Country counting is silly because in its definition it discourages you from actually getting to know and exploring a place. In the race to get the most countries, a lot of potentially incredible experiences are thrown to the wayside for the idea that you could use that time to rack up your country numbers instead.
You travel completely differently when you are traveling to count countries or if you are traveling to fully experience a place.
You’ve been to Sydney, but have you really been to Australia? The premise of country counting (not all country counters) suggests you just check Oz off the list having been to Sydney, and in the interest of racking up numbers, can just move on from there.
But, there is sooooooooo much to see in Australia. It’s insane how much there is to see. I wouldn’t feel right being able to check a whole massive country like that off having seen just one place. It seems silly to me. Have you experienced the countryside, where farming is the way of life? Have you had a million flies land on your face as you hiked through the barren Northern Territory, or swam in the waves of Byron bay or through the corals of the Great Barrier Reef?
Would never have made it to the center of Australia’s Northern Territory if I stopped at Sydney. Can you believe my country number remained stagnant for almost a whole year?!
I wont lie that I get caught up in it too, as a travel blogger constantly in comparison to others. Why would I stay in the same country during my week off in Europe, when I could hop across the border to get one more country under my belt? I hate it, but I find myself doing it still – on a solo traveling adventure, but still racing to see yet another country when I have the opportunity to do so.
The time spent exploring one place while one’s country number remains stagnant, is not time wasted. It is time spent really knowing a place and all of its diverse parts that make it a whole. I could spend an entire lifetime getting to know Australia, or the US, or even Nicaragua or Wales. It doesn’t feel right to be able to ‘count’ a country when there is so much more of it to see, suggesting that that country is ‘done’ and dusted, and ready to continue on. No country will ever be ‘done.’
Now, I know not all country counters think this way – in fact, most don’t. But you can’t deny that the idea of country counting at its core does not encourage getting to know a place. Rather, it comes off as a loaded statement naturally (whether intentionally or not) used for comparison to others, often as an unsaid competition or subtextual bragging.
And then you have the ‘country counting rules.’ These are of course not ‘real,’ but each traveler/person in the travel industry has their own rules. “You need to at least exit the airport” or “you must sleep one night there.” They are always fluid, and exceptions and restrictions are almost more common than guidelines themselves. I think you have to experience some culture or at least immerse yourself into a country-specific experience to be able to ‘count’ a country. But if everyone has their own rules, how are you to know if 19 to you isn’t 26 to someone else?
And then, you have the other side of the spectrum. I almost even feel guilty counting some countries I have been to, while thinking other countries should count x5.
Exploring in Namibia, Country #44. Or wait, #49. Maybe #56 to someone else. And #30 to others.
Country Counting: My Story
Here’s my situation, and I’m sure there are similar ones out there. I’m at ’54 countries’ (according to the app ‘been.’ I honestly wouldn’t even know my number if I didn’t download that app last year, and now I do it out of habit) at the moment, but at least 6 or 7 of those were checked off on Caribbean cruises with my parents when I was between 7-11 years old. We would stop at, say, St Maarten for the day and go on an excursion, have a meal, and walk around the shops. There is no denying that I have ‘been’ to St Maarten – I rode my bike around the island, looked around the town, bought a coconut smoothie from a local and went snorkeling there… when I was 8. But that’s it; I hardly remember it. There are, again, quite a few countries with this situation – bulking up my ‘numbers’ quite a lot. I didn’t do this on purpose of course, but it is what it is – my parents really liked the Caribbean.
I had a 7 hour layover in Japan the other year. I walked as far out of the airport as I could, and obsessively looked through all the shops to see all the different and strange (to me) things they sold, like canned wine and freeze-dried baby shrimps. I got money out at the ATM to buy souvenirs. I tried some Japanese food in the airport, and some foreign candy whose wrapper I could not read. I personally feel that I have experienced Japan/Japanese culture much more than St Maarten, and I even have leftover yen in my wallet…. Hell, I even have a Japanese passport stamp because I had to switch my checked baggage over.
But, at the end of the day, I have ‘been’ to St Maarten, and not ‘been’ to Japan… because ‘airports don’t count.’ Or I could just be a dick and count Japan, adding to the ranks of country counters who toe the line a little bit. But, the lines are still totally blurred. Do you see where I’m going with this?
You could cruise around the South Pacific/Oceania for a month or less and tick off 5, 10, 15 countries in close proximity to each other. Fiji, Samoa, Kiribati, Guam, Cook Islands, French Polynesia, Marshall Islands, Palau, Tonga, Norfolk Island, etc… all little miniature island countries (some you haven’t even heard of) which you could see all of in the same amount of time it would take you to see 1/40th of Australia. The same (clearly) goes with the Caribbean. You have the passport stamps, but do you have the experiences? I sure hope so.
Each situation is different – like the fact I’m only at 54 because my parents took me on cruises as a child and I have family in multiple countries of the British isles. That’s at least 9 right there… 9 of which I don’t feel totally right counting for different reasons, but totally fairly ‘count’ nonetheless.
What I’m saying is, if you really wanted to bulk up your number of countries, it would be easy to. Just go to Europe for a month and cross borders each day, or take a two week cruise in the Caribbean. Its simple. I don’t think it’s that impressive.
But, not many can say that they have been to all 50 completely unique US states, seen each territory of Australia, or actually lived somewhere as an expat for a while to get a real feel for its culture and people.
I think we should think of travel in terms of a multitude of things. How many national parks have you been to? How many religions have you learned about? How many lakes, rivers, seas, and oceans have you swam in? How many lifelong friends have you met on the road? How many questionable decisions have you made that turned into experiences you’ll never forget? How many times have you ridden on the roof of a tuk tuk, tried a totally foreign food, or partied until the sunrise in a completely different culture? How many self-reflective moments have you had while secluded in nature? How many cultures have you learned about; how many locals have you conversed with?
THAT is the kind of thing I find impressive. There’s so much more to learn from travel than checking off a number on a list or counting passport stamps, and it would be a shame to forego on some potentially incredible experiences to do so. But if you CAN do both, all the power to you… I see my country number as a sort of side effect of my world adventures, as many other people do too. That’s truly the way to go about it, if you ask me.
Are you also against country counting? Or Are you for it? Let me know what you think in the comments, I am super open to discussion!
Pint this if you agree 🙂