Why I Don’t Know (Or Care) How Many Countries I’ve Been To

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Photo courtesy of Mysi.

As someone who’s on the road at least once per month, I’m often asked how many cities I’ve been to.

“I have no idea,” is my response.

“Well, how many countries then?”

“Not a clue.”

“Aren’t you at all curious how many places you’ve been to?”

Not really. Obviously I could sit down and map out all the places I’ve been in my lifetime, but in all honesty, it’s not something I care about. For me, traveling is about quality over quantity, as my focus on having enriching experiences and immersing myself in local culture.

I remember being at a BBQ with my friend Joe, a guy who has studied abroad in Korea, volunteered in Guatemala and spent three months living with a family in Buenos Aires. In my eyes, he’s had some culturally-immersive experiences abroad that have enriched not only his photo albums, but his life. He thought this too, until he met a friend of mine who’d visited over 150 countries.

“He’s done so much! I’ve barely skimmed the surface,” Joe complained.

The thing is, this passport stamp-collector may have not “done” very much at all. Sure, he’s technically crossed the border into over 100 countries; however, who knows if he even sampled the local food, took a tour with a local guide, experienced the landscape through a scenic hike, or learned a single syllable of the local language. In my mind, Joe’s experiences living, working and going to school abroad — especially in places much different from his home of New York — were more enviable than having a thick passport.

I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with wanting to visit many countries or rapidly traveling from city to city on a backpacking adventure, as I’ve done this numerous times in my life. What I am saying is there is a very real benefit to slow travel, or traveling at a slow pace and gaining a deeper understanding of a place.

Personally, I’ve gone to school in Australia, volunteered abroad, done homestays in both Thailand and Ghana, and spent a month hiking through Argentinian Patagonia. I can honestly say these trips offered certain rewards my more rapid trips didn’t. For example, living with a local in Ghana for a month I was able to not just sample local dishes, but learn how they were cooked. I didn’t just see the way people dressed, but had a baroque print garment handmade for me by a local seamstress so I could attend church with my house mom. I literally had goats walking into my bedroom, had to fetch river water to take a shower and was awoken every Monday morning at 3am but the local women of Achiase singing hymns in my living room. This is the difference between visiting a place and really feeling its pulse. It’s what makes seeing a destination and experiencing it two completely different situations.

So do I care how many countries I’ve visited? Not particularly. Sure, it might be a fun little piece of trivia to know, but for me it isn’t about how many places I can knock off my bucket list, but instead how strongly I can create a connection between myself and where I’m traveling.

Do you have an opinion in the subject? Please share in the comments below.

5 Comments

  1. One doesn’t stop the other. You can travel slowly and still have over 100 countries on your list. I agree wholeheartedly about living as a local and experiencing first hand customs and whatnot, that’s the best thing there is but let’s not assume that people with a three digits country list travel fast and by thus ‘badly’, sometimes quality and quantity go hand in hand.

    1. @Vanessa: This is true. I guess what I’m referring to is a type of traveler. The kind of who throw their three digits in a bragging tone. My goal with this post is to also let people who have only traveled to a few counties but had amazing experiences to realize that it’s quality over quantity when it comes to travel.

  2. I couldn’t agree more! I know the traveler you speak of, hell I’ve known some who just fly into certain airports – never leaving mind you – just to say they’ve been there. Now if you’ve been to 100+ countries over a span of say 10-15 years, maybe you’ve actually had some meaningful experiences. If on the other hand you’re just country hopping every day or so, you’re really just doing it for your ego.

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