Welcome to 2012. It's a new year, and a new year of travel options awaits many of us. Where will you go this year? Here's a tip: think ahead to next January. You'll be a year older and will likely have spent a large number of hours at work during 2011.
You work so you can pay the bills, of course, but don't you also hope to do something fun and meaningful when you're not on the clock? If so, think about where you'd like to go this year, then think about a way to make it happen.
As for me, I usually visit 20 or more countries every year, but in 2012 I'm adjusting downward. The past few months of travel have been fruitful, and I'm now down to less than 20 countries in my quest to visit everywhere. Here's the list of what remains: Sudan, Eritrea, Yemen, Nauru, Vanuatu, Solomon Islands, Kiribati, Tuvalu, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, Chad, Congo, Guinea Bissau, Sao Tome, Seychelles and Norway.
Starting with a trip to the South Pacific to pick up a couple of the islands, I have a rough plan to make it to most of these countries over the next 12 months, and I think there are just a few issues that may make it difficult.
Having applied three times without success, this has turned into the most difficult visa application I've ever done. On the third attempt, the embassy in Washington kept my main passport (fortunately, I have two) for nearly five weeks with no information. I've never actually been declined; they just don't approve it and tell me to keep waiting. But then the time comes when I actually need to travel, and I don't have a visa. Each time I have the service pull the passport because I need it back, I have to pay again, with no prediction of processing time or eventual acceptance. Tricky.
Turkmenistan and Tajikistan
My two final "stans" in Central Asia. Before I started travelling in the region, I was intimidated by it. I had heard stories of corruption and general unfriendliness, something that worried me since I don't speak any Russian, the common language there. I'm not sure about the corruption, but I was pleasantly surprised by the friendliness: after visiting Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, I'm no longer apprehensive about going to the final two. The only issue is my visas, which can sometimes be difficult and require a letter of invitation prior to making application.
There is no embassy in the US, Canada, the UK, or pretty much anywhere else. It appears you can only apply in Lisbon or Dakar, and there is no visa-on-arrival. I'm not sure what to do yet, but my first idea is to get someone in either of those cities to help me apply from a distance. Otherwise, I may just fly to Dakar and see if I can figure it out from the ground.
Like Eritrea, I've also had difficulty with a couple of false starts - agencies that promise to get me the visa, but then drop off the map weeks later. On the bright side, I made it to South Sudan, the world's newest country, on an easy flight up from Nairobi last month. The visa came from the country's brand-new embassy in Washington, DC, with just a seven-day processing period.
São Tomé and Principe
The visa for this small island country off the coast of central Africa looks easy; it's just a hard place to get to, with only weekly flights from Lisbon. There are also a couple of other regional flights (to Malabo, Doula, etc.) so I may try to go in one way and out the other.
Republic of Congo
There are two republics of Congo, the smaller one being the Republic of Congo and the larger and better-known one being the Democratic Republic of Congo, although the distinction was much simpler from 1971 to 1997 when the latter was known as the Republic of Zaire. I made it to the Democratic Republic of Congo on a visit to a gorilla reserve last year. Now I need to return to the other Congo, perhaps via Johannesburg or on the way back from São Tomé and Príncipe.
Who knew you needed a visa to go to Nauru, a tiny island in the middle of the Pacific ocean? I certainly didn't, but I discovered this fact when pitching up near midnight at the Brisbane airport with a ticket but no visa. I made it to three other islands on that trip, but unfortunately I wasn't able to board the plane to complete Nauru. I'm now regrouping and hope to visit later this month.
A couple of years ago, I looked ahead to this time with excitement but also a bit of concern. I couldn't really imagine having so few places left to visit, and kept expecting that more big problems would come up along the way. Fortunately, all's going well. By applying methodical thinking to each country (How can I get there? Is there anywhere else I can visit that's nearby?) I've continued to get closer to the goal.
Oh, and some of the places on the list are fairly difficult, but I'm deliberately saving Norway for the big finale in 2013. I hope to report live from Oslo when the time comes, but first, more than a dozen other countries await. See you on the road.
Chris Guillebeau, 33, is on a five-year mission to visit every country in the world. He is currently on number 175. Next week: adventure in Singapore.