I’m not going to claim to have travelled to everywhere on Earth, or experienced every country, far from it. I’m definitely no Gunnar Garfors. This site is called The Sabbatical Guide for a reason, as I’ve built travel around a career using annual leave and extended breaks.
I have, however, been lucky enough to start travelling young, visit a diverse range of countries and also lived abroad. During this time some countries have stood out to me more than others and here I share some of my favourites.
I am hoping this post will serve as inspiration to others for future trips, and that my favourite countries on Earth may also become yours too.
Maybe it was the time in our lives, maybe it was the trip itself, but the happiest adventure we’ve ever taken as a couple was to Croatia.
I was astounded at the variety here – ancient Roman ruins, dark, damp European forests, sun-scorched expanses of beach, UNESCO sites galore and even a bear sanctuary. There is so much more to this country than Game of Thrones hunting in Dubrovnik.
My suggestion would be a road trip (see our full route here). We started in the north in Pula and made our way down via the green waters of Plitvice Lakes National Park. We then hit the coast, visiting Mediterranean towns such as Sibenik, Zadar and Split, before border-hopping into Bosnia and Herzegovina to see Mostar. We, of course, ended in beautiful Dubrovnik, but this was far from the highlight of the trip.
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Laos must be the most peaceful country I’ve ever visited, but also one of the most unexplored.
Places like Luang Prabang are firmly on the tourist trail, but get out to the Plain of Jars or down to Wat Phu near Champasak and it’s easy to feel like you’re starring in your own Indiana Jones movies at times.
What has kept large parts of Laos off of the main tourist routes is a legacy from the Vietnam War, a so-called ‘Secret War’ in Laos that attempted to stop the Communist North-Vietnamese travelling down through the country. The United States dropped 280 million tonnes of munitions on Laos in just nine years, meaning more bombs were dropped on Laos in this time than were on Europe in the entirety of the Second World War. If you’re interested in learning more I wrote a piece after my harrowing visit to the UXO Museum in Luang Prabang.
The Secret War left large parts of Laos covered in unexploded bombs or ‘UXO’, which means places such as the Plain of Jars have only become safe to access in the last decade or so.
For me this was a truly remarkable country, my favourite of the four we visited on a three-month sabbatical through Southeast Asia. Memories of misty valleys, lush green forests, ochre-robed monks, crumbling temples and slow, brown rivers create an other-worldly vision in my mind of a place torn from the pages of a Tolkien adventure.
I will be back, the question is just, when?
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South Africa 🇿🇦
South Africa was my second home growing up and I fell completely in love with this place.
Whilst we started to visit in the late nineties, I was too young to notice any of the racial and political tensions that had consumed the country, instead what I saw was vibrant colours, welcoming people and a place stuffed with weird and wonderful wildlife. While my friends spent their British summers playing Forty Forty and exchanging Pokemon cards I was in Kruger National Park on early morning game drives and consuming bird books cover to cover.
And as I’ve grown up, I’ve been back multiple times, experiencing the country in different ways. We stayed for three weeks on the Cape Town coast on our first sabbatical, taking wine tours into the Jonkershoek Valley and seeing the penguins at Boulders Beach. In the North of the country, we’ve toured through the Blyde River Canyon and spent time exploring Pretoria. Some things never change though, as nearly every trip ends up at Kruger National Park, truly one of the most incredible places on Earth.
South Africa is one of those few countries that gives me a warm feeling inside when I think of it and I’d recommend anyone who can to take the time to experience it for themselves.
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If South Africa was my second home growing up, then Australia has definitely been my second home as an adult. We moved here in 2019 to take on a new job in Melbourne and since then have been living as locals but exploring as tourists.
Australia is a fascinating place. The world’s sixth-largest country and the largest island. There is everything here – from ancient rainforests to arid deserts, some of the most beautiful natural coastlines on Earth but also some of the most modern, vibrant and diverse cities. Home to all of the world’s ten most poisonous snakes, the most deadly spider, jellyfish, octopus, tick and fish on Earth with 90% of the animals native to this land being found nowhere else- including koala, echidna, dingo, platypus, wombat and kangaroo.
Human life here stretches back almost 60,000 years (longer than anywhere else in the world) and due to a lack of geological activity for 60 million years the oldest rocks, fossils, animal tracks and riverbeds are here too.
But it is so much more than that too.
The culture here is wonderful, with the outdoors being the way of life and the country set with spaces to bring people together. People actually sit on their front porch and say a friendly ‘how ya going’ when strangers walk past. Dog walkers stop for a chat, cafe owners treat customers as if they were long lost family members and everyone unites around some kind of sport. This is England if you could bottle how everyone acts for those three sunny weeks in July where life is great.
There is more to do here than time could ever allow. Within a few hours of Melbourne (my home city), there is one of the greatest drives on Earth, ancient volcanoes, mountain ranges that gather snow in winter, quaint mining towns, the best surfing beaches anywhere in the world, nature reserves packed with weird wildlife, 22,000-year-old rock art, pink salt lakes and even a 32-metre-high cigar if the other things aren’t enough.
And that’s without even mentioning Melbourne itself, voted seven years running the most liveable city on Earth.
If you’re not in Australia, you don’t hear much about it, but when you get here, you realise not a lot else is actually worth worrying about. Everything anyone could ever need is right here.
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