Member Spotlight: Pirkko Schildt, Espoo, Finland

Pirkko and Lauri Schildt complete all TCC European countries with the addition of Transnistria in 2014.

We each have a moment where it all began, and for my husband Lauri and me, it was while we were on a packaged Christmas tour through South Africa and eSwatini (previously Swaziland) in 1998. In the same group we met a man traveling solo who at some point told us that he was on the trip because he wanted to visit Swaziland, which represented his 140th country.

When we got home, we were intrigued by this man, so Lauri and I started to count the number of countries we had visited. I came up with a number around 40 and it was slightly more for Lauri. The idea of collecting countries did not immediately stick because we spent most of our holidays sailing. But still, for winter vacation, we started to pay attention to countries not previously visited and added a country here and there.

As our number of countries grew, we looked at country and area lists and this is how we found the Travelers’ Century Club. At the same time, we found a local club we could join with a similar 100-country benchmark, the Global Explorers in Finland. They were also using the TCC list, and with many more European Islands listed as countries, getting to 100 was much easier — a new “country” was quite attainable on a short weekend trip.

We don’t have any children, so at the time, we would often take one of my nieces or my nephew with us on holidays. To some extent, you can imagine their frustration when they had to accept Dublin over London or Cape Verde over Canary Islands. We had our need to capture another country, and they were along for a free ride. But then again, a safari in Tanzania was probably not such a disappointment for a 14-year-old girl, right?

Pirkko overlooking the Illusat harbor in Greenland.

While working in finance, my work schedule restricted our ability to travel freely, and thus, company-approved time off limited our travel window. Time was clearly a precious commodity. As such, Lauri and I selected destinations depending on:

  1. How much time do we have?
  2. Which continent haven’t we been to for a while?
  3. Will the weather be nice enough?

We never truly thought much about it, but we really do complement each other in our travel decisions. Lauri focuses on the details once I propose the destination. For instance, Lauri did the research on the must-experience Devil’s Pool once we decided to visit Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe and Zambia. Similarly, I proposed a trip to Prince Edward Island for the TCC “check-mark” and for the L.M. Montgomery history (Anne of Green Gables), but then Lauri delved further into the trip details, listing the lighthouses on the island we must also see. So I am known to propose the “macro,” the destination, and then Lauri focuses on the “micro,” the details once we’ve firmed up a destination.

This tactic eventually propelled us to reach our 100th TCC country in Zimbabwe, followed by our 100th U.N. country a few years later with Cambodia (Lauri) and Brunei (me). But we changed our strategy. Conceding that we will probably not visit all UN countries or complete the TCC list. Lauri and I have redirected our energy to seek more meaningful travel—focusing less on the new country hurdle and electing to immerse ourselves in regions important to us.

North America has emerged as the real surprise for us. In addition to the United States and Canada, the states, provinces and other TCC areas in North America were truly interesting. Without the Travelers’ Century Club’s list we would have probably never considered visiting St. Pierre et Miquelon. It was such fun finding this small piece of France off the coast of Canada! Plus, the list has steered us to visit countries in Central America with one long trip starting in Panama and ending in Mexico.

Wherever we go, Lauri and I love it to be fun and interesting, but we do abide by “rules” which we have created together:

  1. The destination needs to be somewhat relaxed and comfortable. The Caribbean has been a refuge for us to explore during the harsh Finnish winters.
  2. We do not want t orely on a “fixer” to help us visit a country. Therefore, we have abandoned the idea of going to Syria, Iraq or Afghanistan for now.
  3. We are not interested in “visiting” a country by just crossing over the border just for the sake of getting a country. We would much rather wait to visit the historical cities of Damascus, Baghdad and Kabul. Also, see rule 2.
  4. We don’t want to visit countries experiencing civil wars and/or extreme poverty. It’s just not for us.

So what does this Finnish couple find interesting? Exploring sites has led us to prioritize the New Seven Wonders of the World. A couple of months before the pandemic broke out, we completed this dream with the addition of Chichén Itzá in Mexico. Who else has seen all seven wonders?

I’m so glad we saw these, but for me personally, the list of wonders in the world might look a bit different. Visiting Bhutan, Turkmenistan and even Saudi Arabia have made us realize that there still are places in this world which are completely different from everywhere else. Visiting the Serengeti National Park in Tanzania had always been a dream for my father, which I was able to fulfill much later with that lucky 14-year-old niece. And seeing mountain gorillas in Rwanda or elephant herds in the Chobe River in Botswana would also rank high on my list of wonders.

But the time during the pandemic has caused us to rethink the way we travel. For several years to come, it might not be possible or practical to take the tours that we once loved — those that cover several countries or long-distance trips. So maybe we’ll retreat to Europe, redoing parts of it and visiting gems we might have missed earlier. We do think about the decisions we need to make as seniors. Maybe we’ll never visit Pakistan and Bangladesh or explore further into Africa to see Mozambique, Malawi and the Okavango Delta — all were places on our “list” prior to the pandemic.

We count ourselves fortunate to have been able to travel so much before the world changed completely! We just tabulated what we have seen and we surprised ourselves by having visited a meaningful 140 U.N. countries and 199 TCC countries and territories — not bad for a couple who focused less on counting after we reached the 100 mark.

So the big question is, “Will it ever happen that we can complete some of our lists and fulfill our goals?” I don’t know. But we have so many wonderful places to choose from and memorable places to return to. What we can’t visit, we will read and listen to your stories through the Travelers’ Century Club.

Pirkko and Lauri Schildt in front of the fishing boats in Nouakschott, Mauritania.

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