With his recent return from Denmark, Kevin Kimpel of rural Butler can claim a distinction few travelers achieve. He has visited 100 countries.
In his country count, Kimpel includes territories like Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands plus several other islands that are territories of the Netherlands, France or the United Kingdom. He also breaks out England, Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland.
He uses the App called BEEN to track his travels.
Simply flying through a country or transferring planes does not count.
His list of 100 countries only includes three that he has not spent the night in. Lesotho was a day trip from South Africa. Slovakia was a long lunch stop between trains. The Vatican ... “Honestly, I do not know anyone but the Pope who has spent the night there,” he said.
The 100 countries he has visited are:
British Virgin Islands 1985
St. Vincent and the Grenadines 1990s
Puerto Rico 1990s
St. Lucia 1990s
St. Kitts and Nevis 1990s
U.S. Virgin Islands 1990s
St. Barthelemy 1990s
Antigua and Barbuda 2000s
French Polynesia 2004
Sint Maarteen (Dutch side) 2007
St. Martin (French side) 2007
New Zealand 2009
Costa Rica 2010
Northern Ireland 2011
South Africa 2013
Bosnia Herzegovina 2013
Czech Republic 2014
Vatican City 2015
Hong Kong 2016
El Salvador 2017
Sri Lanka 2018
United Arab Emirates 2018
Swaziland/ Eswatini 2020
The Gambia 2020
Cabo Verde 2020
• Fiji. In 2008 while living semi-primitive for two weeks on Vorovoro, I made a friendship that changed the course of my life. A captain of a boat. Plus I learned Fijian dance and traditions while working with the locals and a handful of Westerners. A young British man, Giles, and I also connected and I have followed his career. He is now a doctor, an author, a triathlete, father of twins and a stroke survivor.
• Tunisia, 2020. Landing, and knowing nothing about this country tucked between Algeria and Libya, I had a personal guide for two days who showed me his country and let me experience it like a local when we did a traditional Turkish bath that dated back to Roman times. Plus I met an Algerian man who someday, I hope, will get to show me his country.
• Portugal, March 2020. Mild climate, easy to get to, inexpensive by European standards, easy to get around. On the doorstep to the rest of Europe and only a short flight to Morocco. I might expat there for a year.
One visit was enough
Senegal. It was sobering to learn about the slave trade history and stand in the Doorway of No Return in the House of Slaves, but the country lacks much natural beauty or other interesting cultural experiences
Gut wrenching experiences
• Poland. Near Krakow lies Auschwitz Concentration Camp. It is impossible to get your mind around the scope of the horrors that occurred there. The sheer size of area. Standing on the railroad tracks where countless trains rolled in and people walked directly to their deaths. I was encouraged that 1.5 million people each year visit. Maybe if we all visited we would learn.
• Cambodia. In the late 1970s Pol Pot ordered Phnom Penh to be emptied of people. Millions fled to the countryside. His goal was to take his nation back to an agrarian one. Anyone with an education was the enemy. People were hauled to what had been a school in the empty city and tortured to give up names. Once the guards were done the prisoners were sent to the countryside and killed. Then buried in mass graves. Guards themselves did not last long. If they figured out what was happening, they met the same fate. Vietnamese troops stepped in after four years. Pol Pot killed about 25% of his population. They found five children alive in the school complex. One of those kids was in his 40s when he talked to my group about his experience.
• Ireland. The Kilmainham Gaol in Dublin was a state of the art prison when built in the late 1800s. British rule made it a place for holding political prisoners. The young Irish lady who gave the tour shared from her heart tragic stories of the Irish struggle for freedom.
• Bosnia Herzegovina, September 2013. Sarajevo was under siege in the 1990s. The former Yugoslavia broke up along religious and ethnic lines. Even with U.N. troops stationed in the area, over a few day period 8,000 Muslim men ages 13 to 81 were rounded up and killed. A memorial to them with their faces staring at me from four walls while the voices of their mothers wives and kids told their stories broke my heart.
Most stunning natural scenery
• Morocco, February 2020. The sand dunes of the Sahara to the High Atlas Mountains.
• Argentina, February 2019. Patagonia. Riding horses through the rocky pine studded terrain with the Andes around us. Wow!
• Tahiti (French Polynesia), November 2004. The green islands coming up out of the blue South Pacific viewed from the deck of an old Scottish lighthouse tender once used by the Royal Family. It was graced with pictures of Queen Elizabeth II.
• Nepal, March 2015. Viewing Mt. Everest from a prop plane flown 4,000 feet below its summit and seeing base camps below.
Countries with the most charming cities
• Montenegro, September 2013. Kotor sits on the Bay of Kotor, an arm of the Adriatic, and is still surrounded by the ancient walls. The markets teem with life; the hills surrounding it give it a Norwegian fjord feel, but with a Mediterranean climate.
• Cambodia, February 2016. Siem Reap is tourist friendly with Angkor Wat nearby. A four-handed massage for $12 does wonders to weary muscles.
• Uruguay, February 2019. A little bit of Europe tucked between Brazil and Argentina. Montevideo, the capital, is totally safe and walkable with the most welcoming Airbnb host.
• Estonia, September 2022. Tallinn’s two-level Old Town has the original fortress walls intact. Church and guild spires pierce the skyline along winding streets. Doing a home sauna with my host provided a great unwinding time.
• Kuwait, March 2018. My Airbnb host, Aladdin, in Kuwait City made me so welcome as did everyone else I encountered. The temps were moderate. The lit up skyscrapers set off the night view from the high rise. The small group tour of the Grand Mosque led by a local young lady was very informative and entertaining.
Top food memories
• South Africa, February 2013. Ostrich tastes like a beef filet and can be ordered rare to well done. I opted for medium.
• Estonia, September 2022. Our first meal as a small tour group was in a medieval building where in-character staff served up authentic foods from centuries ago. Bear sausage, spiced cranberries, pickled sauerkraut, rhubarb juice. Three ladies playing music added to the atmosphere.
Unplanned, well timed visits
• Vietnam, February 2016. Tet is Chinese New Year and they celebrate it like we would if we combined Christmas and New Years. Strong family ties plus parties. Fifteen minutes of over the top fireworks by the river in Saigon in a family friendly atmosphere and shirt sleeve weather sure beats Times Square at midnight.
• Belize, March 2017. My Airbnb hostess Lizzie let me tag along with her family to see the conclusion of a four-day canoe race which crosses the country. Teams of three paddle a set distance each day; we witnessed many crossing the finish line, from a team made up with 8, 13 and 14 year-olds to three gray haired Canadians who called themselves the Loons. An event for the locals and not touristy. As a bonus my housemate at the Airbnb was an 86 year-old German who related his experiences growing up in WW II. His first words were, “I saw Hitler in person.”
• Iceland, March 2018. The Penis Museum. Everything from a hamster’s tiny one to the meters-long one of a sperm whale. Done tongue in cheek but with real information too
• Croatia, September 2013. The Museum of Broken Relationships. A house-sized place filled with objects and their related stories of couples who broke up. The previous location of the museum had been Bloomington, Indiana. At 53, a few of the stories I could relate to.
• Tunisia, February 2018. The Bardo Museum has collected Roman and Punic era mosaic tile works from all over the country. Some are displayed on walls but many are part of the floors and are being trod on by modern footwear. My personal guide Sami keeps urging the museum to protect the priceless art work. At least my Crocs did minimal damage.
• Spain, March 2011. Madrid has the Spanish Maritime Museum. The only room with things labeled in English and Spanish was the room giving their version of the sinking of the battleship Maine. It was a boiler explosion not a torpedo.
• United Arab Emirates, March 2018. The Louvre Abu Dhabi. Newly opened when I was there, the building itself is worth the price of entry — a bonus was I was allowed to tag along with a group of school kids and their tour was in English.
Where the U.S. dollar goes far
Laos, Portugal, Indonesia
I felt out of my element
• Swaziland, January 2020. The camp where we pitched our tents was in a huge game reserve. I tried picturing the fences when I heard the lions roar during the night.
• South Africa, January 2020, Durban. Every local I encountered strongly urged me and the group I was with to be careful. Our guide defined an outdoor mall and a beach front that he felt were safe for us to explore on our own or with a group. “Go nowhere else,” was his meaning. My Uber driver would not let me out of the car until my Airbnb host was there to unlock the gate at the end of the driveway.
• China, February 2012, Beijing. On a bright sunny day on a modern street adjacent to Tiananmen Square two young ladies approached me and struck up a conversation in English. One walked beside me and the other slightly behind. I did not know what they were after. I had a backpack and was wary of something being snatched away. I did not know if they just wanted to practice their language skills or if they wanted to turn a trick. But I got the vibe to get myself away. I excused myself to go eat and they half-heartedly offered to dine with me. I sad no and they left.
A return visit is needed
• England, September 2010. I only spent the day after a red-eye flight in London on my way to sail in Greece. I so want to go back and explore Merry Old England from end to end.
• China, March 2012. Beijing has been my only city. It was a stopover on the way home from two weeks in Thailand. There is so much more to see in that vast country.
• Tunisia, February 2020. My personal guide promised to take me to the original Star Wars sets out in the desert.
• Australia, February 2019. I got to explore the east coast, Perth and Tasmania for a month but did not get to the Outback yet.
• Furthest north — February 2018, Iceland Reykjavik, 64.2 degrees north
• Furthest south — March 2009, New Zealand, Dunedin, 45.9 degrees south
• Furthest from home physically — January 2019, Australia Perth, 11,118 miles
Countries high on my list for visiting
• Mongolia. Fellow travelers have told me it is a must experience unless you are vegetarian. If you are, stay away.
• Ethiopia. Another travel-made friend I met in Senegal could not stop singing its praises. I accused her of being on its tourism board.
• Madagascar. The same friend who plugged Ethiopia equally plugged this island nation.
• Israel. That is penciled in for March 2024 with my church, Lakewood Park.
• Antarctica. The seventh continent. Got to get there someday.
The unimaginable occurred
• Turkey, January 2016. Ali No. 1 came up to me as I exited the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul. He wanted to sell me a rug, I declined. But he politely persisted and tagged along with my walk. He asked me what my plans were and I told him I planned to go to a Turkish bath. He knew the place and took me to where the locals go. After two hours of steaming and soaking and massage, he met me at the door and proceeded to show me his city. Then his buddy, Ali No. 2, joined us and he too wanted to sell me something. I politely turned him down. But now I had two tour guides showing me the city that had fascinated me for years. Over a few beers I bought them we discussed life and bosses and dating. Out of the blue Ali No. 2 said, “If the skies were parchment and the oceans ink, and every stalk a quill and every man a scribe, we could not write how great Allah is.” My jaw dropped open, he had just quoted one of my favorite hymns, The Love of God. With one key word changed.
• Ukraine, September 2019. When Chernobyl blew up in 1986, I was working for an engineering firm in Chicago which designed nuclear power plants. If you would have told me then that I would tour the site and get within 400 feet of the reactor 33 years later I would have thought you crazy. But I was there. The day after my 59th birthday.
Advice and a gift-giving idea
• Travel light. Roll up clothes tight and secure with rubber bands. Take a minimum and layer as needed. Do laundry along the way. It is possible to travel with just one set of footwear. For me Crocs.
• In a new city google “free walking tours” and find out where to join one. A local will provide a couple of hours walking tour of the city, telling a bit of history and also some quirky stuff. At the end you tip what you think the tour is worth. I generally go for the local equivalent to $15. From what you learn you can figure out what you want to explore more. Guides are great sources of places to eat, too.
• Women can travel alone. I encounter as many solo women travelers of all ages and nationalities as I do males.
• Yes, you can afford to travel. We all choose priorities of what is important to us. If you really want to go someplace, then look at what you think you can’t live without and rethink it.
• Never have I been made feel unwelcome because I am an American. Treat people like you like to be treated and you will discover that they will be kind in return. People all over the world want the same things: a safe place to live, food for their family and some fun. We need more one-on-one connections and we need to stop listening to talking heads about what the rest of the world is like.
• Use Airbnb and look for hosts who are opening their own homes and will be there while you are there. Be open to their perspective and they will be open to yours.
• On your gift-giving lists, consider giving passports. The doors that will open are priceless.