2015: My Least Traveled Year (in 7 Years as a Nomad!)

Travel isn’t a race. I despise those people who brag about the number of countries or continents they visited in one year. Sure, that may be fine and well, but how long did you spend in airports? How many times were you groped by security guards? How much did you actually learn about the countries you visited? It takes time to do that, which is why I embrace slow travel.

My Plan For 2015

Compete in the Rickshaw Run, spend a month in Nepal editing the videos, then continuing on my stanVentures, a slow traveling trip through all seven -stans: Pakistan, Afghanistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan, in that order. I had hoped to be finishing around new years or the beginning of 2016.

New countries planned: 9.   In reality? 2

Here’s What Actually Happened

The Rickshaw Run was a smashing success but afterward I left for Nepal a couple days before my teammate Ryan. As a result, I was in Kathmandu when the Nepal quake struck. While everyone else was running to their embassies and scrambling to get out of the country, I cancelled all my plans and spent the next four months doing quake relief work and consulting with the Nepal Tourism Board on their post-quake tourism strategy.

By September I’d had enough of the ups and downs associated with natural disaster relief work in a corrupt country and came back to India. There I started a new project traveling around the country producing destination and event videos, which has kept me busy ever since. Too busy to even write. (You’ve no doubt noticed that 2015 is also the year that I have written the least number of posts since I started blogging professionally.)

  I was also in Malaysia, Sri Lanka, the UAE and Thailand this year (where I am writing this) but as I have been to all of those countries before, some many times, this has not been a well-traveled year for me.


Then There Was My Electronic Castration

2015 was also the year of my electronic castration. Not physically (thankfully) but metaphorically. As someone who makes his living relying on an abundance of electronic gadgets, my gear took a hit this year — and as a result, so too did my wallet.

3 phones. 2 tablets. 1 computer. 1 camera.
A 2TB external hard drive (with six years of travel photos)
All were destroyed during the course of the year.

Broken electronics during the Rickshaw Run
Did you know that Windows Phones also get the blue screen of death?

Half of these gadgets met their untimely fate just during the Rickshaw Run when my electronics bag flew off the ‘shaw on bumpy roads and was run over. I can only hope that my new and improved arsenal of tech gear can handle the challenges that my travel style inflicts upon it.

2015 was the year of distractions and chaos and unexpected shitstorms — which ordinarily I thrive on — but somehow this year was different.

So here and I now I resolve to change all of that in 2016. I’m getting back to what I love: traveling to new countries and learning about different cultures. And I invite you to come along for the ride!

The beauty of Afghanistan is a side the media never shows.
The beauty of Afghanistan is a side the media never shows. Click to enlarge. All photos from the amazing Afghanistan You Never See Instagram account

In a few short weeks my work in India will be done and then I plan on heading straight for Afghanistan, before the summer violence picks up. Pakistan will follow. However after that I’m a bit less certain about where I will end up:

  Option #1   Continue along with my stanVentures as originally planned and end the year in Iran or Azerbaijan. (Because let’s be honest, when you think of wild new years eve parties, those two countries are the first that come to mind.)

  Option #2   Head for London to meet up with Ryan and my other friends from the Rickshaw Run as we attempt to drive all the way from the UK to Mongolia. (Maybe even slip in a month in Cuba in between Pakistan and England.)


Which route would you suggest?

Leave a comment below!

Druk beer in Bhutan
Cheers to 2016!
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About Derek Freal

"Some people eat, others try therapy. I travel." ย  Cultural enthusiast. Adrenaline junkie. Eater of strange foods. Chasing unique and offbeat adventures around the world since 2008. Derek loves going to new destinations where he does not speak a word of the local language and must communicate with hand gestures, or places where he is forced to squat awkwardly to poo -- supposedly its healthier and more efficient. For more information (about Derek, not squat pooing) including popular posts and videos, check out his bio.

27 thoughts on “2015: My Least Traveled Year (in 7 Years as a Nomad!)”

  1. haha “before the summer violence picks up”…

    (btw, either option sounds pretty good to me – hopefully we will cross paths again one of these days)

    Reply
    • That’s my thought too. Pleasantly surprised by the weather and beauty that time of year, I assume? Good to hear. Reaching out to contacts in Afghanistan to hear their advice. Given the potential risk involved, their feedback will definitely determine whether or not Afghanistan is advisable this year. But beyond all that, either way I’ll be wandering the silk road countries. The second World Nomad Games are scheduled for September in Kyrgyzstan. So, I would think that even if I go the Mongol Rally route, I would still be done in time to make it there for that.

      Reply
  2. Great to hear you’re still up for adventure this year. Just curious if the summer violence in Afghanistan sticks to a schedule? ๐Ÿ˜‰ I’d say you’d have to get Iran in while its still relatively easy. Can you drive to Mongolia via Iran perhaps? Solutions for both. Either way enjoy and keep us posted. Cheers James

    Reply
    • Not a real schedule per se, but it does stick to a bit of a cycle that coincides with the weather. Tends to quiet down A LOT the colder it is. Will be monitoring things there very closely the next month. Last year was the worst, and I was advised by a friend in Kabul to skip Afghanistan until winter (that was even before the quake through another kink into my plans).

      The biggest obstacle against trying to squeeze Iran into the Mongol Rally is the visa situation there. They do VOAs to practically every nationality on earth — except for Canadians, Americans, and Brits. We have to have a pre-approved MFA tour guide and pre-approved itinerary before a visa application can even be submitted. And since its safe to say that our team will be comprised mostly/entirely of people from these nations, that eliminates Iran as a viable destination en route to Mongolia.

      But since I am shedding all my clients this year to focus on having a wild gnarly time, you can be guaranteed that no matter what happens, I will be keeping everyone updated. Not like this year where I was so focused on client work that my blog got dusty and traffic began to falter.

      Have any exciting 2016 plans that you would care to share with us?

      Reply
      • Hi, Mrs Chef here. Yes, we’re in Dubai in just under 2 weeks, then a month in Sri Lanka and a month in Nepal ( also talking to Nepal tourism). Then back to Romania to build a house. Love your work Derek.

        Reply
        • Hello again Alyson! Okay, well then I will try to cross paths with you in either Sri Lanka or Nepal — both places I plan on visiting for a few days before finishing my work in India. And hey, maybe we’ll even cross through Romania on our Mongol Rally ๐Ÿ˜‰

          Reply
  3. Actually sounds like a pretty amazing year. Must’ve been nice to have a good reason to be somewhere. Both options sound pretty cool to me. Sorry to hear you got castrated. ๐Ÿ˜‰

    Reply
    • That’s what I thought about Nepal too, at least until I had spent four long months spending my own money doing quake relief work just because I happened to be there. It was towards the end of that time which I discovered that most of the “volunteers” working alongside me who flew in during the weeks and months after the quake were being compensated up to $200USD/day because “they have mortgages back home” (exact quote from the founder of one NGO on the condition that I would not divulge their name or the NGO’s name). That was like being punched in the nuts and then robbed. Combine that with the fact that I was not only not making ANY money those four months but actually losing clients while I was up in the mountains because I wasn’t able to respond to emails or maintain my commitments and obligations. Then trying to deal with the NTB (Nepal Tourism Board) was like beating my fucking head against the wall, with meetings week after week where I basically said the same damn thing at each one, yet NO progress was ever made in between meetings. I finally had to say fuck it all, you are on your own, and come back to India…only to end up facing even more work hurdles there. You have no idea how depressed I truly am brother. So I have to make up for it in 2016.

      Reply
      • I know the feeling. What you need is a big shake up – something completely new – but sounds like you’re already on it. ๐Ÿ™‚ If you happen to find yourself in Barcelona at any point in 2016, swing by for a beer!

        Reply
  4. Just make it up as you go along, you’ll be fine but I appreciate you must be anxious to get some proper traveling in. Whatever you end up doing I look forward to reading about it. I just remembered I was meant to e mail you my plans but here seems a suitable medium for it. Will start going round Egypt in Feb and will carry on into Sudan, but then plans get vague -possibly Eritrea and Djibouti. Want to look into Iraqi Kurdistan this year as I have a Kurdish friend there so will see Lebanon as well. Will def be in Ivory Coast and Burkina Faso starting August (Burkinabe friend getting married in Abidjan in Aug) so will try Niger then prob up to Western Sahara, Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia. Apart from the wedding I dont want to put a timetable on anything so I can exploit any interesting developments along the way. Will prob do a few local dialect lessons in some of the Arabic countries. Like you Pakistan and Afghanistan are on the list at some point but too early to guess when and if the visa situation improves i would return to Iran while I was in the area. Nothing is written in stone though so wait and see. Happy travels mate.

    Reply
    • I love making it up as I go! ๐Ÿ˜‰ Thanks for the update from your end Graham, will be great if we can find a way to cross paths in yet another country. There are several which you mentioned that I am quite interested in visiting. I’ll also be quite looking forward to what sort of interesting stories come out of it all. Cheers!

      Reply
  5. Hola Derek, ..

    I wish you can make a great trip this year, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Stans country, I will be to Iran and Turkey this April, after my Indian road trip I told you.. Hopefully I will get visa from Myanmar… As you said, when I said we will never meet again but finally we meet again … Haha ..

    But I’m afraid you are ended up in Asia again .. Like Thailand .. Hahaha … Let’s see!!! Or betting ….

    Cheers from Bangkk terminal bus station, hope you can make your flight to India today.. Sorry about your laptop…

    Reply
    • The laptop is back to life, just needed to be taken apart and reassembled! Something came loose in the fall. Now it just needs a RAM upgrade and that baby will be ready to last another 2-3 years hahaha ๐Ÿ˜‰

      I want what I used to have: an Asian home base. Somewhere I can leave the bulk of my gear and clothes and supplies and just keep coming back to for a few weeks every few months. Besides I love Asia too much to leave her for long. That’s why I got bored in Central America — I missed Asia. Southeast Asia. India doesn’t feel like the type of Asia we are referring to. That’s why Thailand could be good. No visa needed, plenty of cheap flights….and I just discovered baht in my laundry that needs to be spent.

      Reply
  6. reading through your comments is quite eye opening Derek. Seriously – $200 a DAY? Seriously that money surely would have been better pumped back into the Nepalese economy. At least you can hold your head up and say you DIDNT do it for that reason. honestly if they are going to pay people so much they should pay the Nepalese. beggars belief.

    Still, you can still look back on 2015 as a year of achievement with a lot of pride. The stans are still there. You could always do one option followed by the other. It could take you a year, it could take you two. In reality if you WANTED (and I know you dont) you do them both in 3 months. I went far too fast through just three ‘Stans (Kazakh, Krygz and Uzbek) and I can tell you those three at least are brilliant (Still very annoyed I didnt get to Tajikistan and Turkmenistan) and Pakistan is also great – Tim of Urban Duniya spends a few months a year in Lahore which is a pretty cool city. Both adventures are awesome sounding. So I’d try for both. Would sort of depend on the route to Mongolia too, I mean you could cross through Russia and then work your way into the stans and then back across through Russia or China to Mongolia. You could meld the two itineraries together. Whatever you do do, stay safe. I’d be doing a lot of research before heading into Afghanistan. It’s been out of the news lately which I guess is good…. but that doesnt mean its all settled at the moment. Anyways, trust your judgement! cant wait to hear about whatever adventures you have.

    Reply
    • Seriously. Besides that the local banks all jacked up their ATM rates in the first couple weeks after they quake — some to as high as $7.50/withdrawal! The highest before the quake that I ever saw was only $4.00. Government was passing inflated tariffs on goods needed to help with reconstruction, like cement and lumber from India. Wanted to force people to only buy Nepali but wasn’t enough around. 44% tariff. And then all the missing funds/supplies, even from within the government! Shameful.

      On a cheerier note, glad to hear that you’re echoing the same praise about the -stan region as others I’ve heard in the past. Seems like quite a beautiful, historic and friendly area (if you just don’t watch the news). Soon as I get my new photography gear in order, it’s time to get my ass over there! ๐Ÿ˜€

      Reply
  7. Ah, electronic castrations abound! Wewee, it was my least traveled year as well man as you know. And the rickshaw run craziness was enough exhaustion for a bit of it haha. But here’s to a new year of traveling for the both of us! And linking up somewhere. I’m still so tempted to come to the Stans with you, but with no income and still saving, seems unlikely…

    Reply
  8. For me both options are awesome and the best one would be the one that would include stop in Kazakhstan which is the country where I was born. Also I would like to thank you for sharing the story about staying up in Nepal during the horrible disaster. That is truly a huge inspiration and great example for me. Please let me know if you will be going through Kazakhstan on one of your upcoming trips.

    Reply
    • Hey Dmitriy, its looking like I will be attempting the Mongol Rally this year with my buddy Ryan (who commented right before you). We have been looking at a map and discussing our route. And yes, looks like we will definitely be passing through Kazakhstan! Cannot wait to see the beauty of your birth country with my own two eyes. I’ve heard nothing but amazing stories of how gorgeous and open and free it is there. We won’t be there until August but I’m sure I’ll have a few questions for you as the time draws nearer. Thanks again and take care! ๐Ÿ˜€

      Reply
    • It’s not where you’re from, it’s where you are going. ๐Ÿ˜‰

      After all you cannot change where you were born but you can certainly change where you end up.

      Reply
  9. your blog its really interesting, i find it looking for some informations about the work in the marijuana fields. will go in california on september 15 and hope to find a way to get in, can you give me more informations? i don t have contacts i just know the area.
    thanks

    Reply

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