The Monthly Trip Challenge

Last year, I’ve travelled to 12 countries in one year. Visiting a different location every month. An unforgettable experience that I’d recommend to anyone who has the ambition to see and experience more of our beautiful planet. And the best part is that you can do this as well, on any budget and within any time frame. As you continue reading, I’ll tell about my trips, experiences and learnings. Get ready to be inspired for the challenge of a lifetime!

Are you up for an exciting year? 
Get ready for the challenge of a lifetime!

The Monthly Trip Challenge

I’ve been meaning to write this article for a long time but didn’t have the time to do so. As it turns out, I waited for a trip throughout Vietnam to write this, on a long night train ride from northern Hanoi to former Saigon in the south. But that’s a story for another time.

Nevertheless, it’s the reason why this story’s beginning is as early as 2012. I had just started my working life the year before and in my opinion, I wasn’t traveling enough anymore. Seeing too little of the world, both closeby and further away. Working kept me from traveling as vacation days were limited (of course) and I was still getting used to my new life’s rhythm. But in the end, most things in life are a decision of your own and this one is no different.

I’ve never been a big fan of New Year’s resolutions — thinking by myself: ‘Why would you? Have some discipline’ — but I made an exception for this one as it felt as something that I needed in order to solve this (first world) problem. That’s when I thought of something that I later started to refer to as the Monthly Trip Challenge.

Many positive responses convinced me to share it with you today. Let me explain what the MTC (yes, there’s an abbreviation) is all about. I had given myself the challenge to visit another country in each and every month of the year. The rules that I set for myself were pretty straight forward.

1. I had to visit one country every month (my home country — the Netherlands — not included)

2. It had to be a different country each month (so no doubles during the year)

Although I love living in Holland, the world has more to offer. Visiting many places in a short period of time enables you to see the differences and learn from them. It helps you to clear your head and put your life back home into perspective. Therefore, visiting twelve countries in one year felt like the right thing to do. To meet new people, explore other cultures and just to see more of the world. Although this may sound decadent, which it probably was, I tried to get most out of all trips while using minimal resources.

Amazing experiences from all over Europe and beyond

The advantage of being a Dutch citizen is that you can travel freely between most EU countries, making it easier and cheaper to travel closeby. The great thing about Europe is that, contrary to popular belief from outside of the continent, the countries are in fact very distinct from each other. In culture, local habits, language, and nature. Therefore, there’s a lot left to explore and it’s the reason that my list of visited places consists mostly of European destinations but also includes a more exotic location in Africa, see for yourself…

My travel map

January — Paris, France
February — Salzburg, Austria
March — Berlin, Germany
April — Prague, Czech Republic
May — Lisbon, Portugal
June — Cinque Terre, Italy
July — Uganda, Africa
August — Seville, Spain
September — Ardennes, Belgium

October — Oslo, Norway
November — London, UK
December — Dublin, Ireland

New adventures occurred on each of these trips. I drank amazing red wine on the bank of the river Seine in Paris with some of my best friends, learned to ski in the Austrian Alps, enjoyed the world’s best beer in Prague, drove a dangerously fast scooter on beautiful coastal roads in Italy, saw a real silver back gorilla in its natural habitat from within 10 meters in Bwindi (Uganda), learned to distinguish real tapas from the crap they’re serving tourists with newly made friends in Spain, saw my first rugby match ever (the World Cup semi-final actually) in London and was almost blown of a 100 meters high cliff near Dublin right after I learned how to pour a perfect pint of Guinness. And those are just the experiences that I’m willing to share with you. But let’s get back to where it all started…

7 learnings and tips to get you started

“…, 3, 2, 1, Happy new year!”. At that moment, we raised our glasses of champagne to celebrate the new year and it was officially January 1st of 2013. And I had not planned a single thing yet. So I began spreading the word. During the entire year, I wasn’t traveling alone, I tried to involve as many people as possible to join. I’ve started my twelve trips with as many as 33 people in total, without counting everyone that I’ve met during my visits.
I can imagine that you’re thinking about the complications for your busy life, as did I. Here are seven discoveries that I made during this year round challenge.

1. Sharing is caring
The first thing I did was share my idea and ask people for inspiration. I’ve received a lot of tips by simply asking around. In the meantime, people were actually volunteering to join one of my trips. Besides that it’s more fun to travel together, it’s also academically proven that if you tell people about any goals that you’ve set for yourself, the chance of you sticking to them increases tremendously.

2. Start smart
You don’t have to go to the other side of the globe to experience something new and exciting. You can choose your own playground and its size. I started small by visiting neighboring countries that I could easily go to, making it easier for me and my travel companions.

3. Choosing your budget
That brings me to the budget. There are trips for everybody and any budget. My resources aren’t unlimited. Although I made over 10 round trips by plane during 2013, I mixed in some road trips as well. Also, places to stay varied from premium hotels to campings to hostel dorm rooms. And Airbnb is your biggest friend on trips like these. Choose whatever you feel comfortable with and adjust your trip accordingly.

4. Use your time to the max
Same holds for your spare time. For example, if you’re still a student and have all the time in the world, I’d recommend to go as long as you possibly can. But if you’re full-time employed at a company with strict limits to your vacation days (as I was at the time), use your time off from work wisely. I tried to do as many trips as possible that included a weekend. If you do 3 to 5 day trips mostly, you’re only spending a few precious days a trip and you’ll definitely be able to hit the target.

5. Go in prepared
As most of your trips will probably be of the shorter kind, plan ahead. If you’ve more time, hitchhiking your way over there and backpacking without any preparation is probably a great and fun option. But doing mainly city trips with limited time requires some effort up front. Try to arrange your way over there, a place to stay and research the environment. If there are particular things that you’d like to do or see, maybe pre book those as well, or at least know what you’re getting into. You don’t want to lose precious time.

6. Plan for one big trip
Although short trips are great — you get to be out of your regular life for a short while and mentally reload for the month to come — one longer stay might be equally important. It’s helpful as you might not be able to get your mind of your busy existence back home within just a few days, making one trip of at least one or two weeks is essential. Additionally, short trips only allow for a certain distance as the travel time itself should be taken into account. I chose to travel through Uganda in Africa for a few weeks, which is a destination that I can highly recommend to anyone who wants a peek into real African life.

7. Think outside of the box
I’ve been visiting 12 countries, but I can imagine that if you’re reading this story from any larger country, such as the U.S., Australia, or Russia, that twelve different nations might be a bit too challenging in terms of budget and travel time. Therefore, try to think locally and start of with 12 cities, 12 states or provinces or maybe even 12 landmarks. Think outside of the box for this one and see what’s feasible for your budget and time frame. Moreover, if your responsibilities back home don’t allow for a trip in a certain month, never skip it but transfer it to the next month and try to squeeze in two.

Already excited? Why you should start today

Did I already mention that I’m not a big fan of good intentions to start of the new year? My best advice would be to start the Monthly Trip Challenge today. Why wait? Just start planning today and mark the first day of the upcoming month as your starting date. And if you finish early, you can always add a few more, just for fun.

I enjoyed the challenge so much that I’m actually planning on doing it again at some point. Maybe visiting some other parts of the countries that I’ve already visited, or adding new ones. Sweden, Poland, Denmark, Hungary, Turkey and Greece are definitely on my list for next time and that’s only for the first half. For this year I’ve planned out a few larger trips including one to Vietnam, the beautiful country that I’m currently exploring. And recently I’ve also started a new company — Weekly, The Innovation Startup — allowing me to work more flexible, from any location in the world. Which might be a nice challenge for next year — to work in a different place each month — but I believe somebody is already trying that this year.

Please share your travel plans and any Monthly Trip Challenge experiences with me. I can’t wait to hear your stories from all over the world.