I hate country counting. I think the number of countries you’ve been to is one of the most meaningless, yet disproportionately weighted counters of how well-traveled one is. It seems like people are always racing to be the first or youngest so-and-so to visit every country. I used to think of it as something that I would like to do one day, then I grew content with just enjoying my time wherever I happen to be in the world. Each country has so much to offer, and most likely, to accomplish the goal of being the first or youngest to check every country off a list, you have only the most superficial experiences with a country.
After all, what is a country besides imaginary lines drawn on a map? I can go from one European country to another without noticing much of a difference, then experience five entirely different environments within a week in Peru. I’ve technically been to Brazil, but when I went to go scratch it off a scratch map that I got for Christmas, I felt too guilty to actually cross it off. Does a week in Rio count as seeing this entire massive country that boasts so many different cultures and ecosystems? Nah, I didn’t.
One of the age-old questions among travelers is what counts as “visiting a country”? Do you have to spend a certain amount of days there? Do you have to do a certain number of activities? Lots of people “travel” to the Bahamas and then never leave the confines of their resorts. Does that count as visiting a country? Personally, I don’t think so, but many others will say it does. Many of those people who claim to be the first or youngest to visit all the countries in the world could probably tell you nothing about half of the countries they’ve claimed to visited.
So here’s my criteria for what counts as countries visited. It goes far beyond just getting a stamp in your passport. I’d say a minimum of three days, although it does depend on the size of the country. Take Vatican City, for example. I don’t really need to explain that I didn’t spend three days in the Vatican City for it to count, because it is kind of a given. But three days in Brazil? Nah, that wouldn’t count.
Countries That I’ve Spent 3+ Months In
Countries That I’ve Spent 6+ Weeks In
Countries That I’ve Spent 1+ Month In
Countries That I’ve Spent 3+ Weeks In
Countries That I’ve Spent 2+ Weeks In
Countries That I’ve Spent 1+ Week In
Countries That I’ve Spent Less Than A Week In
Countries That I’ve Spent Less Than 3 Days In
United Arab Emirates
So by my count, I have been to 44 countries. If we go by my criteria of spending at least 3 days in a country for it to count, then we are sitting pretty at 34 (including Vatican City). Although I haven’t really kept track until now and don’t really place too much value on that number, it is lower than I thought. After traveling nearly nonstop for the last four years, it is pretty wild to think that I’ve only been to 20 new countries in that span.
Then I remember that I am extremely slow-moving when it comes to travel and tend to go with the flow. Oftentimes, the flow will take me back to the same countries. Take my latest trip, for example. I spent 8 months in South America. In those eight months, I managed to tick off one new country: Ecuador. I spent 6 weeks there, so I did make the most of that new country. However, I re-visited Peru and Bolivia, and then re-visited Peru again after Bolivia. Then went back to Chile and Argentina five years after doing a university study abroad program for a winter.
So, after all those grand adventures, I technically only visited one new country in eight months in South America. But I saw the Amazon Rainforest for the first time. That doesn’t count as a new country. I experienced my dream of backpacking through Patagonia (until Coronavirus sent me packing), but that also doesn’t count. I crushed an 8-day trek in the Northern Peruvian Andes, which remains my favorite thing I’ve ever done throughout my travels. But hey, doesn’t count as a new country. The Altiplano in Northern Chile could be an entirely different planet, but again, doesn’t count.
See how silly the whole country-counting attitude is? I think it is a fun number, but nothing to really put any weight on. There is so much more to one’s travel experiences than simply the number of countries that they’ve been to. I once ran out of passport pages and was stranded in Thailand for nearly a month, and that’s about the only time I’ve put any importance into those passport stamps.
What are your thoughts on this? How do you keep track of the places you’ve been and is there anything meaningful behind the concept of country counting?