I get asked this question all the time:
“How many countries have you been to?”
First of all, don’t end your sentences with a preposition. Second, it really depends on who you ask. There are a few different different schools of thought and I am not really sure which way to go on coming to a one number solution. Let me give you an example:
I have transited Iceland but never left the airport and never got a stamp. My wife says that doesn’t count, and I can see her point but I’m not sure everyone would agree. Flying to Reykajvik I was on IcelandAir, exposed as much as anyone can be to Icelandic culture in a metal tube. When we landed, the plane circled the island and I saw the beautiful coasts, the easily pronounced volcano (Eyjafjallajökull), hot springs, and some beautiful scenery before touching down.
I didn’t leave their airport though, I never had any Icelandic food and I don’t feel like I was really there, so I can omit that from the list, but I’m not sure everyone would.
What’s the rule? If I have a 12 hour layover in Hong Kong, but I leave the airport, I go see Victoria Harbor, the giant Buddha in Lantau, eat lunch at Tim Ho Wan, buy a knock off purse at the Lady Markets in Mongkok and still make it back in time for the best lounge in the world at the Wing – does Hong Kong count? (By the way, if you were on a mission you could get all of that accomplished in time)
My rule is leaving the airport and doing something (just sleeping in an airport hotel doesn’t count). The shortest country stay that I count is Japan. My wife and I were in Tokyo for just 16 hours and at least three of those hours were dedicated to leaving Narita (will not ever make that my destination) and getting to Haneda (so much more convenient). We got to the apartment, dropped our things, and headed out on a scavenger hunt for ramen noodles as recommended by our flight attendant en route. She drew a treasure map for us and we found our way to this place with the best ramen we have ever had. We went shopping, we figured out the metro (kind of), we took out cash. We were there – it counts.
Using that metric, my current total is 45 unique countries (of course many of them we have visited many times). This might seem like a lot to some but then they talk to Matthew, and I feel like an amateur. The guy went to both Iran, and Cuba (before it’s recent opening) among other rare territories.
Then there are further disputes if you can believe that. There are questions like, what constitutes a country? The following are some places that could be considered part of a different country instead of an independent:
- Hong Kong
- The Vatican (Holy See)
Macau and Hong Kong have technically been handed back to China from Portuguese and British rule respectively, however, they are run very independently from Mainland China. For immigration purposes, they are both considered foreign countries which is particularly important and useful information when considering the 72 hour transit visa for major Chinese hubs. That means both territories are considered not part of China as far as China is concerned when it comes to passports, customs, stamps, and rules and regulations. Both maintain their own currency (the Hong Kong Dollar and the Macau Dollar – same exchange rate pegged to each other). Both territories have fully free speech, free press, unrestricted internet access, and even if it is not true democracy, Hong Kong has a semi-democratic process.
Wales and Scotland are much more attached to the United Kingdom than Macau and Hong Kong are to China. Their immigration procedures are the same as England and Northern Ireland, they all share the same currency, though Scotland still prints their own pound pegged to the British Pound.
The Vatican is completely landlocked within the city of Rome and country of Italy. There are formal borders, but no city walls. The military protection is provided by Italy outside of the Vatican and within the country, Switzerland has been outsourced for protection in the Holy See for centuries.
But it is a country, and I have been there several times.
There are other territories like Palestine that come to mind as well. They have borders and check points certainly, but no representation at the UN. Recognition of their state is on a country by country basis. It certainly has a culture different from that of Israel in language, religion, and food.
There is an official club that can help determine these matters. They would officially count all of the above “countries” as they are nations. The group was originally started when there were far less territories and a much longer journey to reach them. It was more or less a “You’ve visited 75% of the world” club, but nonetheless I would still like membership. I intend on joining them and as it stands right now I am nearly half way there, with two more on the list for this year (Aruba and India).
We could have accelerated our ascension to the club. The Sherpstress has about 41 countries and my daughter is already at ten as of a couple of weeks ago, but we still like to travel for travel’s sake. For example, last Christmas we took my brother and mother to Thailand and Hong Kong with us. We did a stop over in Shanghai and Macau to see them both, but we could have seen many more territories we have left to visit in the region if we were just crossing off countries on a list. We found $150 mistake fares to Europe for Thanksgiving and went to Milan and Barcelona, some old favorites. This time we took my sister-in-law who liked it so much that she decided to do a study abroad in Barcelona this summer. We crossed Italy and Spain off the list many years ago but it’s not about going through the list and trying to get to the 100 mark faster. For us, it’s about seeing more of the world than we already know, and visiting favorites as we see fit.
This year we have already seen one new territory when we spend some time in Shanghai on the way home from our winter break trip. Then I went to an old favorite (Hong Kong), then Fort Myers, Florida for some R&R with family. Last week we enjoyed an unexpected stay in Mexico City (counts for the Sherpita though my wife and I have both been to Mexico before) then Lima, Peru, a new country for my wife but one I know well. Up next is Dublin/Manchester (seen them both, lived in Manchester) to see good friends, then it will be Shanghai, (not new) Beijing (new city but not a new country), Aruba (new for all of us), then Madrid and Barcelona (not new for any of us), New Delhi, India (new for all of us) and then we are hoping for a special trip in October which will be new for al of us too.
Looking at our upcoming trip list, 58% are places we have already been and that’s 7 of 12 trips. Last year we had even more repeats. We are pleased to take out time to get to the century club and are enjoying catching the Sherpita up, country by country.
How many countries have you visited? What counts and what doesn’t for you?