Hi, I’m Vinayak. Most of my friends call me Vin.
My earliest travel memory is silently watching a herd of elephants bathing in a watering hole at dusk. I was visiting my aunt and uncle in Zimbabwe at the age of 10. Most people sigh with despair as they anticipate plane journeys, especially if they consist of multiple long-haul flights. But aged 10, I was obsessed with the departure board at the airport, thinking of how exciting it was that you could step on a plane and go anywhere. Twenty years later, my passion for travel has remained. Spending a year as cabin crew travelling to destinations in all corners of the globe only made my appetite for travel grow even further.
Aside from being a coffee addict and chocolate fiend, I’ve always loved exploring; discovering the charm of a different time and region, finding those elements that make us far more similar than we imagine and breaking down preconceived notions of other people or places. So I’m setting off on an ‘A to Z journey’: visiting every country in the world, one at a time, mostly on my own.
I know there are varying (and debated) definitions for the total number of countries in the world. I’ve chosen to go with 197 as my starting goal. But in the end, the definition doesn’t matter – country or territory, I want to visit them all. For those that are curious, the 197 countries = 193 UN member states + 2 UN permanent observer states (Palestine, The Holy See) + 2 states that are recognised by a significant number of nations but for various reasons are not UN members (Kosovo, Taiwan).
My journeys more often that not have ended up with misadventures, unintended drama and a barrel of laughs along the way. Like when I got mugged in Buenos Aires on my way to Antarctica and was left with no cash, no passport, no wallet, no valuables. Or the time I had to hitch-hike across Djibouti at midnight in the back of a jeep with people involved in some nefarious cross-border transactions. Or when I first went camping in the Sahara and shivered all night only to find out what I thought was a pillow was actually a thermal sleeping bag. I often wonder how I manage to get myself into these situations, but I think I secretly enjoy the adrenaline rush.
I’ve given myself the deadline of trying to visit all 197 countries before Oct 2030. That’s by the time I complete 40 years on this planet. I know many things can change, and I might not be able to control what happens, but it’s nice to have dreams and think big. People have different ways of deciding what counts as visiting a country; my goal is to spend at least 3-4 days (ideally longer), talk to at least one person from that country (I love homestays), and aim to explore one place outside the capital (if not more). Personally, I’ve found this allows me to see, hear and feel much more. Right now I’ll be doing this while working in the UK, but who knows what the future holds. To start with, I’m hoping to finish all countries in Europe by Summer 2021.
Home for me is not a single place. Home is Chennai, India where I was born and where half of my family still live. Home is Colombo, Sri Lanka where I spent the first 17 years of my life and where my father and oldest friends still live. Home is also London, where I currently live. And my hope is that I will find some element of home in every place I visit.
Why bother documenting? In a world where real-time communication increasingly means people are moving to Instagram stories, Whatsapp or Snapchat to share their experiences, a part of me is a traditionalist at heart. It’s my way of having something to look back at, to relive those moments which I know I’ll always treasure. If any snippets become a small window for you to see a part of the world you’ve never experienced, or make you smile at my sheer lack of street-smarts, I’ll always be glad that I managed to brighten up your day.