Traveling to my 50th country

As I write this blog post, I’m waiting at airport about to accomplish something that I never thought I would – traveling to my 50th country.

Although I’m traveling what feels like all the time now – and almost always internationally – I didn’t get my first passport until the end of 2007. I came from a very modest background, and so it wasn’t until after my first year of law school, after completing a lucrative summer associate position, that I was able to afford one.

Even though I wasn’t able to travel much before then, I was always obsessed with travel. As a kid, I would memorize the Sunday travel section in the Philadelphia Inquirer (my local paper) and recite the prices of flights to my annoyed parents. I would spend time on most weekends checking out the latest brochures at the travel agency down the street and would order every free vacation video that I could (you used to be able to call Disney World and request VHS promotional videos).

My parents picked up on this, and they got me a subscription to Condé Nast Traveler for my 10th birthday. My aesthetic was always warm, tropical places. There was no place that I wanted to go more than the Turks and Caicos (something I accomplished in 2016!), though there was no place that I didn’t want to visit.

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Picture taken in Turks and Caicos with a tropical storm off the coast (the storm largely stayed off the coast and I got some amazing shots!)

When I first got my passport, I went to some pretty typical destinations for Americans – Jamaica, Amsterdam, Paris, and Brussels were my first trips. I was based in Philadelphia at the time, so I went to Europe and the Caribbean the most, although I also went to Morocco (which was way outside of my bubble at the time).

After law school, I moved to Guam, and that opened up a whole new set of destinations for me. All of a sudden, Japan, Australia, Hong Kong, the Philippines, Thailand, Singapore, Indonesia, and more were all in easy reach. I definitely took advantage of this, which helped add to my country count.

When I moved to San Francisco, I still had the travel bug, but didn’t have as much free time as I was working at law firms (I was still able to hit up a few new countries, including Bosnia, Argentina, Italy, Germany, Chile, and Norway), but it was over the course of a few years. In fact, there was even a year where I went without taking an international flight.

Things changed dramatically when, in February 2016, I decided to pursue my own law firm full-time. Before that, I was running my law firm as a side-hustle, with a full-time (albeit, remote) job in-house at a startup.

One of the founding principals of my firm was that I wanted it to be entirely remote. Because of this, even though I was a litigator, I gave up that part of my practice since it would require me to show up in-person to court.

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El Nido, Palawan in the Philippines

Around that same time, I got a pretty bad infection in my leg and had a pretty serious health scare. I was told that if the infection spread that I would need to go to the hospital, and that in an extreme worst-case scenario, the infection could sometimes lead to amputation (luckily, it never got that far – the antibiotics I was given cleared it up after about a week of bed-rest).

This health scare made me realize that I needed to take advantage of my freedom and good health, because either could be taken away from me at any time. So, I decided to have a goal of visiting one amazing location every month and, with exceptions,I’ve kept that promise to myself until now.

So, with that as a background, I wanted to post a list of the countries I’ve so far visit. Note that my definition of country may be a little loose — there are some selections on here that some readers my disagree with (such as Turks and Caicos, which is a British overseas territory). But for my purposes, I considered places with different passport stamps and cultures to be separate countries.

For my list, I’ve also included these symbols: an asterisk (*) means that I’ve visited a country twice and two asterisks (**) means that visited a country more than twice.

  1. U.S.**
  2. Mexico**
  3. Canada*
  4. Bermuda
  5. The Bahamas
  6. Jamaica
  7. Aruba
  8. Barbados
  9. Dominica
  10. St. Lucia
  11. Antigua
  12. St. Kitts
  13. Honduras
  14. Belize*
  15. Costa Rica
  16. Chile*
  17. Argentina
  18. Morocco
  19. France*
  20. England*
  21. Spain**
  22. Switzerland*
  23. Belgium
  24. The Netherlands**
  25. Italy
  26. Austria*
  27. Germany**
  28. Denmark
  29. Norway
  30. Croatia
  31. Bosnia and Herzegovina
  32. The Philippines**
  33. Singapore
  34. Thailand
  35. Australia**
  36. Japan*
  37. Korea
  38. Fiji
  39. Hong Kong**
  40. Indonesia*
  41. Colombia**
  42. Turks and Caicos
  43. Portugal
  44. Vietnam
  45. South Africa
  46. French Polynesia
  47. New Zealand
  48. Hungary
  49. Czech Republic
  50. Cayman Islands

Close calls: Peru (slept in the airport for 1 night), Liechtenstein (train ride through)

I’m thrilled with what I’ve seen so far, and can’t wait to see more. In fact, I already have 3 new countries that I’ll be visiting by April 2020 – Qatar, the Maldives, and United Arab Emirates.

Also, I do realize it’s a little faux pas to count countries — many in the travel community think that counting countries discounts the actual value of travel; that by trying to “collect” countries, you are missing the actual experiences. I do understand this mindset and subscribe in part, but part of my goal is to see as much as possible and that involves going to different countries with entirely different cultures (and it’s fun for me to keep tabs!).

Anyway, I’m off to enjoy the Cayman Islands and the big 5-0!

Digital nomads: What to do if your parent is facing a terminal illness

I started this travel blog, in part, to counter the sad and depressing stories that were overwhelming my news feed. Because of that, I’ve been hesitant to write about some pretty intense stuff that I’ve been dealing with over the last year – mainly, my father being diagnosed with a terminal, aggressive form of cancer.

It’s, of course, never easy when a parent receives a diagnosis like this. And while a lot of your energy may go to helping your parent and other family members out, it’s also completely normal to be concerned about how a diagnosis like this could affect your work.

For digital nomads, there are unique concerns. For example, some digital nomads only plan on living that lifestyle temporarily before having a family and settling down, so even taking a year or two away from that could change their career trajectory and life experiences entirely.

Below is a list, based on my experience, of some tips that I hope will help fellow digital nomads who have a parent that is facing a terminal illness diagnosis:

1) Talk openly about it with your parents and family members

Because you are able to work from anywhere in the world, you may decide that it’s best to move back home to help take care of your parent. Alternatively, the freedom to work wherever you want may make you feel even more guilty about not returning home.

For those who want to continue traveling, the truth is that it’s unlikely that your parent would want you to stop living your life because of a diagnosis like this. It’s worthwhile to have an open, honest conversation with your parent about your plans, get their thoughts, and also discuss it with other family members who may be helping provide care for your parent. It’s also important to think about if you’d regret not spending the limited time with your parent.

Based on the conversations you have, and your own personal reflections, you can update your travel schedule accordingly.

2) Make the city your parent is based a travel hub

My father lived in Philadelphia, which is where I grew up and went to law school. Before my dad was diagnosed with cancer, my plan was to never visit Philly again. But with the diagnosis and my dad’s limited ability to travel, that plan went out the window.

One positive that came from flying to Philly often was being able to use it as a travel hub, particularly as it’s a big American hub and I had a significant number of miles to spend. As I’m based in San Francisco, traveling to Philly made Europe much more accessible, and there was even a direct flight to Budapest from there.

Despite all the bad stuff that was going on, I was able to go on some adventures that I otherwise would have missed thanks to using the city as a travel hub.

3) Set clear limits on when you’ll be working when you go back to visit

Some people assume that being a digital nomad is the same thing as being on a permanent vacation. But the reality is that digital nomads, particularly those with a side hustle, are often always working.

This presumption that digital nomads don’t really work can make visiting a parent more difficult. If you are freelancing, it’s important to explain to your parent that you don’t have paid time off, and that you need to ensure you’ll maintain a steady income. If you are an employee with PTO, it’s still okay to let your parent know that while you’re in town, there are days that you will be working and times that you won’t be available.

4) Book refundable tickets and hotel rooms

If the prognosis is bad, you may need the ability to change your travel plans on a whim. As a result, when looking into airfare and lodging, you may want to prioritize reservations that are fully refundable, or that can be changed for a small fee.

With the airfare, because refundable tickets can be quite expensive, the best thing to do is to book travel using miles, which can usually be redeposited into your account for a fee (ranging from $50-$200+).

For lodging, there are tons of hotels and Airbnb’s that have very reasonable cancellation policies.

5) Use points for business class flights to visit 

I hate, hate, hate spending points on domestic travel. For most airlines, the redemption value on domestic flights is very low, particularly compared to international awards. So, it goes without saying that I especially hate using my hard-earned points to book domestic business class flights.

That said, traveling home to visit a dying relative is very stressful on its own, so if you have enough points, it’s definitely worth considering using them to book business class flights home, to make the journey a bit less stressful.

San Francisco Trip Deal: $332 round-trip from SFO to Rome, Italy on United

There’s an awesome deal from San Francisco to Rome, Italy right now on United that you can’t find on Google Flights or related travel searches. Some itineraries are both United and other Star Alliances members, such as Brussels Airlines, Swiss Air, Air Canada, and Lufthansa.

The flights are very limited, with departure dates of either March 12th or March 13th, and returning either March 20th, 21st, 23rd, or 26th.

You can find the flights through momondo search engine (I’ve linked to a March 13-26 itinerary where you can find the $332 price).

I’ve booked a number of amazing flight deals this way, but note that you’ll have to book with a separate travel agency, which can add a layer of complication if you need to change your travel reservations. That said, this ticket price is hard to beat!

H/T: Secret Flying

The 14 most photogenic cities in the world

love taking pictures when I travel. Even before the days of Instagram, I would sometimes spend hours a day on a trip trying to find pretty landscapes, colorful street art, stunning architecture, and interesting people and try to turn them all into interesting photographs.

To help others with a similar passion, I’ve created this list of the 14 most photogenic cities in the world. This list is unranked, as they are all truly special in their own way and worth a visit with your camera.

Medellín, Colombia

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This stunning city is nestled in the northern end of the Andes, with spectacular views in every direction, and is one of the most beautiful cities in the world.

Dubrovnik, Croatia

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There’s a reason why both Star Wars and Game of Thrones have filmed in Dubrovnik – it’s out-of-this-world beautiful.

San Francisco, CA

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Visit San Francisco and you’ll leave with a ton of postcard worthy photos.

Hong Kong

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Mountains, some of the tallest skyscrapers in the world, and Victoria Harbour help make Hong Kong one of the most photogenic cities in the world.

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

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The picture above is all the explanation I need for including Rio on this list.

Cape Town, South Africa

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Cape Town has a truly stunning landscape and access to some awesome wildlife experience.

Vancouver, Canada

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Squeezed between the coast and mountains, Vancouver is a travel photographers dream.

Paris, France

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Paris was made for pictures – okay, not really, but with how easy it is to get a beautiful shot here, it might as well have been.

Melbourne, Australia

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Melbourne boasts the tallest public vantage point in the southern hemisphere along with a harbor, a thriving street art scene, and neighborhoods with their own unique vibes.

Innsbruck, Austria

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The Alps serve as the perfect background in this Austrian city that once played host to the Winter Olympics.

Lisbon, Portgual

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Cobblestone streets, centuries-old architecture, a trolley system, hills, and a river running through it serve to make Lisbon one of the most photogenic cities on Earth.

Honolulu, Hawaii

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Honolulu is Hawaii’s largest city, located right on the coast with views galore.

Venice, Italy

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The water, the buildings, the history, and the gondolas make Venice a can’t-miss for any travel photographer.

Prague, Czechia

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Truly of the most stunning cities in the world, Prague’s beauty will leave you breathless.

Are there any cities that I’ve missed? Let me know in the comments!