did was stay in the guesthouse for a few days. And I thought I had the most wonderful life imaginable.
Then one day, just over three years into my adventure and while biking around the ruins of Bagan in the north of Burma, I realized that all of my traveling was really leading me nowhere. Apart from having quite a few ‘cool’ experiences under my belt, I was barely learning and barely improving myself. My financial situation hadn’t improved either as, for those first few years, I had to constantly check my bank account in order to make sure I still had some money left for a few more weeks of travel.
And so, while sitting inside of Bagan’s Ananda temple during a much-needed break from the Burmese heat, I decided to change the way I traveled. From that point onward, I made certain that I didn’t cross the border into any country without having a well-defined goal.
For example, I would travel to India in order to do some volunteer work, to South America to practice my Spanish, Eastern Europe to improve my historical knowledge of the region and Australia to create my first source of online income while living in a city I love (Melbourne). More recently, I lived in Sayulita, Mexico in order to learn how to surf, I traveled to Kurdistan to learn about the situation in that part of the world first-hand and right now, I’m in Thailand in order to spend some time in a comfortable environment, interact with other travels and catch up on my work.
Everything has a purpose. No more aimlessness for me.
I really do believe that for anyone interested in extended travel, having such goals is vital. You don’t need to start making a list of goals for every town you visit or even for every country, but traveling with an increased sense of purpose can only help maximize the personal growth you experience while on the road. At the very least it ensures that you gain some extra knowledge that might prove useful at some point in life.
And having such a focus also creates a stronger connection between you and whatever place you’re visiting and as a result, this can naturally lead to new ideas and opportunities that you might have missed otherwise. It’s no coincidence that most of the life-changing opportunities that travel has sent my way all ‘appeared’ during times when I was trying to achieve a specific goal.
I sometimes think of it this way. Nobody attends university without a focus, or major, that they’re interested in studying. So shouldn’t we therefore approach travel, one of the greatest forms of education available to us, in the same manner?
Do you set goals when traveling? What are some of the goals you set for yourself?
(And there are no wrong answers at all. Goals do not have to be serious and deep. Relaxation and clearing your mind are perfectly legitimate travel goals to me!)