Whether it’s salaries, sports, or social media, people love to keep score. And travelling is no different.
When I began exploring the world I’d count countries visited as a way to show myself and my peers how worldly I was. Now however, I don’t know how many countries I’ve been to.
You might be thinking, “Oh look at you Mr Travelpants, you’ve been to SO many countries you can’t even count them all. Well la-de-da, aren’t you worldly?”
But hold on a second! That’s not the reason. I don’t know my country count because I have chosen not to count them. Why not?
A few years ago in Thailand a young traveller asked me the country-count question, and maybe it was his tone, but I suddenly felt uncomfortable. Was he trying to start a pissing contest?
More questions entered my mind, and the whole idea began to seem absurd. Does a train ride through a country count? What about an overnight layover?
Is a month in India somehow ‘worth’ the same as a weekend in Italy?
What does your country-count really tell others about you anyways, except that you possess elementary math skills?
I didn’t answer his question (well, I gave him the indirect Indonesian answer: “Many”) and ever since, I’ve been thinking about a better way to talk about this. Now I think I’ve figured one out.
My proposed approach to asking about countries visited
I suggest we rephrase the country-count question thusly:
How many countries have you visited which fundamentally changed your perspective on the world?
There’s 4 reasons why I think this is a better question:
- It only counts the countries that count. (in my humble opinion)
- It tells you much more about who someone is and how they experience the world – which should spark a really interesting conversation.
- It spurs people to consider why they travel. And what I think is the most important reason to travel: to ditch your cultural baggage – your concept of ‘normal’ – and empathise with cultural perspectives vastly different than yours. Because each culture is a unique answer to the fundamental question of what it means to be human. 1
- It’s really hard to have a qualitative pissing contest.
So next time you’re getting all worldly and someone pops the question, answer by asking them which countries have fundamentally changed their worldview.
I wish you many deep and meaningful conversations.
p.s. Dear readers, how would you answer my question? Please let me know in the comments below! I’ve added mine already :)
- Paraphrasing Wade Davis