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I have been traveling ever since I was a year old. I traveled around parts of Europe as a child and a few countries in the Middle East through my teens. I did my first trip without family for a school MUN conference in the Hague in 1997 and my first pure fun solo trip when I was 18 years old (after graduating high school) where I went to France for the World Cup in 1998.
When planning out each year, thinking about the goals of each month, and considering whether a given day has been a success, I use the Three Life Pillars: Personal, Passion, Professional. Without a doubt travel forms a critical part of my passion pillar and Final50 has become the quintessential passion project to chronicle and inspire others to also use travel as a key part of ones own personal development and identity.
Travel truly engages ALL your senses at the same time: Sight, Sound, Smell, Touch, and Taste. Such heightened stimulation is not something you can likely experience in your daily living. By igniting all your senses, your mind and body better perceive, understand, and appreciate the environment around you.
Travel can also put you in positions of discomfort. The guys at Yes Theory say it best, ‘Seek Discomfort’ by pushing past your limits so you can truly learn about yourself and experience ALL that life can offer. Such exposure will invariably influence your own personal development so that you can become more confident, compassionate, tolerant, grateful, resilient, resourceful etc.
It’s like a virtuous cycle: the more you travel the more you learn about yourself, the more you learn the more you improve as a person, the better of a person you can become the more you add to the world…
Initially I traveled with family. Later I just traveled more sparingly with savings on a student budget, staying with friends, collecting airline miles/hotel points, and sharing costs on group trips. However, in 2009 I started Write Track Admissions, a global admissions consulting company, which allowed me to work and travel at the same time.
Later I worked as an international development lawyer, which allowed me to travel frequently and far across the world. My hack was traveling to one location with the government and then using it as a base to travel to 1-2 nearby countries (i.e. Malaysia for work then fly to Myanmar and Brunei).
Now, I balance and manage a multitude of projects remotely. which helps me continue funding my trips while staying engaged in my own career development as a lawyer and entrepreneur.
No. Traveling is a super passion. As a professional, I am a lawyer, education advocate, and tech entrepreneur. I choose my career pursuits based on the following guidelines: Fulfillment (what motivates me to wake up in the morning), Flexibility (what keeps me going throughout the day), & Impact (what helps me sleep well at night). So I am eager to keep learning and taking on projects that meet that criteria, while reserving travel as a passion. Sometimes, however, I let my passion blend into my profession.
Being limited in where I could travel because of my Iraqi passport made me feel like an outcast. That’s why I have a ton of respect for those who are trying to see the world on difficult passports (see Baderkhan). These limitations later fueled my curiosity and desire to see the world.
I have also tried to be more intentional about incorporating Education, Exploration & Entertainment in each one of my travels to make the experience even more fulfilling and memorable. This is what motivated me to create Final50, so I can share these experiences and help travelers feel an immense sense of gratitude for their inner growth and exposure to the beauty of our world.
I love studying and learning. So after completing my BA in History at UCLA, I did my law degree (JD) at UC Berkeley Law and MPhil at the Univ. of Cambridge in International Relations. Later I returned to graduate school to do my MPA at Harvard.
Professionally, I worked in transactional law, international development, administrative law, and EdTech through my admissions company. I also love public speaking, story branding, and motivational talks! Like I said before, I hope that my career will always remain exciting and compliment my passion for travel.
Growing up and traveling on an Iraqi passport was definitely challenging. I remember when briefly transiting through countries required a visa, secondary holds were the norm, and the frustrations of making the team for numerous high school tournaments only to be denied travel due to restrictions in countries like Jordan, Kuwait, KSA, and the UAE.
In fact, I recall one trip where I was flying from LA to Cairo. When I got to my first layover in NYC they told me that my second layover in Austria would not accept transiting Iraqi passengers. Mind you I was 15 years old, traveling alone for the first time. I was re-routed to the only country that would allow my ‘type’, Morocco. In Casablanca, I waited in a small lounge for 17 hours — not allowed to access the rest of the airport — before I was put on a smoking filled flight to Cairo. So you can imagine my relief when I finally got the U.S. passport. I went from a pariah to a global citizen overnight. Yet I was exactly the same person.
Don’t get me wrong, I was still questioned as a U.S. citizen after 9/11 because I was a Muslim. Male. Arab. And I still get profiled in airports. Yet, while my experiences have been frustrating and humiliating, they have ultimately galvanized my lifelong desire to see each and every country. I have the utmost compassion and empathy for those who face discrimination not because of who they are but because of where they were born. For that I will never forget my roots and always strive to be the best Iraqi-American global ambassador on my travels across the world.
I was not very intentional about staying in shape while traveling until I decided to run the NYC Marathon in 2015. I knew I had to travel extensively for work and therefore decided to train while traveling, creating an IG account just for it @globalfitnesshz.
Now when I travel, I make sure I bring my workout resistance bands or use the hotel gym. I also run in each country I visit. Plus I have been super religious about doing 10K steps every day when I am home. So on the road I end up doing a lot more since I opt to walk or run then take public transportation when exploring a city.
Before I would just look up and mark off as many Points of Interest (POIs) as I could. Then I started doing things I wouldn’t do to test my limits, while seeing/experiencing new things. With the incredible amount of resources available and number of globetrotters writing about their experiences, my travels have been a lot better planned.
Now my approach is to: (1) find friends (or friends of friends) in each locale to meet locals and get the insider scope, (2) Use the 3E Lens to map out what I want to do and see for a more holistic experience, (3) review blogs, watch vlogs, read articles to get a better sense of the frequented and unique POIs, (4) create a day-by-day itinerary so I can make sure nothing is missed. Of course always plan to be flexible and adaptable when your plans go south on the road!
One adventure I wont forget was in Fiji. I went to the island of Kuata because I wanted to go diving with bull sharks off the coast. After that crazy (cage-less) experience, I decided, in my infinite wisdom, to rent a kayak from a beach shop and traverse the whole island, solo. Honestly I just started going and kept going and going. Next thing you know I was SUPER alone in the middle of nowhere, and began to freak out. But it’s through discomfort that we test our limits and grow stronger, more resourceful and more present in the moment. I survived the ordeal and even wrote a Blog on Quora about the crazy adventure!
No two trips are really the same, or so it’s said. Over the years I have personally embarked on all ‘types’ of trips and discovered many new countries in the process. These include the following trips:
Whatever the type of trip you choose, have a purpose for your travel and it will be just that much more of a memorable and unique life experience.
I really started thinking about doing vlogs and blogs in 2021 during the pandemic when I realized one day while on a long drive that I was actually very close to the last 50 countries. I then decided to start a project around these final 50 countries, which would include a vlog (when possible to film in the country) and blog.
I also realize that along the journey to these final 50 destinations, I will also have many unique and memorable Education, Exploration, and Entertainment related experiences like seeing incredible nature, interacting with animals, undertaking physical feats, embracing personal endeavors, meeting incredible people etc. So the plan is to write a blog and, where possible, create vlogs for each major destination and experience with the intention of making them informative, exciting, and personal. Such content will help us to become more purposeful and better informed travelers, who are open-minded, compassionate, and curious about our beautiful world.
Again, while I had wondered how I would chronicle my many past trips, I am now doing it systematically and I am SUPER excited to continue on this journey. Also note, I have drafted short captions and thought pieces for every country I have traveled to on the .world page!
Literally Final50 comes from reaching the final 50 countries. But figuratively it is a lot more than that. It is about setting a goal and accomplishing it at whatever cost. But not blindly running to the proverbial finish line. Rather, embracing every challenge along the way, growing in the process to be more patience, more resourceful, and mentally stronger. Through this journey of constant growth, you will be better prepared to take on whatever challenges life throws your way. This is Final50.
So why am I starting this Final50 journey now and not before? Well I have reached a point in my life, through years of travel and trial & error, where I am a more confident, intrepid, and intentional traveler. Also through my various business operations and career pursuits I have a far better idea of what I want to achieve and how I want to achieve it with Final50. This took many years to develop. So now I am ready to document my past trips and embark on future destinations that will meet the mission and goals of this Final50 journey.
For me this Final50 journey is to see the world and engage all my human senses while doing it. You may ask, what happens after this Final50? Well I will embrace another personal challenge — whether it be a physical feat, academic achievement, personal goal, professional leadership etc. And I will do so knowing with full confidence that I can accomplish most anything (God willing) with the Final50 mindset!
Traveling has to be more than knocking off POIs. I did that before and while fulfilling in some ways, it also had its limitations and my memory of some of those earlier visits has already began to fade. That’s when I came up with the 3E Lens to help me maximize my journeys.
Given my love for history, international relations and policy, I began to really leverage these passions when planning each journey — a good start is to read the wikipedia page before you visit each new country/major city. Also its key to speak with locals to learn more about things like local politics, historical narratives, and the business landscape, so you can better appreciate how the country ticks. Doing so activates the Mind (Education).
Now as any traveler I want my adrenaline pumping by pushing myself and embracing discomfort. So I exercise — hike, run, swim, ski, sail — in different countries and research a mix of frequented sights with more unique locales, so I can experience nature, history, and the customs of each destination. This energizes the Body (Exploration).
Finally, when I was a law student at Berkeley Law, I taught college courses to make ends meet. One course was the Politics of Music. This showed me the importance of creativity in any destination and how it is weaved with the culture, politics, economics and society. So when I am on the road I seek immersion in music, art, sports, food etc, to get the ‘human’ element of the destination. This nourishes the Soul (Entertainment).
So that’s why the 3E Lens — Mind, Body, Soul — all you need to make the destination a life experience.
The United Nations has 193 sovereign member states and two non-member observer states (State of Palestine and Vatican City). Moreover, many travel enthusiasts include Kosovo and Taiwan (neither of which are member states or observers in the UN) in that overall list of countries. Following their lead, 197 will be my goal!
I have been traveling since I was a baby. While I have been experiencing countries at a faster pace in the past 10-15 years, I am constantly trying to enthusiasm with moderation, ambition with reality, especially since traveling is not my full-time job.
So while I don’t want to rush the final 50 countries I also don’t want to wait forever. Ultimately the goal is to complete these final destinations within this decade (iA) while truly enjoying ever moment of the journey.