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30 Things to Do in 30 Countries Before You’re 30

30 Things to Do in 30 Countries Before You're 30

I let my 30th birthday slip by pretty quietly. It’s been one hell of a journey thus far, and turning 30 seemed like the last thing I needed to be celebrating. After all, milestones aren’t measured in years—they’re measured by the journey.

Coincidentally, my 30th year (which just passed on the 30th of last month!) took place in my 30th country. Now, I’m not one to count countries, but when the numbers line up like that, it’s just too good to ignore. So in the spirit of 30, here are the 30 best things I’ve done in my 30 years on this planet.

1. Scuba Dive on the Great Barrier Reef

The Great Barrier Reef is the largest and most beautiful network of coral in the world. If there’s any place on earth go to diving, it’s here.

I’ve been a scuba diver since I was 13 years old, and it was always a dream of mine to dive the Great Barrier Reef. I finally fulfilled my dream on a live-aboard boat, where I spent eight days diving four times every day. In exchange for washing dishes and making beds, my week was entirely free!

Scuba Diving

Little Nemo. Photo credit: Flickr.

2. Jump Out of an Airplane

Because if we can jump out of planes, why shouldn’t we?

I’ve always been one to push the boundaries, and once I arrived in Australia, one of the first things I did was jump out of a plane. I was on the Sunshine Coast, in the small coastal town of Caloundra, and I jumped from 14,000 feet! It was just as exhilarating as it sounds, and I believe it’s an experience everyone should have at least once in their life–it’s about pushing your personal limits.

Skydiving

Skydiving! Photo credit: Flickr.

3. Become a Bartender

Bartending is a) tons of fun, and b) a very productive way to fund your travels.

After two months backpacking up the east coast of Australia, I found myself completely and utterly broke. With barely enough money to pay for a place to sleep for the night, I landed a job at a nightclub, and the rest, as they say, is history. I’ve used bartending as a means to travel the world, everywhere from New York to Melbourne to Beijing.

Bartending is a great way to fund your travels abroad.

Bartending is a great way to fund your travels abroad.

4. Hike a Glacier in New Zealand

There aren’t a lot of places in the world where you can hike a glacier. New Zealand has two of them!

I spent 15 months living, working, and traveling in New Zealand. The landscapes are like something out of a movie (actually, they are in movies), and spending a beautiful day hiking the Franz Josef Glacier was one of the big-time highlights. Look at this place!

Hiking the Franz Josef Glacier in New Zealand

Hiking the Franz Josef Glacier in New Zealand.

5. Bungee Jump Completely Naked

It doesn’t have to be bungee jumping–do something naked. It will break your comfort zone and you’ll find freedom in doing so.

For me, it was early in the morning, and the cute girls at the counter knew just how to push my buttons. It only took about three minutes to convince me to get naked, and ten minutes later I was jumping off a bridge.

Naked Bungee Jumping in Queenstown, New Zealand!

Naked bungee jumping in Queenstown, New Zealand!

6. Celebrate an Orphan’s Thanksgiving

Holidays are so often skipped when we travel. But sometimes, when everybody is seeking a little comfort from home, it’s possible to create new traditions and lasting memories.

During my stint in New Zealand I spent six-months living in a hostel. There was a whole group of us actually, from all over the world. When Thanksgiving rolled around the Americans among us decided to share the holiday with everyone. We basted a turkey in the hostel kitchen, cooked mashed potatoes and stuffing, and stocked up on $6 wine. The Americans each shared a unique family tradition, and everyone, including the Swedes, Brits, Canadians, and more, shared what they were thankful for that year.

Thanksgiving

What a real Thanksgiving dinner looks like!

7. Hitch-Hike Your Way Through a Country

Hitch-hiking is a lot safer that most people think, especially in places like New Zealand. You’re guaranteed to meet some interesting people along the way.

In fact, I used it as a reliable form of daily transportation when I lived in Queenstown! When New Year’s rolled around, my friend Gabe and I hitch-hiked from Wellington to Gisborne, the first city in the world to welcome the sun. We were among the first people in the world to say hello to the year 2012, and our weekend-long adventure was nothing short of incredibly epic.

Waves crash on the northern coast of New Zealand.

Waves crash on the northern coast of New Zealand.

8. Teach English to Kids in China

English teaching jobs are available all over the world, and they are one of the best ways to travel on a limited budget. They often include flights, accommodation, and a competitive pay package.

When I saw an offer to teach English in China scroll across my Facebook page, I quickly inquired and quickly accepted. The next thing I knew I was making my foray into Asia, a place that now feels like my second home. I spent six months teaching in Xi’an before moving to Beijing for a few months to work in the city’s best cocktail bar.

Teaching English in Xi'an, China.

Teaching English in Xi’an, China. This was my favorite class!

9. Go Somewhere Really, Truly Remote

Somewhere that makes you feel like you’re exploring new frontiers.

During the Chinese New Year, a period of two weeks when almost everyone in China goes on holiday, I traveled to the Yunnan province and spent ten days traveling into the far reaches of China and to the border of Tibet. Towns like Dali and Lijiang were uniquely charming, and the mountains of Tiger Leaping Gorge were the most stunning thing I’ve ever seen. Traveling north to Shangri-La, an occupied Tibetan region, I biked way out of town–closer to the border–to one of the most remote places on earth that I’ve ever been.

Hiking Tiger Leaping Gorge in the Yunnan Province of China.

Hiking Tiger Leaping Gorge in the Yunnan Province of China.

The remote plains on the border of Tibet, aka Shangri-La.

The remote plains on the border of Tibet, aka Shangri-La. A small mountain village can be seen in the background.

10. Party All Night at the Full Moon Party

The Full Moon Party is the party that every backpacker talks about.

After 10 months in China, I headed to Southeast Asia, and just in time for the Full Moon Party. It’s a monthly beach party that is known to get, well, beyond crazy. I’ll let this photo do the talking.

Full Moon Party

Full Moon Party shenanigans with the boys!

11. Play with Elephants

Elephants are an icon in Southeast Asia and you’ll find them just about everywhere. Though riding an elephant is high on many people’s bucket list, there are some very good reasons not to. Try your hand at volunteering with them, instead!

In 2013, I spearheaded a grassroots charity organization that raised $7,500 to buy extra land for protected elephants in Northern Thailand. A few months later I found myself in Thailand and I spent a full day at the park, up close and personal with the elephants that we were helping to rescue.

Playing with elephants in Northern Thailand.

Playing with elephants in northern Thailand.

12. Explore the Temples of Angkor

Perhaps one of the most famous sites in all of the world, the temples of Angkor in Siem Reap, Cambodia are magical at sunrise.

I spent 13 straight hours with a local tuk-tuk driver, riding around to all of the temples, taking photos, learning about their history, and sweating my ass off!

The famous sunrise at Angkor Wat.

The famous sunrise at Angkor Wat.

Sweating so much I can barely smile.

Sweating so much I can barely open my eyes.

13. Find Paradise on an Island

Southeast Asia is full of islands, but something about Koh Rong is just…special.

A very precarious boat ride from Sihanoukville in southern Cambodia took me to this tiny island, a small backpacker utopia with the most incredible beaches and a laid-back vibe that could suck you in for months (in fact, for some people, it does!). I spoke to a few people who hadn’t worn shoes in so long they actually didn’t know where they were.

Koh Rong, Cambodia.

The paradisiacal island of Koh Rong off the coast of southern Cambodia.

14. Do a Sunrise Mountain Trek in Northern Vietnam

For a real look at rural Vietnam, Sapa is the place. The trek takes you through the mountainous, terraced rice fields which are inhabited by local H’mong tribes.

One morning during my trek, I woke up very early (at about 4:30am) and took a solo hike up the mountain and out of the village. I don’t know where I went or how far I hiked, but the sunrise that morning over the mountains was glorious.

Sunrise in Sapa, Vietnam.

Sunrise in Sapa, Vietnam.

Looking out over the mountains and rice fields early in the morning.

Shortly after sunrise, looking out over the mountains and rice fields.

15. Experience Reverse Culture Shock

Definitely the least enjoyable thing on this list, reverse culture shock is the most honest way to see your own culture from a different perspective.

I had spent 3.5 years overseas, more than one of them in Asia, and returning to the States was a devastating experience. I’ll never forget the unbearably isolating feeling that reverse culture shock brought with it, but I saw my beloved America in a whole new light.

A lonely bench.

A lonely bench.

16. Fly an Airplane Over the Mountains

When you’ve had enough of economy, the cockpit is calling your name.

Though I had plenty of flights under my belt, I had never been the one driving. I flew a Cessna 172 over the mountains of North Carolina and didn’t realize, until I was thousands of feet in the air, that I accidentally left the door open.

The cockpit of a Cessna 172.

The cockpit of a Cessna 172.

Flying over North Carolina

I should have been paying attention to the door instead of taking photos.

17. Live in New York City

They say that if you can make it in New York, you can make it anywhere in the world.

I had already made it “anywhere in the world” and I was ready to put myself to the ultimate test. I lived and worked there for six months, and still use it as a home base. While there, I was offered my dream job but ultimately turned it down to continue my travels!

On the Brooklyn Bridge.

On the Brooklyn Bridge.

Freezing cold in Times Square with The Legendary Adventures of Anna and friends.

Freezing cold in Times Square with The Legendary Adventures of Anna and friends.

18. Discover Pristine Beaches

Puerto Rico is an easy escape from the United States. Whether you’re an American or you’re just traveling in the States, flights from NYC only cost about $300 round trip.

New York got hit with one of it’s worst winter’s to date, and the numbing cold literally sent me packing. I took a week off and lazed around the beaches of Puerto Rico, drinking more Medalla Light than was healthy, replenishing my Vitamin D, and making all of my friends jealous.

Beaches in Puerto Rico

Beaches in Puerto Rico.

Medalla Light, the Puerto Rican drink of choice.

Medalla Light, the Puerto Rican drink of choice.

19. Spend a Weekend Offline

These days, we are never too far from technology–a weekend offline would serve anybody well.

Prior to arriving in Tayrona National Park, Colombia, I didn’t realize there wouldn’t be any cell service; my first day was spent frantically looking for WiFi. I worried that my family would assume me to be dead after not hearing from me for 24 hours, which, of course, is ridiculous. Three days later I emerged feeling refreshed, and found that absolutely nothing important had happened while I was gone. Imagine that!

Tayrona National Park, Colombia.

Digital detox does NOT mean putting my camera down.

20. Go Crazy at Carnival!

It’s one of the most notorious festivals for a reason–Carnival is CRAZY.

Carnival de Barranquilla is the second largest Carnival celebration in the world, falling only behind the grand celebration in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. We arrived in town a few days early to prepare ourselves. The party usually started in the middle of the day and it would end in the wee hours of the night. There were huge parades, there were foam fights, there was dancing in the streets…and trust me when I say that there was plenty of Aguardiente.

Carnival de Barranquilla

Carnival de Barranquilla is insane!

21. Almost Die Hiking a Volcano

Everybody hikes mountains, but we are adventurers, and should thus be hiking volcanoes.

My first taxi driver in Quito, Ecuador pointed to the tallest, cloud-covered summit in view. From that moment, I knew I had to climb it (though I didn’t know it was a volcano at the time). I ended up in the middle of an insane hail-storm and seriously thought I would die there.

Hiking the Pichincha Volcano in Quito.

The slippery hike to the top.

Panorama of the view from the top of Pichincha.

Panorama view from the top of Pichincha.

22. Visit the Birthplace of Jesus Christ

We grow up learning about these places but most of us never put Jerusalem, Nazareth, or Bethlehem into a real-world context.

Religion has always been more conceptual to me, but seeing these places with my own eyes made it much more real. While traveling in Israel, I explored Bethlehem (which is actually Palestinian territory), where Jesus was born, Nazareth, where he lived, and the Holy City of Jerusalem, where he was crucified.

Inside a holy church.

Inside a holy church.

Looking out over Bethlehem.

Looking out over the city of Bethlehem.

23. See the Conflict in Palestine First Hand

To truly understand what’s going on in Palestine would take years of study. To see it up close and personal is another experience altogether.

I spent a few days in Palestine, exploring first with a Palestinian guide, and then with an Israeli guide. They each told us their side of the conflict, speaking to locals and visiting them in their houses. I learned, first hand, what a complicated situation the Middle East is really in. Most people would never visit the West Bank, but it was one of my most memorable experiences to date.

The contentious city of Hebron in the West Bank.

The contentious city of Hebron in the West Bank.

24. Climb to the Top of the Monastery in Petra, Jordan

Actually, you shouldn’t do this. But you should break some rules once in a while 😉

After visiting Israel and Palestine, I made my way into Jordan for a few days to explore the Wadi Rum desert and the ancient city of Petra. I befriended a local bedouin and he decided to show me something incredibly special: he brought me to the top of the Monastery—a restricted area in the protected park—and I saw some remarkable views that most people never get to see.

25. Crawl Inside the Ancient Pyramids of Egypt

The ancient Pyramids are one of mankind’s greatest mysteries.

There was no way I would leave the Middle East without first visiting the pyramids. I detoured to Cairo, met a local bedouin named Rami (who I now call my brother) and we stood in awe before one of the most remarkable pieces of architecture on earth.

The Ancient Pyramids of Giza

The Ancient Pyramids of Giza

Sphinx selfie!

Sphinx selfie!

26. Traverse Europe by Train

It’s like the European sister of a US road-trip. Traveling in Europe by train is the only way to go. The network is vast and incredibly easy to navigate.

My entry to Greece this past summer was actually my first visit to Europe. I spent the following three months traveling from Greece to Germany. There’s no way I can describe the whole trip in a short paragraph, but despite the crazy ups and downs, it was a summer I will never forget.

30 Things to Do Before You're 30

Enjoying the view on the Greek Islands

Prague, Czech Republic.

Prague, Czech Republic.

27. Learn the Plight of the Refugees

We can’t ever understand a problem until we’ve come face to face with it.

This was perhaps one of my most impactful travel experiences of all time. Riding the train from Greece to Macedonia, we came face to face with Syrian refugees who were fleeing their home country. I never wrote about the experience, but my traveling partner in crime, Leah, penned an emotive piece about how it went down and how it affected us. It’s well worth a read.

Syrian girl

Syrian girl. Photo credit: Trocaire.

28. Discover the Balkans

The Balkans are rife with corruption, war, and poverty, but they are, indeed, a beautiful and astonishing place.

I’m not sure what attracted me to the Balkans in the first place—it was a place I hadn’t read much about, and it wasn’t on the radar of most travelers I know. I spent about two months traveling in Greece, Macedonia, Albania, Serbia, and Montenegro, and I learned that the Balkans could very well be the most bizarre place on earth (excepting China, maybe). It’s rife with war, poverty, and corruption, but it’s contentious history and beautiful coastline make it a uniquely interesting destination.

Skopje, Macedonia

The main square in Skopje, Macedonia.

Sarande, Albania

Looking out over the Albanian coast in Sarande.

29. Party Until Sunrise on a Beach in Montenegro

It’s basically what our twenties are for.

Being a huge fan of music festivals, I made my way to Montenegro with my good buddy Adventurous Kate for Sea Dance. It’s the little sister of the more famous Exit Festival, and on two of the four nights, we partied on the beach until sunrise, dancing to world-renowned DJ’s, watching the sky flicker and change colors for hours. Kate still calls it the best night of her life!

Sea Dance Festival 2015

Sea Dance Festival 2015. Budva, Montenegro.

30. Buy a One-Way Ticket to Anywhere

The journey is always more exciting when you don’t know where or when it’s going to resolve.

I’ve never been one to plan my travels, and I’ve never regretted doing it that way. I usually don’t know what’s going to happen, and though my lack of planning may end up costing me a few extra dollars, it’s always worth it. I came to Belgium a month ago with a one-way ticket, and I don’t have a clue what’s going to happen next.

Any ideas?

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39 Responses to 30 Things to Do in 30 Countries Before You’re 30

  1. Amy (Two Drifters) January 19, 2016 at 11:42 am #

    This is an awesome article, Jeremy!! One of my favorites of yours.

    Don’t think I’ll be able to fit all this into the next 5 months before I myself turn 30, but it’s got me thinking about the next few years, for sure.

    xx Amy

    • Jeremy Scott Foster January 21, 2016 at 9:10 am #

      Thanks, Amy! I know you have a couple big adventures planned, and I’m sure they’re going to be incredible, beyond your wildest expectations!

  2. Cat of Sunshine and Siestas January 19, 2016 at 2:36 pm #

    I joined the Fourth Decade Club a few months ago, and after getting married just before, I didn’t have the chance to think about what an awesome journey my 20s were while living abroad! Here’s to exploring more!

  3. Glo January 19, 2016 at 6:49 pm #

    Really enjoyed this! What a ride. Happy b-lated and here’s to more crazy adventures!

  4. Edna January 19, 2016 at 7:54 pm #

    Dude, you’re in Europe?? Come to Paris (or Venice for Carnevale!) and let’s hang out! Also, belated happy birthday 🙂

  5. Heather Kopenski January 19, 2016 at 8:19 pm #

    Love this post! I’m currently bartending in Melbourne and it is definitely the best way to fund travel. How did you break into cocktail bartending? Did you find it difficult? I was thinking about heading home and basing myself back in NYC towards the end of the year but this list has showed me there’s still so much I want to do!

    • Jeremy Scott Foster January 21, 2016 at 9:12 am #

      I ended up working with some really great people who trained me well. It was a hell of a journey getting into it!

  6. TakaTaka January 20, 2016 at 5:46 am #

    awesome and inspiring for all the 20s out there. You’ve done soooo much bro!!!!!

  7. Zascha January 21, 2016 at 10:09 am #

    A late happy birthday to you, Jeremy. I think it’s fair to say that you’ve experienced quite a bit. Lovely photos – as always.

    • Jeremy Scott Foster January 22, 2016 at 9:56 am #

      Cheers, Zascha! Thanks for following along on my journey and for being an engaged part of this community!

  8. Ace January 21, 2016 at 11:39 am #

    So if you’re 30 or older, you can do these things anymore? Hehehe!

  9. Dave January 22, 2016 at 3:59 am #

    Amazing list here! I’ve done quite a few of these already, but got tons of new ideas as well. I got 3 more years. I’m thinking the Balkans are at the top of this list. Can’t believe it’s taken me this long to explore that region of the world. I’ve never heard a bad thing.

  10. Allan January 24, 2016 at 4:11 pm #

    I’m already 30. I hope I’m still allowed to do these.

  11. Saad Waqar January 25, 2016 at 12:23 am #

    Great information and best post 🙂

  12. Suze - Luxury Columnist January 25, 2016 at 12:57 pm #

    I’m really impressed with all that you have fitted in! Seeing the temples at Angkor would be very high on my list. Looking forward to reading what crazy adventures you get up to next ;-). Of mine this year, my faves were dog sledding in Scotland and a hot air balloon ride – not naked I hasten to add 😉

  13. Ted January 30, 2016 at 7:01 pm #

    Interesting that I’ve done some of that as well – good for you, though nothing in SEA. First trip to Italy (Florence as starting point) in two days time. Though I’m past 30 – just a little bit. If you get bored in Belgium, come on down, will be there for a few months, then -???

    • Jeremy Scott Foster February 5, 2016 at 7:48 am #

      I hope you’re having a great time in Italy, Ted! I’ll be sure to let you know if I make it down that way 🙂 Happy travels!

      • Ted February 6, 2016 at 6:52 am #

        Hi Jeremy, found Florence is too expensive for me and heading south to Salerno (warmer there). Hope to get room for 3 moths down there

        Found a few interesting things here in Florence, though.

  14. Susan February 17, 2016 at 1:52 pm #

    Great post, have to ask: that top picture must be from Ios, correct?

  15. Amy February 25, 2016 at 10:36 am #

    I turned thirty in my thirtieth country in January too! Your adventures are all so interesting. I’m leaving on a one-way ticket to Ukraine tonight so I’m looking forward to having some similar ones soon. 🙂

  16. Ashish March 5, 2016 at 9:15 am #

    Wow.. m jealous of u and m not ashamed of admitting it..:D !! Great list, truly inspiring

  17. Victoria March 21, 2016 at 6:58 am #

    Jeremy,
    I just found your site probably at the best possible time. I left to Asia on a one way ticket from the states a few months ago and all my free hours are consumed dreaming up ways to never stop traveling. Super stoked to go through the rest of your articles 🙂

  18. Ooty Tour Packages May 16, 2016 at 4:02 am #

    Nice photographs. Really liked much

  19. Ray June 13, 2016 at 3:51 pm #

    You need to add to this list “go to some sort of major sporting event,” like the Olympics or World Cup. Now granted, it isn’t the most “affordable” trip you can go on. But, when you are young with some cash and few responsibilities, then it is certainly a life changing experience to have before you are 30 (or 35 in my case)! They are once-in-a-lifetime experiences for a reason.

  20. Thomas I Blank Canvas Voyage September 4, 2016 at 10:57 am #

    Which means I still have two years ahead of me. Not bad, only 9 months into our travels, so let’s see how well I do!!
    Can’t believe you did bungee jumping NAKED! I mean, is that even legal? hahahah

  21. Natalie September 5, 2016 at 10:28 am #

    Phew, luckily managed to tick a few boxes on this list, otherwise feel like haven’t been LIVING in comparison lol

    I feel like there’s still so so much to see, explore and do though and that’s what looking forward to 40s is about =D

    Enjoy your travels~!

  22. Tyler October 4, 2016 at 3:12 pm #

    I am planning a backpacking the world trip now and am leaving in February and I literally wanna do everything on this list. I’m really excited about bartending across the globe and just seeing where it takes me. I am buying a one way ticket and although I thought about starting in Europe I am considering starting in Australia after reading this. I think it would be cool to just make my way across the continents and end up in Europe. Any thoughts on which is better? Regardless you are my new travel icon! Maybe our paths will cross sometime and I’ll buy you a beer! Cheers!

    • Jeremy Scott Foster October 16, 2016 at 1:08 pm #

      Cheers, Tyler! If you’re American, work visas are a lot easier in Australia, which will make your life infinitely more manageable 🙂

  23. Dagmar Leuenberger-Swift December 3, 2016 at 7:36 pm #

    Hey Jeremy, was your BD Nov 30? Sorry I missed it, what a great article! Fabulous photos and wishing you many many more wonderful years traveling and sharing your experiencing with us!
    Xox
    Your CDN Mom

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