Finland is the 50th country that we have visited in our travels. When we arrived in Helsinki, I thought it’d be an interesting exercise to choose one photo from each country and say something about it. So I sat down with the long and difficult task of going through the almost 40,000 photos that we’ve shot over the years.
The pictures I ended up selecting are not necessarily the most beautiful that we’ve shot and perhaps to most people will not even be the most meaningful. But, for us, they are some of the most interesting moments I remember from our travels over the past 5 years.
Ethiopia – While exploring the rock churches of Lalibela, we came across this monk who lives inside a cave next to the church. We went into his little home and although we couldn’t communicate with each other, he showed us his possessions, most of which, were religious items.
Wales – After dealing with bad weather in London (big surprise) we left for Wales. We walked almost 3 miles in the pouring rain to find our very comfortable loft apartment in Cardiff. The morning view was bright and beautiful and we knew we’d have a great time here!
Spain – We went on a road trip in Spain all the way from Barcelona to Sevilla. On the way, we stopped at Granada and visited the Alhambra, a famous Moorish fortress overlooking the city. Luckily, we caught the sunset over the white walls that make up Granada and I caught Zara looking out into the distance.
Mexico – Our time in Oaxaca, Mexico was short but sweet. A beautiful artsy city and the capital of the Oaxaca state. Walking around the hilly streets we spotted this amazing mural and I asked Zara to strike a pose!
Cuba – A blast into the past! Cuba is one of the most unique countries we’ve ever traveled to. Everything works quite differently! We were marveling at all the old cars and wonderful buildings while strolling around the streets of Havana. There was so much to look at, including this creature!
Costa Rica – Definitely the most beautiful airplane we’ve flown in. Nature Air in Costa Rica connects you to destinations inside national parks and far flung areas. You’ll take a scenic ride in one of these before landing on a runway made of mud or grass. Quite the adventure!
Brazil – We went to Brazil for the carnival. It was quite an adventure, we started in Sao Paulo, then went to Salvador da Bahia where we got mugged and lost our camera, and eventually ended up at Rio. This city is definitely one of the most beautiful cities in the world. The rocks rising out of the water and the lush forests all around somehow take you away from the everyday dangers that you face down on the streets.
Ecuador – This is still one of our favorite countries. It was a place that we ended up in out of sheer coincidence. We were supposed to fly from Brazil to Bolivia but due to a flight cancelation, ended up in Ecuador. A small country with an incredible amount of diversity, we spent over two months exploring this wonderland and even went island hopping to the Galapagos Islands. This is Zara, looking out over the Amazon.
Netherlands – If you couldn’t guess the country by looking at the picture above then you still need some practice! :) This picture was taken during a transit stop in Amsterdam. We were flying from Santiago de Chile to New Delhi, a very long journey. So we called KLM and broke it up in Amsterdam. Of course, we had to eat some cheese!
Cambodia – Although Angkor Wat was incredible what made it better was these guys. Lots and lots of monkeys are up to all sorts of no good within the grounds of Angkor Wat. So, while you’re hopping from temple to temple, you’ll be entertained by the antics of the local monkey populace.
Thailand – We’ve spent a lot of time in Thailand through the years. But celebrating the festival of Yi Peng in Chiang Mai was truly magical. There’s always something about the combined power of humanity that can elevate your soul.
Vietnam – We took an evening walk through the charming town of Hoi An. Colorful houses, great restaurants, and memories of a deep history through winding streets help this little town punch way over its category. Vietnam is one of those countries that we must go back to. On second thought, most of the countries we’ve been to are like that. I suppose we’ll just never be done with traveling.
Colombia – We took a trip to Colombia to get away from the winter in Chile. What a great idea! From Cartagena, to Medellin and eventually Bogota, Colombia delighted us all along the way. It was during the 2014 FIFA World Cup and every other day we’d see Colombian fans celebrating out on the street. This shot is from the little town of Guatape, a very picturesque little place with colorful walls and a huge rock just outside the city that you can climb.
Switzerland – During a quick stop in Zurich we explored the city and indulged in expensive coffee and breakfast pastries. It was early in the morning or at least looked like it. Zurich looks perfect, the city couldn’t have been better planned. Perfection of course, has a price.
Norway – Somehow during the winter of 2014 we decided to go and see the Northern Lights in the North of Norway. So we took a flight from Oslo to Tromso, a city above the arctic circle with 24 hours darkness, rented a car, drove out in the middle of the night and hunted for the northern lights at -35C (-31F). YES, IT WAS WORTH IT! This is one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen. Norway of course was an incredible country, it functioned perfectly, even under the cover of snow, and even without any daylight. Tromso has an eerie beauty in the winter and amongst the fjords, I’m sure it’s an incredible place in the summer too! We celebrated Christmas in the company of the northern lights but decided to head to Copenhagen for some December sunshine! That just proves how everything in the world is relative!
Denmark – Copenhagen is apparently one of the best cities in the world for biking. We didn’t try any of that since we were there during the end of December and the thought didn’t seem enjoyable to us. Walking around in this frozen cemetery had its own charm and we noticed that people really use it for recreation. There were many people running around and exercising. I thought this was a great use of public space in the city. We should all run in cemeteries! Of course, this lady with her red scarf and her bicycle caught my eye.
Argentina – It’s difficult to narrow down a country as big as Argentina into one photo. We drove over 5000 kilometers through Patagonia in early 2015. We passed incredible glaciers, vast expanses of arid nothingness, enormous glacial lakes, and some small settlements. One of the ways I would describe Patagonia is that it’s vast, uninhabited, and empty. I think the Guanaco in this picture feels the same way.
Taiwan – When people think of Taiwan they normally picture industries or big buildings. So I wanted to show the other side of Taiwan. This country is incredibly green by any measure! Most of the population of the country lives on the west coast and the eastern coast of this potato shaped island is dominated by national parks. I took this photo on the highspeed train from Taipei to Tainan.
Turkey – This should be easy to guess. Istanbul, one of my favorite cities in the world. There are times when a place makes a huge impact on your soul. Istanbul is one of those cities. You can feel it living and breathing when you are there. This is another city that never sleeps, and hasn’t, for thousands of years.
Germany – We haven’t been to many parts of Germany but we’ve been to Berlin several times already. This weird and wonderful capital city has quite a dark side to it. Several years under soviet occupation and an eventual return to capitalism have given this city a quirky and sometimes disturbing vibe. I’m not sure what to think of this cute teddy bear family advertising a leather and toys shop, it’s obviously meant to be something naughty!
Poland – On a bright sunny day in Berlin, we decided to rent a car and drive to Poland. It was time to eat some Pierogi. We spent most of the day driving and this shot represents that. This was just after we entered Poland and everything looked so peaceful and beautiful. It felt truly good to arrive!
The Vatican – When in Rome you don’t not go to the Vatican. So we went, and we enjoyed the Sistine Chapel and watching the hordes of people who truly felt blessed to be there.
Italy – We did a November road trip in Italy in 2015. The weather was fantastic, there were barely any crowds around and the Amalfi coast looked positively spectacular! Quaint little towns hugging the cliffs along the sea, bright blue skies and oh so delicious food! We’re still working off the calories!
Jordan – This country surprised us with the nicest people we have ever met. We finally made it to Petra and of course, even the cats in Jordan are loving.
Puerto Rico – This was the beach next to our apartment in Isla Verde, Puerto Rico. We had many adventures on this beautiful little piece of paradise including finding delicious food in forgotten towns, getting lost and ending up at hidden beaches, and eating octopus empanadas!
Guatemala – A month in Antigua, Guatemala went by flying. I spent my days learning Spanish while Zara was volunteering at a shelter for disabled kids. At other times we enjoyed some of the world’s best coffee with some of the world’s best volcano views.
Canada – I just had to include a picture from the Sikh community in Canada. This was definitely the most tolerant and multicultural western country we have ever been to. Driving around Brampton in Ontario felt like we were in a more modern Punjab. In other places, we encountered wonderful fusion dishes embraced even by major chains, butter chicken subway sandwich anyone? Now we understand why many Canadians have previously told us “You’re the perfect Canadian couple”.
Finland – A short boatride out of ultramodern Helsinki brings you to the medieval fortress Suomenlinna. We spent a day getting lost inside the walls of the fortress. Finland surprised us even though it was our 50th country! Helsinki is a great city and offers an immense quality of life. There’s a forest right inside the city that you can hike all over! The northern summer isn’t the greatest, but Helsinki makes up for this with cute cafes, incredible greenery all over the city, friendly people, and a welcoming vibe.
England – I had high expectations from England. But since it was our first stop when we set off on our initial one year adventure, we were super budget conscious. London on a budget? Not fun.
UAE – We used to live in Dubai. The thought feels quite surreal now. This picture captures a side of the UAE not many people are familiar with. The Hajar mountains rising up from the desert floor make for some impressive valleys and trails. Definitely a part of the UAE seldom advertised.
Singapore – This is a very special photo. It used to be the header image of our blog when we started it in 2011. Yes, folks. Backpack ME’s original “logo” if you can call it that. We also had a great time in Singapore and I made $400 in the casino! I forget all the times I lose money, it’s healthy to keep it that way!
Peru – These are the ancient ruins of Pisac. We stayed in a nearby town to acclimatise before heading up to Cusco. When people think of Peru they invariably think of Machu Picchu. But there are thousands of other incredible settlements all over the Andes in this region. Peru will always hold a special place in our hearts, not only because we almost didn’t make it there (visa troubles for me), but also because we got engaged at Machu Picchu.
Oman – A road trip in Oman in 2011 went downhill fast when we had a tire blowout in the middle of nowhere in the dead of the night. After getting the car towed and spending the night in a cockroach infested 1-star motel we managed to set off again. We took this picture in the middle of the barren lifeless desert on the way to Salalah.
Indonesia – Indonesia is a country we must go back to. We’ve explored 3 of its 17,000+ islands. We went there for just a short while and need to make our way back there for a longer stint sometime soon.
Bolivia – It was world kiss day or something, apparently that’s a thing! We were staying in a salt hotel in the salt flats of Uyuni, Bolivia. Just white salty earth as far as the eye can see. There was a beautiful sunset, so we decided to celebrate!
Malaysia – When a country is already full of great food, it makes things much harder if your keychain is constantly reminding you of something delicious. We saw these when we went to Malacca on a day trip from KL.
Czech Republic – We ended up in the Czech Republic out of sheer chance. The plan was to take a bus from Paris to Brussels and explore Belgium. We went out with friends on a trip to Etretat the previous day and our train back to Paris was delayed. We never woke up to take our early morning bus and so it was decided that we must fly out with the cheapest air ticket we could find in Paris! Destination: Ostrava, Czech Republic. Ostrava is a industrial town that we had never heard of up until that moment. It sits in the eastern half of the Czech Republic right by the border with Poland. From there we headed to Brno, and started a road trip through this beautiful country.
Macao – If I saw this picture, I’d guess Lisbon. The city center of Macao looks incredibly Portuguese. On our trip there we did go to the casino but I don’t remember what happened.
Chile – I’ve written about how I believe that Chile is the most beautiful country in the world. Naturally, it was hard to choose a picture from there. Personally though looking at a desert landscape with snow capped mountains is pretty exotic. Having that in the same country with an antarctic region is even more incredible!
Hong Kong – We made it to the cheapest Michelin Star restaurant in the world in Hong Kong. Well, quality and price have nothing to do with each other. One Dimsum lived up to its name and its reputation. We ate incredible samplings of dumplings that we had never even dreamed could’ve tasted so good! Definitely the highlight of our Hong Kong trip.
USA – On our second trip to the US I finally made it to a basketball game. We watched an incredible match up in Los Angeles which ended with a buzzer beating basket. This was the first day of our trip after a 22 hour journey from New Delhi to Los Angeles. The day started with us walking around Hollywood in a jet lagged fuzz and suddenly seeing The Backstreet Boys getting their “Star” on the walk of fame. If that wasn’t surreal enough, it ended with me watching my first ever NBA game. Definitely feels like a dream in retrospect!
France – Our trips to France have always been about eating sweets. We go nuts with french patisserie every single time we make it to that country. This time, we’re eating something ahem.. lighter.
Sri Lanka – A short trip to Colombo took me around the city which looked very much like India. I believe we need to go back to Sri Lanka and explore the many wonderful regions far from Colombo. They did however have a great marina and I took a long trishaw (yes, that’s what they call them) ride along the coast.
Kenya – Our trip to Kenya took us through the Masai Mara. We spent the mornings and afternoons spotting incredible creatures in the wild. Unfortunately I have very few pictures from this trip because my SD card died and I didn’t have a spare.
Egypt – It’s not difficult to guess where this picture was taken. I went to Egypt before the Arab Spring and the instability brought along with it. It was an incredible privilege to explore the pyramids and wander amongst things so old that it really puts a new perspective on time and permanence.
Mauritius – This little island in the Indian Ocean has some of the best beaches I’ve ever been to. Pristine white sand paradise all around. What’s even more interesting is the mix of South Indian and French culture that makes the cuisine quite unique!
China – It looks like I managed to mark my presence in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square down to the second. Almost exactly one year before the beginning of the Beijing Olympics.
Austria – This is the Hundertwasserhaus in Vienna. An expressionist building where there aren’t any straight lines to be seen. If you’re familiar with Gaudi’s work you might think he had something to do with this house. There are several trees and shrubs growing out of the facade and this gives the house quite a fairytale like look.
Portugal – This is a picture of the walls of Valenca. Walls that have protected Portugal from Spanish aggression for almost 1000 years. Valenca is where Zara is from. You can see Spain on the other side.
India – We had to save the best for last! This is one of our most Indian pictures. We’re waiting to take a train ride to go for our friend Sunny’s wedding. Shot on Platform 3 of the Guwahati train station in Assam.
And there you have it folks. Fifty pictures from 50 countries that we’ve been to. Got any favorites? I hope you enjoyed tripping with us so far. It took us many years to visit 50 countries but I think it’ll take a lot longer for us to visit another 50. As we’ve been traveling, we’ve been slowing down more and more. Right now, we’re at a point where we like to make a city our base for a month or more and then go exploring.
The truth is that as we travel our bucket list has been growing instead of shrinking.
The more I learn, the more I realize how much I don’t know. – Albert Einstein