Does it Matter How Many Countries You Visit?

I personally don’t like counting the number of countries I have been to. Actually, I have no idea how many countries I have been to. I also don’t particularly like knowing how many countries other people have been to, and I especially don’t think it makes any traveller better than another. While I can understand and respect the appeal, the notion of counting countries to me minimizes meaningful, immersive experiences and makes “successful” travel feel even more privileged and exclusive than it already is.

While I’m totally ok with people counting countries for themselves, I’m not so ok with using it as a way to compare each other as travellers.

Canoe on Lake Huron at sunset
A sunset canoe on Lake Huron, 2.5h from home

Passport Privilege

Travel is a privilege. Freedom of mobility isn’t free. Let’s talk about passport privilege with regards to counting countries. The Black Expat does a great job of explaining passport privilege from her perspective. Similarly, Africa is a Country digs into the idea that passports and citizenship are “the most powerful currency today”.

To explain in numbers, my Canadian passport allows me into 115 countries visa free. Conversely, a Pakistani passport gets you into 8 countries without a visa. To explain in words, the notion that anyone can travel – that they just don’t prioritize it or care to even if they have the financial means to – is simply not true. Because of passport privilege, counting countries is like a race where the rules are not only unfair but where some players drive rocket ships while others walk.

Slow Travel

Country-counting can sometimes encourage people to country-hop. In each country they see the top five attractions, take the appropriate iconic photos, and move quickly on to the next. In an attempt to count how many countries we can see in a short period of time, we minimize the value of slow travel. Slow travel is part of the greater slow movement and means taking your time, immersing yourself in the culture, paying attention to details and nuances, and making a connection to the local place and its people. It is the idea of getting to know a place well over time rather than rushing through the highlights.

Slow travel is not to be minimized by country-counters. It allows you to get a feel for the pace of a place, familiarize yourself with a few people or key places, cut transportation emissions and costs, and challenges you to engage on a deeper level. Hiking and biking are two ways to practice slow travel, but taking a train rather than a plane works too!

Related: Why I Hike

One is not necessarily better than the other, but we can elevate the benefits of slow travel by not prioritizing a number.

The Crack Killarney
Hiking on La Cloche Silhouette in Killarney, 4h from home

Who is a Traveller?

Without the money or means to travel to a different country or even a different state or province, counting countries can make people feel like they can not be a traveler. Our relationship with travel and how we perceive it depends on an intersection of our privileges and identities, much like our diverse relationships with the outdoors.

To travel is to go from one place to another. To take a trip or journey. It may include new experiences, different cultures, and interesting places unlike those one has seen before. Everyone can be a traveler.

To some, travel means visiting new countries. To others, travel is catching the bus to Chinatown to try dim sum and noodles. It is walking to the park and discovering all of the nooks and crannies, branches and birds, shrubs and grasses. It is all still travel. By widening the definition of a traveler and opening the doors, we can inspire travellers to identify as such. Then, as they grow, they may seek international experiences at their own pace.

Like the “outdoorsy people club” does not rank members by the number of mountains summited nor the brand of her clothing, the imaginary “traveller club” should not judge by the number of countries visited.

Canoe Trip in Algonquin Park
Canoe tripping in Algonquin, 3.5h from home

Instead of Counting Countries…

I don’t mean for people to stop counting countries. For many, the number is part of greater lifelong goals or representative of something more than just a number – and I am all for that. What I would like, however, is for us to be careful about using that number as way to validate or compare each other. Instead of asking about the number of countries someone has been to, why not ask about the number of…

  • Languages they speak (and can you teach me!)
  • Siblings they have
  • Sports they play or watch
  • Songs on their favourite playlist
  • Types of international cuisines they enjoy
  • Nights they will spend in the same place as you
  • Pets in their life
  • Shooting stars they have seen
  • Sunsets they remember
  • Ice cream cones they’ve had this week
  • Marshmallows they can fit in their mouth at once
  • etc.!

Not only are they less potentially problematic, but they often inspire incredibly interesting conversations. And isn’t that the point, after all?

Dog on beach in Saugeen Ontario
Frolicking on the beach in Southampton, 2.5h from home
Does it really matter how many countries you've been to? Why we should stop counting countries to judge each other as travellers Does it really matter how many countries you've been to? Why we should stop counting countries to judge each other as travellers Does it really matter how many countries you've been to? Why we should stop counting countries to judge each other as travellers

14 Replies to “Does it Matter How Many Countries You Visit?

  1. I’m a country counter as I’m astonished at each new place I get to visit. Growing up the daughter of an immigrant made my current life of full-time travel seem impossible. I travel slowly (haven’t been to a new country since December) and don’t share the number to be seen as comparison whatsoever. Not all country counters are the same! To each their own!

  2. Many good thoughts. You don’t have to go far to travel, as you say a journey or a short walk will do it. What is important is to step outside your own bubble from time to time. Obsessive moving around and country counting is as much a bubble as never straying outside your own village.

  3. I love the ideas in this article. I have been asking myself the same question for a long time why does it feel like a race and why some people think that the number of countries you have been to makes you a better or more experienced traveler. Not so long time ago I asked people on my FB fanpage if they prefer to collect new countries or go back to those that they enjoyed and the results were 50:50 🙂 Anyway, thank you for your inputs! Cheers from Norway!

  4. Love this post! I find myself counting countries and comparing myself to other people quite a lot and sometimes it puts me down as my numbers aren’t actually that high. The other thing to take into account is how you got to travel too. A friend of mine used to brag about how many countries hes been to and how much hes done around the world but when I looked into it more it was because his parents were divorced but both were pretty wealthy so he went on 2 family holidays every year. While theres nothing wrong with this, trying to compare myself to this was not good for me because I was from a single mother, working class family so I never went abroad until I was a teenager and could afford to pay for it myself. Everyone’s experiences are different but that doesnt mean they’re less valid

  5. This is really interesting way to look at it, I don’t think fast-paced travel minimises the benefits of slow travel though – it’s what is available to that person at the time.

    Also, teach me another language too!

  6. This is one of the best posts I’ve read in a long time. I do like keeping track of where I’ve been, mostly to decide if it’s somewhere I want to go back to and to remember the fun things I did there and the memories I’ve made – but there are plenty of places I’ve been where I only got to visit quickly and I don’t feel like I really experienced the country or the culture or the people, so I’m not it counts. I have a British passport and my kids have both British and American passports so I know how fortunate we are to be able to travel with relative ease – I think it is a powerful thing to have and we don’t take it for granted. Oh, and my 3-year old very much approves of asking people how many ice creams they’ve eaten in a week!

  7. Great post! I actually wrote a very similar post a couple of weeks ago about why I’ve given up counting countries and it’s an interesting debate. People count their visits differently, and also people count *countries* differently! (e.g. Kosovo isn’t recognised as a country, and China doesn’t count Taiwan, etc etc) So I don’t think the numbers matter at all. Saying that, I am going on a crazy trip next week to seven countries, and I feel like it’s going to be a bit of a “country counting” trip (without meaning it to be), so it all depends on your travel style too, because the difference is, I’m not gonna come home and say “right I’ve done those countries now” which is a whole issue unto itself haha.

  8. Great post. I think people forget that travel is a privilege. This topic just came up with a couple of friends. They are world travelers, primarily through long-term cruising. Some may argue that this doesn’t count. But it doesn’t really matter. I think no matter how we choose to travel we should always keep in sight the notion that we are the privileged few that can and do.

  9. I totally agree with this! I used to get disappointed if I went to Europe and didn’t hit as many countries as I could in one trip. I partially have my son to thank for forcing the slow travel, and now we love just picking one country and focusing on it. We have a trip coming up to Europe soon and are spending 1.5 weeks in Northern Ireland alone. Never would have done that before!

  10. I of course agree that no one is better or worse for having visited any number of countries, and I certainly know that people need the means to travel, hence privilege. I, however, count countries and states and I have goals. My travel goals don’t make me a more accomplished traveler than anyone else; they are my personal goals and I set them because I want to see the most I can of this amazing world in the limited time we all have. Nothing makes me happier than being in a new place, learning about its art, food, architecture, language, customs, etc. And yes, I know I can learn things locally, and I do. I live in the U.S. state of Connecticut and I’ve celebrated it in guidebooks and magazine articles. I love my state, I love my country, and I love every country I’ve been to. I simply want to see as much of the world as I can. I do not judge people who do not have the same goals and they shouldn’t judge me.

  11. I like to keep track of how many countries I’ve been to for fun, but I agree it doesn’t define how “well travelled” you are. You can see so much in one country and learn just as much as you would visiting multiple. Great read!

  12. I see so many posts on this topic and frankly as someone who is in their 40s and has been traveling since childhood I happen to have been to many countries and I see no problem with knowing how many I’ve been to and telling others when asked. No it isn’t a competition nor does it make me a better traveler. Who is out there actually saying these things? Just curious because it seems like people get really defensive about defending their choice to slow travel. Slow travel is great but time is another form of privilege that not everyone has. One thing I will say is that I the number of countries does matter in one regard…it gives you and education and experience about that particular country that someone who hasn’t been there doesn’t have. As a blogger giving travel advice to others, the large number of countries I’ve visited gives me a massive knowledge base from which to draw from especially when advising other female travelers about safety. I’m not saying I’m better…I just have had experiences that many haven’t. I fully recognize passport privilege and agree that this shouldn’t be a braggy thing.

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