The Favourites of Sam Goodwin

From 2010-2019, American Sam Goodwin (33 at the time of the publication of this article) travelled to every country in the world and wrote about it on his blog. He has lived and worked in Singapore, France and The United Arab Emirates and has led humanitarian efforts across Asia, Africa and Latin America. Goodwin grew up playing competitive ice hockey and continues to use the game as a model of sports diplomacy around the world. Sam speaks about his experiences and has presented to groups such as elite athletes, faith organizations, at corporate conventions and to the US Military.

What are three of your favourite countries, and why? 

I ordinarily resist naming specific countries as my favourites (one of the reasons being that my answers often change daily), but here are three that consistently rank near the top of the list.

New Zealand
In New Zealand, around each bend is another postcard. In my opinion, it is the most naturally beautiful place on Earth and unquestionably worth every minute of travel required to reach its corner of the globe. It is the best destination in the world for a road trip, which is my favourite “style of travel.” It is clean, safe and indigenous Māori traditions have resulted in Kiwis today being among the friendliest and most open-hearted people anywhere. 

Lebanon
Despite Israel, Syria and others bringing decades of noise to the neighbourhood, Lebanon has persevered as one of the most culturally influential nations in the Arab world. It’s challenging to find better hospitality than in the Middle East, a trait that the Lebanese possess in spades. How could a country that arguably has both the world’s best food and most beautiful women not be at the top of the favourite countries list? 

Philippines
From island hopping in Palawan to taking a chopper to the members-only island of Balesin to swimming with whale sharks in Oslob, the Philippines has played host to several of my most memorable travel experiences. I also co-founded an NGO in Cebu, which has led to long-standing friendships and the Philippine people forever holding a special place in my life. I will, however, never miss Manila traffic. There’s a saying in the region – “You haven’t lived in Asia until you’ve been stuck in traffic on EDSA.”

What are three of your favourite travel moments, and why?

Having the site of Jesus’ crucifixion to myself
On my final morning in Israel, I decided to make one last stop into the Church of the Holy Sepulchre before heading to the airport. I climbed the narrow staircase to the second level of the church and was surprised to find the traditional site of Jesus’ crucifixion to be completely empty – nobody was there except me. I sat for roughly 10 minutes with the entire area to myself. As a lifelong practising Catholic, this was a powerful experience and one I will never forget. My moment drew to a close as two busloads of tourists arrived and flooded the space with rosaries and cameras, creating a chaotic scene similar to what I had encountered in previous days. At that point, however, I didn’t care as nothing could ruin or take away from what I had just experienced.

Jogging around an entire country
The circumference of Nauru happens to be exactly 21 kilometres (13 miles), the same distance as a half marathon. One afternoon I decided to jog the ring road. I called this the Nauru Half Marathon (it’s not a real event – I, and other travellers, just made it up), but more significantly appreciate the “that time I ran around an entire country” soundbite.

Bagan hot air balloon ride
The central Burmese town of Bagan is one of the world’s greatest archaeological sites and has seen a considerable tourism spike in recent years. Hot air balloons have become iconic to the ancient city and carried many visitors on soaring unforgettable adventures. Balloon season runs from October to April and is among the best attractions in Southeast Asia and among my best travel experiences ever. An early-morning ride over 2,200 Buddhist pagodas is as stunning as anyone could imagine. I’ve done the hot air balloon ride in Cappadocia too, which is also incredible. However, I found Bagan (although more than double the price) to be a slightly more epic experience. 

What are three of your worst travel moments, and why?

Food poisoning
I can’t imagine there’s a 193-er who hasn’t experienced some kind of food poisoning or sickness due to unfamiliar cuisine. The aftermath of Indonesia (Komodo Island) and Pakistan (Islamabad and Naltar Valley) was among my worst. I also contracted salmonella in Peru, something I wouldn’t wish on anyone (I then flew directly from Lima to Toronto for my friend’s wedding. I struggled to physically make it to the ceremony. In addition, I was the best man and nearly had diarrhoea while delivering the toast. For the record, I’m now the Godfather to his first child, so the speech must not have been too bad!).  

Pickpocketing
While at the Milan train station, my iPod fell victim to a pick pocketer amidst the confusion of my family and I scurrying between trains. We made the connection with just a few minutes to spare, but my playlists did not. As a teenager at the time, I was devastated by what had happened. Moving forward, however, this resulted in an increased vigilance while travelling. I’m confident it has helped and will continue to help me avoid many similar incidents.

Dysfunctional ATM’s
On roughly three occasions, I have withdrawn money from an ATM and received far less cash than I requested. It, unfortunately, wasn’t as if I requested $200 and got $195. It was more like I requested $200 and got $8. I love Africa – the continent and its tremendous people have provided many of my best and most unique travel experiences – but feel obliged to report that each of these ATM incidents occurred in African countries.

What are three of your best travel tips?

Avoid overplanning
Be flexible, and let days unfold naturally. Having a plan and a few things scheduled is great, but I also recommend taking time to get purposefully lost (both literally and figuratively). Establishing this balance is among the best ways to travel. I went to Singapore in 2012, planning to be there for three months and ended up staying six years. 

Learn a bit of the local language
Knowing a few words or phrases in the native language goes a long way. Locals often appreciate the effort, which leads to easier and more enjoyable interactions. I usually start with “Thank you” and can say it in roughly 20 languages. Piggybacking off this, there is no gesture in the world more universal than a smile. 

Try travelling solo (at least once)
I went to 42 countries in Africa by myself, among many others. It’s hard to beat the freedom of doing what you want, when you want, without having to worry about anyone else. No doubt, travelling with family and friends and sharing moments of discovery are unparalleled experiences (and I couldn’t be more grateful to say that I’ve had many of them), but I think even a small taste of solo exploring can be huge for personal growth and perspectives.  

Additional favourites

Favourite airline: Qatar Airways.
Favourite airport: Singapore.
Favourite city: New York City.
Favourite island(s): The Galápagos.
Favourite people: Lebanese.
Favourite small town: Queenstown.
Favourite travel book: Into the Wild.
Favourite travel movie: Apollo 13.
Favourite travel website: Momondo.com

You can follow Sam on Instagram, Twitter and his website Samrgoodwin.com.

  The Favourites of Melvin Boecher

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