For my next trip...

Even the globetrotting founder of the Lonely Planet guidebooks hasn't visited every country in the world. Tony Wheeler lists his top 'must go theres'
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The Independent Travel

Sometimes I don't think I've been anywhere. Of course it's a basic truth that the more places you go to the more places you discover you haven't been to. And spending a week in a place only results in the realisation that you need to come back for another two weeks.

Sometimes I don't think I've been anywhere. Of course it's a basic truth that the more places you go to the more places you discover you haven't been to. And spending a week in a place only results in the realisation that you need to come back for another two weeks.

Nevertheless, having spent 30 years somewhat intimately involved with a business entirely dedicated to travel and, as a result, averaging about six months travel a year for quite a few of those years, it's somewhat disappointing to find how small a dent I've made into the world's possibilities. Look at my useless ability to simply accumulate sheer numbers. By devious means, such as counting the Isle of Man as a separate country (and Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales), the Travelers Century Club (www.travelerscenturyclub.org) manages to come up with a total of 317 countries in the world. Scanning through their list I'd qualify for membership (100 countries), but certainly not for gold membership (200 countries) and probably not even for silver (150).

Earlier this year, when Sars was grounding a lot of Asian airlines, a friend who flies 747s dropped by. Cathay Pacific wasn't flying anywhere so he was spending his time visiting friends and doing things like stopping off in Afghanistan for a couple of weeks. A lot of airline pilots are not particularly interested in travel but our friend had just reached the 300 mark on the club's checklist. In fact I'm so familiar with Rowland's travel bent that if I'm somewhere weird I'm inclined to check the guestbook, just to see if he's already been there. Earlier this year in the Falkland Islands he turned up, sure enough, in the book at Kay McCallum's B&B, the backpackers' favourite in Stanley.

Simply ticking off countries is really no feat but the German Globetrotter's Club used to have, perhaps still does have, a simple requirement for membership. Nothing about quantity, just a straightforward temporal qualifie - at some point in your travel career you must make a trip which lasts for at least 12 months. Going to New York to work for a bank for a year doesn't count, it has to be an "on the road" trip. Earlier this year in South Korea I met Han Biya, a remarkable woman whose travel philosophy included the requirement that any trip she made had to incorporate a stay of at least a month in one of the countries she passed through. That had resulted in a lengthy stay in Afghanistan during the Taliban era among other adventures. Lots of Korean travellers seem to approach their journeys with the same energy that has propelled their country up the economic ladder. South Koreans were simply not allowed to travel overseas until 1988 and now they seem intent on making up for lost time.

So since I've hardly been anywhere, and feel seriously inferior to so many long-term or really determined travellers, what's on the top 10 of my "must go there or do that" list and how did they get there?

Numbers one and two are the sole survivors from the 15 items on an early Nineties "must do" list. I've still not travelled the Karakoram Highway up and over that western outlier of the Himalayan range from Pakistan into China. I've travelled in Western Tibet to within a couple of days' drive of Kashgar, the northern end of the highway, but the Karakoram Highway still beckons. I think I'll blame Kashgar-fascination on all the books, starting with Peter Fleming's News From Tartary. The Trans-Siberian Express is the other list survivor. Given that I travel between Europe and Asia at least a couple of times a year it's a serious embarrassment that I've never done the trip by rail.

Then there's Iraq, which I'll blame on George W. When he posted up his Axis of Evil hit parade it seemed an obvious inventory to tick off. I'd already been to Iran, I went to North Korea soon afterwards and since Saudi Arabia seemed a curious omission from George's list I went there too. Unfortunately George and Tony decided to invade Iraq before I managed to get there, and trying to make the world safe from terrorism seems to have done the complete opposite, despite which Iraq definitely remains on my list.

Much more mundanely, there are two boat trips I've got to get around to. I've had a Polynesian interest for years which has dragged me all around the region, even out to the Pitcairn Islands. It's taken me up (I've mountain biked across those spiky peaks in the middle of Tahiti) and down (I've met the sharks at the lagoon passes on Rangiroa) but for some reason it hasn't taken me to Gauguin Land, the Marquesas. So the trip out there on the passenger-cargo vessel Aranui is definitely on my list. The fact that Geoff Dyer found the Marquesas just about as disappointing as Libya, and Paul Theroux went there on the Aranui in his wonderfully grumpy Happy Isles Of Oceania doesn't matter.

The Inside Passage to Alaska is the other boat trip must do. Jonathan Raban's Passage To Juneau is a satisfyingly seductive introduction to the trip, although he does add marriage breakdown and divorce to the more normal blend of glaciers, wildlife and history.

The amazing architecture - skyscrapers made of mud - has to be the prime attraction for my interest in Yemen, since I have yet to read Tim Mackintosh-Smith's Travels In Dictionaryland. The Yemen was on its way to becoming a popular exotic destination until the local propensity for kidnapping visitors took the shine off things. Two of the Yemen visitors I know were kidnapped, it almost became part of the tourist experience. Perhaps having Bin Laden as your best-known former citizen didn't help either. Africa is riddled with "must go there" places. I realise I've not dedicated enough time to African travels, although every trip I've made there has rated somewhere between very enjoyable and absolutely wonderful. So why have I never got around to visiting Ethiopia? Everybody who has been there has loved the place and I can point at two sources for why it's sitting on my list. First was Love, Siri & Ebba, a delightfully stoned tale by two young women who hitch-hiked around the country in the early Seventies and compiled their letters, notes, sketches and recollections into a love letter to the country. Italian film director Pier Paolo Pasolini must have been there at almost exactly the same time, his Arabian Nights also wanders into Iran and Yemen with precisely the same "I want to go there" results.

Still in Africa, there is no way you could claim to be serious about travel without going to Timbuktu, so Mali has to be on my list although, as in the Yemen, the mud-built architecture also plays a part in the country's allure.

Finally in Australia, the country I call home, I must get around to visiting Kakadu. Over the years I've travelled right around the coast by a combination of car, motorcycle and even thumb. I've spent weeks walking the country, pretty much driven coast to coast on Outback tracks (the Gunbarrel Highway, the Simpson Desert Crossing, the Birdsville Track), done lots of diving along the Great Barrier Reef, and yet somehow the Northern Territory's famous tropical national park has eluded me. A recent week in the equally mind-blowing Kimberley region of Western Australia underlined that this omission has to be corrected. Soon.

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