Visiting every country in Europe before the age of 30: the quest

Posted by on 26 Jan, 2015 in Travel philosophy, Blog | 53 comments

One thing I mention fairly often on the blog is my key travel quest (‘quest’ sounds so much cooler than ‘aim’) to visit every country in Europe before I turn 30 – on 9 May 2020.

However it occurred to me recently that I never really went into any detail about the thinking behind my aim quest and the parameters that come with it. So as a frame of reference, I want to explain it now.

 

First of all: why?

 

European political map - visiting every country in Europe

Why is a very good question. And possibly the hardest to answer – simply because I don’t really have an answer besides “why not?”

The idea came from my love of Europe and the realisation that there is nowhere in Europe I wouldn’t like to go. In all honesty, there are few countries in the world I actively would not go to, but I would probably pick most countries in Europe ahead of anywhere else.

But anyway, who doesn’t like a silly aim that starts with “Before I’m 30, I want to…”

 

What is ‘Europe’?

 

This is also a very good question. Europe has seemingly thousands of different definitions depending on who you talk to: some (mostly Americans, let’s be honest) consider political Europe to be the member nations of the EU; some (mostly Russians, let’s be honest) consider cultural Europe to exclude East Slavic nations; while some (mostly Brits, let’s be honest) consider geographic Europe to end at the entrance to the Channel Tunnel.

So who is right?

No-one. And every one, really.

Basically, no all-encompassing definition exists but in my opinion, the best is that of geographic Europe. This defines Europe’s borders with Asia as being the Ural Mountains and Ural River in the East, and the Caucasus Mountains in the South.

This means that Azerbaijan, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Russia and Turkey have territory in both Europe and Asia, while Cyprus and Armenia lie completely within in Asia (despite their political ties to Europe).

What are the borders of Europe?

 

So are you really going to visit Kazakhstan?

 

One day: yes, hopefully. But as part of this challenge? No.

Realising that quite a number of countries can claim to be at least partly European, I narrowed my criteria down to countries which have their capital on European soil. So that means Russia is in, but Azerbaijan, Georgia, Kazakhstan and Turkey are out.

“But what about dependent territories?” I hear you cry out. They are out, too (sorry Faroe Islands, Channel Islands, Isle of Man, Gibraltar and Åland).

And partially recognised territories? Kosovo is in, the other fringe post-Soviet microstates are not.

 

How have I done so far?

 

Where I've been

So now that I’ve defined where I’m not going, let’s talk about where I am going – and where I’ve been.

Albania Croatia Greece Lithuania Netherlands Serbia UK
Andorra Czech Republic Hungary Luxembourg Norway Slovakia Vatican City
Austria Denmark Iceland Macedonia Poland Slovenia Kosovo
Belarus Estonia Ireland Malta Portugal Spain
Belgium Finland Italy Moldova Romania Sweden
Bosnia & Herzegovina France Latvia Monaco Russia Switzerland
Bulgaria Germany Liechtenstein Montenegro San Marino Ukraine


Total:    45           Done:    26           To do:   19

In short, my quest to date (December 2015) is: 58% complete already. Hoorah!

 

Problem-solving: the downsides

 

As much as I love the idea of the quest, it does raise a few issues regarding travel and long-term plans.


Won’t this make travelling to any new countries after the age of 30 really expensive?

 

This was first raised by Virginia over at Well-Travelled Postcard and was something I hadn’t actually really considered before, but I suppose the unavoidable answer is yes.

However, there is some silver lining. Firstly, I hope that I will be earning more in my thirties and therefore should theoretically be able to afford more long-haul travels. Secondly, there will still be plenty of cities and regions to discover in countries I’ve already visited – this should keep me occupied past my 30th birthday.

Leipzig skyline

 

Don’t you want to travel outside of Europe?

 

The answer to this is of course, but Europe is still my primary focus.

However, I do recognise that the quest could lead to my travel experiences becoming slightly narrow – what’s the point of seeing the whole of one continent if I have little to compare it to? Therefore, I am hoping to take one trip a year to a destination not included in this list – whether that be Morocco (hopefully this year), Mexico (hopefully one day) or even Cyprus.

 

Don’t you want to return to some places instead of just seeing new ones?

 

Again – of course I do. This is something I have done a lot more in the last two years – particularly now I am living on the continent. I think it’s important to have a mix of new and old in travel plans, which is why I am planning on returning to both Amsterdam and Vienna this year.

My other quest of visiting each Eurovision-winning nation between winning and hosting the competition should also help me to revisit some places.

 

Once again: why?

 

Now that I have gone to the lengths of explaining my thinking, it’s possible it might be less clear than ever as to why I actually want to do this.

Admittedly, it seems like a lot of work and effort. But I really, really want to do it – and I want to be able to say that I’ve done it. The bottom line is Europe has a huge amount to offer and I want to see as much of it as possible – and sooner, rather than later.

Map of Europe - every country in Europe

So what do you think? Do you have any travel goals of your own?
Comment below!

53 Comments

  1. I’ve always had a hankering to do a European road trip, something like a modern day version of the old Victorian “grand tour”. There are many variations taking in the major cities of Europe but another possibility that appeals would be from Point Sagres (Portugal) in the extreme south west up to Tromsø (Norway) in the extreme north.

    As I get older and see driving as more of a chore than fun, another possibility would be travel by train, particularly for visiting cities. Maybe one day.

    PS We’re in Amsterdam from 28 Jan to 02 Feb. Look out for us.

    • I know what you mean – I’d love to drive the route of the Orient Express, or go from Berlin to Moscow. The great thing is you could completely pick and choose where you wanted to go.

      Ellen said you’re heading to Amsterdam – if you spot our little group, shout up!

  2. What a great post! I hope you will manage to visit them all! I also have pretty many left to visit in Europe. And I as well would like to visit all of them! Though since I am from Europe I am more interested in travelling in other continents.
    Good luck! :)

    • Thank you! I hope so too! I’m from Europe too (well, the UK) but I just find the history and diversity of Europe fascinating. I hope to travel to further places as I get a bit older though…

  3. I love a good travel quest! What I love about Europe is the huge diversity of different countries within a relatively small area. My quest is to try and visit at least 50 countries by the time I’m 40 – I’m on 39 so far and have about four years to go so should be do-able (there are 25 on your Europe list I’ve not seen yet so a bit Interail trip would do it!).

    • I feel exactly the same – I am interested by other continents, but for me, the sheer diversity of mix of cultures in Europe is enough to keep me travelling around for a lifetime. I’d love to do a big interrail trip of the remaining countries in my final months as a 29-year-old, but that’s a few years away yet.

      I think your target of 50 is far too easy – you’ll do that easily! 😉

      • Maybe I’ll have to make it 60! When I decided on it I was only on about 30 and it sounded a long way to go, though it’s going to get tougher as I’ve done a lot of the obvious ones and always end up doing a few repeats (can’t seem to stop going back to France and Italy).

        • The repeats are good though, I need to remember to make time for them too. Maybe 55?

  4. Oh, wow! Nice plan! I love it. I’m also focusing on Europe and share your idea of visiting every country in Europe, even before going out of the continent… You are welcome to Bulgaria and when you come, I will show you around!

    • Good to hear – thank you! I’m not sure if I’ll make it to Bulgaria this year but hopefully soon! How many countries in Europe do you have left?

  5. I wish you luck for your quest (projected for the time left and the countries already visited: should be easy ;)) and totally agree with “the sooner, the better”! And travelling is a good reason to spend all the money and nearly all the time. Europe has so many interesting spots, I don’t need much more either. This year I’ll have a little Andalusia trip: Granada-Cordoba-Sevilla-Cadiz-Vejer de la Frontera-Ronda-Málaga :) Viele Grüße, Bea

    • I hope so! I’m mostly worried about the small ones like San Marino, Monaco and Andorra – they aren’t really that convenient… Your trip sounds lovely, it will be a good mix of culture and sun – I’ve wanted to go to Seville for ages! Gute Reise :)

  6. You’ve been to so many countries! I’ve only traveled in Europe cause it’s cheaper for me, but lately I’ve been looking at other destinations as well. I’d love to say I’ll visit all the countries in Europe till I’m 30 but I don’t want to limit my options. So far I’ve been to Portugal two times and to Spain three times, I wouldn’t have done that if I just wanted to visit new countries :) .

    Hope you’ll make your goal and can’t wait to see you in Romania! 😀

    PS: I want to do a Balkans tour, hopefully next year. I’ll ask you for recommendations!

    • I’ve been to a lot of countries in Europe, but only three outside! I’m looking forward to Romania too :) I think June is looking most likely – does that still work for you?

  7. I’m European and a few of the countries you listed are clearly not considered being part of ‘Europe’. Azerbaijan lies completely in Asia, Georgia in the Middle East, Kazakhstan is Asia, Russia is as well. Ok, Turkey has territory in Europe (it’s not considered Europe though!).
    Romania is beautiful and extremely cheap, you might want to add it to your 2015 travel list? :)

    • Romania is already on my 2015 travel list! Hoping to get to Sibiu to visit a friend :)
      I know a lot of countries aren’t considered part of Europe, but technically, as the Caucasus mountains are the border, that means some of Georgia and Azerbaijan (around 2%) are European.
      Russia is definitely in European, though (geographically speaking at least) – it makes up 40% of the continent, so without it, Europe would be much smaller!

    • I do not know where from Europe you are but you are the first person I have ever encountered who thinks Georgia is in the Middle East. I am from Georgia and I am as European as anyone else from other European countries. Yes, the country lies between Europe and Asia geographically but no one calls it Asian state because culturally and politically it is European. Asia is Associated with countries like China, Japan, Korea or Central European countries which Georgia is not similar to. Georgia is similar to South and East European countries by its culture, people and nature. Middle East is not even an option for the question so check your facts.

      • I would definitely say that Georgia is European both culturally and politically, but geographically speaking, only a small part of the country sits on European landmass. But that doesn’t stop Georgia being excellent at Eurovision every year 😀

  8. Good luck with your quest – I reckon you’ll make it. I’ve never thought of Cyprus as anything other than a European country though with the euro, EU, full of Greeks, Mediterranean food etc. Now you’ve got me thinking that perhaps I had an Asian adventure when I went to Ayia Napa!

    • Haha, culturally, it definitely is European (especially Aia Napa!) but as a landmass, it’s connected to the Asian continent, not Europe. Still, I’ll probably still venture out that way anyway at some point.

  9. I love this idea! I’m currently living in France and hoping to just see as much of the world as possible. I’ve never been to Asia, other than Turkey and Israel (which sort of don’t count as “Asia” to me), so that’s high on my list!

    Chloe | Wanderlust in the Midwest

    • I know what you mean, I’ve been to Turkey too, but I wouldn’t necessarily call it an Asian experience (even though I guess *technically* it was…). I hope you are managing to make the most of your time in France with some shorter-haul trips though!

  10. That is some goal! Curious where you went in Poland (I am originally from Krakow). Good luck with the quest – sure a great continent to explore.

    • Hi Pola, thanks for your comment. I went to Gdansk back in 2012, but would love to go back to Poland later this year :)

  11. Wait? You’re not already 30?!

    • That’s right, I’m nowhere near as old as you!

  12. Wow, what a great quest. Good luck with it. Europe sounds like a great continent to do it. Little, diverse, easy to navigate….I’m sure you will have a great experience.

  13. Brilliant quest and idea. And then you can move onto the other continents too…So much to see in Europe though and so much variety. Fascinating.

  14. Fantastic idea – so much to see in Europe. Wonder what you will have loved best in the end….And then, when you’re older, go and do it on other continents too!

    • That’s the plan, haha! Thanks for your comment.

  15. Are you sure you don’t actually have two months left to conplete this mission? It’s like a revelation of the year! You’re not yet 30?! 😉

  16. The definition of Europe has always been a conundrum to me. Do I go by geographically, conventionally, or politically? Ah, oh well. Great quest! I hope you’re able to do it!

    • I know what you mean – it’s so open to interpretation. I knew when I wrote this, I needed to try and clearly define what Europe means to me.

  17. Wow, in fairness you’ve made a pretty good dent into the numbers already. It’s an amazing quest and one that will be so rewarding when you achieve it! Which I reckon you will… Just think from 30 you’ll have another 40 years plus for the rest of the world :)

  18. I love this on so many levels. I think this is ambitious but also doable. I love that you called this a QUEST (I love quests! so adventurous!) and not a Bucket List (which I hate as a concept, and decided I will write a mini-rant about it). And I also love love love Europe, that’s my prime travel destination. I’m now gonna go write a blog post about my travel goals :)
    PS – omg you are A BABY! so naturally I’m very jealous of how much you’ve got done, travel-wise, already!

    • Haha, thanks for your enthusiasm and support Anna! Look forward to reading your rant 😀

      • Rant published 😉

  19. I think this is awesome ! Iceland is wonderful, I’ve seen that you haven’t visited yet ! It’s a must !! I love that place so much :-)

    • Iceland is somewhere I’m becoming more and more interested in, actually. I think the big issue though is timing – go in Summer for the long days or winter to try and glimpse the Northern Lights? Or even in between, when hopefully prices are a bit lower?

      • We went in august, and we managed to see northern lights, for us it was a good compromise. I’ve been there during winter and during summer, and it’s two different experiences. difficult to chose. For a first time, maybe summer is the best option :-)

        • Northern Lights in August? Wow! Didn’t realise they were visible so late in the year!

          • It was in the middle of the westfjords, with no light pollution and the sky was very clear, the auroras very strong. So we saw them, but it was close to the end of the month :-)

  20. This is so awesome! I am ashamed to say that I’ve only been to 16 European countries; in fact, I hadn’t even been to France until I passed 30! I’m doing this in reverse of you 😉
    I have got a fine tally of Asian countries though, I’m working backwards!

    • Well you definitely have me on Asia. In fact I’ve only been to four countries OUTSIDE of Europe – a balance I’m hoping to try and rectify over the next few years with one further-afield trip per year. Fingers crossed, anyway!

  21. Cyprus is definitely part of Europe, they are basically a mini Greece. Also I think most of people would count Turkey as a part of Europe.

    And also I see Gibraltar and Färoe Islands to be different compared for example to Åland or Man. I see them more as their own thing rather than just a territory. These are just my views because I want to visit all countries in Europe too.

    • I wanted to add that these are just based on how I feel about whether they count for the challenge or not. I’m not trying to say that your challenge of visiting all countries in Europe would be worse than mine. Evryone can do it the way they feel it’s the best.

      • You’re definitely right Nikos – there are plenty of different definitions of what consitutes Europe, so you can sort of pick your favourite. For me, I try and stick to the geographic definition (which excludes Cyprus and most of Turkey) – mainly because most people would exclude Russia from Europe based on other grounds.

        How are you doing in your own quest, Nikos?

  22. Good luck with this! I have a similar goal to visit all the countries in Europe, and I’ve only got 3 left. I had a goal like yours to visit all 50 United States by the time I was 30, and I did it.

    Happy travels, and good luck!

    • Thanks Brad. Which three countries do you have left?

  23. I have 6 left to visit in Europe. So many great places, the Balkan region in particular has so many hidden gems that it demands several revisits…Lake Ohrid in Macedonia..WOW!

    • Which 6 do you have left Andy? I have only scratched the surface of the Balkans so far (Serbia, Bosnia, Croatia) but hoping to add Bulgaria, Kosovo and Macedonia next year!

      Any other tips for Macedonia?

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