Is Lebanon my 100th country? Depends how you count.

     First time in Lebanon! This could be my 100th country. It’s been a long time since I have been in a new country (Bolivia 2 years ago?) I had probably been to about 70 countries by the time I was 30 years old, but since then I like going back to places I like.
     I am often asked how many countries I have been to and I always say, “Around 100” (Actually, that’s not true. I scowl, “Give me $10 to tell you and no one gets hurt!”), but it depends. How do you define a country? What constitutes a visit?
     People who don’t travel much usually say that if my feet touch terra firma, that counts, whether it is an airport transit lounge or the north side of the table dividing the two Koreas on the DMZ. Others say you have to at least get a passport stamp or spend a night. Then there is the argument about “expired countries" such as Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia, and East Germany.
     For the hardcore travelers who aspire to be “World’s Most Traveled Man", this stuff is contentious. There’s a dot com tycoon who decided he was going to do all the countries in the world but he made his own list by subdividing countries into provinces, states, protectorates, its islands and so on and he contends there are 872 places necessary to visit.
     While I think it is cool to try and visit every country in the world, the people who are obsessed by it and have the means, like the dotcom guy and Chris Guillebeau, do it as a joyless stunt. Yes, it’s impressive, but what would you rather be doing?
     What do you think about what should be counted and what is a visit? Reply below—and give me $10 so no one gets hurt!

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Is Lebanon my 100th country? Depends how you count. — 15 Comments

  1. I had this conversation while walking the streets of Thailand with a friend. He was much more travelled than I and here’s what he suggested. He said that you should have one thing in each country that you do that signifies you have “visited”. For him it was purchasing the alcoholic beverage drinking device of the culture (ie… shot glass, bowl, etc…). I then thought about what I had done in every country that I’d actually spent time in, and for me it was to play a pick-up game of soccer. Though in Thailand, I just watched… but it was close enough. What is something that you do in every country you spend time that signifies it as more than just passing through?

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  3. I collect little stuff from each country that isn’t heavy, like some coins, the low-denomination paper money, and then weird things like all my paper stuff, ephemera such as receipts, tickets, etc. I don’t know if it signifies anything, but later I have nice memories just from looking at a restaurant bill!

  4. I tend to think of it as having some strong memories associated with a place and the people who live there, as well as (usually) a passport stamp or some clear border crossing situation. I’ve not traveled much in Western Europe, though, so perhaps thats why I can still hang onto that definition.

    So that night you spent in the Air Asia airport in Kuala Lumpur doesn’t count even though you have a Malaysia stamp, but transiting Hong Kong and spending a few hours on Long Kwai Fong watching the World Cup does.

    In the end, though, I’ve given up trying to find a definition that everybody will accept and just count it based on what I think counts.

    You don’t really say, though. Whats your definition? Having the money/receipts from a place?

  5. I think for the purpose of counting countries, I’m pretty lax about what qualifies. A passport stamp would suffice, technically, but what if you turned right around and left? What if you had a coffee and then left? What if you walked around for an hour and then left? Where is the dividing line?
    My first time in Morocco it was a day trip from Spain with my parents and though it was a whirlwind thing of running around for a few hours, how can anyone say I had never been to Morocco? As far as the quality of the visit, it’s a subjective decision.

  6. Friends of mine started a race on the subject a few years back and quickly they needed rules. The first idea was that you have to at least have a coffee in the country in question to be able to claim it, then that you have to spend a night there, but they were “bohoc rules” (rules for clowns), so it grew into something like more elaborate.

    Even if you spend a very short time in a country you can claim to have visited it if you had an experience where you engaged in a legitimate conversation with a local, found out something relevant about the country, had a good food/drink. Getting drunk there definitely counts even if you never leave the airport. (Getting so drunk you slap a stewardess’ butt and end up at the police station counts double.) (Yes, it has happened to one of my friends.)

    It does not consitute a visit however if you just go there and return without any thoughts or feelings for the place or the people. Even if you spend several days there.

    So if you fly in for a conferene at one of the hotels at Frankfurt Airport and fly out the next day, it counts nothing even though you spend an entire day there. But if you leave your colleagues in your hotel for the evening and go into the centre and find a nice restaurant, take a look at the local paper to see what is going on, what plays are on at the theatre, and exchange smiles with the waitress then you have a legitimate case.

  7. So the old “one of my friends” slapped a stewardess on the butt, eh? How long were you locked up? You should tabulate and judge people’s lists. If someone is on the fence about a country you can ask if they pinched/slapped/fondled anybody.

    I see your point, that if you had a 3-day conference in Frankfurt and hardly left the hotel or convention center it would seem not to be a visit, but it also would be awkward to say “I have never been to Germany, only a 3-day conference in Frankfurt.” Yes, I’ve been there, but I had no free time to see/do anything and I even had to slap my own butt.

  8. I find the travel-accounting quite pointless. I know that when you start doing it many times the counting does sound natural, but in the end who cares? You don’t go to a place in order to be able to say “I’ve been there”, or that’s the poorest traveling frame of mind I know. And I think none of the people here have this point of view. It’s probably more of a question that comes to mind to people who have NOT traveled a lot, a bit like “how many lives have you saved?” when you’re a doctor. When you do it, you simply know that that is not the point. Just like the travel counting business. Am I too rough?

  9. Well, it’s basic math that I am superior to all the people who have been to 99 countries and less. (Let’s see, how do I make the happy face sign?)
    I think people ask just to get a sense of the scale of traveling, and that would generally be people who don’t travel much, as you say.
    By the way, how many lives HAVE you saved, Doctor?

  10. You know it was not me, but “the famous architect” who did the slapping. His excuse is that he is terrified of flying and the only way he can get on a plane is getting drunk enough to be able to shake his phobia. Unfortunately for him that is the same level where he starts to lose controls which are useful otherwise.

    I think counting the countries you have visited is just a way to deal with the frustration of feeling great about having been there and finding it impossible to fully share the experience. So instead of trying to pour the account of all your experiences on the listener you end up saying a sentence “I’ve been to 23 countries”, but while saying it you are pressed by the weight of all the emotions you felt while being on your trips, and that makes uttering this sentence special.

  11. I just came back from Denmark, which I counted as number 94. I reckon that….

    a) you should spend a night in the country (unless it’s so tiny, like the Vatican, that that’s not possible)

    b) you had to show a passport/get a visa (at least in theory) to go there. So Nagorno-Karabakh, Abkhazia and Somaliland would count, even if they’re recognized by very few countries

    c) it should be an independent country, rather than an overseas territory (like French Polynesia)

    d) if a country disintegrates after you visit it, you should get credit for whatever bits you visited that subsequently became independent

    I agree that dot-com dude seems a little type-A and obnoxious about it all. I remember doing the Traveller’s Century Club quiz with you and both of us saying that it was completely arbitrary. I reckon the 192 UN countries and somewhere around 10 pseudo-states that effectively control their own territory and make you get an official-looking visa (Somaliland, Nagorno-Karabakh, Kosovo) should make up the whole list.

  12. Actually, I don’t care how many countries I visit–as long as I visit more than Graydon!
    94?! I thought you were still in the 80s. You have never been to Denmark? How can that be? By the way, International Falls, MN is not a country! Nor Quebec! Newfoundland….maybe.

    Thanks for sharing your ideas. So let’s challenge that:
    If you had never been to Sweden, and you made an all-day day trip from Copenhagen over the bridge to Malmo, ate some caviar with flat bread, rode a bike around, had a sex-change operation—you know, all the typical Swedish stuff, that wouldn’t count as a visit?
    If you had arrived in Malmo late at night, woke up early the next day and left the country, that would count as more of a visit?

    French Polynesia doesn’t count? Tahiti? By the same token would French Guyana?
    And in (d), are you saying that if you visited Sarajevo when it was still Yugoslavia, would that count as a visit to Bosnia?

    See how many arguments can be made about this stuff?

  13. The Malmo situation is hard to call.

    If you went to Sarajevo, Dubovnik, Ljubljana and Belgrade when you passed through Yugoslavia in 1989, then I’d call that having visited Bosnia, Croatia, Slovenia and Serbia.

    I don’t think I’d count French Guiana, French Polynesia or St. Pierre and Miquelon, except as part of France.

    Happy stamp-collecting and accounting!


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