I’ve been to 76 countries. Here’s why I keep count, even though some consider it a faux pas. (Photo: Oneika Raymond)
One of the strangest things I’ve encountered in the travel blogging community is the debate surrounding “country counting” (talk about First World problems!). Tallying up the amount of countries one has been to and sharing it with others is sometimes seen as tacky and inauthentic by the travelers who refuse to keep track. The pervasive line of thinking is that “real” travellers don’t keep count — they travel “organically,” while country counters plow through foreign territories with the sole purpose of attaining a higher number. “Real” travelers soak up the true essence and culture of a place, while country counters are in it for the passport stamp and (humble)bragging rights. Likewise, “real” travelers choose where they go based on preferences and return to their favorites, while country counters go just about anywhere new so they can merely add yet another country to their list.
Now, as someone who keeps track of how many countries they’ve been to, I’m inclined to disagree with this viewpoint. Yes, I’m a travel junkie and frequent globetrotter, but I’m in hot pursuit of new sights, sounds, and experiences — not necessarily new passport stamps. While I’m always up for going somewhere I’ve never been before, my love affair with certain destinations compels me to return again and again (case in point: I lived in France for two years and have been back more than ten times in the years since). And then, of course, even if you are “guilty” of collecting countries like baseball cards, who cares?!? The beauty of being an independent adult with a healthy amount of wanderlust and money in your wallet is that you can travel in any way you see fit. Travel shouldn’t be a race, nor a pissing contest, but if you are intent on blazing across the planet just so you can tick places off, then more power to you. As long as you’re traveling responsibly and not hurting anyone I don’t take issue. But I digress. Here’s why I, personally, choose to count countries:
The locals are friendly in Myanmar, and the amount of excitement you’ll find in the streets ensures you will never have a dull moment. (Photo: Oneika Raymond)
It allows me to see how much I’ve grown as a person.
Before I get all touchy-feely on you, I want to preface what I’m going to say next by stating that being well-traveled doesn’t make you better, smarter, or more-cultured/evolved/cultivated than anyone else. BUT, in my personal experience, travel has made me the best person I can be, and with each country has come some sort of life lesson. Travel has taught me about relationships, tolerance, my personal preferences, and my strengths and weaknesses. My first backpacking trip through Spain, Portugal, and Morocco (countries #6, #8, and #9) in 2004? It taught me about sacrifice (I lived on baguettes, scrambled eggs, and tuna for months trying to save up money for that trip). My time in Bosnia (country #66), a place devastated by war, reminded me of my privilege, and made me thankful to have grown up in a stable country like Canada. My focus is not on my number, but on my experiences. Additionally, while I don’t lord my travels over anyone, I do see them as a personal accomplishment and a testament to my commitment to seeing the world. After all, my relationship with travel is one of the longest, healthiest relationships I’ve ever had!
My growing country count inspires others like me to travel.
One of the unofficial aims of my blog, Oneika the Traveller, is to show black folks like me just how accessible travel can be, especially given that we are sorely, sorely under-represented in travel media (peep my diatribe on this topic here). Seems as though it’s working — I can’t tell you how many emails I get from African-American readers thanking me for inspiring them to see the world and assuaging their fears about traveling as a person of color. I’ve had readers tell me that they are inspired by the fact that a regular black girl like me has been to so many places, that I pay for and plan my own travel, that I don’t let myself be hindered or held back by the color of my skin or the perceived threat of racism. My readers of all colors, nationalities, and creeds root for me, ask how many countries I’m up to now, and always are curious as to where I’m going next. The love and encouragement from them is simply incredible!
The Colosseum should probably be the first stop on your Rome itinerary, if only for the photo op. It’s an essential shot, and the view is free. (Photo: Oneika Raymond)
It adds to my blogging “street cred.”
This little blog of my mine started as a passion but nowadays is somewhat of a “jobby” — a combo of a job and a hobby. I have been given incredible opportunities to share my journey and turn what I love to do into a small business. But, while I’d like to think that popular travel outlets took notice of me because I’m super freaking awesome, have a sparkling personality, and a dazzling way with words, I know that at least part of the recognition I’ve received is due to the fact that I’ve been to a lot of countries and display the amount on my website. Look at it this way: While travelling to a zillion countries doesn’t necessarily make you a travel expert, it does show a level of comfort and familiarity with hitting the road. So, in essence, I count countries and share my “number” for… wait for it… marketing purposes (does that make me a sell-out?!).
Because, well, why not?!
I count calories, the hairs on my chin (TMI, sorry), and the amount of shoes I own (nearly 60, please don’t judge me). I keep track of how many countries I’ve been to because it’s fun and, well, because I can!
Fact: Somebody’s alwaaaaays gonna have something to say about the way you choose to live your life. They’ll give their two (or four! or six!) cents unsolicited, whether it’s out of genuine concern or pure hateration. It’s just human nature.
So keep on doing you, and count your countries if you want to. As long as you’re not hurting anybody, shoving your number down others’ throats all the time in an attempt to show off and make them feel inferior, or acting like you’re the hottest thing since sliced bread because you’re privileged enough to have the time, money, and right passport to travel, you’re good.
As for those Judgey McJudgersons who have a problem with the way you travel and the way you choose to keep track of it? Tell ’em to go kick rocks.
Do you count the amount of countries you’ve traveled to? Why or why not?