When Did I Become a Counter?

I admit, I'm ashamed to say I've become a counter. When did it happen? I know it's  not cool to care, or to count, how many countries you've been to. It's also senseless when you like to revisit places the way we do. When people declare to me at a party how many places they've been to, I normally stop talking about travel, I smile politely and move on.  When a young woman  told me with great pride that she'd been to 70 countries, I immediately thought how is she counting it, what's included, has she really? I thought all of that as I walked away without mentioning   that we like to travel. All the traveling didn't seem to have made her anymore worldly and I discovered years ago that travel alone doesn't make anyone interesting.
How many countries have you been to and does anyone really care?

I  could claim that don't want to compete with others,  that I just want to catalogue for myself. But the truth is  I want to compete with my brother and sister-in-law (where all the counting started) but nobody outside my immediate family, really I promise! But cataloguing requires a taxonomy, you have to decide what counts. D. and I agree it has to be a recognized state and you have to have gone beyond the airport, this means you can't count places like Scotland or Wales, or at least you can't count them until they succeed from the UK! You can however count old countries if you visited them in a previous incarnation. So  D. gets East and West Germany because he visited them in the 1980s. Currently my "number" stands at 79. 

However, our rules, combined with the desire to return to places over and over, means that my list isn't growing fast enough! Of course I shouldn't care about it but I admit I'm getting shallower as I age. Perhaps it's time to reevaluate what "counts"? After all if you don't like the rules change them!
The debate over what qualifies  as a visit, or what is recognized as a country, isn't a new one. The Traveller's Century Club (TCC)  is dedicated to counters, its membership made up of those who aspire and achieve to visit as many places a possible. Their "Alphabetical List of TCC Countries and Territories" instantly provides a far more forgiving taxonomy. In this system I've visited lots more places, suddenly I'm feeling much more sophisticated, perhaps I should learn a foreign language? Apparently I didn't know that the following places are culturally or geographically distinct enough to qualify - even though they are not really separate counties. Lucky me, now I can add Bali, the Canary Islands, Scotland, Wales, the Hawaiian Islands and  Tasmania. 

But it doesn't end there, the TCC endorses even the shortest trip.  Even a plane refueling counts as a visit, though this is clearly not an opportunity to see or understand the cultural or geographical distinctions of the region. All of a sudden I've visited the following places too, despite never having left the airport; Chile, Germany, Azerbaijan, Congo, Switzerland, Puerto Rico Japan, Hong Kong, Bukina Faso. These places won't be appearing on the blog because all I remember is the airport or the runway.

So, while changing to the TCC  criteria means I've now visited 93 countries it  feels like cheating. The regionally distinctive areas on the TCC list seem arbitrary at best and non-sensical at worst.  I particularly like browsing their list of "retired" countries or territories which indicates Assam  counted until 1980, while the  neighboring Indian state of Sikkum still rises to the status of being distinctive enough to be counted separately. 
The first thing you notice when you see these lists is that clearly we haven't been visiting enough islands, there are just so many of them. With geographical isolation as a factor in what counts, there are lots of obscure specks on the TCC list. These are places you won't find at the end of a commercial flight or on the list of UN countries. But I don't think we'll be chartering a plane or a freighter to visit them anytime soon, don't laugh how do you think these TCC people soar past 100 countries?

So, it's back to our more restrictive criteria which means if I want more countries I'll have to go out and get them the old fashioned way!


Kavey said…
I am completely with you. The number is essentially meaningless, isn't it, as it's surely about the breadth of experiences rather than the number of arbitrarily defined locations. But of course, we like counting, we humans, and it's fun to do so even though it's irrelevant.

For me, I have to have exited customs and seen something of the place, even though I'd never claim to have "done" a country after a few weeks, let alone a few hours. Sitting on a plane during refuelling or even transit through an airport just doesn't cut it.

Of course, allowing old borders cuts two ways -- if one is consistent and applies the borders that were in existence during the visit then whilst I might get both East and West Germany if I went long enough ago, I'd only get Czechoslovakia rather than the two entities it is today!

We have a map in our study into which we have pushed different colour pins. Yellow for places my husband and I have both visited. Purple for those I have visited and he hasn't. There isn't a colour for him as he'd not travelled before we met. But my aim is to replace any purple pins for places I enjoyed with yellow ones, as the years go by!
Hi Kavey,
I really enjoyed your comment and nice to see you over here!
We must be alike as we have the same sort of map you mentioned with the different colors. Ours is online at an older site D. put together for us, I'm blue, D's green and our travels together are in yellow!
You can see it here...