Until recently, I had no idea that counting countries was such a hot topic in the travel blogging community and what a polarising issue it was. With some likening counting countries to a sort of ‘personal colonialism,’ and saying that counting countries equates to creating a ‘list of domination,’ (source in comments) it seems as though people are getting really fired up about this issue.
Having never given much thought to whether counting countries is a good thing or not, I decided to do a little research into both sides of the debate and see which side of the fence I fell on.
The Counting Countries Debate
Counting Countries – Initial Thoughts
I’ve never kept track of how many countries I’ve been to. Hell, I don’t even keep count of how many tattoos I have, and they’re right there on my own body! I guess that counting countries and reaching a certain number before a certain age or whatever has never been a priority for me.
I joke that my way of travel is inefficient, and by this I mean that although I do want to see as much as possible during my time on this planet, I get attached to places very easily and find myself staying there for much longer than I initially plan to. I spent a year in Cambodia, around 9 months in Poland, and when you total up the time that I’ve spent in Spain, it’s probably close to a year as well. Slow travel has always been my preference, and when people find out that I’ve been travelling almost non-stop for 3 years, they’re always stunned by how little I’ve actually ‘travelled’ (for the record it’s 25 countries, and yes, I counted especially for this post).
To be honest, I’ve always found it kind of obnoxious when somebody announces that they’ve ‘been to 74 countries.’
I don’t really know what the correct response is to a sentence like that. ‘Well done?’ A pat on the back?
Usually I just focus on not rolling my eyes.
I guess then, if I had to choose a side, I’d say that I was against counting countries.
Let’s see if I change my mind.
The Argument For Counting Countries
For many people, counting countries is a great way to keep a record of how much they’ve accomplished, and I totally get that. Travelling isn’t so easy for everyone, and to be able to say ‘hey – I may be a wheelchair user but I travelled across 10 countries by myself,’ is fantastic.
It helps me sometimes to look back on the amount of travelling I’ve done whenever I’m feeling nervous about something. We all get anxious sometimes, but being able to remind myself that ‘Dani, you travelled across Southeast Asia,’ really makes everyday stressors seem a lot less intimidating!
Just as some people collect stamps, other people collect countries. That may be offensive to some (more on that later), but I support anyone who wants to explore this incredible world that we live in. Visiting countries just for the sake of it certainly isn’t the way that I travel, but at the end of the day I’m just glad that they’re seeing more of the world.
Do I think that racing through a continent because you’re counting countries is the best way to travel? Absolutely not. Do I think that you ‘know’ a country if you only visited one city? No, I don’t. Does it make me cringe when someone says ‘I didn’t really fancy Kosovo but I thought I’d better get it done while I was in the area?’ 100%. However, if we were all the same then the world would be a boring place, and all that jazz. As long as you don’t think that visiting a country for 3 days means that you really saw and understood that country, then we’re good.
The Argument Against Counting Countries
While I was researching this post, I came across so many arguments against counting countries. I’d expected most people on this side of the debate to be of the belief that counting countries is annoying and a little obnoxious, but it actually goes much deeper than that.
Kiona, owner of the Instagram account, ‘hownottotravellikebasicb—h,’ sees counting countries as a form of ‘personal colonialism,‘ and says that acknowledging how many countries you’ve visited means ignoring your ‘inherent privilege,’ and that ‘countries can’t be conquered.’
While I agree with the latter statement, I think that saying someone is committing an act of colonialism just by tallying up the number of countries they’ve visited is a bit much, and involves way too many mental gymnastics for my liking.
While it is indeed true that those who count countries are showcasing their huge amounts of privilege, aren’t all travel bloggers guilty of that? I might not have my country count in my bio, but I’m sure that doesn’t make it any less easier to stomach me posting pictures of Southeast Asian sunsets while my friends are waking up at 7am to go to their office jobs.
It is unfair as a travel blogger to say that country counters are rubbing their privilege in people’s faces when travel blogging in general often involves showing off our picture perfect lives. It’s the nature of the beast, and while I have a whole lot of feelings about the toxicity of ‘Instagram models’ and ‘influencers’ generally, I’m not going to sit here and bash those counting countries for broadcasting their inherent privilege, when actually, almost anybody with a sizeable following on Instagram is doing just that.
Another argument that I’ve seen against counting countries is the whole ‘what even is a country anyway? Borders are man made constructs and we should all be free to roam wherever we want man, peace and love and all that’ shtick. Honestly, when it comes to things like that, I can’t even (whey, basic bish phrase alert).
For me, the argument against counting countries is a lot simpler than colonialism and philosophical debates regarding what constitutes a country. The reason why I don’t like counting countries is because it makes me feel bad, point blank.
Take 2018, for example. It took me 6 months of being away from home (volunteering in Poland) to see one new country (Ukraine). Does that make me a failure as a traveller? Those in the habit of counting countries may be inclined to think so.
When this post goes live I’ll be backpacking across Southeast Europe, where I’ll hit more countries in 3 months then I’ve managed in the whole of 2018 so far. Is this more impressive than the rest of my 2018?
I don’t think so.
Sure, it’ll be amazing to be properly on the road again, seeing a new place every few days (and trust me, I thank my lucky stars every day that I am privileged enough to do that), but for me that doesn’t even come close to sinking into the fabric of a country and beginning to understand its geography, its language, its politics and its people. Will I have ‘done’ North Macedonia in a week? Of course not! I won’t even have scratched the surface! I’ve spent almost 12 months travelling around Poland and I’m still adding Polish destinations to my bucket list!
I guess my hesitation to count countries is because when you begin, you face an enormous amount of pressure to constantly keep moving to new places. While it’s nice to sit down and say ‘wow, I’ve been to so many countries!’ I fear that counting countries is something that becomes addictive, and once people start keeping that tally, their travel becomes less about the experiences and more about the numbers.
Conclusion: The Counting Countries Debate
I think it’s clear from this article that I’m very much of the belief that counting countries is kinda dumb. I acknowledge that it’s cool to keep a record of where you’ve been so that you can look back and reflect on how much of the world you’ve seen, but unfortunately, I do believe that most people who count countries are travelling just for the numbers.
In my opinion, immersing yourself in a single country is so much more fulfilling than racing through a list of places just to get them over and done with. The idea of soaking up a country in its entirety – not just the major tourist hubs – is what first made me desperate to travel, and after 3 years of long term travel, my mindset hasn’t changed. I know that not everybody is like me, and trust me when I say that I don’t believe there is a right way and a wrong way to travel (well, unless you’re travelling to Pattaya for a Thai bride, but that’s another blog post).
I’m not judging the way that country counters race from place to place without stopping for breath. If you enjoy that way of travelling then you do you lol. I’m judging the way that these people sometimes consider a country ‘done’ if they’ve spent 2 nights in its capital city and go on to brag about how worldly they are for having visited 50 countries.
That said, I do think that there is a certain amount of elitism on the other side of the debate too. For me, the backpacker that sighs and proclaims that ‘I don’t count countries because I don’t have that much time on my hands,’ or ‘Oh, I lost count back in 2007 when I was hitchhiking across Somalia,’ is equally as insufferable.
In conclusion, if you’re someone who has been counting countries, perhaps just bear in mind that travel really isn’t a competition, and you don’t have to prove yourself to anyone. There will always be someone who has seen more than you, done more than you and travelled more than you, and that’s fine. If you want to keep a private record of how many places you’ve travelled to, then be my guest.
Just know that if the reason you’re counting countries is to show everyone how much of a traveller you are, then you aren’t fooling anyone and you’re a basic bish.
What do you think? Do you count countries? Please leave your thoughts in the comments below and remember that this article isn’t to be taken too seriously! I might think you’re basic if you count countries but hey, I’m addicted to reality TV and chart music, so what does that say about me?
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