I awoke from the deepest, darkest sleep on the softest pillow and found myself staring out the window of a hotel in disbelief as the last red rays of the sun drifted below the clouds. Wow, I thought, that’s the most beautiful sunset I ever saw. But it was far too early in my mind for the sun to be setting. Hang on a second, I thought- where am I?
In this list I give a short review of every country I’ve ever visited, in the order I visited, plus a favourite photo from each which I think captures the spirit of that country. Hopefully it gives you some ideas about places to go. Please note I have defined a visit in the most literal sense of the word. I have noted in the list below if it was months, just a few hours or a transit.
I was born and raised in Sydney, and I am aware that makes me a pretty fortunate human indeed. You might think given our convict heritage that there might be a fair few dickheads and indeed there are a few that need to be shackled(/prevented from breeding) but for the most part, people are friendly, well-travelled and well-educated. Almost everyone, even the bogans, enjoy a good quality of life and income, which means both that crime rates are low and tall-poppy syndrome is prevalent.
As for the continent itself, I might be somewhat biased but there are few better. An ancient landscape eroded by the sands of time houses the world’s best coastline and the best outback. If you are looking for variety in terrain Australia delivers it but you have to travel long distances to get it. There’s rainforest and even snow-capped mountains where you can ski, but only in certain locations. If you just want beaches, you have about a million to choose from. (I have not actually bothered counting…)
As for the wildlife, don’t believe the hype. The USA, Asia, and Africa all have more dangerous wildlife. Down here it’s just a few spiders and snakes. And jellyfish. And a few killer octopii. I have had a few unfortunate encounters but it’s really pretty rare.
First overseas trip ever at age 12. Later, I lived and worked in Portland for 18 months and did research in Delaware for 6 months. I’ve also been on an Alaskan cruise. If you are where you’ve been, then I’m approximately 8% American, based on time spent there. So I know a thing or two about America.
If you’re from outside the US, then you probably think all Americans are crazy, while if you’re American you traditionally think the rest of the world is. Of course, neither of these viewpoints are quite correct, even if there are enough crazy Americans to vote Trump into office.
In “18 Strange Observations About America (from an Australian Living in the USA)” I wrote that America’s strength is its diversity. America has the full spectrum of folks from left to right wing, progressive to conservative, rich to poor, black to white and every shade in between, radically religious to secular to atheist, and eminent scientists to the lowest of lowbrow hillbilly. In the end they all kind of counterbalance each other in some sort of near-anarchy.
My experience is they are honestly some of the friendliest, most polite people I’ve ever met. I’ve met a ton of weirdos but even most of those were friendly, as were the cops. You do need to be careful you don’t piss anybody off though, cos you’re liable to get shot rather than just punched. Sigh.
As for the country itself. Wow. Everything I just wrote about the people can equally be applied to the country itself. Every landscape from swamp to steppe to surf to supervolcano is at your disposal. They don’t call this place the New World for nuthin’! (Americans, that does not excuse you for never seeing the outside world…) In a nutshell, if you want culture head to the East Coast, if you want scenery or waves head to the West Coast, and if you want music and good times head to the South.
Only visited Tijuana once as a kid. I must rectify this situation one day. It’s probably an awesome place.
Probably the place I was least interested to travel to originally because its cultural appeal was as sodden as its weather. It turned out though that in having that attitude, I was an ignorant goose. England is now one of my favourites. Why?
Well, they have been at the centre of the globe for several centuries, which has been both a good and bad thing. Everyone but everyone speaks English now don’t they, what does that tell you? But one thing you could never fault England on is its wealth of history, culture, and old old stuff. It’s a good place to go if you like old old stuff. Oh, and they’ve had a few eminent individuals over the years too, people with names like Newton and Shakespeare and (yes, even) Mercury.
You might be surprised to know that England has some of the most dramatic landscapes known to mankind. Check out my roadtrip video if you don’t believe me. It’s all packed into a bite size chunk too, so it’s easy to see a whole lot of stuff.
England’s real let-down is its weather. It’s so drizzly that many of the inhabitants look as though they lack vitamin D. For every Katy Perry there’s 10 pasty buck-toothed men named Roger. These sad facts should not deter you though. Check out my guide to London if you’re thinking of heading there.
Ah France. A real mixed bag. I met friends there that I will never forget but will never see again, mostly not French though. But actually, even though everyone rags on the French, I kind of like the French. There’s something about them that’s kind of romantic and interesting, with a touch of darkness. They also have a diversity that I find very appealing.
I’m not really sold on France itself. Plenty of history yes, but the countryside is kinda take-it-or-leave-it. Both coasts are amazing though- the Atlantic for surfing and the Mediterranean for sunning and schmoozing.
The big exception to the above is Paris. Woody Allen’s “Midnight in Paris” sums it up perfectly. It’s the perfect blend of history and art and romance and sinister darkness. Check out my 20 Cool Things to Do in Paris and you’ll understand. It polarises people but I think Paris is one of the best cities in the world.
One of the earliest foreign countries I visited. In fact, I was in Belgium when I got my final highschool results.
I just love Belgium. It really is the best. The landscape is interesting for being utterly extreme in its nothingness. I’m not kidding. It’s so flat that it (probably?) inspired the stroepwafel, one of the world’s flattest cookies (and also delicious). It’s so low that they have to build massive structures to keep the ocean out. I love it. It’s both and engineer’s and a geographer’s dream. I think their highest mountain is like 100 m or something. Most countries have taller skyscrapers than that.
Belgium’s real drawcard is the cities. Brussels is just great, but they also have Bruges, and Antwerp, but topping them all is Ghent. You’ve probably never heard of it, but it really is the duck’s guts. Belgium’s cities will make you want to buy 20 postcards, because they’re all postcard perfect. Gables, rivers, ah I could reminisce.
Belgium also has the world’s best chocolate (equal first with Switzerland) and beer (sorry Germany, you’re a close second) and also French fries. (How did they lose the naming rights?) And waffles. Good god, how could I forget the waffles.
The population are pretty quirky. They all seem quite blonde and happy but it turns out they all hate each other and want to split the country into 3 pieces. The mad buggers, it’s the smallest country in the world already.
Most of what I wrote for Belgium also applies to the Netherlands. I love how boring the landscape is, because I love extremes. It’s flat as a tack. The engineering there is just amazing, the way they let the ocean in and out and regulate it to prevent their entire freaking country being flooded. I did one of my favourite roadtrips ever along the coast here. A real geek roadtrip.
Their cities are superlative. I mean really, can anybody nominate a cooler city than Amsterdam? It’s as beautiful as Venice and crazier than bats in a belfry (they have a few belfries too).
I’m not 100% sure about the Dutch. They’re cool and all. My perception is that the Dutch seem a little bit more German whereas the Belgiums seem a little bit more French. So decide whether you like Germans or French better, haha. (Oh man I have offended a few people here, yikes…) Apparently they are very fair about splitting bills 50/50. So depending on whether you’re a romantic or a modern type you’ll hate it or love it.
I’ve worked for two German companies, so over the years I have done a lot of visits to Germany (both west and east) and worked with a lot of Germans. So I have a few thoughts to share about Germany.
First of all, the landscape. Let’s be honest- nobody goes to Germany and talks about how amazing the countryside is. It’s not going to knock your socks off like Norway or New Zealand or something. A lot of it is flat, kinda bushy, scrubby, kinda swampy, really a bit nondescript. However, you’ll find areas that are really quite nice, like along the Elbe for example. The big exception is southern Germany, places like the Black Forest and the Bavarian Alps which are really stunning.
Germany’s cities in my opinion run from being totally boring to totally amazing. In terms of the amazing ones I would go for places like Dresden, Munich, Cologne. Germany has a bunch of tops little medieval towns like Bamberg or Freiburg. If you’re into the history of the Eastern bloc, I think a lot of the smaller towns in east germany are also kind of interesting because they haven’t had a ton of money spent on them yet.
But no city in Germany is as amazing as Berlin. Berlin is one of the best places in the world. Why? It is so packed with history, culture, amazing sights, and things to do. You’ll see things left over from World War 2, stuff left over from the Cold War. It’s gone through so many transitions in the past century and is now a gritty, edgy time capsule. It also has some of the most interesting people and some of the best nightlife and culture you will experience anywhere.
The German people get a bad rap because a lot of them are quite “square” or speise, reserved or easily stressed. Though it can be a bit hard at first to make German friends, I think they are some of the best once made. They have a sense of humour which is really kind of dry and ironic. I think most Aussies or Brits “get” German humour. And what other nation in the world would invent things like autobahns or Oktoberfest whilst keeping a straight face, and then prove to the rest of the world that actually, that’s the way to live?
Don’t even get me started on the language. It is the funniest language in the world.
I’ve been to Switzerland several times, but I have not really travelled extensively throughout. I’ve done a roadtrip through the Swiss Alps from France to Italy and done a bit of hiking and visited places like Davos and Jungfrau and Bern and Zurich and Geneva.
The two things that the Swiss obviously do well are scenery and engineering. The whole country is just glorious- from mountains to lakes to alpine meadows.
In terms of engineering, you have to check out the Swiss railways, which are just awesome. (They also give you a good look at the scenery!)
The Swiss also do the world’s best chocolate (equal first with Belgium). Try the Ovalmaltine chocolate, both milk and dark, it’s like a party in your mouth!
The Swiss really know how to build beautiful cities in beautiful locations. Check out Bern, Interlaken, or Geneva for example.
As for the people themselves, they’re kind of neutral, like their political policies. Another fairly reserved population that you have to work hard to know and understand.
Italy is an amazing place, with some of the world’s most exotic and historic cities. Places like Venice and Rome are just simply one-of-a-kind and unparalleled anywhere on Earth both in terms of beauty and history.
I’ve never failed to have fun in Italy. The people are warm, animated, extremely good looking and fashionably attired. The food is incredible and the parties go all night.
Italy is picturesque, from the northern lakes at the foothills of the Alps, to the Cinque Terra, to the Adriatic coast, to the wonders of Sicily and the islands.
The whole country has a certain craziness which gets more intense as you travel south, which may or may not appeal to your tastes. In the far south there’s a fair bit more crime and chaos.
11. Vatican City
I’ve been to Austria 3 times, all brief visits, so I’m not an expert on this country. I did break my wrist here snowboarding, and they did a much better job of fixing it than when I broke my other wrist skateboarding in Australia. So I can recommend the Austrian hospital system.
Vienna is another one of those incredible world cities. If you like classical music or opera this place is your paradise.
The Austrian Alps are wonderful. Some of the best skiing and snowboarding you will get anywhere. Oh, and they have good chocolate too.
Three visits. All of them completely crazy and resplendent with unexpected adventures (both good and bad).
Thailand is one of those countries that is kind of an assault on the senses. There’s incredible scenery, there’s incredible food, there’s incredible poverty. The sights will have you awestruck and the smells, whether delicious sizzling aromas, humid jungle air, or open sewage, will hit you full in the face.
The Thai people are among the friendliest you will meet anywhere. They always have a smile and they always want to guess where you are from (and they are usually right). Despite a few nasty stories that I’ve heard, personally I’ve never so much had a Thai person even try to rip me off 50 cents.
Thailand is cheap, good fun, exotic and exciting. It’s also ridiculously hot and humid, so drink heaps of water!
Two visits, travelled extensively.
Gosh. I love Norway. Coming from Australia, I was intrigued by this other-world of mountains and ice. It was pretty much my favourite travel destination in my early backpacking days.
I’ve been almost everywhere from the party South to the wild North, during both the cold dark winter and the glorious summer. The landscape is just eye-popping; it doesn’t get more spectacular than this. From fjords and glaciers to farmland to fjells to the freezing coast. It also has some very beautiful cities like Bergen and Art-Nouveau Alesund. Further north many of the cities were destroyed in the war and rebuilt in a more nondescript style.
I have some good friends in Norway and in my experience most Norwegians are very warm and friendly toward travellers. They are also some of the world’s best looking people and speak English better than most native English speakers.
Norway is great for roadtrips, nature, hiking, partying, amazing train journeys, you name it!
I have also travelled extensively in Sweden, mostly back in my early 20s. Many good times.
Compared to Norway, Sweden is not quite as spiky and rocky looking, but it’s still a beautiful landscape. However it has cities that are world-class. Stockholm is one of my favourite cities in the world and sits on a beautiful harbour and archipelago. Gothenburg is also a great city.
I think compared to somewhere like Norway or Finland, the Swedes are less about nature/hiking and more about parties and good times. They mostly seem to live in the bottom third of the country, where it’s warmer and they can enjoy their barbecues, beer and speedboats. Like the other Scandinavians, the Swedes are extremely good looking, but you don’t need me to tell you that- everyone knows that Swedish girls are world-class! Sweden is probably the best place in the world to celebrate midsummer. Trust me, you won’t be disappointed.
The north of Sweden is wild and beautiful, but I think I met more Australians and Germans up there than I did Swedes.
I’ve had four visits to Spain at various points in my life, including an epic roadtrip adventure from Malaga to Barcelona.
For me, Spain was something of an acquired taste. The first time I went, on one of my first backpacking trips, I wasn’t sure if I liked it or not. I thought it would be like Italy and it wasn’t really. I wasn’t used to the Latin thing and Spain was more of a culture shock than I expected. On subsequent visits, when this was no longer an issue, I liked Spain more and more and now I can really say that I LOVE Spain.
The exception to the above has been BARCELONA. I loved Barcelona the first time I set foot there and I have loved it every visit since. It’s one of my favourite cities anywhere- a mix of surrealist art and architecture, great food, great location on the Mediterranean and great nightlife. It is a paradise for both backpackers and art-lovers.
But Spain is very different depending on where you go. The south is a bit more chaotic, Catalonia has its own distinct flavour and the Basque country on the Atlantic coast is quite unique and has some great waves.
There always seems to something happening in Spain- even beyond midnight, you’ll find the streets filled with entire families from the elderly to children. But after lunch, people go on ciesta and the early afternoons are hot and quiet. This way of life seems unusual at first, but after a while it makes total sense. I could live like a Spaniard. Especially when you consider the delicious wine, olives, pizza and cured meats.
Most of the locals are pretty warm and friendly, though I’ve had a few hassles here and there in Spain, as well as a few unexpected adventures, so keep your wits about you.
The isolated abbey of Montserrat, Spain
I visited this small country in the Pyrenees between Spain and France for a couple days, travelling overland from Malaga in Spain to Rome on one of my first backpacking trips. Quiet and peaceful and quite spectacular.
I’ve been to Monaco twice but never for extended periods, and not since my early backpacking days. But quite honestly Monaco is probably better if you’ve got wads of cash, a nice car, maybe access to a boat…… then you’d have a great time.
Too many visits to count- maybe 10? 15? Stopovers, friends living there, work colleagues living there. Check out Lost Scientist’s definitive guide to the island city-state.
I really like Singapore- it has all shades of Asia in one compact city. If you want good, cheap Asian hawker food, you’ll find it everywhere. If you want to wine and dine and drink at the top of ritzy skyscrapers you can do that too. You can eat anything from Indian to Chinese to hamburgers and milkshakes and everything will be just as good as you’d get anywhere.
Singapore is beautiful. It’s kind of jungly, but it’s landscaped and looked after perfectly. At first I thought it was kind of sterile, but there’s still chaos to be found in Little India or Chinatown if you want it, and if you need a break from the chaos of the region then you’ll appreciate the order and wealth of Singapore. The skyline is modern and breathtaking.
The people are a mix of ethnicities, Chinese, Indian, Western expats and friendly locals.
Visited once, spent 10 days living on a boat and surfing. The Maldives is a chain of atolls in the Indian Ocean that you can barely even see on a world map, even though they stretch for quite a distance. Everything is on its own small island, whether its the airport or the capital city Male or tourist resorts. It’s a pretty pious Muslim country, and it has been designed so that if you are a visitor you are supposed to go pretty much straight from the airport to a resort island, and that’s what most people do.
Living on a boat was a pretty cool alternative in that it allowed us to visit Male, which is chaotic but interesting, but also some small islands where we saw kids at school and local houses. Everyone was really friendly. And if you like waves, Maldives has them in droves, and probably more suited to the intermediate surfer than somewhere more advanced like Indo or Hawaii. You can still get barrelled off your nut in Maldives though for sure.
Visited Copenhagen once and drank a lot of Danish beer. It’s a charming city, but I really need to spend more time there.
Having a Finnish ex-girlfriend meant several visits including living there for brief periods. And extensive travels, from Helsinki in the South to Inari in the North. Had my best Northern Lights experience here and also went dogsledding.
Finland is a seriously underrated country and particularly if you ask the Swedes or Norwegians, so don’t listen to them and go see for yourself. Helsinki is a terrific capital with a mix of Finnish, Swedish and Russian architecture and a thumping nightlife. The rest of the country covers quite a distance from south to north and varies quite a bit in culture with the Lappish north having quite a wild and frontier-like character.
The constant throughout Finland is the quiet wilderness and the lakes, which are everywhere. They almost seem to have more lake than dry and land, and if you look on a map you’ll see there’s a ton of them. In the summer the landscape is quiet and warm and peaceful, in the winter it’s quiet and frozen and a bit more treacherous.
The people are different to those in Sweden and Norway, they are more quiet and deep and brooding. It’s more of a place for introverts, which you may or may not like. They have one of the world’s highest suicide rates and things do get a bit rowdier when drinking is involved, but you won’t see much dancing. Some fighting maybe.
The girls in Finland possess a beauty different to that of the Swedes, and will damn near stop your heart, believe me!
Visited twice. Tallinn is a wonderful, beautiful, charming city and very interesting due to its modern history.
Estonia seems to be on a mission to dump communism as quickly as possible. They’re doing a lot of shopping in malls, eating a lot of hamburgers and partying a lot in glitzy superclubs. The girls wear a lot of makeup and are absolutely stunning (what is it about the Baltic that produces such beauty?) It’s a very cool place and you will have a good time there.
Visited once, threw coconuts around. I was supposed to be there for a couple of days longer, but my flight from LA had to turn back midair due to a cracked windscreen, and I spent an extra couple days in LAX instead.
I don’t know that much about French Polynesia, but it’s obviously one of those places that does “island paradise” by the bucketload, places like Moorea and Bora Bora that are just postcard-quality. It also has a bunch of good waves for the experienced surfer.
The official public transport is Le Truck, which is basically an open-topped truck on which you sit with a bunch of other commuters, banging on the roof when you want to stop and be let off. Riding le truck allowed me to meet some of the locals, who are really nice although they can be more conservative than you might expect. We did have some hassles in Papeete however, where there seems to be an abundance of shitty hostels and petty theft.
25. Cook Islands
Short transit while on my way home from Tahiti hungover and tired early morning, but wow! Imagine a stunning forested volcano with the runway on the beach and the breaking waves right next to you as you taxi to a terminal the size of your loungeroom. Need to go back and explore properly.
Visited once, loved it.
Worked with several Chinese companies, 4 visits, and stayed with a family in a regional area a few hours drive from Shanghai.
Fiancee is Brazilian. Four visits and will get married there in 2014! Rio is one of my favourite cities and has some great surfing.
30. Czech Republic
Visited Prague once for the weekend, incredible place.
31. New Zealand
One visit, roadtripped both islands with an ex. Plenty of amazing places but Queenstown is my favourite.
Been twice to Vancouver. Does that count?
33. South Korea
Visited 3 times for work, but South Koreans know how to party and there was plenty of that done as well.
34. New Caledonia
Visited once on a South Pacific cruise from Sydney.
Transited on way to/from Brazil.
Transited on way home from Brazil.
Visited twice and found the more traditional Arab areas fascinating. Check out my 10 Cool Things to Do in Dubai.
38. North Korea
Only visited North Korea by crossing to the the North side of the UN conference room in the Joint Security Area in Panmunjeom. Would love to visit properly some day.
Recently got my first taste of this amazing country, journeying overland from Kuala Lumpur to Singapore.
I would love to know if you have been to any of the above, what your favourite countries are, and where I should travel to next??