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25 Countries in 7 Months

Updated Feb. 4, 2019, to correct a few numbers and add links.

Just over seven months ago, I started a year-long trip around the world to research the global experience of singleness among Christians. Twenty-five countries in, here’s a snapshot of my travels, from a World Cup surprise to the fate of my sourdough companion.

Biggest lifestyle changes

  • Weight: New since the trip, I care a lot about kilos … of luggage. After a third lightening-down in Germany, I weighed in at 45 kilos (about 100 pounds), not including purse.

  • Reading: Related to weight, I’ve converted even my Spanish books to images and only read e-books right now. The San Francisco library’s digital holdings have been a gift!

  • Caffeine: Black tea has largely replaced my years-long coffee habit.

Travel

  • 31 flights, two ferries and dozens of train rides by Dec. 31.

  • 4 missed flights to Ghana, due to inaccurate official online immigration information. Though I originally stood to lose nearly $1,000 in this debacle, mercy from the airlines involved and determined follow-up by my Ghana contact got back nearly $700 of that.

  • 1 unused World Cup ticket since it turned out Moscow hosted only some games. My missed game in Siberia had a silver lining, though: Because Russia extended the use period for “FAN IDs,” I got three visits with the same visa (two as stopovers).

Housing

  • 150 days until I needed my portable cot for a research stop.

  • 51 different beds in 34 cities, including three night trains and one overnight ferry. Thanks to incredibly generous hospitality — mostly from strangers — I’ve only had to stay in an AirBnb, hotel or rental room 10 times.

  • Closest call: One Sunday in Spain, I showed up at a church with all my luggage in tow, because I didn’t know where I’d sleep that night. By the end of the service, a female attendee had given me the key to her apartment.

Day-to-day living

  • 200+ cups of black tea drunk. I even had to buy more tea in Kenya and Germany.

  • 169 days until I needed my backup glasses.

  • 10 batches of homemade sourdough bread baked. I’ve also left starter in four countries, including the kitchen of L’Abri in Switzerland. (I always pack it into my check bag on flights, and carefully bag it in case of leakage.)

Money

  • Living on God’s expense account: As I wrote for Christianity Today in October, this trip has tested my faith — and changed how I think about it.

  • With 21 currencies to date, it takes a multi-tab Google spreadsheet to track expenses, including effective exchange rates. Fun fact: In Nigeria, you get to contribute 15 to 20 percent of the cash withdrawn to every bank whose ATM you use.

  • Average weekly living costs: Down 40 percent, vs. 2017 tax-year expenses. Both figures include housing (rent vs. storage unit), transportation, food and cell phone costs.

    • Biggest expense: transportation (about 50 percent).

    • Average food cost, including meals out and alcohol: $56/week. I cook as much as I can, some interviewees have treated me and several hosts also shared their meals with me.

    • Cell phone bill: Sometimes lower than pre-trip. With $10/GB data and coverage in almost every country I’ve visited, I cannot say enough good things about Google Fi.

Research

  • Nearly 130 interviews and counting, participants age 15 to 80 and 55 percent women.

  • 30+ churches attended or worked with.

  • 7 translators needed so far. In Switzerland I also did two interviews mostly in my limited German (!!).

Gifts

  • Relational: Seeing friends from my home church in London and Jerusalem; walking with a New York friend in Berlin; and making repeat stops to my brother’s home in Bavaria.

  • From strangers: Companionship at the airport in north Africa; someone to walk with in Switzerland, sail the Bosporus in Turkey and see the Wailing Wall with in Jerusalem.

  • Aesthetic: Live music in Kyiv, Addis Ababa and Tokyo; seeing the Alps, the pyramids and Tokyo’s oldest garden, awash in fall leaves.

  • Creative: 5 different sewing machines have allowed me to make PJs and robes for relatives, finish a waxed-cotton raincoat, sew two new blouses and finish a knit wool skirt/blouse set for cooler weather.

After a break for Christmas, I’m back on the road for about seven more months, coming to southeast Asia, Australia and the Americas.