The Basic Plan

As I start this new blog, I’ve been to 153 countries. The UN has 193 members, so I’ve got 40 more countries to go. What’s left? A bunch of countries that are (1) remote, (2) not peaceful, or (3) slow to issue visas. I’ve never let (1) or (2) stop me. So, my challenge is to obtain visas for some of the countries I haven’t seen, such as:

  • Russia. I loved riding trains across Siberia in 2015, but don’t feel that I’ve really seen Russia until I’ve spent some time in Moscow.
  • Somaliland, the self-declared, autonomous and somewhat stable northwestern half of Somalia.
  • Eritrea, which broke away from Ethiopia after 30 years of armed conflict. Eritrea’s totalitarian one-party dictatorship, its state owned media, and its abysmal human rights record have earned Eritrea the moniker The North Korea of Africa.
  • Sudan has been afflicted by civil wars for more than 40 years, I’m not likely to see many tourists when I watch the Sufi trance dancing at sunset on the banks of the Nile.
  • Burundi has the lowest per capita GDP of any nation in the world and was ranked as the world’s least happy country by the World Happiness Report 2018. With political tensions and limited infrastructure, I probably won’t be able to travel outside the capital of Bujumbura.

I’ve already got my Russian and Eritrean visas. I managed my Russian visa through in San Francisco. I paid for expedited service, but it still took a month to get my passport back. For my Eritrean visa, I had to send my passport to the Eritrean embassy in Washington DC. The visa was issued within a week, thanks to lots of documentation, an earnest cover letter, and the support of Mr. Tekeste Asghedom of Asmara Grande, a tour company in Eritrea. Even with quick turnaround, I was without my passport for 3 weeks while my passport traveled to and from DC.

If you’re reading this travel blog, you may be wondering how I manage to keep traveling when my passport is sitting at an embassy or in transit for weeks at a time. The secret is to have two passports.

The U.S. State Department allows you to have two valid passports if you travel so much that you need one passport while the other passport is in an embassy awaiting a visa, or if your travel plans involve visiting a country that won’t let you enter if your passport shows entrance to a specific other country. I fall into both categories. So, I used to get a second passport. I paid $167 and received my original and second passport back in three weeks. Both passports have 51 pages. My original passport is valid for the standard 10 years. My second passport is good for 4 years.

Having two passports will save me time when I apply for visas for Somaliland, Sudan or Burundi. I’m hoping to get these three visas at their consulates in Addis Ababa. With two passports, I’ll be able to apply for visas for two different countries at the same time.

En route from Moscow to East Africa, I’ll stop off in Lebanon and Cyprus. Entry to these two countries is easy with visa-on-arrival. Here, I’ll check off two more countries I’ve never visited and say hello to friends I’ve met on previous travels..

As always, I’ll be posting photos and stories along the way. Feel free to share this travel blog with your friends and family. Send suggestions or questions by email or use my new comment section below.