Before starting my 2-year trip around the world, I decided to pick a completely random destination for my route. Here’s what happened after that.
I’ve always embraced randomness. Before I began my first InterRail trip way back in 2012 (my first solo backpacking trip!), I bought a set of darts and threw them on the map of Europe. The five darts formed the basis of my route around the continent.
However, my throws weren’t completely random. I kept my eyes open and loosely aimed at Central Europe so I’d have enough time to visit all the destinations within three weeks. Still, I ended up exploring some very random small towns in Germany, Austria and Italy.
As I was preparing for my trip around the world, I decided to take the idea one giant step further. Instead of Europe, I’d choose a completely random place anywhere in the world.
How to Choose A Completely Random Destination?
When people think of picking a random destination, they often imagine throwing a dart on the map. However, there are few problems with this method. For example, it’s hard to hit a completely random spot on a flat surface if you have any idea where the map is.
Then there’s the bigger issue with map projections. The earth is not flat, so most maps make areas near the poles unnaturally large. This makes northern Siberia a much more likely destination than it should be.
A round globe would solve my problem, but I didn’t know where I’d get a cheap one without a stand. It was pure luck that I found what I was looking for.
A few months before I went traveling, I visited City-Tokmanni, a Finnish discount store in my hometown Jyväskylä. I was looking for something else when I passed through the outdoor section. There I spotted an inflatable kids’ beach ball with the globe printed on it!
The beach ball map was a bit outdated – countries like Zaire and Yugoslavia revealed it had been made in the early 1990’s. The borders were also a bit off, but for only five euros, it was a great bargain.
When the time was right, I bought the ball and headed home to pick my random destination.
Picking the Random Destination
Flashback to March 7th, 2016.
My departure was just two months away, and my travel preparations were already in full swing. Me and my then-girlfriend were taking time off before our eventual break up, so I had our apartment for myself.
The time was right to choose my random destination.
I have an old tradition of listening to a specific song during my life’s important moments. This felt like one of the moments, so I turned the music on. Then I put a marker pen on the side, covered my eyes with a sleep mask and started spinning the globe in my hands.
It was an exhilarating feeling, thinking how big effect this one tiny action would have on my life. Still, I didn’t feel very afraid, just excited and energetic – like when you’re about to press the send button on a message you’ve been afraid to write.
I stopped spinning the globe, took out the marker pen and drew a random circle on the ball. As a small precaution, I made the circle a bit larger than necessary – if it would land on a place like South Sudan, I could hope that a part of the circle would touch a safer area.
Then I took the sleep mask off to see where I was heading.
About 70 percent of the Earth’s surface is covered by water, but I got lucky. Instead of hitting an ocean, I had drawn the circle in Kenya.
From Plan to Reality
When I saw the circle, I felt relieved. Just knowing where I was going helped me relax, and Kenya felt like a good destination. As a kid I had a peculiar interest in Kenyan marathon runners, so I had wanted to visit the country some day.
(I also hadn’t paid attention to the news of terrorist attacks and rebel groups in the country, so I somewhat falsely believed Kenya to be a particularly safe place.)
But how and when would I get to Kenya? I had planned to pass through Middle East near the beginning of my trip. Kenya was close, but not close enough, I thought. I decided to make Africa the last new continent of my trip and visit Kenya on my way back.
That choice caused me a lot of frustration during the trip. Every time I re-planned my route, I found it challenging to fit Kenya in the itinerary. East Africa seemed so far from every other place I planned to visit!
As my trip around the world progressed, I became more and more aware of my time and budget limitations. I constantly dropped destinations and streamlined my route, yet Kenya had to remain, no matter how difficult it seemed.
(Sure, I could have flown to Kenya from almost anywhere, but that’s against my stubborn travel principles. I try to travel overland most of the time and I don’t like to skip over countries.)
My Random Visit to Kenya
Finally, on March 9th this year, I reached my destination. It had been exactly two years and two days since I picked my random destination – yes, I missed the anniversary by a whisker – when I crossed the border from Tanzania to Kenya.
So, how was my visit to Kenya?
Well, after all the building up, my stay in the country was quite straightforward. Anticlimatic, almost. I only stayed in the country for a week, couchsurfing in the capital Nairobi and a smaller town called Nakuru nearby. I didn’t do many paid activities and I didn’t go for a safari.
The rain season had also begun right before my arrival, and the daily rains were a bit discouraging for exploring. I got to see Kenyan culture and I had some great experiences, but my random visit was quite similar to my stays in other African countries.
Still, the people I met made my trip to Kenya worth it. I had great Couchsurfing hosts in Nairobi, and I spent time with fellow travellers in both Nakuru and the capital. Nairobi is not a pretty city, but the views on the way to Nakuru were very beautiful.
The Consequences of Randomness
In the end, my visit to Kenya wasn’t the most important consequence of my destination lottery. As the oft-repeated cliché goes, the journey was more important than the destination.
Fitting Kenya in my itinerary had a big impact on my route and experiences. For example, had I not picked it as my random destination, I would not have traveled overland from South Africa to Kenya through Zimbabwe, Zambia and Tanzania.
And I don’t remember if I’ve told this here before, but I seriously considered finishing my trip before last Christmas. The fact that I had not been to Kenya – and wouldn’t have the time to visit it properly – was one of the main reasons that stopped me from heading home.
In other words, the last few months of my life would have been completely different without this random destination. I made new friends along the way, and I believe that these coincidental experiences and encounters will affect my future as well.
And that’s one of the reasons I embrace randomness in travel and life. You never know what you get, but what you find might have an everlasting impact on your life.
Before I started my trip around the world, I decided to pick one completely random destination. So I went and bought a kids' beachball with the globe printed on it. I covered my eyes, spinned the ball in my hands and blindly drew a circle on the globe. The circle happened to hit Kenya. It took me two years (and a detour through 40 other countries), but last week I finally reached my destination! 🌍