Ric, your goal is to eventually visit all 193 countries in the world. What is it that drives you to do this?
In 2004, I did a 9 month trip around the world and covered a lot of ground. I returned back to my corporate life, but then got laid off in 2008. I decided to hit the road again for an 11 month trip. When planning my trip, I decided to check off new countries, crossing the globe, traveling west. I visited 23 countries that year, 20 of them being new. So in the back of my mind, I thought I could travel to every country in the world. Last year, I read Chasing 193, which got me refocused on completing this goal. I believe it would be a unique accomplishment. And I love the thought and idea of exploring the many corners of the globe.
What are the obstacles that you yourself have found in trying to achieve your goal?
The two challenges are time and money. Everything is a trade-off. There is a constant battle of maintaining traditional relationships with family and friends, yet wanting to visit distant lands for many months at a time. And of course, money comes into play. What is the best way to spend my money, invest for the future or pursue my goal of continual travel? Right now, travel is winning the battle.
What was one of the last countries you ‘conquered’ and what are your impressions of it?
I have done very little of Africa, so I am making an effort to visit some more of this magnificent continent. I just got back from Eritrea which was a really interesting and great trip. Obviously, untouched by tourism. Very genuine. I thought Asmara was a great town. Was able to ride the steam train which was a great experience. Went swimming in the Red Sea at Massawa. And another highlight included the “Grand Canyon” of Eritrea which include ancient rock paintings.
What makes your blog different from other travel blogs?
There are so many travel blogs out there. It gets more and more difficult to differentiate your blog. I typically don’t write on traditional destinations like Amsterdam or Paris, unless I have some really unique experience. So I attempt to share stories that a traditional traveler may not encounter. For instance, I have attended the amazing and crazy Sak Yant Festival outside of Bangkok. Or joining hundreds of thousands in avigil in Yerevan on April 24th honoring the 1.5 million victims of the Armenian genocide.
One of your special projects on your website is interviewing travellers who have achieved the goal of 193 countries. Is there anything the different people have in common and what has surprised you from your interviews with them?
I started a new podcast, Counting Countries. In this podcast, I am interviewing individuals who have been to all 193 countries, or are in the process of completing the goal. These individuals are such a unique subset of the world and have so many great stories to share. I have completed several interviews so far, and two things stand out. First, is there are many ways to skin a cat. So for example, thinking of Mike Spencer Bown; he took 20 years to complete his quest. He traveled slow and in a very minimalist style. On the opposite side of the spectrum is Gunnar Garfors who held a full time job while completing the goal on his vacations and long weekends. The second attribute, is the sacrifices these individuals have made. (Of course, there are many benefits!) To complete this goal, you are living a very non-traditional life. I am looking forward to speaking to many more people who have completed this goal. Feel free to reach out to me if you would like to be interviewed.
You also have a Facebook, a Twitter, and an Instagram account. What are the challenges of working with these social media as a travel blogger? How much time a day do you end up blogging?
Again with so many travel blogs out there, it is incumbent upon you to market your blog as best as possible. I write an article for my blog when I believe that I have a unique experience to share. On some weeks, there will be zero posts, but on another week there might be three. For instance, when I got back from Iran, Iraq, and Eritrea I had a lot of stories I wanted to share.
For FB, Twitter, and Instagram. I do a lot of scheduling to be consistent and to make my life easier. I schedule directly in Facebook, typically one post a day. On Twitter I use Buffer.com and schedule between 4-6 posts a day. And on Instagram, I use Grum.co. for one to two posts a day.
On any given week it might work 5 hours or maybe 30 hours. One of the biggest challenge in blogging and social media is the tasks are infinite. You could always be doing something more.
You are based in Thailand. What would you say are the pros and cons of being an expat there?
I have been based in Bangkok for about 6 months a year over the last 4 years. There are a bunch of pros that I can point to. The cost structure is very reasonable. Bangkok has all of the western amenities when I need them. There is also a very vibrant expat community including a lot of travelers. There is a lot to see and explore in Thailand; mountains up north, islands in the south. And it is a great hub to explore the region. Two things I do not enjoy is the traffic and the heat in the summer.
Do you have a timeline for completing your goal of 193 Countries? Which places do you believe will be the most difficult to get to?
That is a tough question. I have 92 countries left. So at ten new countries a year, I will be done in 9 years. Maybe, I can double that to about 20 countries a year and cut that in half. I have been to 8 new countries for the first half of 2016 and hoping to add on a couple more new ones this year. I have a lot to accomplish in Africa. I have only been to 7 countries out of 54.
Speaking to my peers, I know I have some challenging countries left. For visa challenges, I have Saudi Arabia and Angola. For countries with a security challenge, I have Afghanistan and Libya. I fortunately have already visited Syria and Yemen in 2009.
So where are you off to next?
The next one on the list is Turkmenistan, followed by Uzbekistan in October. I am sure both of these will prove to be highly interesting in their own way. And will make sure my blog reflects my impressions!
I understand you produced a travel documentary, right? Tell us more about it.
In 2012, I participated in the Rickshaw Challenge, a 2000 km road race across India, where the participants drive their own auto-rickshaw. My friend and I drove the rickshaw from Mumbai to Chennai. I brought a two person film crew with me, who followed our adventures as we raced across India. We created a full length documentary, Hit The Road: India which has been screened at film festivals, licensed by KLM and Virgin, and sold on iTunes.
A quirky final question we like to ask all our travellers. If you could invite 4 people from any period in human history to an imaginary dinner, who would they be and why?
My great-grandfather was an Armenian living in the Ottoman Empire. He was killed during the Armenian Genocide. It would be incredible to learn about his life in the late 19th and early 20th century, both from a historical standpoint as well as learning about my family.
I have been to the temples in Siem Reap three times and always am amazed by these majestic structures. At their height, nearly a million people lived in this area. I would love to have dinner with King Suryavarman II who built Angkor Wat.
I would like to sit down and break bread with Marco Polo and Ibn Battula, two incredible world travelers in the 14th century. The ultimate backpackers.
The photos in this article are from Ric’s personal collection.