Why Real Travelers Don't Count Countries

Dominican Republic Sosua

Many travel bloggers today are speaking to the number of countries they have visited as opposed to the experiences found abroad. Rather than educate their readers on a destination, these “country counters” travel like it’s a to-do list they are rushing to complete. They are counting countries the way people have been counting Pokemon. I’m about to ruffle some feathers by suggesting that travel writing has regressed to a game of creating clickbait articles, while travel has become a race to visit the most countries in the least amount of time.

Throughout my years of travel, I have never counted the number of countries that I have been to. I couldn’t tell you how many countries I have been to and I could not care less. Do you know how you sound when you count countries? You sound like a kid begging for attention. Sadly, there are people in this industry that have based their entire careers on this method of racing around the world. Didn’t you guys read the story of ‘The Tortoise and the Hare’?

Scuba-Dive-Sosua

Real traveler’s don’t country count, you know who does country count? Tourists. A real traveler is traveling for the experience, the culture, the food and to get to know the locals. These are the Bourdains and Zimmerns of the world, the ones that get their feet wet, hands dirty and are knee deep in a new culture.

A person who counts the number of countries they have visited is doing so purely for bragging rights and the Instagram likes. Travel isn’t about being better than everyone else, it’s about bettering one’s self. Travel is about merging your curiosity with a new understanding, resulting in becoming a more tolerant, sophisticated, educated version of yourself. Travel is not a contest revolving around the number of countries you can blow through in a year’s time. Real travelers move slowly over the years, cultivating a greater understanding of the world as they move from one part of the earth to another. A tourist, runs home to update their status about how their country count increased, seemingly like a serial dater will put notches into his belt, one right after another.

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Counting countries is inauthentic, it is a poorly skewed indication of how well traveled you are. This begs the question, what does it mean to actually visit a country, or to visit anyplace, really? I could say that I’ve been scores of places that I haven’t actually been to. West Virginia? Sure, probably 20 times stopping for gas while driving between my college and my parents house when I was still in school. How about Japan? I recently had a 5 hour layover there, and spent an hour and a half exploring the Tsukiji fish market while eating sushi for breakfast. My passport was stamped, but does that mean I have really been to and experienced Japan? Not exactly.

Deciding what defines a visit is a blurry line, which is exactly why it doesn’t mean anything. It gives zero indication on just how much you know about the destination. Do you see Bourdain with a country count on his Instagram page like some of other travel bloggers? No, because he knows better than anyone that it is a meaningless number.

Photo by AJ Trela

Photo by AJ Trela

Counting countries doesn’t tell me how much you know about a country; rather, it tells me a lot about who you are. It tells me you and I do not appreciate the same things. Don’t get me wrong, I am competitive by nature but what I value is experience. Country counters value their image over the experiences that are right in front of them. So, country counters and real travelers can not even compete, because they aren’t playing the same game.

Maybe we should be measuring in experiences rather than in countries. The question should change from “How many countries?” to “How much have you experienced?” I’ve been to and experienced China. I explored a portion of the country for nearly two weeks; however, the country is so vast that I could have spent months exploring each region and I wouldn’t even begin to scratch the surface of the culture. People constantly ask why I return to a country I’ve already been to, sometimes many times within the same year. There are so many countries that I feel I have barely explored, so I choose to return again and again.

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The more I visit, the more I realize there is to explore and to learn. There are some countries, such as Italy, where I have traveled extensively and returned on numerous occasions. I fell so deeply in love with Italy after my first trip that I returned four times within a year for weeks at a time. Did I experience Japan the same way I have experienced Italy? No, so why would I give them the same weight when written down on a piece of paper? Country counting is illogical. It doesn’t mean anything and it’s a waste of time.

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Let’s change the conversation from impressing me with your numbers to impressing me with your knowledge. Instead of telling me how many countries you have visited, tell me how greatly you have explored them. Tell me about the locals you met and what they like to do for fun or what they like to eat. Tell me their stance on the political issues going on in their nation. Tell me what new foods you tried, what bizarre bugs you were bitten by but please don’t tell me how many countries you have been to, because telling me that is actually saying nothing at all.