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« The Day TV Came to Town | Main | Alone for Christmas »

December 19, 2005

Travel Tallying

Donald Pittenger writes:

Dear Blowhards --

How many countries have you visited?

Does it really matter?

Well, it matters to some folks. On our recent Baltic area tour I discovered that some of our compatriots had been to lots and lots of countries and were even members of a club for folks whose tally was at least 100.

I just did some Googling and turned up something called the "Traveler's Century Club" that seems to be that organization.

Besides the usual organizational information, their web site has a list of what they considered "countries" -- that I found a little dicey in spots. There is "a total of 315 as of January 2005. Although some are not actually countries in their own right, they have been included because they are removed from parent, either geographically, politically or ethnologically" and a link is provided to a set of country-definition criteria drawn up in 1970.

If nothing else, their generous definition makes it a lot easier to hit the 100 threshold than if countries were defined strictly in political terms.

Some "countries" that make the list are the Balearic Islands (the island group off the east coast of Spain), Corsica (the large island where Napoleon was born just after it became part of France making him a Frenchman, a good career move), Crete, Rhodes' island group, the Isle of Man, Wales and Scotland. Alaska and Hawaii are counted separately from the Continental U.S. And Antarctica is rated as seven "countries" based on territorial claims.

For what it's worth, I tallied my travels to see how I fared under Traveler's Century Club versus political-status criteria. I didn't count the United States.

According to them, I've been to 32 countries. The alternative tally was either 25 or 26 countries. The uncertainty has to do with Okinawa, one of the Ryukyu Islands that were part of Japan before World War 2 and are part of Japan now. But when I was there, the islands were under American control.

Although I do keep track of personal travel statistics, I've somehow been able to refrain from turning these numbers into a goal-related thing that might lead to taking trips for the main purpose of padding the stats. Life offers me too many other, more compelling, temptations.



posted by Donald at December 19, 2005


One, the US. Mostly because of circumstances, but at least partly because in traveling and moving around the US I decided that you had to spend at least months in an alien location before you understood anything about its unique character.

I been to NYC 5 times, LA 7 times. I know nothing about those places. I can learn more on the internet or other resources than spending three hours or three days passing through.

I understand that England does not have the strip malls and street architectural pollution that America endures. How long would I have to live in England to understand the way that particular detail makes the English different from Americans, presuming it does? Could I understand it better thru some other method?

Or maybe I am just speaking as one who hasn't traveled much. But I honestly have no interest in visiting Chartres simply for the sake of visiting Chartres. I value Chartres too much to view it as a notch on my belt. Rushing thru on a guided tour would insult it, and me. Living in it for a year would be a dream come true.

Sorry for the personal rant. I am surrounded by tourists in my family, and it is an old discussion.

Posted by: bob mcmanus on December 20, 2005 12:46 AM

Reminds me of my only recent trip abroad, to Cairo. I was coming out of the Egyptian Museum right at closing time when a group of Dutch tourists ran up the steps crying, "We just came in from the airport. Is the museum still open? Our plane leaves again in half an hour!" They've got the Egypt notch in their belts, but what do they know of Egypt?

Posted by: Robert Speirs on December 20, 2005 9:14 AM

I've been to ten countries, if my count is correct, but all are Europe or North America. I lived in Vienna for four months in a semester abroad in college, and my parents lived in England for seven years at one point.

Certainly, you have to spend a longer period to "understand" a country, and, every bit as important, I think you really need to speak the language to get at it. doesn't make seeing the great works of art, the vistas, the history, any less breathtaking, even if I don't quite "get" why their education system works the way it does!

Posted by: annette on December 20, 2005 10:16 AM

I'm actually working on a book right now about the "country collectors" as it were. It's still a ways off, but among the research was a flight to North Korea with a few of them two months ago! It's actually not the case that most of these guys are "land, notch in the belt, take off" types. They generally are retired or work part-time, and when you can be on the road 6 months a year, you can get a lot of traveling in!

Posted by: cure on December 20, 2005 11:50 AM

This is just the situation that the (slowly disappearing) hobby of shortwave radio listening has long been in. (I was an avid DXer (person who tries to hear rare and difficult stations) in high school and into college, which basically means the mid-1970s to the early 1980s).

There were several different country lists for counting how many you'd heard, but the most widely agreed-on ones were as you describe, more geographical than political. That makes sense from a radio standpoint, since the various overseas territories of a given country would be much different radio challenges.

The arguing could get fierce, though, since there were lists that had defunct "countries" still on them - Biafra, for example, could still be counted according to some criteria if you heard the right regional shortwave station in Nigeria. I endorsed the geographic splits, but those historico-politico ones lost me.

As an aside, I brought out the shortwave the other week to show it to my two children, and was stunned at how empty the bands were compared to thirty years ago.

Posted by: Derek Lowe on December 20, 2005 12:32 PM

Initially I sympathize w/ the country-collectors -- there's so much to see and so little time, better hurry! However, this immediately locks you onto the "happiness treadmill" where it's never enough and you can't easily get off. It's like chasing wealth: you can never be too rich, so you spend the rest of your life trying to get out even further than everyone else in the race, ultimately trying to dethrone Bill Gates.

But what happens if you can't visit all the countries before you die? Shouldn't you have spent only one day per place so you could've visited more places? It's hard to get lasting fulfillment out of this; you're left w/ a brief high but then the craving for more. I lived & worked in Barcelona for 3 months and then again for 9 months after graduating college, and I'll return next autumn. It really does take more than a day or two to feel like you know a place well enough to derive lasting fulfillment from having lived there.

Who on their deathbed feels more grateful for their life's experiences: the man happily married to his soulmate for most of his adulthood, or the swingin' bachelor who's one-nighted a few hundred babes but never seriously dated, let alone settled down?

Posted by: Agnostic on December 20, 2005 1:00 PM

Sorry, didn't mean to imply that you have to spend a full year in some place to enjoy it. But if you've got one week of vacationing, do it all in one place. Doing simple routine things like buying groceries, taking out the trash, and so on make it feel more like you're married to the place rather than rudely in-and-out by sunrise. Plus the people who live there will treat you better if they don't believe you're just there to manhandle their city for some quicky action.

Posted by: Agnostic on December 20, 2005 1:14 PM

Is every place really different from every other, in any significant way? I doubt it. If one could only figure out which ones were truly different, and which were pretty much the same, you'd save a lot of effort. Minsk and Pinsk I'm sure have minor differences, but Minsk and Rangoon, I imagine, are significantly different. So why spend six months in both Minsk and Pinsk?

Posted by: Robert Speirs on December 20, 2005 1:54 PM

I counted 12 countries for me, but by the relaxed standards of the Traveler's Century Club, I might be able to claim 14. They allow Scotland as a separate country, and if I read the terms of their grandfather policy aright, I could count East Germany (since it was a separate country at the time I was there).

In scanning their list of allowable countries, I was surprised to come across a place in the European section I'd never heard of before: Lampedusa. I had to check the atlas for that one. It turns out to be a Mediterranean island belonging to Italy, but south of Sicily and closer to Tunisia than anything else. If you went to Lampedusa, you'd technically be in Italy, but I guess the remoteness and the effort you'd have to make to go there outweigh the political legalities.

I tend to the idea that any travel can be good and experience-expanding. If you can spend three months in one place to really get to know it, great, but even a day or two can be good, just because you're seeing something a little different around you from what you're used to. It starts good and just gets better. But it takes a little more than just passing through to change planes and never getting out of the airport, which the Traveler's Century Club does allow for counting a counting a country. On the other hand, I'd use that as an opportunity to at least take a squint at the airport newsstand or bookshop to see what's on offer in the local lingo, and consider it an extra bonus of the trip.


Posted by: Dwight Decker on December 20, 2005 2:13 PM

I think the ideal of "understanding" a place might be a little too ambitious. Frex, I've lived in America my entire life, yet spend most of my time utterly bedazed.

Anyway, I've been to Canada a bunch of times, and once looked into Mexico but didn't step on it. So I guess I can only claim two.

Posted by: Brian on December 20, 2005 4:06 PM

How about countries that don't exist anymore? I've been to the DDR, Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia, and the USSR.

Or the countries that only became countries after I'd been there? I've visited cities or regions in four of the six former Yugoslav republics, but can't say I've travelled through those countries as they didn't exist yet.

A couple of years ago there was a site with a map that enabled you to click on every country you ever visited. Turned out my map of the world was blank underneath Morocco. Apart from that I've been to every country in the Northerns hemisphere, except the Faeroer Isles, San Marino, the new Yugoslav republics, and some of those new countries that once were part of the USSR, like Moldova.

And, I mostly went there on my bicycle, which is the only decent way to travel and become part of a landscape. Also: the locals never regard travellers on bicycles as tourists, just as poor buggers.

Posted by: ijsbrand on December 20, 2005 4:18 PM

26 and that's counting all of the components od the old Yugoslavia, as ijsbrand discussed earlier.
Pitiful. Truly. How life has gone by so quickly and travel has been shunted off to the backburner. I do have one issue with the way they count countries, though.
Come on. China, Canada, USA, Russia? Each count only as one? Luxembourg=Canada? Regions or states should be the political unit used.

Posted by: DarkoV on December 20, 2005 5:28 PM

I agree with the folks who say countries aren't necessarily the best way to define place. Spending a week in the South Bronx compared to say, Park Avenue, about 5 miles away, is probably more "different" than many countries, like, say Austria and Switzerland.

Posted by: Dave Munger on December 20, 2005 5:39 PM

Three, the ones on my home continent. Somehow I manage to read German and French, and speak them a bit, without having been on their home turf. (The only Canada I've seen is B.C., which is beautiful.) Ditto Bob's initial comment: I have zero desire to be a tourist. Even when I briefly left California to work in Washington, D.C., I visited the Mall and museums only after a few months, and spent way more time in hip music stores, brewpubs, and university colloquia.

As a linguist interested in teaching English as a foreign language, I expect to have the chance to live abroad soon enough, and if it's in Europe, I'll probably have occasion to visit other countries for the sake of catching up with old friends, but I don't have much desire to run the circuit.

Posted by: J. Goard on December 21, 2005 1:12 AM

This is a good question.

I have visited:

- Canada (Niagra Falls)
- India (Bombay)
- United Kingdom (London)
- France (Paris)
- the Bahamas

During our first family trip to India, we stopped at the airport in Kuwait.

I would like to visit Africa and Australia. And Iraq of course would be interesting to go to, but right now, I don't know...

Serbia or Bosnia may be feasible, though.

Posted by: Aakash on December 21, 2005 7:36 AM

I've been to:

Egypt - 9 months
Saudi Arabia - 3 months
Greece - 3 weeks
France - 10 days
London - 3 days
Mexico - 1 week cruise
Canada - 1 day

Loved every minute of it.


Posted by: Windy on December 26, 2005 10:36 PM

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