Thursday, June 20, 2013

The Ultimate Itinerary;
How to Visit the 25 Least Visited Countries in One Go

You can technically use this boat to visit most of the 25 countries. I still let it remain in Kiribati. 

So, you have finally decided to sell your flat, your wheels and other precious posessions in order to be able to do what really matters? To travel. With the ultimate bucket list in hand, the world's 25 least visited countries. Well done, I am proud of you!


I have been to all 25 (and the remaining 173) but not in one go. The question is, how can it be done? There are an infinite number of answers to that question, but I will suggest what I see as the easiest and fastest route. But it is not the cheapest, as that would take much longer and involve a lot fewer airplanes. Do let me know if you are up for this trip, I may be convinced to join you as your guide, navigator or chef.

First, let me divide the countries geographically. Every inhabited continent except South America is represented.


Europe, 1 country: Liechtenstein
A surprising country on the list, to many. It is also one of only 6 countries in the world without an airport, so you will have to enter by road unless you are one of the people with initialized towels, an assistant butler and your own helicopter.

North America, 1 country: Dominica
Dominica is not equipped to let big jets land, although who minds small propeller planes? You do? Accessing it from a cruise ship is relatively straight forward, too.

Asia, 5 countries: East Timor, Bhutan, North Korea, Afghanistan, Turkmenistan
Let us just say that none of these countries have received much positive press lately. Maybe with the exception of Bhutan which has mandated happiness. That sounds all jolly nice, but it leaves a lot of people less than happy since no one likes to be told what to do, feel or think. Especially as the orders originally came from an absolute monarch. A great PR stunt, nevertheless.

Oceania, 7 countries: Tonga, Federated States of Micronesia, Solomon Islands, Marshall Islands, Kiribati, Tuvalu, Nauru
That is half the countries in Oceania. You know, the continent usually referred to as Australia.

Africa, 11 countries: Chad, Central African Republic, Djibouti, Sierra Leone, Libya, Guinea-Bissau, Mauritania, Comoros, Sao Tome and Principe, Equatorial Guinea, Somalia
In other words 20% of the African 55 countries. And they are spread out relatively well. Only two of them are landlocked.

The planning

You will only have to visit 5 of the 7 continents to do this trip of a lifetime. They are located in such a way that you can visit them as part of a round the world trip. Such trips are allegedly popular these days, but I am certain that you will be the first to do this particular circumnavigation of Earth. 

First of all, where you want to finish depends on where you live. Finish near home, i.e. not in Nauru. Not because it will necessarily save you time or money, but it increases the chances of getting friends and family members to join your party as it will be shorter for them to travel there. Yes, of course you need to throw a party! We are after all talking about the ultimate bucket list. I live in Oslo, so I should therefore finish in Liechtenstein or Dominica. Liechtenstein is much nearer, but the umbrella drinks on the beach are non-existant. Partly because it is one of only two double landlocked countries in the world. Uzbekistan is the other.

Not your typical round the world trip.

Second of all, I would take the most difficult countries rather early as such a long trip may eventually demotivate you. I also presume most people would find it more tempting to finish in fantastic island nations with divine beaches and diving possibilities, rather than in countries where weapons are plentiful, oil is cheap and Dictator is forever going to be the higest available position. Too bad it is never being advertised and that you actually need to know 'someone' to get it.

The itinerary

Let's get down to business. Or business class, rather. Could I only afford it.

The trip suggested below can take less than 3 months to complete, or as long as you want. I have suggested the fastest trips between each countries. Bonus countries are countries that you may or may not want to explore while you are there. Note that just passing through an airport does not count as exploring! Prices will vary, but book early and give the travel agent a little bit of time. This will most probably be their biggest itinerary challenge, or nightmare, to date.

1. Liechtenstein, Europe (22. least visited)
I suggest that you fly to Zurich, Switzerland - in my case from Oslo. It is the nearest well connected city to Liechtenstein. Then board a train that will take you almost there in a stretched hour. You will still need to catch a bus to Vaduz, the capital of Liechtenstein. I'd return to Zurich in the same manner.
Estimated fastest travel time: 7 hours (including Zurich-Vaduz return). 
Routing and carriers: OSL-ZUR (Swiss or Scandinavian), Zurich-Sargans (train), Sargans-Vaduz (bus). 
Bonus country: Switzerland. You can also easily visit Austria, Italy and Germany. 

2. Libya, Africa (15th least visited)
Flying from Zurich to Tripoli isn't all that difficult. At least not compared to what comes later. You will have to transfer somewhere, and your fastest option is via Frankfurt. Do not wear an "I miss Colonel Gaddafi T-shirt" upon entry in Tripoli.
Estimated fastest travel time: 5 hours (12 hours accumulated).
Routing and carriers: ZUR-FRA-TIP (Lufthansa). Flights every day.
Bonus country: Germany.


Clear speech in Tobruk, Libya. 

3. Mauritania, Africa (13th least visited)
Going by air from Tripoli to Nouakchott takes longer than it seems, due to bad connections. Before leaving Mauritania, you should head north to the ship graveyards for some spectacular beach photo opportunities. Do also hitch a ride with one of the longest trains in the world. For free. Unless you mind getting iron-ore on your clothes. Then again, if you can't live with a stain or two on your shirt, please stop reading immediately and buy a 1st class ticket to the Bahamas. Do not send me a postcard. This trip is not for you.
Estimated fastest travel time: 8 hours, shortest connection on Tuesdays, Thursdays, Fridays, Sundays (20 hours accumulated). 
Routing and carriers: TIP-TUN-NKC (Libyan Arab Airlines, Tunisair)
Bonus country: Tunisia. 

4. Guinea-Bissau, Africa (14th least visited)
The next leg depends on your preferences. You can fly via Dakar or go to the south of Mauritania in a knackered too-many-seater Peugeot. You will then cross the Senegal river into Senegal on a dugout canoe, walk 2 kilometers (the motorbike taxi drivers will otherwise rip you off) to the combined petrol and bus station and get into another Peugeot heading for Dakar, via Saint Louis. You will hate the French car after three such cramped journeys, but you cannot also help being a little impressed. How the hell can these cars still be on the road? Although "road" isn't always the correct term on transportation infrastructure between point A and B in Africa. Then fly from Dakar (1 hour), or continue by Peugeots (∞ hours).
Estimated fastest travel time: 3 hours (23 hours accumulated).
Routing and carriers: NKC-DKR-OXB (Senegal Airlines).
Bonus country: Senegal.

5. Sierra Leone, Africa (20th least visited)
Bissau does in fact have one of the worst connected airports I have been to. You will have to fly back to Dakar, and then above Bissau to get to Freetown. The overland option may look appealing since only Guinea lies in between, just remember that the roads are not up to the  standards you are used to. I'd still go overland as the scenery is fantastic. Of course, you should do all 25 countries, and many in between, without the use of airplanes, but your boss may make a fuss about your exteeeeeeeeeeeended holiday. Or did you really quit your job to do this? Your madness surpasses mine.
Estimated fastest travel time: 6 hours, shortest connection on Mondays only (29 hours accumulated). 
Routing and carriers: OXB-DKR-FNA (Senegal Airlines)
Bonus country: Guinea, if travelling overland. 

Your ride from the airport to Freetown. The boat is called Good Luck II. Reassuring. 


6. Chad, Africa (24th least visited)
A 10 hour ASKY job divided on four short flights will give you the least amount of hassle. You don't mind changing planes in Accra, Lome and Douala, do you now? Of course, all of those places are worth a visit so you may want to take a day or three off from take-offs and touch-downs.
Estimated fastest travel time: 10 hours, shortest connection on Wednesdays, Saturdays (39 hours accumulated).
Routing and carriers: FNA-ACC-LFW-DLA-NDJ (ASKY). 
Bonus countries: Ghana, Togo, Cameroon. 

7. Central African Republic, Africa (23. least visited)
The direct flight from N'Djamena to Bangui carries a lot of NGO people, but no UN eployees. They usually fly their own planes in that region of the world. I would also stay very far away from the food you will get onboard Toumaï Air Chad. You may not have understood why air sickness bags are onboard airplanes. You will if you neglect my advice.
Estimated fastest travel time: 2 hours, shortest connection not available daily (41 hours accumulated).
Routing and carriers: NDJ-BGF (Toumaï Air Chad).
Bonus countries: None. 

8. Equitorial Guinea, Africa (6th least visited)
ASKY will take you through THESKY to Malabo via Doaula in almost no time. Enough said.
Estimated fastest travel time: 5 hours, shortest connection available on Mondays, Fridays (46 hours accumulated).
Routing and carriers: BGF-DLA-SSG (ASKY). 
Bonus country: Cameroon. 

9. Sao Tome and Principe, Africa (8th least visited)
Ceiba International usually gets you to Sao Tome by means of propeller planes. Sounds scary? Do note that the airline is on EUs no fly list, although the aircrafts I used seemed quite modern. Then again, modern paint can work miracles and I am not a professional aircraft expert. Despite having spent my share of hours nearer heaven than most living people.
Estimated fastest travel time: 1 hour, shortest connection not available daily (47 hours accumulated).
Routing and carriers: SSG-TMS (Ceiba International). 
Bonus countries: None. 

My ride to Sao Tome.

10. Comoros, Africa (9th least visited)
Going from Sao Tome without wings isn't the easiest of tasks. Nor is flying to the other side of Africa from the island nation off the western coast of the continent. The best option is to fly to Libreville and then onwards via Addis Abeba and Dar es Salaam. Stopping over in at least one of the countries comes highly recommended, 14 hours in planes and airports does not. But it will get much worse should you decide to continue on the trip of a lifetime.
Estimated fastest travel time: 14 hours, shortest connection available on Mondays, Wednesdays (61 hours accumulated).
Routing and carriers: TMS-LBV-ADD-DAR-HAH (Ceiba International, Ethiopian Airlines, Precision Air)
Bonus countries: Gabon, Ethiopia, Tanzania. 

11. Djibouti, Africa (21st least visited)
Going from Moroni to Djibouti is surprisingly easy. Yemenia surprisingly has a direct route between the countries. I have flown the route the opposite direction, but it then stops in Sanaa, where is even free Wi-Fi in the airport.. Who would have guessed?
Estimated fastest travel time: 4 hours, shortest connection available on Thursdays, Saturdays (65 hours accumulated). 
Routing and carriers: HAH-JIB (Yemenia).
Bonus countries: None.

12. Somalia, Africa (2nd least visited)
You can easily drive to Somaliland in Northern Somalia from Djibouti in 20 minutes. Then just walk across the border and try find someone that is willing to give you a ride. Do expect to pay the driver in USD. The closest town is Saylac, but there isn't much there. The guesthouse in town is being used as accommodation by local politicians, so prepare for a night on the beach or, if you're lucky, in the mayor's house. Return the same way. Alternatively, fly to Mogadishu and back by Turkish Airlines' which covers each direction three times a week. The flight takes two hours and will let you explore the capital of Somalia as one of the very first touristst the last decade.
Estimated fastest travel time: 2 hours, including Djibouti-Saylac return (67 hours accumulated).
Routing and carriers: Djibouti-Saylac. By taxi and by thumb. 
Bonus countries: None. 

13. Afghanistan, Asia (10th least visited)
Fly Dubai will take you straight from Djibouti to Dubai which is half way to Afghanistan. The connections aren't great, but you can always enjoy the biggest terminal building in the world while waiting, or go downtown to find out what money can buy. Safi Airways or Fly Dubai will take you the remaining distance to Kabul.
Estimated fastest travel time: 14 hours, shortest connection available on Mondays, Thursdays, Sundays (81 hours accumulated). 
Routing and carriers: JIB-DXB-KBL (Fly Dubai, Safi Airways). 
Bonus countries: United Arab Emirates. 

14. Turkmenistan, Asia (7th least visited)
You do not want to go overland from Kabul to Turkmenistan. Full stop. Unless you don't mind paying for and can actually afford reputable and experienced hired guns. Iran Aseman Airlines will fly you to Mashad, Iran in a Boeing 727. Another 230 kilometers by taxi will see you in Turkmenistan. Just pick a taxi driver without an eye infection. We had to stop every 20 minutes to quench his eye thirst by eye drops.
Estimated fastest travel time: 6 hours, shortest connection available on Mondays, Wednesdays, Saturdays (87 hours accumulated).
Routing and carriers: KBL-MHD (Iran Aseman Airlines), Mashad-Turkmenistan border-Ashgabat (taxis).
Bonus countries: Iran. 


The world's biggest BBQ can be found in the Turkmenistan desert. 

15. Bhutan, Asia (17th least visited)
Don't expect it to be easy to book tickets from Turkmenistan Airlines. If you still manage, they will fly you to Delhi every weekend. From the Indian capital, Druk Air (which means Dragon Air in Bhutan) will carry you the last 3 hours or so to Paro, just outside Thimphu. Going overland is as always an option, and a great one if you have the time and are fascinated by incredible mountains. Let me just mention the Pamir plateau, the Karakoram and Kunlun Mountains. Oh, I almost forgot the Himalayas.
Estimated fastest travel time: 13 hours, shortest connection available on Saturdays, Sundays (100 hours accumulated). 
Routing and carriers: ASB-DEL-PBH (Turkmenistan Airlines, Druk Air)
Bonus countries: India. 

16. East Timor, Asia (18th least visited)
Flying out of Bhutan isn't all that easy. Only a few pilots are licensed to land at Paro, and that certainly limits the numbers of carriers. Druk Air will be happy to take you, but the national carrier has a limited schedule, especially eastwards.
Estimated fastest travel time: 20 hours, shortest connection available on Wednesdays only (120 hours accumulated).  
Routing and carriers PBH-SIN-DRW-DIL (plane: Druk Air, Jetstar, Airnorth Regional).
Bonus countries: Singapore, Australia. 

17. North Korea, Asia (16th least visited)
The direct flight between Dili and Pyongyang has still not been inaugurated due to lack of popular demand. Your fastest alternative is via Singapore before touching down in China. Your last leg starts in Beijing, and you can fly Air China or Air Koryo, the national North Korean airline. The latter is the most memorable, by far. To go by train is another option. It will slow you down, but I would still highly recommend to do it either to or from Pyongyang. You will then get to see big parts of a country seem by very few others. North Korea is your last Asian country on this trip.
Estimated fastest travel time: 25 hours, shortest connection available on Tuesdays, Thursdays (145 hours accumulated).  
Routing and carriers: DIL-SIN-PEK-FNJ (plane: Silkair, Air China). 
Bonus countries: Singapore, China. 


Just north of the South Korean border. 

18. Federated States of Micronesia, Oceania (12th least visited)
To get to Federated States of Micronesia by plane you will need to go through Guam, which is the nearest American territory to North Korea. And, yes Guam is quite a contrast to Pyongyang. Expect to have questions asked about your last passport stamp. From there, you'll get to go by United's "island hopper". You can see up to five islands belonging to three countries in one day. Your first stop after leaving Guam will be Chuuk, although you can also visit Pohnpei or Kosrae. A lot of the visitors to this part of the world are divers or surfers. If you decide to stop in Pohnpei, bring an umbrella. The island is one of the wettest places in the world with 7,600 millimeters annually.
Estimated fastest travel time: 23 hours, shortest connection available on Thursdays only (168 hours accumulated).
Routing and carriers: FNJ-PEK-PUS-GUM-TKK (plane: Air Koryo, Asiana, Korean Air, Untited). 
Bonus countries: Australia, Philippines, USA.

19. Marshall Islands, Oceania (5th least visited)
Welcome to the end of the world! Marshall Islands and the next three countries are all among the 5th least visited in the world! Going between the two first countries in Oceania can take as little as an hour, given that you go from Kosrae to Kwajalein. Just know that the latter has a strict visitor policy given that it is the home of an American military base. If you go from Chuuk to Majuro, the ride will take between 5 and 7 hours, depending on the route.
Estimated fastest travel time: 5 hours, shortest connection available on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays (173 hours accumulated).  
Routing and carriers: TKK-PNI-KWA-MAJ (United).
Bonus countries: None. 

20. Nauru, Oceania (the LEAST visited country)
Our Airline recently started connecting the "southern" countries of Oceania with the "northern" ones, as the only carrier. Enjoy! Your options were extreme detours via either Honolulu or Guam before chaning yet again. Our Airline is coincidentally the national airline of Nauru's 9,000 inhabitants and the only one with scheduled flights to Nauru. I flew by them from Solomon Islands to Nauru in 2010, but this route has been discontinued, so that specific country will have to be visited by another carrier later. The country is tiny, and you can even walk or jog around it in a couple of hours. How about running around a country for bragging rights? Definitely bucket list material.
Estimated fastest travel time: 2 hours, shortest connection available on Wednesdays, every other Wednesday via Kiribati (175 hours accumulated). 
Routing and carriers: MAJ-INU (plane: Our Airline).
Bonus countries: Possibly Kiribati.

This is approcimately 5% of Nauru.

21. Kiribati, Oceania (4th least visited) 
Welcome to Our Airline will have to do the job, yet again. This is, after all, the middle of nowhere, with regards to number of visitors. Endulge! You should plan this stretch particularly carefully as the route is operated only once every two weeks. And even 6 days in Nauru is quite a bit for such a small country.
Estimated fastest travel time: 1 hour, shortest connection available on every other Tuesday, only (174 hours accumulated).  
Routing and carriers: MAJ-TRW (Our Airline).
Bonus countries: None

22. Tuvalu, Oceania (3rd least visited)
To go to Tuvalu from Kiribati by plane without stopping over in Fiji is impossible. There are two flights a week to and from both countries, but none of them correspond in any way. Fiji Airways - Disconnecting people. You will in other words get a forced bonus country, so find a decent place to stay in Fiji and relax. Or go diving off the coast where you can feed shark. Without a cage. You will get to tiny Tuvalu eventually, unless the shark disagrees. The airport code of Funafuti, Tuvalu's only international airport, is FUN, by the way. Enjoy!
Estimated fastest travel time: 27 hours, shortest connection available on Sundays only (201 hours accumulated). 
Routing and carriers: TRW-NAN-SUV-FUN (Fiji Airways).
Bonus country: Fiji.

Young friends in Tuvalu. Excellent divers and swimmers!

23. Solomon Islands, Oceania 
Solomon Islands actually isn't too far from Tuvalu, but your fastest route involves Fiji, again. There cannot possibly be many worse connections in the world. You will have to stay overnight in Fiji. Twice. Before finally heading east. That makes this trip between two island nations, only 2000 kilometers apart, the longest "journey" between countries, although your stayover in Fiji should obviously be considered as relaxation time. When finally in downtown Honiara, do visit the thriving market by the harbour. It is only a short taxi trip  from the airport, and fresh seafood is virtually guaranteed.
Estimated fastest travel time: 45 hours, shortest connection available on Thursdays only (246 hours accumulated).
Routing and carriers: FUN-SUV-NAN-VLI-HIR (Air Pacific, Solomon Airlines).
Bonus country: Fiji, Vanuatu.

24. Tonga
All these seven countries in Oceania are island nations. In fact all countries in Oceania are, except for Australia. Of course, they should be explored by boat, but yet again it will take a lot longer and you need to find a vessel that is willing to take you on board. Or cut down some trees and make your own. Getting from Solomon Islands to Tonga shouldn't be too hard. But it is. You can go via Fiji if you would like another night or two there, or take the faster route via Australia and New Zealand. The main island of Tonga is tiny and can easily be explored by bike or scooter, but there are 175 other islands that may take your fancy .
Estimated fastest travel time: 18 hours, shortest connection available on Thursdays only (264 hours accumulated).
Routing and carriers: HIR-BNE-AKL-TBU (Solomon Airlines, Air New Zealand). 
Bonus countries: Australia, New Zealand. 

To Tonga or not to Tonga.

25. Dominica, North America (25th least visited)
To be fair, to finish off on yet another island after weeks or months in the Pacific may be overkill. Then again, you might have a party planned. And while Dominica certainly is an island, it is also very different to the Pacific ones.
Estimated fastest travel time: 39 hours, shortest connection available on Mondays, Tuesdays, Saturdays (264 hours accumulated).
Routing and carriers: TBU-NAN-LAX-FLL-SJU-DOM (Fiji Airways, Jet Blue, Seaborne Airlines).
Bonus countries: Fiji, USA. 

And back home
The 25 countries have been visited, and the trip is almost over. At least if you intend to complete the circumnavigation of Earth while you are at it.
Estimated fastest travel time: 20 hours (284 hours accumulated).
Routing and carriers: DOM-SXM-CUR-AMS-OSL (LIAT, KLM).
Bonus countries: Netherlands. 


Completion

How about that for a trip? 284 hours on the road, by air or in transit, at least 61 flights and a few bus and taxi rides to pop by the 25 least visited countries in the world?  It can all be done, while yet spending some time in each country, in approximately three months, shorter if you'd rather stay in planes than on the ground. Or you can obviously spend as long as you want. I would certainly recommend spending longer rather than shorter if you have the time for it. Are you up the ultimate itinerary? If you stop in all the bonus countries, you can easily tick off another 25 countries, totalling 50 or more than 1/4 of the world's countries. That will obviously take some extra time, but only cost marginally more in transport.

Do let me know if you are, if you find a better or smarter itinerary or if you have another candidate to the ultimate itinerary. I might even wanna join. I am very easy to ask when it comes to travels.



7 comments:

  1. Very useful! Thanks so much for sharing!

    Astrit

    ReplyDelete
  2. 284 hours equals approximately three months?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. To take advantage of the fastest travel times and to spend a little time in each country. You can of course do it faster if you prefer aeroplanes.

      Delete
  3. Very helpful info in this post, thanks! You are in again!

    ReplyDelete
  4. I highly recommend doing the island hopper in the westbound direction during the day time. Eastbound is in the middle of the night so you miss out on some of the pretty scenery.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Hi,

    Thats an interesting list!

    Will have to look at getting some of those into my next trip.

    Looks like there are some really interesting places to visit.

    Thanks, Rob.

    ReplyDelete
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