Why We Don’t Count Countries

We’re sure you have all heard of counting calories, but how about counting countries? We have been a part of the travel blogging community for about 9 months now and can’t help but notice a recurring theme among our fellow globetrotters: Tallying up the number of countries one has been to and proudly telling anyone and everyone.

Now, we completely understand the good intentions behind declaring this stat. After all, having been to 52* countries is a huge feat, and one heck of an accomplishment. In fact, Shelly totally has one of those scratch-off maps that keeps track of where you’ve visited. It’s just fun and hey, sometimes we do like to brag about all the cool and different places we’ve been!

We just don’t think it should be the main point of focus while traveling. And here’s why: 

Strive to seek a new culture or experience, NOT a new number

We aren’t into going somewhere just to add a new country to our list. You won’t see any “50 by the time we’re 50” proclamations here. Instead, our goal is to see how long we can stay in a foreign country rather than how quickly we can bag the next one.

 

 There’s a massive grey area in counting countries

Do hours spent in a car/train/bus passing overland count?

Does spending half a day in an airport mean we get to tick off another place on our “countries visited” list?

Should we only count countries if we’ve spent a certain amount of time in them (for example, more than three days)?

Do we count Wales, England, Scotland and Northern Ireland separately or simply leave it as the UK?

For the love of God, can we include Vatican City or not?! 

See what we mean? In searching for the answers to these questions we stumbled across this website noting that there are a total of 324 countries and territories. If you look at it closely, you’ll see places like Alaska and Hawaii on the list. How does that even make sense? There are quite a few different sites out there which state how many countries should or should not be included in such lists. This number can easily be inflated or deflated based on which group you refer to at the time. 

 

Having a low country count doesn’t make you any less of a traveler

Just because you have a low count, doesn’t mean you are any less cultured. In fact, it could mean just the opposite. Sure, maybe you’ve only been to 5 countries, however you traveled them thoroughly and have felt what it’s like to be a part of that culture. After all, wouldn’t you agree that living somewhere versus traveling to that location gives you a much greater insight into the people, customs and way of life?

Fellow blogger and fearless female Lucy of Lucy’SmilesAway said it best: 

“Travel shouldn’t be a competition, it’s just about enjoying it! I spent the last six months thoroughly and slowly exploring India which I think is just as cool as seeing thirty countries”

We couldn’t agree more, Lucy! We recently spent 3 months living in Prague and felt our views of the city would be drastically different if we’d only stayed for a few days. We got to experience different seasons, delve deeper into Czech customs, and even began learning the language (which is like trying to learn how to write calligraphy with a blindfold and your hands tied behind your back). Try doing that on a brief visit!

 

We don’t mind going back to the same country twice

Have you ever thought, “Oh I’ve already been to France, so I shouldn’t go there again since it’s not a new country.” Sadly, this thought has (fleetingly!) crossed our minds. And it’s flat out ridiculous. 

Yes, we’ve already been to Norway. But did we get to see the incredible beauty of the Northern Lights? No. Did we have the chance to have coffee at a tiny shop in a town that rarely sees English speakers? No. Would we like to go back to Norway? Absolutely! 

We don’t want getting caught up in the numbers game to dissuade us from seeing more of a country we’ve already been to.

 

As someone who loves being organized almost as much as Monica Gellar, Shelly can definitely be a bit of a list ticker. Sometimes it just feels so good to cross a destination off your list! However, we’re hell bent on combating this urge and letting travel happen organically. Our preferred style of exploration is one in which we can truly understand and embrace the culture of the place we are visiting. We would rather KNOW a country rather than just have been to it.

Recently, we were told about an article out there in which a traveler mentions that he determines how well he’s traveled a country by the amount of locals who would make an effort to see him if he returned. How cool is that? What a unique way to classify your travels by!

All of this being said, we realize most travelers don’t just put one foot on either side of a border in order to check off the two countries they just “visited.” Nevertheless, it can be super easy to get caught up in the numbers, especially if that’s a selling point to potential sponsors. But don’t you ever look back and think, “Ugh, I wish I’d seen more and really gotten to know that country?”

*We made this number up. We have not been to 52 countries, and we definitely didn’t take this specifically from someone’s site!

 

Okay so now that you’ve heard our thoughts on the matter, we want to know yours! Do you keep a country count? How do you keep track of when a country should be added or not? Feel free to brag all you want about how many you’ve been to in the comments section below 😉

Cheers, 

Jimmie & Shelly

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20 comments on Why We Don’t Count Countries

  • Emily

    I completely agree with you – especially that last point about going back to the same countries. I love the Netherlands and have been back three times, and I’m already considering my next trip there. As a travel blogger I sometimes feel like I ought to be seeing more places all the time, and that my count of 17 countries is somewhat feeble compared to those 150+ country travellers. But not long ago I saw a FB post from a guy at the end of his six month trip saying that he’d visited something like 50 odd countries in that time. In my opinion, if you’re moving that quickly, you can’t possibly be seeing those countries at all – so they almost don’t count! And for certain, airport stopovers don’t count – I have not been to China just because I sat in Beijing airport for 6 hours in November. No way!

    • Shelly Borga (author)

      Exactly, Emily. I think being a travel blogger puts the pressure on us to see as many places as possible to tell our readers about. But rushing through a country just to say we’ve been there isn’t going to result in good content in my opinion. I’d much rather have a count of 17 countries (which by the way is more than most people will ever see in their life times!!) that I feel like I really got to know, rather than 150 of which most I just passed through anyways. Glad you could relate and thanks for the comment!

  • Annemarie

    Awesome! Finally someone spoke up This has been bugging me from the start. First, why would you make other people feel as if they are “doing travel wrong” by not having been to all the states there are. Second, how did you actually SEE the country and EXPERIENCE the culture if all you do is country hopping. That makes you far less an expert (especially if you are really young) than you would like to come across as. I am all down for staying in a place for a while and actually getting to know it. You can always travel within a state’s borders and see massive differences. Who counts that?! And seriously, who has the time?

    • Shelly Borga (author)

      Haha! Sounds like you’re pretty passionate about this too! 😉 Glad you could relate, and we agree that staying put in a new place for a while gives you much more insight into the country and culture!

    • Norway To Nowhere

      Ha we’re glad we aren’t the only ones who are confused by that! 🙂

  • Emily S

    I love this! I grew up traveling often, and still do, but have only visited five countries. Although I may not have traveled far and wide (yet!) I’ll still bet that I’ve explored more of the United States than many of the American travelers who are proudly boasting their country counts. There is so much to see, especially in larger countries like the US, that I don’t need to cross international boundaries to change the environment and culture completely. Hell, I’ve been in California two years and still have not seen Big Sur or the redwoods. I feel the same about visiting a country multiple times, too. I’m sure I’ll visit Holland repeatedly just because my best friend lives there, but I may not be able to fit in trips to other countries while I do it. I want to see less competition from travelers (and bloggers, especially) when it comes to these things. I want it to be about exploring, expanding our knowledge about places and cultures, taking in the beauty of the world and other people. I don’t want the pressures of adding to my count to affect the way I see the world, especially if I were to miss out on something amazing in one place just so I could cross a border into another.
    Emily S recently posted…Monthly ReadsMy Profile

    • Shelly Borga (author)

      Hey Emily! We’re so glad that you can relate – definitely agree with wanting to see less competition re: the numbers game! It’s all so relative and means very little in the scheme of things. P.S. We’re definitely guilty of being those Americans who have yet to see most of their own country. It’s just so massive! We’re hoping to do more traveling in the states soon, and would love to rent an RV and check out all the gorgeous national parks 🙂

  • Camels & Chocolate

    I hate that question, too! I do so many interviews where the first thing the person asks is how many countries I’ve been to…why does that even matter?!? It’s about the experiences, right?
    Camels & Chocolate recently posted…Finding Balance at BonnarooMy Profile

    • Shelly Borga (author)

      Ugh yes, definitely agree! The number has absolutely no value in my mind!

  • Florian from Germany

    Ciao Jimmie & Shelly

    While there is a good point about what you say and everyone loves you for the philosophical insight, the matter of fact is, the more countries you have seen, the more variety you have experienced.

    For sure, just being at the airport doesn’t validate for being in a country, which is what you said about the gray area. Nevertheless, the latter is a question of conversation and I love to dive into each others experiences when someone lists his countries. Thus, there is not really much space for this gray area you talk about.

    Furthermore, for sure you can deeper and deeper experience a country that you have visited several time, but there just is a limit and in the end you might have invested a lot of time into believing that Thailand is the best backpacking country in the world, and suddenly someone comes along and tells you that Laos is a thousand times more adventures.

    I love to go to places where I have been before and that I like, but it certainly doesn’t give me that fresh and longing experience I have when “adding a new country to my list”.

    And yes, less countries definitely make you less of a traveler, because traveling is all about an unexpected and untimed wave of new things and experiences … everything else, unfortunately, is just holidays and everyday life spiked with various common happenings.

    Thus, you don’t count countries because you simply doing holiday not travel.

    Cheers

  • Kari Redmond

    I already commented o this in girl vs. globe, but having read the full blog, I would like to say that the reason I don’t ‘allow’ myself to return to a country I’ve already visited is the same reason I don’t read a book twice or see a movie two times. There is simply too much out there in this big wide world and I want to see as much of it as I can. I am not going to do that if I return to a place I’ve already been instead of using that time and money to travel somewhere new.
    Don’t get me wrong, I make exceptions. I read my favorite book The Catcher in the Rye yearly, watch my favorite movie, The Breakfast Club whenever I randomly see it on TV and will always return to Chile, where I lived and taught for two year, to visit friends and renew my zest for life.
    I also think there is a deeper sense of experience when you know you will not return to a place. I make a huge effort to do and see and meet everyone and thing I possibly can while I’m in a country BECAUSE I know I will not return. I feel like I appreciate it more and understand more because of this.
    Of course I understand people travel for all sorts of reasons will many different goals. To each his own. But get out there. GO

  • Hannah @ Traveling Banana

    Oh my goodness, YES! I agree with soooo much of this! Its so silly to me to make a certain number a goal when it comes to travel. I’m more into living the journey than a number. Although I will admit at the end of the year I like to count up how many cities/countries I visited as a silly fun round up!
    Hannah @ Traveling Banana recently posted…Unreal Views and Rockstar West Virginia Women – Marlinton & Pearl S Buck Birthplace, West VirginiaMy Profile

  • Nomad Capitalist

    My policy for counting countries is a “reasonable presence” test. It sounds like something from the IRS, and it’s somewhat subjective, but it works for me. It’s based on my friend’s idea that you should have a meal in a country (or a US state) in order to count it.

    Basically, if you have made any substantial effort to see part of the country, it should count. Two hours in Liechtenstein between Switzerland and Austria? Yep. Two hours in Italy in the Milan train station changing trains? Not so much. Basically, if I’m satisfied that a real effort was made, it counts. The idea isn’t to just cross huge countries you’ll want to go back to later off the list.

    As to which countries to use, the Travel Century Club is a good one, and they’re pretty liberal. Transnistria, a breakaway state in Moldova, counts. So does Hong Kong, Macau, and Taiwan. So do all four home countries in the UK (they do see themselves that way, after all).
    Nomad Capitalist recently posted…What If You Had a Financial Crystal Ball?My Profile

  • Anne Betts

    I’m so pleased to see this post on country counting. The practice of counting countries and continents, and then publicizing the tally is far too common. When used by travel bloggers in their profiles, I think in many cases it sends the message that the higher the count, the greater their knowledge and credibility as travellers and bloggers. Like a badge of honour. Or elite status. Perhaps not the intent, but this is how I’ve personally received the message on numerous occasions.

    You asked if your readers country count. It got me thinking… along the lines of if I ever will. Maybe, maybe not. If I do, I’ll likely savour the experience and stretch it out over time with thoughts about the transformational power of travel and memories reaching back to the 70s. And do so at a time when the combination of age and health conspire to clip my travel wings. We’ll see. For now, I have no desire to know the exact number of countries I’ve visited, or speculate on the approximate number.

    In the meantime, I came looking for your post on Cinque Terre, lingered over restaurants in Prague, and stumbled across this beautiful piece. I wonder what other gems I’ll find as linger longer. Thank you.
    Anne Betts recently posted…Blue cruise on a Turkish guletMy Profile

  • Dora

    Completely agree with the ‘Strive to seek a new culture or experience, NOT a new number’! In the Trump/Brexit age, countries’ territory can be changing every day! I wouldn’t want to get into politics too much. But in reality, even neighbor towns in a country can have completely different culture and even language! Big countries like China, India, Russia and America have completely diverse cultures WITHIN the country. And different countries might share the SAME CULTURE in one way or another!
    This is a very good blog, gives us a lot of tips (we are visiting Norway in July!) and please keep going!

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