During 2005 and 2010, I worked as a contractor in Iraq, doing a range of jobs, such as Arabic Linguist and Iraqi Advisor. Working in Iraq allowed me to visit amazing places, meet wonderful people and expand my horizon. I was able to experience incredible places, which other people may only dream about, or see on TV. It was this enriching experience, which really ignited an irrepressible passion for travel inside of me. I will always look back on my time in Iraq with fond memories. I was glad that I had the chance to explore Iraq, but what I really wanted was to explore the world.

My desire to travel grew stronger every day and I longed to experience all the amazing places that I would see in books and on TV. However, as a Christian Assyrian with an Iraqi passport, it is almost impossible to secure a visa for the majority of the worlds’ countries. This restriction only spurred my passion and enthusiasm to travel and since then, I have made it my goal to see as much of the world as possible. But first, I would have to overcome the visa issues.

I remember my uncle came to visit us in Iraq, when I was just 15 years old. He lives in Chicago and has an American passport. I looked at his passport in awe (and jealousy). I desperately wanted my own little blue book, which would give me the freedom to explore the world. It is frustrating to think that where you are born dictates a lot of what you can do in your life. Just because I was born in Iraq, I was not allowed to visit other countries. Are they trying to tell me I’m a bad person, because of my place of birth? Are Americans all seen as ‘good’ people, just because of their place of birth too? It didn’t make sense.

There was nothing I could do to change world politics; however, there was something I could do that would allow me to travel. Ten years later, I would have my very own American passport and I would be a citizen of the United States of America. I made my dream come true, because of my passion and determination to travel.

My brand new American passport and citizenship represented a turning point in my life. I was now free to travel wherever I wanted. All because of this little blue book.

So…I traveled…a lot!

My recent world travels are some of the best times I’ve ever had. From the world’s highest building in Dubai to the world’s oldest tower in Pisa, Italy; I experienced it all and it felt great!

I visited some of the world’s most romantic places, such as the Eiffel Tower in Paris and the city of Rome (twice!), I partied on Bondi Beach in Sydney, Australia, I lived the life of the rich and famous in Cannes, Southern France (four times!) and I explored one of the world’s most fascinating cultures, in Cairo, Egypt. Everyday was different and unique. I was truly having the time of my life.

I remember spending ten amazing days on a first class Caribbean cruise with Carnival and enjoying the stunning views of the ocean from my balcony suite, as we floated between five tropical Caribbean islands. From my lavish Caribbean cruise to a shopping spree in the luxury malls of Dubai, I was living the life I had always dreamed about; the American Dream!

My travels were extravagant, to say the least. In Dubai, I stayed in the world’s most luxurious hotel, Burj Al Arab and ate at the world’s best Lebanese, French and Japanese restaurants. I shopped in huge malls for Gucci and Louis Vuitton and attended glamorous parties at the infamous Cavalli Club. I even visited the tallest building in the world Burj Khalifa. My glamorous lifestyle in Dubai continued for 30 days and will never regret spending so much money, because it was so worth it!

Of course, other special memories include spending time with friends and family. I spent two months in Germany with my beautiful girlfriend, traveling around Düsseldorf and visiting the stunning city of Cologne in the west of the country. From there I went to Sweden where I met some relatives, whom I had not seen in over 20 years! That was an amazing time for us all!

One month in Italy allowed me to explore some of the most beautiful landscapes in the world, where I traveled from Rome to the gorgeous island of Capri. I also visited the iconic areas of Portofino, Cinque Terre and the magnificent beaches of Forte dei Marmi, with their majestic view of the Italian Alps in the background.

Europe is definitely one of my favorite places in the world. The cities ooze elegance and old world charm, while remaining ultra modern and innovative. I felt so at home cruising the canals of Amsterdam; the world’s bicycle capital. I even felt at home walking the streets of the infamous Red Light District!

From the glamorous, star-studded beaches of Saint-Tropez, playing alongside the rich and famous in the Monte Carlo Casino and spending my evenings strolling through the streets of the beautiful cities of Nice and Cannes, I was always fortunate to be surrounded by beauty and great times, in my four amazing visits to France.

There were times when I asked myself, “Ninos, how did you end up here?” as I sat between the ultra rich and über famous at the Cannes International Yacht and Boat Show in September, or when I partied with celebrities and world famous DJ’s in Bouli night club.

I know I have been privileged in my life. I have traveled to some of the most spectacular locations on this planet and I do not regret spending so much money in order to have these life changing experiences.  I worked hard, for years, to obtain a US passport, so now I am simply making the most of it!

If I have the chance to travel again, of course I will. Travel teaches us about other cultures, traditions and ways of life. It introduces us to different ways of thinking and of being. I don’t believe in working for 40 years in the hope of being able to travel later in life. I believe in treating myself to ‘mini-retirements’ as often as possible. Why wait until retirement, when we don’t even know we will be around that long. Enjoy life now because as Mark Twain says, in one of my favorite travel quotes:

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”