I love maps. I love to look at maps. Geography has always been my favorite subject in school when growing up in Taiwan. When my mother bought a 100-page world atlas in early 1980s, I could flip through the atlas book for hours, like an interesting novel. Some exotic and lengthy names caught my imagination: Buenos Aires, Rio de Janeiro, Addis Ababa, most of them I eventually visited later in my life.
However, I did not get to travel internationally until I was in my preteens. That was the time when Taiwan started to open up and allow its citizens to travel abroad purely for tourism purposes. My first overseas trip was also my mother’s first. As a college professor, she did have long summer vacations, but neither my father nor my older brother were available as travel companions. Our first trip was a group tour to South Korea and Japan. It was my first experience of traveling on an airplane. And in Seoul and Tokyo, I also had my first experience of taking underground metro systems (Taipei did not have one until the early 1990s). My mother enjoyed the trip so much, next summer we went on another group tour, this time to Hawaii and the west coast of the U.S. It was my first trip to the United States. I was very excited because, yes, I was going to Disneyland! My earliest American dream finally came true!
In the mid-1990s, I moved to the U.S. for university. At first I lived in Boston, and then moved to Baltimore and Washington, D.C. for my doctoral studies. Just like my mother, eventually I became a college professor, teaching in New York City and Philadelphia. The perk of teaching is that I do have summer and winter vacations. Attending conferences is also a good way to visit new places.Through the years, as a student first and then as a professor, I got to visit more than 60 countries.
However, only in autumn of 2005, when my contract was not renewed and I found myself between jobs, I decided to use the chance to travel more intensively. That was also the time I discovered the Travelers’ Century Club and its “Master List.” Since then, I have started to use the TCC Master List to count my “countries” and hoped soon I would be eligible to reach 100 for its membership. Finally in spring of 2007, after one and half years of intensive traveling with part-time teaching in between, I finally reached my 100th “country”: Zanzibar (which interestingly, is not really a country but a part of the Union of Tanzania). It was a part of a six-week overland camping tour from Cape Town to Nairobi. On our last night in Niugwi, Zanzibar, the whole group even threw me a surprise party with 99 balloons, each with the names of the first 99 TCC countries I had traveled to, and a bamboo leaf hat (which acted as a crown) with a big “100” sign to mark my “coronation” as a “centurion”!
In the middle of that trip, I developed a habit of drawing a map contour of the country I was visiting and put on its “number” based on my TCC destination count. Then, it became my ritual to take a picture in front of an iconic site of that country.
After the African overland trip, I went back to work full time and eventually moved to teach in the United Arab Emirates. Based in Abu Dhabi, I got to visit even more places, especially in the Middle East, South Asia, and Africa.
After leaving the job in Abu Dhabi, I have been fortunate to have jobs that I can work completely online. Thus, I have been able both to travel and work at the same time for the past eight years. Interestingly, I did not know the term “digital nomad” until last year. Indeed, now I have sort of become one!
Traveling has definitely enriched my life. Despite constant encounters with career crises, personal and relationship difficulties, visiting new places and meeting new people have distracted me from personal issues. Traveling makes me a happier person and always looking forward to the future.
Though I am capable of “roughing it up,” personally I still prefer comfortable accommodation and transportation. This did pose challenges when I started to travel to less developed countries, especially in Sub-Saharan Africa. Sanitary issues are also challenging in visiting less developed countries. Fortunately, after years of trying different street food in my travels, it has trained me with an “iron stomach.” However, I generally still detest malaria prophylactics and this does make traveling to some less developed tropical destinations more of an issue.
A very rewarding part of traveling of course, is meeting new people from different parts of the world.Through the years, many of the best friends are from my past travels, and they are of various racial/ethnic background and nationalities. Some friends I made in a student group tour to Australia and New Zealand back in 1991 are still in regular con- tact with me. Social media like Facebook also makes keeping contacts and sharing travel experiences much easier. However, after years of living and traveling in different parts of the world, I found my good friends spread all over the world. Even in my hometown, Taipei, where I have the largest number of my good friends, it possibly accounts for only less than 1/3 of them. That makes it challenging if I want to have a big party and invite all my friends to some once-in-a-lifetime event!
People often ask me which countries have been my biggest surprise or biggest disappointment? Well, I would say, since I usually do a lot of “homework” before my trips (well, as a professor, I get used to do a lot of research), there are few nasty and unpleasant surprises. However, there are indeed some pleasant surprises in many places I have visited. Iran and Rwanda come to mind. Despite some of negative news of tragic history about them, the friendliness of their people is impressive.
For my travel style, I would say I do not really have one fixed style of traveling. I do a lot of backpacking travel, but I also enjoy a luxury resort once in a while. I also enjoy cruising, mainly because I don’t need to worry about packing and unpacking every other day. Most of the TCC Caribbean destinations were visited by cruises through the years. Now I think I have become an expert and can give good advice on cruising!
While I travel mostly solo these days, I do travel with tour groups every now and then. I have done at least 10 different tours with G Adventures and Intrepid Travels (including my overland tours in Africa). While most of my friends love traveling, their schedules usually do not work out with mine (not everyone has a job they can carry with them on their trips). Thus, though I do hope to travel with friends, most of my trips in the past couple of years have turned out to be solo travel.
After becoming a TCC member for 10 years, I finally had an opportunity to come to a chapter gathering in December 2017. Meeting so many people who have been to as many places as myself (or many more) is an eye-opening experience. In October 2018, I was very happy to attend the group meeting in Barcelona and met many members I have read about. Thus, I do hope to attend the gathering whenever the schedule can work out — I just attended the TCC Mediterranean meeting in Bari in November 2019. Through the meetings, I got to meet more “hard-core” travelers. And, hopefully I will get to travel with them in the coming years!
In August 2019, a day after celebrating my birthday in Auckland, New Zealand, I flew to Niue. Since I flew across the International Date Line, symbolically I “turned back time” and celebrated my birthday again. Niue is also my 250th TCC destination (after the recount of newly added TCC destinations) and made me officially eligible to be a “platinum” member.
At this point, I still have 78 TCC destinations left unvisited, with 25 of them United Nation member countries. Among the 25 UN member destinations, 21 are in Africa and four in Asia. Though I do want and hope to complete “the Lists” (both UN and TCC), I do not think I am eager to rush to “see it all.” Many interesting countries are still not in good shape and many of their sites are off-limits (Yemen comes to mind). I also don’t like to deal with the visa application headache (This makes traveling to some African countries less desirable). However, in the long term, I do hope to “finish it off.” Hopefully, I will reach my 300th TCC destination in the next five years and maybe do it for a very special occasion ‐ like my “big birthday” trip or a honeymoon!