50 by 50:Reflections on Visiting 50 Countries

I visited all 50 U.S. states by the time I was 30, and I just returned from visiting 50 countries by age 50–nearly a full year ahead of schedule.

To celebrate, I’ve written a sentence about each country I’ve visited, in alpha order. This country list is a little wacky but it’s the official list from the Travelers’ Century Club (TCC), a group of people who have been to 100 countries. Yes, joining that club is a goal along with visiting all seven continents. I have two more to go: Antarctica and Australasia.

Alaska helicopter

  1. Alaska – One of the highlights of my traveling life was taking a helicopter from Juneau to a glacier and being surrounded by pure white and surprisingly turquoise blue (when I peered down crevasses); it was strong under foot yet there was rushing water way below: Ancient, glorious, majestic nature.Malachi Antigua
  2. Antigua –I rode a horse named Mufasa belonging to the lovely Rastafarian Sun Fire, on the beach with his 13-year-old nephew Malachi who shared his love for John Cena and his ambition to be tourism minister one day.
  3. Argentina –I grew up watching polo in Greenwich, CT, so in Buenos Aires I hired a driver and saw a match at La Dolfina, the grounds of top player Adolfo Cambiaso. Sound of Music tour postcard
  4. Austria—I am not at all ashamed to reveal that this big “Sound of Music” fan took the bus tour in Salzburg that took me to the von Trapp’s villa, Maria’s abbey, and the church where Maria married the captain.Bali rice field
  5. Bali – Did you know that Balinese people generally do not have last names and have one of four unisex first names? I didn’t either before I went there.
  6. Barbados – This last of my 50 countries was anticlimactic as the only thing I did was book a submarine sightseeing tour and I got claustrophobic and didn’t do it.
  7. Belgium – I’m a huge fan of Belgian artist Rene Magritte so I spent an entire day in Brussels studying his art.
  8. Bahamas—It was fun to see the Ocean Club, where I stayed, in a James Bond movie (“Casino Royale”) years later.
  9. Bermuda—The gentility of the island left an impression on me; that and the fact that we were expecting to wear shorts and go swimming at Christmastime when in reality it was sweater weather.dog sledding
  10. Canada—I’ve been lucky enough to travel a good bit in Canada but my heart first goes to Quebec City where I had a blast at the winter carnival, dogsledding, ice canoeing, and wandering around the fort.
  11. Cayman Islands—I love saying I’ve been to Hell and back. You can claim that, too, if you go to the Grand Cayman town (really just a post office and souvenir shop) named Hell.
  12. Chile—TCC lets you count places where you changed planes. I’ve only been to the airport here, en route to Buenos Aires.
  13. Costa Rica—I never knew there were so many shades of blue and green: What a spectacularly beautiful country.
  14. Czech Rep—Wandering around the sinuous narrow streets of Old Town, popping in here for a beer and there to admire the artisanry of glasswork was a most pleasurable way to spend an afternoon.
  15. Dominican Republic—I just went for a quick break at an all-inclusive resort so I didn’t get a feel for the country.Stasha and Sphinx
  16. Egypt in Africa—Everyone should be so fortunate to see the Sphinx and the pyramids, the Valley of the Kings, the towering rock reliefs of Abu Simbel. The impetus for this trip was the black tie party at the pyramids celebrating the turn of the millennium.
  17. Egypt in Asia—This is how the TCC refers to the Sinai Peninsula. As someone who never missed Sunday school as a kid, seeing the sunrise from the top of Mount Sinai at dawn was very moving.
  18. England—I often think back to my hour at Salisbury Cathedral, which was like entering John Constable’s painting: the epitome of the words “bucolic” and “tranquil.”Mt. St. Michel
  19. France—The thrill of seeing the Eiffel Tower for the first time cannot be underestimated, but I nearly shed tears of joy when I encountered Mount Saint Michel.
  20. Germany—The architecture of the Reichstag building fascinates me.
  21. Ghana—A South African Airways flight refueled here so according to the TCC I can count Accra, Ghana.
  22. Greece—Greece felt like home to me immediately: friendly people, food made with love, deep blue ocean, sea breezes, respect for culture, ancient history you can touch.Chichicostenango
  23. Guatemala—The vibrant colors and bustle of Chichicastenango on market day will stay with me forever.
  24. Hawaiian Islands—Kauai is magical: a lush canyon, secret beach hidden behind sugar cane, breathtaking mountains that leave you muddy and awed.Drinks Hong Kong
  25. Hong Kong—One of the best nights of my life was spent with a group of new friends at Felix atop the Peninsula Hotel and later roaming around Lan Kwai Fong.
  26. Hungary—The café culture is something I could get used to: I didn’t want to go back to the cookie-cutter commerciality of Starbucks.

    India wedding
    A special shout out to my traveling companions, especially Katie (seen in the South Africa photo) and my sister Carlotta, pictured with me above at the glorious wedding of her friend in Indore, India. We are standing under a canopy of hand strung marigolds.
  27. India—In the far reaches of Rajasthan on the border of the Thar Desert and Pakistan lies Jaisalmer, where within the walls of the 12th-century Golden Fort, several thousand people still live.Corfu moped
  28. Ionian Islands (Corfu)—Knowing the Greek alphabet was useful when I got lost on my moped and needed to follow signs.Windmill Lane street sign
  29. Ireland—This U2 fan has made her pilgrimages to Windmill Lane Studios, Slane Castle, and other places associated with the band.
  30. Italy—After many years of studying Latin it felt like a full circle to finally visit Rome, particularly the Colosseum. A wonderful discovery for me was the former home of John Keats at the Spanish Steps– a jewel of a museum for Romantic poetry geeks (and I’ve also visited his Hampstead Heath home).Roman Colosseum gladiators
  31. Jamaica—Like everyone else who’s visited, I walked through Dunn’s River Falls.
  32. Mexico—Tulum’s combination of history, architecture, culture, and a gorgeous oceanside setting atop a cliff happily surprised me.Monaco
  33. Monaco—I was 20, wandering around the palace, smelling the roses in Princess Grace’s garden, window shopping, sunbathing topless and swimming in view of some of the world’s most extravagant yachts.Morocco rugs
  34. Morocco—I rode a camel in the Sahara, broke bread with Bedouins, ate dates right from the trees, and marveled at the glory to God created by 6,000 artisans – Casablanca’s Hassan II Mosque, which can hold 25,000 worshippers.Museum card Amsterdam
  35. Netherlands—An art lover’s heaven, Amsterdam has many treasures but I was most touched by the soul seen in Rembrandt’s drawings and etchings at the Rembrandthuis.Portobello Panama
  36. Panama—In the little town of Portobello I met these playful boys in the photo here.
  37. Peru—I was born in Lima to American parents and spent only my first six months there; I will need to return one day and see Machu Picchu.
  38. Puerto Rico— I discovered I loved merengue when the lobby of my hotel (Marriott) in the late 1990s turned into a merengue dance party and I couldn’t stop smiling all night.
  39. Scotland—I spent a formative year of my life studying Scottish and English literature and Scottish ethnology at the hallowed University of Edinburgh and traveling to the tiny but fascinating Isle of Eigg, where some of my ancestors were from.
  40. Senegal–A South African Airways flight refueled here so according to the TCC I can count Dakar, Senegal.safari
  41. South Africa—Is there a more beautifully situated city than Cape Town and is there anything as lovely as seeing a mother elephant wash her baby so close to you that you get splashed?
  42. Spain—Gaudi’s architecture speaks to me with its undulating facades, sandcastle drip steeples, and pure ahead-of-his-time creative genius.
  43. St. Kitts—Five-year-old Dali was my playmate at the island’s Dolphin Discovery Center – a great experience until it came time to buy their photos priced at $35 each (we weren’t allowed to take our own photos).Pitons
  44. St. Lucia—Ahh, the Pitons. Enough said.Jungfrau
  45. Switzerland—From the lakeside, cobblestone charm of Lausanne to the awe-inspiring, sky-so-close-you-can-touch-it peak of the Jungfraujoch, Switzerland wraps you in beauty, beauty, beauty.
  46. Turkey in Asia (Anatolia)—I spent a long weekend in the port city of Antalya with friends, one a local, and remember feasts overlooking the Mediterranean and, on a day trip, feeling how unbelievable it was to be walking on Mount Olympos and seeing Hephaistos’ eternally burning fires. Istanbul mosque
  47. Turkey in Europe—I can spend hours in the Hagia Sophia, drinking in its tumultuous history and marveling at its mosaics and tilework. The mosque pictured above is the Ortakoy Mosque.
  48. U.S. (Continental)—When people ask me which is my favorite country, I always answer the U.S.: Its diversity of cultures, geology, ethnicities, and everything else, from sea to shining sea, is inspiring. What first comes to mind? The Tetons, Mesa Verde, White Sands, Chicago, New Orleans, New York City, Maine. I’ve been fortunate enough to have visited all 50 states.Twin Towers July 4 2000
  49. Vatican City—I was so glad to have had a private guide in this amazing place that overwhelms you with it grandeur, sanctity, art, and culture (and I was lucky to have just finished reading Angels and Demons, which goes into some detail about life inside the Vatican).
  50. Virgin Islands (U.S.) — St. John and St. Thomas the TCC counts together with St. Croix (where I haven’t been) as part of the USVI. The beaches on St. John like Trunk Bay are tourism poster worthy, no filter or Photoshop needed.
  51. Zambia—Arriving via motorboat to the Royal Livingstone Hotel, where zebras roam the grounds, then walking in the spray of Victoria Falls makes this the last on my list alphabetically but not in my personal ranking.
Annette and Josh Mills Colombia
I’m forever indebted to my father, the late Joshua Redmond Mills, for inspiring my curiosity about the world; my interest in art, music, dance, cuisine, and architecture; and my deep respect for people of all cultures, religions, ethnicities, and socioeconomic backgrounds. My father is pictured here with my mother, the late Annette Perillo Mills, on January 14, 1967 in the courtyard of an inn in Villa de Leyva, Colombia.

I now have the privilege of relaying my passion for travel and discovery, handed down many generations, to my own children. Judging from their faces in this photo taken on the balcony of cabin 8056 on this month’s sailing of Royal Caribbean’s Jewel of the Seas, I am betting the travel bug will continue creating curious, engaged, accepting global citizens in my bloodline for generations to come.  girls on the balcony

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