I see it all over Instagram and among various travel blogs, “44+ countries and counting”, “67 countries, 7 continents!”
Pathetically, there are people in this travel industry who have based their entire careers on a sprint around the globe trying to fulfill pointless numbers. When did traveling become one big race or to-do list of visiting the most countries in the least amount of time? Just scrolling through Instagram makes you feel as if travel has become a game of Pokemon. “Gotta hit ‘em all!”
Do you know what you sound like when you count countries? When you put in your captions and bios the number of countries you’ve been to? You sound like a little kid begging for attention. But it’s worse, because every kid knows the story of ‘The Tortoise and the Hare’, am I right?
To be honest, if someone were to ask me how many countries I traveled to, I would have to stop, think, and count them all — maybe even double check in my passport or use a map. I simply don’t care about “how many” I’ve been to, but rather, the opportunities I got to have, the lessons I learned, the people met, memories I made, in that destination. Once I touch down in a new foreign land, these are the only things on my mind.
Real travelers purposefully move slowly through their desired destinations over the years, cultivating a greater understanding of the world as they move from one part of the globe to another. They know it’s not about being better than everyone else, but about merging their curiosity with a new perspective — resulting in a better, more tolerant, sophisticated, educated version of themselves. These are the true Indiana Jones’ of the world, the ones that seek the adventure, authenticity, something raw — not the numbers. Simply put, they ain’t no tourist!
A person who counts the number of countries they have visited is a tourist, and is doing so purely for bragging rights and the Instagram likes. Which forces the travel magic we’re all searching for to become inauthentic, and a poorly skewed indication of just how well traveled a person is or can be.
Your numbers don’t tell me how much you know about a country, but 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 truly value is authentic, stimulating adventure. Country counters value their image over the experiences that are right in front of them. So, country counters and real travelers simply can’t compete, because they aren’t playing the same game.
So, this all begs the question, what does it mean to actually visit a country, or to visit any place, really?
I could say that I’ve been scores of places that I haven’t actually been to. Like those little states you pass through for gas on a road trip in the States. Nebraska, North Carolina, Idaho, etc. How about China? I once had a 10-hour-layover in Beijing, and spent a few hours exploring the city while eating dumplings for breakfast. My passport was stamped, I saw The Great Wall from an airplane, but does that mean I have really been to and experienced China? Absolutely not.
And there are some countries, such as Ireland, where I have traveled extensively as a child and returned to during my university days, and will probably visit to again and again throughout my life. Will I experience China the same way I have experienced Ireland? No. So why would give them the same weight when written down on a piece of paper? Deciding what defines a visit is a blurry line, which is exactly why it doesn’t mean anything.
I think we should be measuring, or racing for experiences rather than in countries. The question should change from, “How many countries?” to “How much have you experienced?”
The more I visit different countries, the more I realize how much there is to explore and to learn about each new destination as well as myself. And blowing through these destinations at record breaking speeds just for passport stamps or credentials, only seems as if you’re cheating yourself from life-changing adventures and personal wisdom – which is ultimately what travel is all about.
So 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 their lifestyles are like. 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. Tell me all about a horrific or life changing situation you found yourself in somewhere in Malaysia and what you learned. Tell me about it all!
But please don’t tell me how many countries you have been to, because telling me that is actually saying nothing at all.
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