Confessions of a travel blogger,  Sunday social travel talk

Confessions: why counting countries doesn’t matter to me …

“67 countries and counting” …

 

Quite often I stumble upon social media profiles from fellow bloggers that express how many countries the particular person has been to. And as always, I can’t help but think: “why would that impress me … or anyone else?”

 

Honestly, I have no idea how many countries I’ve been to. I did a count for the blog one day but that has been more than a year ago and I think it’s somewhere around 43. OK – I just went back to that page and it’s 46. I listed it because it’s somewhat expected of you as a travel blogger, but in all honestly, I couldn’t care less. I’ll try to explain why, with my most careful words, because it is certainly not my intention to insult anyone to whom counting countries does matter.

 

I clearly remember my first experience about going abroad. Even though my family lived closeby the German border, we never went there until I was four years old. My parents decided to take me to The Alps because of my health issues, I was suffering from severe asthma and they wanted to offer me clean mountain air so I could breathe again.

 

It was in the middle of the night when we left home. I remember my mum checking with my dad if they had the passports and within a ten minute drive, we arrived at the Dutch/German border. As my dad opened the window, a border guard moved his gloved hands inside of our car and took the passports from my dad. He browsed through them, quickly nodded, handed them back and were requested to move on. Off to Austria!

 

Although crossing borders used to be pretty exciting for me as a kid, nowadays I can’t be bothered anymore.   Ever since the borders opened across Europe, the whole experience of crossing an imaginary line between countries has become less exciting. Normally there would just be a sign next to the road, saying “Wilkommen in Deutschland” or something like that. Crossing borders into various countries has become “normal”. My mother moved two years ago but whenever I went over for a visit to her old place (where she moved after my parents divorced and we no longer went to Austria), I would actually drive through Germany to get to her place, which was the quicker way than just following the roads through The Netherlands.

 

During my teenage years my Australian penpal Amy came over for a visit. When we were waiting at the train station an international train passed by and I told her that would arrive in Germany within 5 minutes and you didn’t even need a passport. And she was amazed. I wish I’d realized earlier that for someone coming from such a big country, it would have been a great side trip to drive over to Germany, just because we could … crossing borders just never seemed special to me because I am so used to it.

 

Back to counting countries. Although I agree that nearly 50 countries is a lot, I don’t think it really tells much about your travel experience. Sure, you’ve been to a lot of countries, but how much did you see of them? Many people I know, told me they have been to Luxembourg for example, but in reality they have just driven through on their way to France or Spain. Few people take a moment to stop and actually see things. You have entered the country, driven through and left again. So you where there, which counts, but did you really see it?

 

I’ll gladly admit that there are countries on our list that we have barely seen. Such as Laos. We only spent a week there, four days on Khone Island and three days in a wilderness lodge on the Bolaven Plateau. I can’t say I’ve actually seen the country. Sure, I’ve been there and spent a week there, but really seen it? Nope.

 

Instead, we also spent a week in Cambodia and traveled all around the country: from Siem Reap to Pnom Penh and from there over land to Kratie and Stung Treng. Basically, we covered a lot of the highlights in just a week, so for me, this qualified as really seeing a country.

 

See the difference?

 

I’ve met travelers from Australia who had seen all of Europe (as they would tell me) but hardly traveled in their own country, I had seen more of it than they did. I’ve spent time with folks from England who had been traveling all throughout South America but had never taken the time to visit Scotland which was just a two hour drive for them. Many people say that they should explore “their backyards” more often, but how many of us actually do that? Is it the sound of going “far away to yet another country” that makes you excited?

The picture below shows me all the way down south in Patagonia. Like all the way down south, where only ships can go. It was my third time in Chile and yet this experience was more valuable for me than spending some days on a beach in Brasil.

 
end-of-the-world
 

I think that I could have easily visited more countries. Scratch them off the bucketlist and move on to the next country. If I had only decided to spend six weeks backpacking through central America rather than going back to New Zealand, my list would have been a lot longer. Or if I’d roadtrip through the Balkans rather than heading back to Austria each time, I could have easily added another handful of countries. Returning back to Argentina and Chile a couple of times may also have been a “mistake”, if I’d have wanted to extend my list, I should have gone to Ecuador or Colombia instead.

 

But I didn’t… and will never travel like this. Because getting just another stamp in your passport, in my opinion has nothing to do with experiences. I’m heading back to Australia for the second time in February and I’m hopefully going back to the USA next summer. I’ve been to the USA plenty of times and I’ll gladly return, over and over again. I can mention at ten states I’d rather visit than many different countries in the world I have no interest in going to. I’d rather go back to any of my favorite countries in the world, than crossing another one off that never ending list.  I wonder what people would say if I’d write in my Twitter profile: 46 countries and 10 US states. Maybe I should, just to see if anyone would notice …

 

Let talk guys – what’s your opinion on counting countries? Why does or doesn’t it matter to you?
 
Want to read more confessions? Check these:
My two year anniversary as a travel blogger
How social media made me lose my appetite for blogging
Confessions of a hiking travel blogger 

 

Thank you for sharing!

 

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Anto is a 30-something outdoor fan who travels the world about 100 days a year, combined with a full-time office job. She loves to go hiking, enjoys a good class of wine and can usually be found with an iPhone in her hand. Favorite destinations: New Zealand, Patagonia, Austria and Alaska.

7 Comments

  • Hannah

    I get that, but I totally count. As a Canadian I get looked down upon a lot by spending all my money on travel instead of having a house or a car, so for me it’s my validation that I am accomplishing things. People count and keep track of everything else: how many awards they have, games won, romantic relationships… so why not count countries?
    Plus, being in Canada, it’s not crossing boarders is something you can just do like in Europe so it’s a little more exciting to us than it is to Europeans 🙂

    • anto

      I totally get you – it’s not fair you are being looked down on – that should never happen to anyone who decides to travel rather than live “the traditional way” … Indeed it must be so much more exciting for you, I hope you are having a great time on your trip!

  • Eva - eighty7

    Ik snap je punt; helemaal mee eens dat zo’n getal echt niks zegt en dat het bv. gek is om te zeggen dat je ‘Frankrijk’ gezien hebt als je er alleen maar doorheen rijdt op weg naar Spanje. Al vind ik het zelf wel leuk om af en toe eens terug te blikken en om voor mezelf op een rijtje te zetten waar ik geweest ben, maar verder maakt zo’n getal me niet echt iets uit. Mijn vriend had wel een ‘weddenschap’ met een vriend om allebei 50 landen te bezoeken voor hun 30e; dan ben je toch sneller geneigd om een land ‘even’ te bezoeken, ook al ontdek je het niet echt.

    • anto

      Dank je Eva! Het is inderdaad af en toe best leuk om eens te kijken hoeveel je al gezien hebt. Heb je de 50 landen inmiddels al gehaald?

  • Rachel - The Imagination Trail

    This was really refreshing to read. In January I am embarking on a 7-8 month trip through Asia before heading to Australia to live for a while, and every so often I worry that I’m not visiting “enough countries” for that period of time. But you’re right, it’s not about counting, it’s about the experiences you want to have, and if I want to spend a month in a country then return later then that’s fine too!

  • Chantel wensley

    My jaw is dropped
    I don’t even understand how a person can afford to travel like that
    Ever since I was very small I would spend all my time looking at travel magazines, I would set up pretend planes with chairs… and use my imagination to travel the world
    It’s all ive ever wanted
    And here I am, at 30 and haven’t left my country

    Mind you I am a mother

    Any suggestions?
    What do you do to be able to travel, and how do you take the time off from work to do so?
    I’d love to hear anything

    Love and light

    • anto

      I think it depends where you are from? Since I’m from Europe, I easily travel to other countries with budget airlines. If you’re from the US or Canada maybe, I imagine it’s more difficult. I guess I was lucky that my parents took me on journeys ever since I was young. Other than that, I gave up many things to travel, such as buying clothes, expensive gear, coffees etc. Plus I worked two jobs, one office job (which also allowed me to travel) and my blog. After four years of doing so I’m finally able to give up my office job and make a small amount of money from my blog and travel writing.

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