Wednesday 1 January 2014

How many countries have you visited?

by Todd Romaine
globe road
Are you a globetrotter?
I am sure most of us have been asked at some point in our lives, ‘where have you travelled to before?’

Most people in the world never visit more than 2 countries in their lives. This obviously is different for people from developed countries. Consider these statistics:
  • In the United States, approximately 4 out of every 5 people at some point in their lives leaves the country usually for a visit to Mexico or Canada, and about 2 out of every 5 people in the US travel to at least 4 foreign countries in their lifetime.
  • In Europe, where geographical real estate amongst the numerous countries is small, more of its citizens have travelled internationally and too multiple countries.
  • On a global basis, the biggest travellers in the world hail from Germany and they happen to spend the most amount of money when they are overseas.
  • The United States is 2nd, the United Kingdom is 3rd and Canada is a distant 8th.

Our obsession with counting

distance Keeping the track of the number of countries you have been to, for some, symbolizes a sense of personal accomplishment of being international/well-travelled/cosmopolitan.

For many travel enthusiasts, marking your travel is done simply by memory, a physical map in your home office with pins indicating visits, or the ‘where have I been’ application in Facebook.

I confess that my brother and I had an immature contest going for many years on who has travelled most extensively around the world. The common benchmark was always the number of countries one would visit. I soon became aggravated by this seemingly unfair tabulation as he would take a cruise in the Caribbean for 6 days and cross off 3-4 countries with a casual afternoon in the various ports walking along the beach with a beer in his hand while I criss-crossed from Russia’s Far East to Russia’s Far West (9 time zones) over a period of a month and would only get credit for 1 country. I guess the competition could be reconfigured in my favour to base it on the number of miles we have traveled over the year but who counts that stuff?!

Inevitably this general discussion leads to some technical unanswered inquiries and ensuing confusion on what constitutes being to a particular country. Some people count a brief stopover in a particular airport as a country, while others do not. Some people count a full day in a particular location as grounds for legitimacy while other use several days to a week to count it accordingly.

Guidelines for counting

Before you start counting, here are some ground rules to consider for counting or not counting a country in your travels:

Transiting in a foreign airport does not count if you do not get out of the plane or if your transit is confined to the airport. No, I am sorry but walking outside of the terminal where others are smoking or a block away does not count! This would fit into the category of ‘airport layovers’ but not countries visited. Bottom line, if you are not leaving the airport premise and immediate area you are not really seeing a country first hand.
Karla Lumpa Transit Lounge
In transit at Kuala Lumpur Airport
Transiting in a foreign airport, leaving the airport for a temporary period of time and making it down to the city/town’s central business district or surrounding suburbs does count towards your country count. Even if it is only 2-3 hours, you have been to that country, walked around, and were off airport grounds. It barely counts, but it does count.
couple taking selfie eiffel tower
A whirlwind Paris layover counts
Transiting by train, car, or bus across another country but not leaving the train, car, or bus does not count as visiting that country. Yes I realize you were physically present when the train, car, or bus went through Luxembourg but you never got out, walked around, did normal stuff.
Does Luxembourg train station count?
Transiting by boat near the coastline of another country but not stepping foot in that country does not constitute visiting that country. If you went to shore for some time, walked around, saw people and buildings then this would barely constitute a visit, but a visit nonetheless.
Waving good bye
Malta counts only if you go ashore
Flying over a country does not count. Even if you fly over in a small plane at low attitude and can make out details on the ground, flying over a country does not count. It does not count unless you land and leave the airport premises, ideally the nearby city/town central business district.
Nice and Monaco view from the plane
Monaco from the air does not count!
Islands that are not countries, count for countries if they are at a considerable distance (200 miles away) from the home country. So if you have previously been to the United Kingdom, and go to Guernsey or Jersey, this does not count as a separate country. However if you fly or sail to Bermuda, then this counts as a separate country, even though it belongs to the UK. Yes, Hawaii and the Cook Islands would count here.
BERMUDA 05_0573 Welcome
You can count Bermuda
Regional autonomous areas / former countries count as countries – if you go to Tibet, consider this as additional country beyond China. It is at great distance from Beijing and therefore such a trip there warrants an additional count. Scotland, Wales, Western Sahara, Hong Kong, Macau, Greenland etc. constitute regional autonomous zones and count. Places like Texas, Alaska, Tasmania, Stewart Island or Nunavut do not count. 
Me myself and I in Tibet
You bet, a visit to Tibet counts
Non-recognized legitimate states count in your calculation: Republic of Northern Cyprus, Abkhazia, South Ossetia, Somaliland, Kosovo, Western Sahara while non-recognized non legitimate states do not count: Swan River, Sea Island etc.
NC and North Cyprus 2009 117
A visit to Northern Cyprus counts
Antarctica counts as one country and even offshore islands that are owned by another country count as one country (South Shetland Islands, Bouvet Island, Heard Island etc.).
South Shetland Islands, Antarctica
South Shetland Islands = Antarctica
The Vatican is considered a country and counts accordingly.

Vatican City State, its official name, is a landlocked sovereign city-state within the city of Rome. The walled enclave territory has an area of approximately 44 hectares (110 acres), making Vatican City smallest internationally recognized independent state in the world.
IT10AIU Me at Saint Peter's, Vatican 2010
Visit Italy and the Vatican = 2
Created with the HTML Table Generator

Go ahead and add up your numbers…what do you get?

Perhaps you've set a New Year's Resolution with regards to how many countries you will visit in the year ahead. Or maybe you have "bucket list" that you are tackling.

Whichever way you slice it, we're interested in hearing what pin, or pins, will you add to your 'places visited' travel map this year?

Related reading:


  1. The Sovereign Military Order of Malta is recognized by 100+ countries, has its own postage, passport stamp and a representative at the UN. Found by street address in Rome, near the Spanish Steps

    1. I've Been to SMOM (Sovereign Military Order of Malta) and even though I've bought POSTAGE Stamps there, They REFUSED to stamp my Passport! Technically its smaller than the Vatican!

  2. Interesting!!
    Thanks Pete.

  3. Pete, I agree with your definitions of what constitutes a visit. The International Standards Organisation has an excellent list of countries that eliminates the issue of what is a country. On that basis, I've been to over 120 countries. One remaining issue is what about countries that you visited that don't exist any more or are now two (or more) countries.


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