Here’s how I traveled to 30 countries before 30 and how you can too! Get your step-by-step guide to conquering 30 countries by 30 challenge.
At the age of 29, I challenged myself to visit 30 countries before I turned 30. And I freaking did it (finishing one week before my birthday). So, I’m sharing the story of how I conquered 30 before 30 and how you can too – if you plan ahead and prioritize your goals.
Don’t worry if you are already older than 30 – that’s just an arbitrary number. Your goal can be whatever you want it to be! Whether it’s visiting all 50 US states or every town in your region.
This is my challenge to you – create a goal, target date, budget, and plan using the resources below.
30 countries before 30 – setting the goal
At the age of 29, I decided to do something extraordinary. I wanted to mark the end of a decade and start a new chapter with an achievement worth celebrating. Then while flipping through a magazine, I saw an article about the 30 countries by 30 challenge and became instantly obsessed!
I knew it would be particularly tough as I had less than a year and my current country count was only 16. Nevertheless, I decided to go after my travel dreams! To prepare for the challenge, I began researching the “rules” and choosing my 30 before 30 countries.
30 countries before 30 rules
There are no official rules for achieving 30 before 30. It should be pretty straightforward anyway, right? Just visit 30 countries before you reach your 30th birthday. But there are two points here that should be clarified when you are setting your goals, “what counts as visiting a country” and “what counts as a country”.
Country counting is a pretty highly debated topic, some people say that you need to spend a certain amount of time in that country before it can be counted. While others consider a layover in the airport being sufficient. My personal rule is that I spent a day there (outside of the airport). Although I would love to spend more time in every place I visit, it is not always possible.
The second point is a little trickier and even authoritative sources will give a different answer. For example, the United Nations recognizes 240 countries and territories, however, the United States only recognizes 196. For the sake of consistency and simplicity, I decided to use the list of countries in the Been app.
There is are no real 30 countries before 30 rules. And at the end of the day, your quest to is your own and you can make your own rules.
Planning to travel to 30 countries by 30
I put a plan in place to achieve my goal of visiting 30 countries before the deadline of 4 August (my 30th birthday!). The first step was cutting back on my expenses and putting money aside for travel.
I already planned to apply for a Canadian working holiday visa and move to Vancouver at the end of the year. So, I started the visa process in February. I decided that I would finish my current job in April, then take a few months in between to travel before moving to Vancouver in September (after my 30th birthday). Obviously, not everyone can or should quit their job in order to travel. Also, not all nationalities are eligible to apply for working holiday visa programs.
If it is possible, I would recommend living and working abroad. Some countries will even let you work whilst on a student visa. Not only is the experience culturally enriching, but it can also give you access to a totally different region of the world that is far away from your home country.
Strategically choosing 30 countries
When choosing what countries to visit for the 30 countries by 30 challenge, I decided to backpack to Southeast Asia, Europe, and Central America. If you also want to travel through Europe, it’s usually more economical to stick to the east. Fortunately, I was able to save money by staying with friends and using Couchsurfing.
By focusing on one region, you can cover more ground in a shorter amount of time. It could also be more cost-effective and environmentally friendly because reducing the number of international flights. However, if you have less time than money (or just can’t leave your job for too long) then search for nearby destinations that are still relatively affordable. I took quick trips to New Zealand and Bali (from Brisbane, QLD, Australia), as well as Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and the Caribbean (from Dallas, TX, U.S.A.).
30 countries in 5 trips
In the end, I managed to visit my 30th country just four days before my 30th birthday! The majority of the 30 countries I visited were within four months and on five separate trips.
- 32-day camping tour of Europe (June – July 2009)
- 1-month backpacking around South East Asia (January 2015)
- 1-week Caribbean cruise (May 2015)
- 5-week solo backpacking around Europe (June – July 2015)
- 1-week solo backpacking in Central America (July 2015).
30 countries before 30 list
Here is the list of my 30 before 30 countries, including the cities I stopped in. Some of these destinations I have visited on more than one occasion, however, I have included only the most recent or relevant visits.
June to July 2009 – Group tour of Europe
1. France: Paris, St Emilion, Arles, and Nice.
3. Austria: Vienna.
5. Switzerland: Jungfraujoch Mountain and Lucerne.
6. Netherlands: Amsterdam.
7. Indonesia: One week vacation with friends in May 2010 to Bali and Gili Trawangan.
8. United States of America: Lived in New York City, NY from September 2011 to September 2012, Wilmington, DE from October to December 2013, and Dallas, TX from May to September 2015.
9. Brazil: Lived in Sao Paulo from September 2012 to March 2013.
January 2015 – Backpacking South East Asia
11. Malaysia: Kuala Lumpur.
12. Cambodia: Siem Reap, Phnom Penh, and Sihanoukville.
13. Laos: Vientiane.
14. Singapore: Singapore.
15. New Zealand: Four-day road trip to Auckland, Rotorua, and Waitomo in March 2015.
May 2015 – Cruise of the Caribbean
16. Jamaica: Montego Bay.
17. Cayman Islands: Grand Cayman.
18. Mexico: Cozumel.
June to July 2015 – Backpacking in Europe
19. Scotland: Edinburgh and Glen Coe.
20. England: London, Salisbury, and Bath.
21. Belgium: Antwerp.
22. Germany: Cologne, Hamburg, and Berlin.
23. Poland: Warsaw.
24. Czech Republic: Prague.
25. Hungary: Budapest.
26. Slovenia: Ljubljana.
27. Italy: Udine and Venice.
28: Spain: Madrid.
July 2015 – Backpacking in Central America
29. Nicaragua: July 2015 – Granada and Managua.
30. Costa Rica: July 2015 – Liberia.
30 before 30 challenge
Now it’s over to you! I challenge you to come up with a goal and set a deadline to reach it. The number isn’t important, whether it’s 50 US States before 50, or taking your first solo trip by the end of the year.
Not everyone will have the same resources or dreams. But by using these resources, you can create a goal, target date, budget, and plan that will help you conquer your chosen challenge!
Originally published in 2016, updated in February 2018.
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