2021 started with my longest travel interruption in two decades. I boarded my first flight of the year in June 2021, 207 days after my last flight in 2020. A travel ban issued by the Belgian government due to the pandemic was the culprit. Despite a late start, I went on 13 trips this year visiting 12 countries of which 5 for the first time: Iraq 🇮🇶 Nigeria 🇳🇬 Pakistan 🇵🇰 Colombia 🇨🇴 and Peru 🇵🇪 . With 114 out of 193 UN countries done, I have 79 left to explore.
I reduced my exposure to future loyalty program devaluations by burning a significant part of my miles balances this year. I spent a total of 437.000 miles in 3 frequent flyer programs: Lufthansa Miles & More (338K) Turkish Airlines Miles & Smiles (41.5K) and Iberia Plus Avios (57.5K) The use of miles greatly reduced the cost of my 14 business class and 30 economy class flights in 2021. Good for a total of 54.452 miles flown or 2.2 times around the earth and 135 hours up in the air.
In 2021, I stayed 67 nights at hotels:
- Hilton: 20 nights
- Hilton: 6
- Hilton Garden Inn: 5
- DoubleTree by Hilton: 3
- Embassy Suites by Hilton: 2
- Hampton by Hilton: 2
- LXR: 1
- Curio Collection by Hilton: 1
- Marriott: 3 nights
- Sheraton: 1
- Renaissance: 1
- EDITION: 1
- IHG: 3 nights
- Holiday Inn: 3
- Radisson: 1 night
- Radisson Collection: 1
- Airbnb: 3 nights
- Hostel: 6 nights
- Other: 31 nights
- Total: 67 nights
My Hilton Diamond status was extended till March 2023, my IHG Rewards Club Platinum Elite and Marriott Bonvoy Platinum status till February 2023.
In September I visited my first country outside Europe since the pandemic started, Iraq, the cradle of civilization. I joined a group of fellow country chasers for a week long trip from the capital Baghdad all the way to Basra in the south of the country.
Highlights included the iconic Malwiya (Arabic for “twisted”) Minaret in Samarra, the world’s biggest cemetery in Najaf, Saddam Hussein’s abandoned palace in Babylon, the Ziggurat of Ur and the Arba’een Pilgrimage (world’s largest annual gathering) in Karbala.
Check my Iraq Instagram Stories.
While in Iraq, I got invited by a friend to make a last-minute trip to Nigeria end of September. I had to do the visa paperwork while on the road in Iraq, but it all worked out fine. I got to visit the busteling capital of Nigeria, Lagos, and made a day trip to Abeokuta to see Olumo Rock and the Olusegun Obasanjo Presidential Library. The most fascinating part of the trip was exploring Makoka, the ‘Venice of Africa’, a euphemism for the largest floating slum in the world.
Early October, I spent 10 days in Northern Pakistan. I flew to Islamabad from where I continued my journey to Gilgit to visit both the Hunza and Skardu region. Highlights included the Khunjerab Pass (highest border crossing in the world), the spectacular ride to Fairy Meadows, the vast plains of Deosai National Park and the incredible Marsur Rock (see picture above).
In November, I headed to Latin America with Bogota, the capital of Colombia, as my first stop. Highlight was the Bogota Bike Tour with guide Mike. From Pablo Escobar’s home town Medellin, I made a day tour to Guatape to climb the famous La Piedra del Peñol (see picture above). Check my Colombia Instagram Stories.
The final trip of 2021 ticked off my 6th Wonder of the World, Machu Picchu in Peru. I climbed both Huayna Picchu (mountain in the background of the picture above) and Machu Picchu mountain.
I can also confirm a day trip from Cusco to Rainbow mountain (5036M) is a must! Check my Peru Instagram Stories.