Last weekend, I was asked in two separate conversations: “So, what’s your country count? How many countries have you visited?”
This was not the first time I’ve heard this question, and it won’t be the last. In travel banter, number of countries is considered to be a good proxy for well-traveled-ness. World travelers tend to keep a running tally.
On the spot, I added up my countries visited. The total came to 23. Compared to the general population, that’s probably above average. But within travel culture and for someone who has dedicated her adult life to travel, it’s pretty low. For me, it’s just right. Here’s why I’m okay with my modest number.
I’m a country monogamist
On every trip abroad that I’ve taken, both long-term and short-term, the trip has been focused on one country. I trace that trend all the way back to my first world travel experience – a semester abroad in Mexico. I was based in Puebla and traveled around every weekend. By the end of semester, I had seen more of the country than most Mexicans have.
Ever since, that has been my style. I’m a one-country-per-trip kind of gal. My trip to Guatemala was about Guatemala, both times (although I did swing down into Nicaragua and El Salvador the second time). Uzbekistan, Ecuador and Iceland: when it was you, it was only you.
Maybe I’ve missed out on covering entire continents using the hit-it-and-quit-it approach to countries. But if I were a country, is that how I’d want to be treated? No. I’d want travelers to stay long enough to remember my full name and maybe even my currency and capital city for years to come.
— BootsnAll Travel (@BootsnAll) June 29, 2012
You can’t “do” a country
I once retweeted a Bootsnall tweet that said, “Anyone who ‘does’ a country didn’t really do anything at all…”
I thought about the way people recap their multi-country trips through Europe, Southeast Asia or Latin America. “First we did Costa Rica, and then we worked our way down to Panama and Colombia, and kept moving south because we were flying home from Buenos Aires and we really wanted to do Ecuador, Peru and Chile along the way.” Can’t we think of a better verb here? How does one actually “do” a place? I’m confused.
Travel is not a contest
The same Bootsnall tweet linked to a tenet of an indie travel manifesto. “Private transformation over social status and bragging rights.” Well said.
I like going back to places
Country counters, bent on their mission to score more points, have trouble justifying a return to past places visited. I like finding reasons to go back. In the same way you can’t really “do” a country, I think you can never really be “done” with one either.
After that semester abroad in Mexico – the trip that awakened the traveler in me – the next trip I took was to Mexico. I was back within a year to visit. One of my dream trips is to return to Puebla in 10 or 15 years with my study abroad friends, retrace our steps, re-create photos, and wax nostalgic about what we remember and what has changed.
Domestic travel is unaccounted for
I’m from the United States, a country that is very big, beautiful in its diversity, and worthy of a whole lifetime of travel. Exploring my own home state of Colorado has kept my wanderlust in check for an entire year and counting. Outside of Colorado, the year I spent in Vermont and my six-week jaunt in the Pacific Northwest are among my all-time favorite travel experiences.
The time I’ve spent seeing the States hasn’t done anything to increase my country count, but it has still shaped me, challenged me and gratified me as a traveler.
Next big trip: 8-day brewery tour by bicycle from Fort Collins to Durango, Colorado.
Number of countries I hope to visit in my life: who’s counting?
This post is May’s addition to my Ambassador series for VacationRoost.com