30 before 30: How I shot for the moon and landed among 28 stars

Khalil Tarhouni
6 min readJun 28, 2019

My mother was always telling us, my older brother and I, that traveling was one of the most beautiful experiences she ever lived, that it is addictive and that the day we will get on the first plane we will be very much looking forward to the next take off.

She used her storytelling skills and pedagogical approach to motivate us during high-school years especially during the baccalaureate year:

“Get good grades and we will pay you your first trip”,

my dad who hates blackmailing promised us a linguistic trip to the US, which never happened by the way but was a great booster.

Milan, London, Paris (multiple times) or Casablanca by car (2100 km), we felt amazed in every single trip, and we couldn’t even picture all this since it was before the www era. Fortunately, she had a photo album with some selfies in it, taken by error.

Empowered by Dad’s stories about his weekends in Rome and Paris, we were daydreaming and planning our first trip abroad (in the 70s and 80s, it was very easy to travel from Tunis to Europe thanks to fewer travel restrictions (visa) and to a strong currency (1 USD = 0.7 TND) and relatively high salaries jobs in tourism for instance).

“US, Finland or even our neighbor country Algeria”

I used to say, the most important thing is to get the ball rolling.

Fast forward to April 27th, 2019, I took a 9-hour 30 minutes bus to go from Madrid to Lisbon to visit my 28th country. Yes, I counted them and I have been planning each trip towards what seemed to be, 10 years ago, a crazy dream: 30 countries before 30 years.

Knowing that I crossed the borders for the first time when I was 20, and I went to 3 other countries in the 3 following years, 30 before 30 was just a nice dream I used to share with friends. Whether you’re a believer in “don’t share your goals with anyone” or not, for me it was just another story in my library that I bring up when people talk about traveling.

What used to keep me up at night by that time:

  • What if I don’t get a visa? Always stressful topic
  • What if I don’t collect the necessary amount of money? Family and friends helped a lot.

The dream became more achievable and I became more committed when I went to France and the Netherlands for the first time in 2015. “19 to go”, I said to myself. It became even more attainable when I visited Poland, Czech Republic, Austria, Hungary, Slovakia in an unforgettable family Eurotrip.

I was fortunate enough to join an incredible international organization that took me to the US, UAE, South Africa, and Spain. It became almost an obsession but the most important thing was to “check in” whether for 36 hours in Bulgaria or few hours in Belgium.

Facts and numbers:

  • Shortest flights: Rome and Algiers, around 1 hour
  • Longest flight: Dubai — Cape Town, 9h35min
  • Longest road trips: Berlin — Krakow and Madrid — Lisbon, around 9 hours
  • Cheapest trip: Cairo 2015, $80 discounted flight ticket, $5/night room with separate bathroom in a hostel)
  • Most expensive trip: Madrid & Lisbon, wine and seafood
  • Most visited country: France (Paris is addictive & friends are forever), and Germany (family first)
  • Cheapest beer: Germany, they would get mad otherwise
  • Best lunch: Two oceans restaurant — Cape Point
  • Best welcoming: Athens 2011 (general strike on arrival date)

Traveling quotes aside, I feel so lucky that I got a foothold on 28 countries with countless memorable souvenirs. I am grateful to my family and friends who supported me and pushed me towards this dream. I’m motivated more than ever for the next milestone: 60 before 40

Below a selection of pictures:

Jordan 2011
Greece 2011 & 2018
Morocco 2012
Serbia 2012
Algeria 2013 & 2018
Turkey 2015 (twice)
Qatar 2014
Egypt 2015 (twice)
Germany 2015, 2017, 2018 & 2019
France 2015, 2017, 2018 & 2019
The Netherlands 2015
Hungary 2017
Slovakia 2017
Austria 2017
The Czech Republic 2017
Poland 2017
Italy 2017 & 2018
Vatican 2017
USA 2017
Ethiopia 2017
UAE 2018
Belgium 2018
Malta 2018
South Africa 2018
Bulgaria 2019
Romania 2019
Spain 2019
Portugal 2019