Timothy from Indonesia is undoubtedly a high flyer. Not only does he hold a doctorate and is a proud father but he has also been to more than 110 UN countries, aiming to eventually reach them all. A member of the TCC, he has an active Instagram presence with more than 200,000 followers and today he tells us a little about his travel adventures.
The Door to Hell, Darvaza, Turkmenistan
Timothy, please tell us something about yourself. Who are you, where do you come from, and how did you start travelling?
I was born in 1989, and I was raised in Jakarta, Indonesia. I then moved to the UK when I was seventeen, living in London, Oxford, and Cambridge. My passion other than travelling is research and after completing my PhD at Cambridge four years ago, I am now working full-time building a tech start-up company in the research and data industry.
As my mom is also an avid traveller and was a writer for NatGeo Indonesia, I started travelling with her from a very early age. My first trip was to Germany and the Netherlands when I was 9 months old and I subsequently celebrated my first birthday in Singapore. She gave me the travel bug and has visited around 120 countries so far, my goal is to be the first person to visit every country using an Indonesian passport.
I am now married and together with my wife, we have a beautiful baby daughter. My wife is Korean and we first met each other accidentally at Singapore Changi Airport while waiting for flights. We now spend our time between Seoul and Jakarta. At the moment my biggest challenge is balancing a full-time job, a family, and ticking off new countries from the bucket list. Nowadays I travel mostly on “express trips”: leaving to the airport directly from the office on Friday, getting my passport stamped in a new country, and flying back on Sunday evening so I could be back at work on Monday!
Arirang Mass Games, Pyongyang, North Korea, 2012
Tell us about not popular but valuable places to visit in your home country.
Indonesia is an archipelago of 17000 islands but most people only know Bali, so I would say there are 16999 more places that are worth going to! Although I have visited all the major islands and destinations in Indonesia, there are still many off-the-beaten-path destinations that I would love to explore.
Beyond Bali, I recommend visiting Tana Toraja and Raja Ampat. The former is a dark tourism hotspot. It is one of the only places in the world where dead people (oftentimes they have been dead for a long time!) are celebrated, given food, showered, and offered new clothing every year. In Tana Toraja, you can also see cemeteries built on cliffsides and infant burials inside coconut trees. On the other hand, the latter is a diver’s Mecca as well as a tropical paradise. For me, Pianemo is the highlight of Raja Ampat. It is a vantage point where you can see beautifully sculptured rock islands, long winding sandy beaches, and sparkling turquoise waters.
I love taking photos with signs of the place I am visiting
Could you share some travel stories with us, the ones that stay deep in your head and heart?
I am sure every traveller has a warehouse full of memorable stories! But let me share one particular story that stayed deep with me to this day. I visited North Korea in 2012 to watch a special Arirang Mass Games celebrating Kim Il Sung’s 100th Anniversary. As you might know, North Korea is a country of paradoxes and the trip was full of funny stories. In Pyongyang I stayed at a 5* hotel with a revolving restaurant at the top and the next day in Kaesong I was showering with shampoo on my hair when the hotel suddenly turned off all water and electricity at 8 PM sharp.
Also, my guide turned out to be the daughter of North Korea’s ex-ambassador for Indonesia and she pretended not to understand Bahasa Indonesia so she could spy on the things I was saying. Finally, while riding on the subway my minders actually removed everyone from the carriage so that I could not interact with the locals!
But the most memorable incident happened on August 17th, which happened to be Indonesian Independence Day. I was going down from my hotel room and when the lift door opened suddenly a small orchestra (which had been waiting specifically for me!) started playing our national anthem. The guide then gave me a bouquet of flowers and explained that Kim Il Sung was a dear friend of Indonesia’s first president Soekarno and highlighted the friendship between our two countries. I was bemused but since it was a special day anyway I started singing Indonesia Raya, with a North Korean orchestra, in a Pyongyang hotel lobby!
Happy village kids, outskirts of Dili, Timor-Leste
What is the most important thing for you when travelling?
Many people say that the journey is more important than the destination and I must say that I completely agree with this adage. Because I often travel on very short express trips, the journey becomes even more precious. I feel very happy and relaxed sitting 35000 feet above sea level looking at the pool of clouds outside or going on a day trip across dusty desert roads to get to the next destination. But of course, visiting new countries and getting a new stamp chopped on my passport is an added bonus and very important too!
2019: Pre-wedding photographs with my wife, Havana, Cuba
How did your general view of the world change with travelling?
This will sound like a cliché but the quote by St. Augustine “The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page” is absolutely spot on. Whether you realize it or not, every interaction you have during your travels will shape who you are as a person. Travelling made me more perceptive to different mindsets, cultures, and ways of life. I realized that it is not always the richest or most successful people who are happy. In fact, when you travel you will see that people living ordinary lives with nothing to worry about often live the happiest lives. This enabled me to be content with my life, smile because of simple pleasures, and be grateful for the opportunity to travel the world.
Eating like the locals do, Samarkand, Uzbekistan
Which places would you come back to and why?
Simple answer: Africa! I often visit new countries in groups and having recently visited Djibouti and Comoros, right now I’m in my Africa phase. Africa certainly has a charm different from any other continent. It might not be the most developed, the people might not be the friendliest, and the travel infrastructure definitely needs a lot of improvement, but for the seasoned traveller Africa is a challenging destination that always offers an adventure. Right now I’m actually planning trips to Somalia, Burundi, Mauritania, Namibia, and Mozambique.
Sleeping in a traditional Afar tent, Djibouti
How do you plan the upcoming route, what aspects do you take into consideration? Do you have a challenge route, especially difficult or dangerous, that you must complete for sure?
As an Indonesian passport holder, the number one factor to consider is visa application. Because of my relatively weak passport, I was forced to be creative and deviate from “normal” routes. For example, I often take cruises so I can enter a country without needing a visa. I did this for several countries in the Caribbean (e.g. Haiti) and the Pacific Islands (e.g. Vanuatu). I also have to resort to having visas from other countries to be eligible for visa exemptions (e.g. American visa to enter Panama and Schengen visa to enter Albania). I even applied to be part of the Formula E Race in Riyadh just so I can enter Saudi Arabia!
For the second question, my next challenge is to ride 460km on the Mauritanian Iron Ore Express from Choum to Nouadhibou. Stretching 2km long, the Iron Ore Express is the longest and heaviest train in the world. It is also arguably the most challenging train ride for any traveller since you must sit on top of ACTUAL iron ore for 24 hours straight under the Saharan Desert skies. This trip requires a lot of planning but I’m hoping to be able to complete it within the next year.
2021: Family holiday in Saipan, Northern Mariana Islands
Do you aim to visit all UN countries, and why? If not, do you have any ambitious travel goals?
Definitely! My goal is to be the first person to use an Indonesian passport to visit all UN countries.
Plastic (but real!) money in Transnistria
Finally, our signature question – if you could invite any 4 people to dinner, from any period in history, who would your guests be, and why?
This is a tricky question! But if I had the opportunity to host dinner for the following 4 people then it would certainly be one of the highlights of my life. To make the most of this opportunity I’m going to invite one traveller, a public figure, someone from my family, and last but not least an imaginary character.
Traveller – Zheng He
Zheng, He was the original old-school explorer and also one of the most influential travellers in history. His life story resonates with me because he led the Chinese Imperial Navy from China all the way to South East Asia. My ancestors too were originally from China before moving to Indonesia.
Public Figure – Queen Elizabeth II
This was a tough choice since there are so many public figures I would love to have dinner with, but I selected Queen Elizabeth II for two reasons. First, Queen Elizabeth II was the patron of my alma mater Queens’ College, University of Cambridge. Second, it would be an honour and privilege to dine with the longest-reigning AND most-travelled monarch in history. I’m not sure if many people know this, but in her 70 years of public service Queen Elizabeth II actually visited 110 countries!
Family – My Wife
For obvious reasons, and to avoid sleeping on the couch tonight, I will invite my wife to this special occasion. Since we first met we have travelled the world together and hopefully we will keep travelling for many more years to come!
Imaginary Character – Takumi Fujiwara
Takumi Fujiwara is the main protagonist of the Japanese Manga Initial D. My secret dream career, other than being a full-time traveller of course, is to be like Takumi: drifting down Mt Akina delivering tofu every 3 AM in a fully customized Toyota AE86.
Above the clouds with baby Luna, Tana Toraja, Indonesia