The reason why I’m pursuing the mission to visit all 193 UN recognized countries is very personal to me. But in order to do that, we need to start with the story of my childhood and growing up in Canada.
Back in 1994, my father’s business in the Philippines was going downhill fast and it wouldn’t be long before he would be completely bankrupt. My mother decided to leave my father and take my sisters and myself to Canada to avoid the sinking ship. I never wanted to leave the Philippines because I was really close with my relatives there. And the whole idea of leaving Philippines to go to live in a foreign land made me feel very sad at the time. However, this turned out to be the best thing that ever happened in my life as I soon found out.
When I was growing up, my family was wealthy. My father was a self-made millionaire. He borrowed money from the bank when he was a teenager and started a business from scratch. Through hard work and a sharp mind for business, my father built a thriving textile empire from the ground up. For over 10 years , my family enjoyed a wealthy lifestyle. As early as three years old, I already had my own Mercedes, a nanny, a personal body guard, and my own driver.
Of course, I was too young to understand what was happening.
My home life; however, was not so glamorous. My mother and father never loved each other. They were in an arranged marriage because my father wasn’t allowed to marry his Filipina girlfriend. Philippines back then was quite racist and if you were Chinese like we were, you weren’t allowed to marry a Filipino. (Thankfully, that’s not the case anymore).
All my parents did was fight. My mother also hated my father’s side of the family and the feeling was of course, mutual. This eventually seeded the idea for my mom to leave the country and take my sisters and myself with her.
My father’s downfall
One of the things that mother hated about my father was the fact that he was overly generous. My mother would condescendingly call him Santa Clause because my father would freely give his money away to people.
During company parties, my dad wouldn’t give out crappy prizes that you’d normally get when you go to a corporate parties here in Canada. If you won a prize during his parties, you’d get a big screen TV or something of big value.
His employees loved him but my mother hated him for not being disciplined and saving up money.
Philippines was also a very corrupt country. At the time, the police began extorting money from my father. Because my father was throwing lavish parties, lacked discipline when it comes to saving money, paying corrupt police, and dealing with rising interest rates on his loans, it didn’t take long for my father’s wealth to quickly diminish.
Before long, my father was behind on his loan payments and the bank started knocking on his door.
Between 1992-1994, my mother began the process of immigrating to Canada. My mother’s older brother already lived in the Vancouver area and she wanted to follow him.
Despite not liking my mother, my father understood his dire situation and agreed for my family to immigrate to Canada.
He also took whatever money he had left and made a sizeable down payment for a house in Canada. This means my mother’s monthly mortgage payment would be very little and she can easily sustain the payments even if all she did was get a minimum wage job here in Canada.
Before long, we bid farewell to the Philippines and off to Canada we go.
A few years later, my parents got a divorce. It wasn’t until I was 24 when I saw my father again one last time.
Dealing with addiction
In my teenage years, I struggled with not knowing my life direction. My home life wasn’t exactly exciting nor was it positive. To avoid saying a lot of bad things about my mother, all I’ll say here is that my mother and I has never seen eye to eye.
To avoid the pain of real life, I turned to video games to keep myself happy.
However, that little escape from reality turned to a full on addiction. Video games became my drug. It numbed me from the pain of real life and brought me to a world full of adventure and excitement. It gave me a sense of purpose, even if it wasn’t real.
But in reality, my life was falling apart. In my late teens to my early 20s, I squandered my life. I did poorly in school and had to move to three different colleges because I kept failing. I was dateless because I never had any self-confidence to ask a girl out on a date. My health of course was also poor and I was overweight and would constantly get sick from lack of exercise and from eating unhealthy food.
But all this was about to change before my 24th birthday. My mother dropped the news on my sisters and myself that we would be going back to the Philippines to visit our father. He had just been diagnosed with stage 3 colon cancer.
My father’s final gift
When we arrived in the Philippines and finally met up with our father, it was a shocking reunion. My father was now living in poverty living in the slums of the Philippines.
He went from richest to poorest and he’s now at the end of his life.
He revealed to us many secrets he’s been keeping for many years like having multiple mistresses during his marriage with my mother and fathering multiple kids. And while hearing this definitely shocked me, I wasn’t surprised why he did it. They didn’t love each other after all.
But to me, the biggest lesson I learned from seeing him one last time was the look on his eyes. This was a man who didn’t want to go yet. He still had many things he wanted to do with his life and now he’s living on borrowed time. And here I was wasting it playing video games. Time is the only thing my father wanted at this time and he cannot have it.
Return back to Canada to get my life in order
Upon my return back to Canada, I went to work immediately. I finally finished a college diploma even if my grades weren’t high. I did it so that my dad would have the peace of mind that his son had a future. Also, I started working towards being certified as a fitness trainer. That way, I can learn how to avoid getting health issues like my father did and make a difference in people’s lives.
However, my life from here on out became really hard and everyday became a fight for survival.
Hard life and survival
Not long after my 28th birthday, I moved out from home. As you can see, I grew up weak and sheltered and had no clue how hard real life was.
Around this time period, I also started working for a commercial gym. The job was 100% commission based. This meant if I didn’t make a sale, I would have no money for rent and would get evicted. And even if I did make enough to pay rent, I still had to make sure that I made enough money so I can buy food.
Being put in a survival state toughened me up. After about two years in survival mode, I paid off my student loans and started my own fitness business. But that didn’t do very well. Before long, I lost all my revenues after a marketing campaign gone bad. I was back in debt again and entered a state of depression.
It wasn’t until I received this email from one of my favourite author that changed everything in my life. I knew from that period on, my life was never going to be the same again.
The travel bug
During the time period when I was struggling for survival, there was some moments that was positive. At that time period, I got a girlfriend who I’ve been dating now for the last seven years.
During that same time, my girlfriend and I started getting interested in travelling together. Of course, we didn’t have much money so we would take local trips for the most part. The furthest trip we ever took was taking an Allegiant Air flight from Bellingham to Las Vegas and exploring Zion National Park in Utah.
However, in late 2014 and early 2015, my girlfriend and myself had a rocky time in our relationship and even broke up a few times. Before we broke up in early 2015, I wanted us to go on a final hurrah. I had learned about travel hacking at this same time period. With this knowledge, I managed to scrounge up enough points to take myself and Karen to go to Harry Potterland.
We had a blast and more importantly, we got a chance to talk out some of the big problems we were having in our relationship. Even though we ended up breaking up briefly in January 2015, we got back not too long after.
The decision to visit all 193 UN recognized countries
I’ve never been the type of person who can do something that I absolutely hated. For me, it is very important to find an area that I’m passionate about before I can get on-board and commit myself to it fully. Unfortunately for me, during that time period, I lost my passion for the fitness industry after my business had fallen apart.
I was desperately looking for a new sense of purpose in my life. While browsing through one of my favourite author’s blog (ChrisGuillebeau.com), I saw that they were looking for people to be a guest audience members for their travel program. I entered a draw to be a guest audience member for his program called “Make Your Dream Trip a Reality”. For some reason, my gut feeling told me that I was going to get picked. And my gut feeling was right because after getting that fateful email, I was in Seattle at the CreativeLive studio learning about how to travel around the world.
In that very moment, my life would change forever. I sat there and vowed to myself that I would travel around the world for one year. Not only that, but I also made the decision at that very moment to visit all 193 UN recognized countries during my lifetime.
Getting to work to get ready for a big one year trip around the world
As soon as I returned back in Vancouver, I got to work immediately. I started the Travel and Live Free blog and also began running the Travel and Live Free Meetup group.
At the age of 31, I made the hard decision of moving back home for one year. This way, I don’t have to pay rent and I can clear my debt and build up some savings to travel for one year around the world.
I also ended up shutting down my fitness business and I got a job working for several community centres. I ended up getting a job with four different community centres in Richmond. Every week, I would work 40-60 hours to save up money for this big one year journey. Then, I began selling off as much of my belongings as possible. And finally, I built up my points and miles accounts so I can save money on flights.
My goal for my one year trip around the world
For my big one year trip around the world, I decided that I would spend half the time visiting as many countries as possible. The other half of the time, I would spend at least one month in a country and really live as a local. I would also spend my time visiting all 7 Wonders of Nature and all 7 New Wonders of the World.
This turned out to be a great decision as I soon learned many things about travel that I really loved.
Lessons learned from travelling around the world for one year
Here is what I learned during and after my one year of travel:
First, I absolutely loved the challenge of navigating from point A to point B. Finding a way to get from one country to the next and overcoming any obstacles along the way.
Second, I loved living as a local in smaller cities or towns. I loved doing what I would normally do here in Canada but in another country. From watching movies to going to the gym, those are some of the things I enjoyed while I was living abroad.
Fourth, I was surprised how much I enjoyed doing volunteer work abroad! I love interacting with locals and getting to know their language and culture. I got a chance to work in a hostel in Colombia and taught English in Poland. Those experiences stay with me to this day.
Fifth, I HATED doing lots of activities in one day. Nothing makes me more annoyed than having a detailed organized itinerary for every day of my trip. Just thinking of going down the check list of things to do and must for every travel destination makes me feel sick. God damn, I hate that so much.
Returning back home to Canada and reflecting back on my journey
Since returning back to Canada, I’ve been back at work now for the last two years. I work 40-60 hours per week between my day job and running the Travel and Live Free blog and meetup group.
As of writing this article, I’ve visited 88 countries in 6 continents around the world. My dream to travel to every single UN recognized countries in the world has not diminished one bit. I’m hoping by the end of 2020, I would have visited 100 countries.
I realized that my addiction to video games in my 20s was a result of not pursuing anything in life that I felt passionate about. And more importantly, I also spent many years of my life avoiding the painful memories from my childhood while living under a household devoid of loving parents.
I was a coward growing up, too scared to face my fears and the pain of life.
Thankfully, I don’t feel that way anymore.
For me, travelling to every single country in the world is an outlet to overcome my fears. To go to many countries with a lot of uncertainties and being okay with the outcome.
And while my life is definitely far from perfect and I have a lot of demons I’m still facing. I feel that I’m better equipped to face them now that I’ve had all these life experiences.
Will my life be empty after I’ve visited every single country in the world? No, most definitely not. Visiting all 193 UN recognized countries is just the first step for me. Afterwards, I want to dedicate my life to helping people who are directionless with their life and find their direction.
Conclusion to why I decided to visit all 193 UN recognized countries
There are many ways you can find your direction in life and face your fears and demons. You don’t need to travel to find it. However, travelling to a far away lands will certainly help with that process. Travel will help you find who you are and help you find your life direction. And most importantly, travel will teach you that you are stronger than you think and you can overcome many hard difficulties in life if you have the inner strength to persevere and find a solution.
You don’t need to visit all 193 UN recognized countries to reap the benefits of travel like what I’m doing. But it’s certainly important that you find your life mission.
In the famous book “The Alchemist”, the author talks about your “personal legend”. Basically, your personal legend is your mission that is unique to you. Many times in life, your subconscious will tell you what it is and for most people, they just ignore because of fear what their peers would think or perhaps because it might seem illogical and most likely, because they are scared.
For me, one of my “personal legend” is visiting all 193 UN recognized countries in the world. And even if it seems illogical to pursue this dream as many people have criticized me for pursuing it, I would be betraying myself if I quit and gave up. Many people will criticize you and tell you to be realistic and get back to “real life”. But from what I see, those people who are preaching that, have a shitty real life and if I follow their advice, I would also have a shitty life like they do.
So as always, I will carve my own path in life even if it’s the path that’s least travelled. And I hope you make the right decision for yourself as well to pursue your own personal legend.