Why I Don’t Count Countries

Why I Don’t Count Countries

There seems to be a trope in the travel blogging community, and it bugs me no end. Actually, it’s not at all just travel bloggers. It’s every listicle loving website out there too. It’s Stylist, it’s The Pool, it’s the dreaded Huffington Post (which is banned in my house for proliferating the idea writers should create content on spec) and it’s on the TV too.

What’s this trope I write of? It’s the damn counting of countries you’ve visited, flights taken, continents covered, UNESCO sites explored and money spent doing so. I can’t abide it and I’ll tell you why.

It’s irrelevant. Yep, I said it. I don’t care how many countries you’ve visited, or how many flights you’ve taken — that doesn’t raise your worth to me. It doesn’t make me feel as though you’re more or less of a ‘traveller’ than anyone else. And it definitely doesn’t make me want to read the rest of your blog post.

If that sounds harsh, maybe it is. I’ve been thinking about the idea that certain types of travel are valued in higher esteem than others for a while now and why that might be. I don’t honestly don’t know, but I do know that these types of posts often elicit the words ‘I should.’

woman with backpack standing in forest

Doing things because ‘I should’

The dreaded I should’s of travel…..or, in life, only serve to hold you back. I write about this when I was travelling long-term, as it’s something that really affected my decision making and my overall mood.

In googling ‘counting countries’ I found a few things. Blog posts titled the same as this one, presumable stating the same thing as me (although one of them written by someone who recently wrote a post counting countries…..), some telling you why you should count countries, and one titled: ‘Why real travellers count countries.’ Real travellers? I mean, I have so many issues with that concept it would require a whole other post!

Before you think I’m a complete grump, I get why this is a category of post. I understand why people want to write, and read lists of where someone’s been drilled down into easily digestible facts and figures. Especially at the end of the year, when roundups are doing the rounds.

I just don’t see a huge value in them. I don’t count the countries, flights, continents or whatever else I’ve been to for one simple reason.

Scotland travel - man in kilt looking over culloden battlefield

My 25th tour with a man in a kilt!

It stops me following my intuition.

If I start a country tally, aI may never go back to a country I loved and want to see more of. Because then I’m wasting my valuable travel time seeing somewhere I can’t tick off.

Maybe you enjoy reading posts like this without letting it affect your travel plans. You rock, and I wish I were more like you! But I’m not like that, and I suspect I’m not the only one either.

When I sat down and thought about my intentions for this year, and I wrote about the things I’m forgiving myself my travel decisions were one such thing. There are new countries I want to visit, not because I want to see an incremental number but because I want to see them. End of. There are also countries I want to go back to.

Yes, to see different parts perhaps. But also to see the same parts. The parts I love, and am familiar with. Does that make me a terrible traveller? Does it mean I am unwilling to step out of my comfort zone? Yes and no. And either way, it doesn’t matter. Because both of those questions are completely irrelevant to my self-worth. They are irrelevant to the amount of content I’m able to create in my job.

These are questions that, in my opinion, only serve my ego. And my ego serves nothing but a false sense of my self-worth. I mean, there’s a place for the ego – but we should never be a servant to it, ya know? If at this point you’re thinking – b@@tch please, you are cracked. I get it.

Imposter Syndrome - woman's hands in heart shape at sunset

Competitive counting

I understand the want, and the need to count countries like they are achievements. Because for many people, myself included, it is an achievement when you visit a new country. I get why there is a goal of seeing a certain amount of new things each year…..actually, my friend Jen has a simple goal of three new countries each year and that’s awesome. It’s an internal goal, just for her and she doesn’t plaster it over social media in order to make herself appear an ‘expert’ or a better traveller than the rest of us. I like visiting new countries too, and I would hate to never see anything new again.

I just don’t think counting them is meaningful. I think it’s competitive and I think it is a way of making people feel a little like they are better than others. A way to validate their path. An even though i can;t imagine anyone wants to make anyone else feel crappy as a result, I think that can be the result.

Rant over, peace out.

L x

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If you've ever seen a post listing the countries, flights and continents visited and wanted to scream, I'm with you. This is why I NEVER count countries.

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  1. 27th February 2017 / 12:25 pm

    Ah! 🙂

    I’ve no idea how many countries I’ve visited, but for different reasons. I’m one of life’s analysts; I spend my working day in front of spreadsheets and databases, going through everything with an open mind and a fine toothcomb going ‘what is this telling me’. This means I value accuracy, and by inference, ask too many questions.
    So it is with country-counting. For me it’s “what defines as a country?” (Wales? Transnistria? Gibraltar?), plus “what defines as a visit?” (I spent 12 hours exploring Istanbul – have I been to Turkey? I overnighted in a Singapore hotel but didn’t explore the city – have I been to Singapore?). I gave up counting countries because I couldn’t accurately satisfactorily either of those two questions to the best of my analytical capability … (plus every time I do count them I get a different answer depending on my criteria. If I asked, I say ‘about 70’ and leave it at that).

    Yeh, I’m a geek :p

    I have aims, and plans: to visit every capital city in Europe (‘what defines as a capital?’, yes I’ve thought of that one too!) and every ‘county’ in the UK -> I have no idea how many I’ve visited of either but do know which ones I’ve yet to visit.

    Mostly though my travel plans are to see the places I want to, that sound interesting to my tastes. I’ve been to places/countries purely because they’ve been ‘there’, or ‘in the way’ (Togo. I wouldn’t bother, tbh), and I’m happy to include them in any lists if people ask where I’ve been, but I don’t go out with the specific aim to visit x countries/towns etc on my trip. I even have an anti-bucket list of places I’ve no real desire to go (Chad, Angola, and most of the rest are small hot islands in the middle of nowhere, popular with honeymooners), but even this is flexible. (Though I really doubt anything could persuade me to visit Seychelles or Maldives. Exploring the aftermath of a small but brutal civil war, maybe.)

    But i wouldn’t blog about it. Because that smells of neediness, of ‘look at me, aren’t I great, I’ve been to 43 countries already, like my posts damnit!’.


    • Lucy
      1st March 2017 / 10:59 am

      This is such a brilliant comment! Thanks so much. And yes – you are seriously geeky. I love it!

      It’s definitely something I think we all do internally, especially as travel writers who are exposed to so many different bits of information about places and spaces. I love the idea of an anti-bucket list – I guess I also have one too, currently America is on it weirdly!

      But yep, ultimately I agree that writing about it feels needy. And I think it has the ability to make others feel a bit crap. L x

  2. 12th March 2017 / 6:10 pm

    Yeah I only counted up countries out of interest the other day because I saw it listed everywhere. I think you can gain so much more from a place by how you spend your time there. I spent six months in India, I easily could’ve seen twenty countries in that time. And yet I still feel there’s so much more to see of India. Every country is so diverse within its self.
    I’ve met a lot of people travelling who tell me there’ve “done Europe” in three weeks.

    • Lucy
      13th March 2017 / 9:22 am

      SO true! That whole ‘done it’ culture of travelling is so insincere and, to be honest, I can’t see how it’s enjoyable to whizz through sights and countries simply to tick them off a list.

      I also completely agree re: India – I spent about 3 months there…..but I feel like I only scratched the surface!

    19th March 2017 / 1:40 pm

    Same here! sometimes I find these people counting countries and bragging about it a bit pathetic..They are caught in a competitive “consumerist” trap and sometimes they seem a bit lost. They are searching for something but can’t find it. So what are they searching for? Their passion maybe? The first time I went to India, I knew that was my favourite country. I went back many times because I loved it so much there. Why would I go to North-Korea instead and have a terrible holiday just for the sake of numbers? Life is too short to spend on meaningless things.
    Moreover the blog posts of these people are often very superficial – they didn’t have any time to scratch beneath the surface, because…they didn’t do much research and were already planning their next trip while still being in that country..
    OK, I might be generalising here, but I just got those ideas after reading some “succesful” counting blogs. For me, they lacked substance. I was all about quantity, nothing about quality.

    • SIGRID
      19th March 2017 / 1:42 pm

      Correction! IT was all about quantity, nothing about quantity

      • Lucy
        19th March 2017 / 7:08 pm

        Haha, I gathered that’s what you meant 🙂

    • Lucy
      19th March 2017 / 6:55 pm

      I LOVE this so much. I’m high fiving you virtually! Yes…..of course, we are generalising but I agree with you wholeheartedly that simply going to a new country when you know you love another can’t be the best use of your time! Each to their own and all that….I just hate the preaching about the number of countries visited like it’s a badge of honour. L x

  4. 29th March 2017 / 2:59 pm

    Great post that has some really interesting elements to it, You should never discount returning to a country if you loved it, because isn’t that the point of travelling? And America is only one country, so spending a month in a few states is a waste of time?
    However, I did count countries as I wanted to create some life goals; I wanted to try and do 25 before turning 25. Yet I didn’t see it as ‘I want to just go to places for the sake of it’. It made me think, what countries do I really want to actually explore? After 25 I will probably stop counting, and would rather spend a month in China then just go to a place every few days for the sake of it. But having a goal kept me motivated to travel, and instead show me where I want to go back to, as well as see as many different cultures as possible.
    V interesting post though, loved it.

    • Lucy
      1st April 2017 / 11:08 am

      Yes, I totally agree! Some countries are like continents with completely different climates and identities. It would be crazy to visit New York only and think you’ve *done* America!

      I also think it’s ace you had a cool goal to challenge yourself. I also have little internal goals I set myself, especially with travel — things that are just for me to push my own boundaries and not get too comfortable. My first trip with the baby is one of them, as I’m determined to go somewhere I want to go, as opposed to somewhere kiddy-friendly.

      L x

  5. 20th July 2017 / 4:42 pm

    Love this post! I have a list of places I’ve been to but it’s for myself because I like lists and keeping records! I defnitely couldn’t tell you off the top of my head how many countries I’ve been to, nor do I feel the need to shout about it.

    For me, travel is about having meaningful and enjoyable experiences in beautiful or interesting places, rather than just adding to a list and “beating” others.

    It’s pretty easy to tot up countries if you do one of those “15 countries in 30 days” arranged bus tours and such but whistle stop visits to only the major cities with a day here, an afternoon there, are just not for me.

    I appreciate that not everyone has the time to spend mutiple days, weeks or months in each country they want to visit so those whirlwind tours are the best way for some people to see the world. There’s nothing wrong with that. But does it mean those people are more well-travelled or “better” because their list is longer? I don’t think it does.

    There’s many countries I’ve been to multiple times – usually to different cities or regions but not always – but like you, I’m not going to stop myself going back and exploring and enjoying one country more in lieu of ticking a new box.

    • 20th July 2017 / 4:46 pm

      Sorry, I have no idea why the word whistle decided to attach a hyperlink…

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