6 Island Countries in 1 Month: My ‘Once-In-A-Lifetime’ Dream Trip

Map created at gcmap.com

Map created at gcmap.com

I don’t like the phrase, ‘once-in-a-lifetime.’

It masks the fact that you can do anything, at anytime. Multiple times, if you like.

With that said, today I begin a trip that is truly ‘once-in-a-lifetime’ because I have no good reason to return to these remote destinations. Having completed my my Japan / China / Myanmar trip I’ll soon visit:

  • East Indonesia (West Papua)
  • Papua New Guinea (PNG)
  • Solomon Islands
  • Fiji
  • New Zealand
  • Tahiti

Since these destinations are both remote and difficult to visit I’ll publish detailed how-to trip reports later. Without others’ travelogues I never would have thought this international islandhopping adventure possible.

My goal with the trip reports is to add tidbits of useful info for future adventurers—in particular, how to fly in and out with miles—while paying respect to those who blazed the trail. Careless Whistler, I’m looking at you.

Photo credit: surfsolomons.com

Photo credit: surfsolomons.com

Highlights Traveling by Train, Plane, Truck, Boat, and Canoe

This trip has so many highlights it’s hard to know where to begin. A preview?

My photo from atop Mandalay Hill

My photo from atop Mandalay Hill

Train from Yangon to Mandalay (Myanmar)

Last week I flew to Myanmar to ride the train between Yangon and Mandalay. I arrived late to Yangon, Myanmar’s capital, then began the 15-hour journey north the next morning. Four nights total, mostly exploring and eating my way around the backstreets of Mandalay. In Yangon, the Four Rivers Hostel was great for $10 with breakfast. In Mandalay, stay free at the 79 Living Hotel with statement credits earned via the HotelQuickly app (bicycle rental included). As always, Seat61 is the best resource for worldwide train travel.

Myanmar is a special place, and one I’d revisit if in the area. The most interesting place in SE Asia.


My photo from the 34th floor Executive Lounge

My photo from the 34th floor Executive Lounge

Five-Star Hilton DoubleTree in Kuala Lumpur (Malayasia)

I write this wrapped in a fancy white robe on the 31st floor. This hotel feels like home after staying here with my parents during their luxury Asia trip. For only 10K Hilton HHonors points per night, this is one of the best luxury hotel deals in Asia. Gold Status–earned easily via several credit cards—gets you free breakfast, free evening cocktails and hors d’oeuvres (yes, I spellchecked that), and more often than not a free room upgrade.

Photo credit: stayrajaampat.com

Photo credit: stayrajaampat.com

Rugged Beach Bungalow in Raja Ampat (Indonesia)

Today at the airport I’ll meet Gabby, the online English teacher and entrepreneur with whom I traveled Japan, to fly to the remote eastern corner of Indonesia, Raja Ampat. The GoogleImages are…beyond description…but that could be said about all of these countries. For one week I’ll dive some of the world’s most biodiverse waters, catch up on fiction, eat fish until I grow gills, and try to remember what life was like before the internet. I recommend StayRajaAmpat.com for trip planning.

Diving with Whale Sharks in Cenderawasih Bay (Indonesia)

For divers this is a near Nirvana experience. In the Philippines and a few other whale shark haunts you’re lucky to have a single sighting. Cenderawasih Bay is the only area in the world in which the whale sharks don’t migrate but instead congregate below the same fishermens’ floating stations. Divers can spend hours, I read, dwarfed by three to ten gentle giants as they suck small fish from nets, oblivious to the humans around them. Unfortunately, it’s expensive to get here. Details soon in the trip report.

Photo credit: reefrainforest.com

Photo credit: reefrainforest.com

(Illegally) Island Hopping Borders (PNG / Solomon Islands)

There’s so much conflicting info from both ends of the spectrum about safety, the people, the roads, etc., that I’ve decided simply, to go. To see Papua New Guinea for myself. A country with 6 million people and 820 living languages is bound to be misunderstood. It’s safe, it’s not safe. They’re friendly, they’re hostile. Both are true according to the law of averages. I’ve learned though from personal experience that good always outnumbers bad, all around the world. Our plan is to overland bicycle tour style (e.g. stay with families, then ask them to connect us to relatives up the road). Real-deal traveler Tihomir compiled a comprehensive guide for overlanding PNG and crossing into The Solomon Islands that has been extremely helpful.

His videos of local ceremonies are worth a look too.

On the above map did you notice the lack of red line between Indonesian and The Solomon Islands? Well, that’s because there are few roads and no official crossings. In fact, it’s illegal to cross from Bougainville (PNG) to the Solomon Islands. According to Tihomir, an Australian peacekeeping force patrols the waters, but they’re more surprised than angry should they find you in the middle of nowhere in a wooden canoe.

Photo credit: unique-vacation.com

Photo credit: unique-vacation.com

Relaxing in Paradise (Fiji)

Our onward flight from Honiara to Nadi, Fiji departs on July 11th. That’s 25 days to cross the 2nd largest island in the world (1st is Greenland, PNG is 2nd). This sounds like a lifetime but the rugged overland routes in PNG and lack of official water transport in The Solomon Islands make this trip highly unpredictable. In order to avoid paying last-minute flight prices upon arrival to Honiara I snagged two Fiji Airways award seats for 35K Alaska Airlines miles plus $50 in taxes. I’m excited to see the above aerial when landing in Fiji.

A Week of Luxury in Moorea (Tahiti)

From Fiji we’ll fly to Tahiti via Auckland. By this point you hate me and only care about what I have to say if you yourself plan to visit Tahiti. I’ll save the free accommodations and $23 flight details for the trip report.

Ah, but I can’t help but geek out a bit now. I mean, it’s Tahiti….

Direct flights from the US to Tahiti require advanced booking to find award availability, but I noticed that Air Tahiti Nui has wide-open availability to and from Tokyo for 30K AAdvantage miles one-way. This opens up options. For example, it’s easy to fly from the US to Tokyo, even from the East Coast like my friend Eric. Hawaii to Tahiti is also wide-open. US-Japan-Tahiti-Hawaii, you see? Or reverse it. A nice little vacation.

Tahiti doesn’t have to be an illusive dream. It’s closer than you think.

Me trying to explain the size of whale sharks in Japan

Me trying to explain the size of whale sharks to the Japanese


I’ve never been more excited for a trip.

This is likely as close to traveling back in time as I’ll ever experience. It may be the best diving I ever experience. It may be the only time I get bumped around by five hungry whale sharks. It may be the only time I cross into a country illegally. There will be many firsts. I’ll upload photos when and/or if I find wifi along the way. Follow my Instagram account for the latest updates.

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