The Counting Countries Debate

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,’ 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.

counting countries
Lviv, Ukraine. June 2018

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.

counting countries
Zadar, Croatia, June 2017

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!

counting countries
Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina, June 2017

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.

counting countries
Oliva, Spain, April 2017

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.

counting countries
Melaka, Malaysia, July 2016

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.

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Chiang Mai, Thailand, May 2015

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.

counting countries
Marrakech, Morocco, July 2014

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.

counting countries
Kampot, Cambodia, October 2015

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).

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Masuria, Poland, May 2018

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.

Uluwatu, Bali, Indonesia, September 2015

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  1. I wouldn’t say that counting countries makes you privileged necessarily. Many of us work very hard to afford travel and have to go without other things. For example, I have a really old car and I don’t own my own house. I don’t get to travel as often as I want either. It just comes down to what you spend your hard earned wages on. If you’re travelling around on Daddy’s money, then yes you’re privileged.

    I count countries, because I enjoy it. I like remembering the places I’ve been and I’d rather see a little bit of lots of countries, than loads of one country. But that’s just me. Also as a travel blogger, I think it gives you a bit more credibility if you’ve been to a few places. Unless of course your niche is one particular place. I know someone who had a lifestyle blog, went to one country for four days and now calls herself a travel blogger.

    I don’t think counting countries makes someone a bitch at all. It doesn’t hurt anyone does it. Although I’m not sure what the term “basic” refers to. I’ve not heard that before. Surely there’s only one type of bitch and that’s the kind that’s nasty to others?

    1. Yes it does because you have passport privilege. The fact that the article doesn’t even cover that some people can’t even travel to a large amount of countries because they are not allowed to. Despite your old car you are still privileged AF.

      1. I agree, and it was short sighted of me to neglect to mention the passport issue. I’m definitely aware of the struggles that people with other passports may face, especially since recently making friends with people from Kosovo, who are EXTREMELY restricted with where they can travel. I actually don’t know why I didn’t mention that, probably because I’m legit basic too, lol.

        Thank you for your comment <3

  2. I think there’s another side to this, too. It’s also possible that you tally up how many countries you’ve been to because you get asked about it by literally everyone outside of the travel blogging/backpacking world that you meet. I, in the literal sense, have counted how many countries I’ve visited because I simply want to know, and want to be able to answer people who ask. Not because I’m ticking countries off a list or trying to compete with other travelers.

    This is kind of like the “traveler vs. tourist” debate, which I find just as silly!

    1. Oh,100% I said somewhere in the article that I think it’s cool sometimes to count how many places you’ve seen. I was more talking about the people who are on a mission to see a certain number of countries just so they can say they’ve done it rather than because they enjoy the act of travel itself.

      I think there’s a difference between looking back and saying “huh, I’ve been to 30 countries, that’s pretty cool,” and racing through every country in Europe in 2 months just for bragging rights.

      I hope I’ve clarified that properly, haha.

      Thanks for commenting! 🙂

  3. Great topic! I have counted countries but only more from an “answering people’s question” perspective as Amanda mentioned above. I feel like people will trust you more as a travel expert if you’re like “I’ve been to X amount of countries across 5 continents” or whatever. They know you have a wide range of background knowledge that can help them get the scoop they want.
    Tallying up a list just to brag though is pretty gross – agreed! Slow travel for the win. 🙂

  4. I proudly count my countries and share that number. In 2010 I was diagnosed with a rare, fatal lung disease. It’s harder for me to travel than a healthy person and one day I may not be able to travel at all. So I’m damn proud of the number of countries I’ve been lucky enough to visit since then (it’s 50). I also want to inspire people in similar situations to travel because it helped me so much, so I promote that number like crazy to make people realize what’s possible. I fully recognize that being able to travel so much is a privilege and I do not take it for granted. I also completely agree that slower travel is the way to go and try to spend as much time in each place I visit as is feasible for me at the time. But I do not feel bad about counting my countries, and wanting to see as many more amazing places as possible in this life.

  5. I really think it’s a rather simplistic, black-and-white view, honestly. People count countries for a variety of reasons.
    And while slow travel is amazing when it’s posisble, it’s nice to keep in mind that for many it’s not an option. So one really cannot look down on someone who flies across the ocean for their 2-week-long vacation in Europe (very likely, their trip of a liftime), and drives through 6 or 7 countries in that time.

  6. I too love slow travel! I am so lucky to be able to stay in places for months at a time, even if I’m restricted by visa necessities and limits. I counted my country list once, when my dad asked because he was curious if I’d surpassed him (he has made it a priority in his life to travel to a new country every year and teach us about different cultures, and that it’s beautiful and okay to all be different. I haven’t beaten him yet haha).
    I don’t count countries, because I’m of the “what are borders anyway” mentality. Sure, one could say they’ve been to Canada, but Canada actually has 6 time zones and takes about 4 days to drive across non-stop, so to say you’ve touch one part of Canada doesn’t cut it for me, as you can’t say you’ve seen the difference between the East or West, experienced French Canada, or hippie Canada, or busy big cities, or small towns up North. I also hate when people say they’ve DONE a country, I completely despise that. Oh, you’ve DONE South-East Asia??? What does that even mean??? It’s so individual to travel, I don’t understand what your definition is so it actually makes zero sense to me and I can’t relate.

  7. We have just spent 12 months travelling around my home country…after travelling through the Americas (17) for a year. I’m actually more proud of the number of towns and cities (61) in my own country that I have visited than the number of countries I have visited in my lifetime.

  8. I enjoyed your spirited analysis of counting countries! Some fun and unique insights into this genre of travel. Well, I am in the counting countries community so I would have to argue that there is inherently wrong w counting countries, but of course there are many iterations of this genre.

    You make a strong case for slow travel, ie 3 or 12 months in a single country. So many benefits. But is there inherently something wrong with spending two weeks in a country to visit? Am I not richer for the experience for visiting a new country that I would not be able to visit if I had not spent two weeks taking my time to go there?

    1. Of course, there is nothing wrong with spending 2 weeks in a country, but my argument is that if you only have 2 weeks to travel, you shouldn’t try to cram in a million places, rather explore one or two!

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