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Forty for Forty

So I am back with some more ludicrous travel plans for the next 18 months. It’s been a bit quiet on the travel front since I returned from South Africa 6 weeks ago (yes I am aware I am way behind on my blogs from earlier this year…South Korea, India, Nepal, Seychelles and SA to do).

An idea sprung to mind whilst deep in discussion about how boring life currently was and how I need to travel more…so the plan is between turning 39 (my 40th year) and turning 41 (no longer 40), I will attempt to travel to 40 countries. Forty countries for turning 40….hence the forty for forty idea!

The travels can range from a day trip to a full on exploratory jaunt as long as I visit 40 countries before hitting 41. I also don’t need to visit 40 new countries, some can be repeat visits as long as the countries are only counted once (frequent day trips to France will only count as 1 country).

I always try to ensure my travels have purpose to them so the countries will either be ones I have always wanted to visit, ones where I can visit friends or ones where I want to explore other cities or places not explored on previous visits.

Now you may be sitting there thinking ‘oh that’s easy ‘, however, let my qualify that I am already 4&1/2 months into this 2 year period and I am having to work for the next 12-14 months (minimum) to save for these travels….that doesn’t leave me much time!

Thankfully I can already count 10 countries I visited after my 39th birthday this year so that leaves me with 30 to do in 19&1/2 months, whilst working full time for at least 12-14 of those! It’s on!!!

So as I said the current count stands at 10 which I managed to knock up between February and April this year. That’s a great starter for 10. Let’s take a quick look at where I went and why…..

1. Hungary – I have always wanted to visit Budapest…it’s been on my list for a while and Hungary was one of a handful of European countries left to explore. The weather was freezing in early February but for £20 for a flight with Ryanair it was so worth it. My 5 days there was a geek’s dream….ruins, castles, palaces, forts, street art, sculptures, museums and of course the stunning parliament building.

2. Jordan – Now Jordan I had been to several times before but only whilst transiting through so it was about time I got out of the airport and Amman and saw some cool stuff. I didn’t have much time due to the cheap flights I had sourced in from Budapest and out to my next stop, so I packed a hell of a lot in.

Day 1 saw me head to the amazing roman ruins of Jerash (bucket list place), Day 2 was Amman, Day 3 was Petra (another bucket list item) and Day 4 was frolicking in the Dead Sea, the Promised Land from Mount Nebo and Madaba.

I really love Jordan everything from the food to the people and the sights. I wished I had had more time to explore but I can always re-visit and do this fascinating country justice.

3. Sri Lanka – This was my second time to the beautiful Sri Lanka. This time was purely to visit my friend Diana and see some other parts of the island I hadn’t previous seen.

I started off arriving in Colombo and meeting up with Diana, before we jumped on a supposedly air conditioned local bus (open windows) for a long journey to the central region to see the Ancient city of Anuradhapura. There we spent a whole day conducting a barefoot pilgrimage of all the temples and shrines scattered across the ancient city before getting a train to the far north to check out Jaffna where we ate ice cream, saw some buildings and dog napped Diana’s dog from her mum’s family home and then took Dolly the dog back in a minivan 9 hours to Colombo!

Wonderful memories of a great 10 days.

4. Bangladesh – I have been intrigued by Bangladesh for a long time and had a trip booked there a years ago, which sadly was cancelled due to political unrest/tensions at the time. Those issues seem to have passed so one cheap and short flight from Colombo later….I arrive in Dhaka.

I must admit the slow and laborious ‘on arrival visa’ process left a lot to be desired but 2 hours later I had been stamped in, grabbed my rucksack and jumped in some random man’s car which he was passing off as a taxi!

I have to say I was pleasantly surprised by Dhaka and Bangladesh as a whole, what it may lack in size, scale and sights it makes up for with food, history and the most welcoming and hospitable people. I made some wonderful friends in Dhaka through Couchsurfing and spent many evening stuffing my face with Asmani, Kathrine and Babu. I also took the most entertaining and ‘local’ bus trip up to sights in the far north of the country with 2 more couchsurfing friends Abdul & Hasan. We spent days squashed in local buses, trucks, carts, tuktuks and cycle rickshaws….visiting historical religious buildings and seeing the most rural villages surrounded by verdant rice paddies. I couldn’t have gotten more off the beaten track….not one tourist for the whole time.

5. Taiwan (yes I am counting it is a country) – I had previously spent a night in Taipei but wanted to get out and about and see some of the temples Taiwan had to offer so I spent a week travelling around the island on high speed trains checking out what Taipei, Kaohsiung and Tainan had to offer.

A truly fascinating, gem of a country with great temples, great food and friendly people. Will definitely visit again.

My favourite temple and my whole reason for visiting the lovely city of Kaohsiung was the Dragon & Tiger Pagodas. Beautiful….

6. South Korea – I have always wanted to wander about Seoul checking out the amazing temples and window shopping in Gangnam so off I headed…one cheap and short flight from Taiwan made that possible.

I spent a week meandering about Seoul taking in temples, mountains and shopping districts…all whilst eating great food. What’s not to love. Another definite return trip required to see more of this fascinating country.

7. Nepal – I spent a week in Nepal with Jerin, my lunatic friend from India. We flew from Delhi to Kathmandu and spent a day or so there where we meandered around temples, took in the earthquake battered Durbar Square, chilled in a beautiful garden and learnt about the assassination of the royal family.

We then grabbed a bus across to Pokhara where we watched the sunrise over the Annapurnas (or where they should have been more like!) . We lazed around the lakes admiring sunsets and eating amazing vegetarian food and fresh fish. We even caught sight of a yeti….at the mountaineering museum!

We then met up with Anu, a couchsurfing friend, in Kathmandu and spent some time in her wonderful company wandering amazing temples and watching a cremation before heading back to Delhi.

8. India – I only swung by my second home…Delhi for a few days to stay with Jerin. We partied, got drunk, ate amazing food and visited the National Museum. Was fantastic to be back in Delhi after 4 long years, it hasn’t changed and I’ve missed it!

9. Seychelles – I spent a week roaming about 3 Seychellois islands experiencing The Seychelles from a different perspective. No luxury resorts or honeymooning here….local guest houses and self catering! I whiled away my week walking around firstly, La Digue, a small but stunning island with bikes as the only transport. Then I headed to Praslin which was slightly larger but just as stunning and finally Mahé. I did a load of walking, saw a lot of beaches and ate some wonderful local fish. Who needs resorts when you have the beauty of the islands to yourself.

10. South Africa – This was second time in SA…last time I spent 8 weeks travelling across SA from Nelspruit down to Durban and along the Garden Route to Cape Town. This time I headed directly to Cape Town and whiled away 2 weeks walking, shopping, eating and sunbathing. Went on a couple of wine tasting trips to Paarl, Franschoek and Stellenbosch, saw a duck parade twice, visited a town ship and found my Great Aunt’s sculpture in Stellenbosch. I absolutely love Cape Town and will continue to visit during the cold UK winters.

So there you have it, that’s a quarter of 40 for 40 done already! Amazing 3 months travelling to all those fantastic countries.

Now planning the remaining 30….some weekend city breaks coming up next whilst I work on replenishing my bank balance.

Stay tuned for updates on 40 for 40 and where it takes me next.

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