How Many Countries Have You Been to? And Does It Even Matter?

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In the world of travel, there is a relatively small group of competitive travelers seeking to set records. Who can beat out the youngest person to have visited every country in the world? Who will be the first African American solo female traveler to do so? The joy seems to lie in collecting the passport stamp and checking another country off their list.

What does their influence mean for the rest of us? Does it even matter how many countries you visit?


Image by Stefan Schweihofer from Pixabay.

Competitive travel

Travel media outlets LOVE to profile competitive travelers. And for good reason! They tend to have fascinating stories to tell. It is genuinely interesting to hear how someone figured out the logistics and safety of visiting places that are not exactly tourist hotspots, like North Korea, Afghanistan, and Syria.

The Dauntless Jaunter provides an excellent characterization of competitive travel:

Competitive travel is travel for sport or as a sport.

Basically, competitive travel is travel to see how many places one can get to, or how many stamps one can accrue in their passport, perhaps before a certain age; broadly, this term covers any travel taken for the sake of merely accumulating locations traveled to.

Instead of traveling for a long-awaited reprieve from work, or a holiday to visit friends and family, competitive travel has a goal of collecting destinations one’s been to.

The Trip Takes Us standing in front of the Tower Bridge in London
One and done? No way! I’ve been to England multiple times and will gladly keep going back!

After hearing a number of podcast interviews with people hoping to travel their way into the history books, I realized their philosophy was infecting my own thinking.

I have always loved to travel, but suddenly I found myself counting how many countries I had visited. Was my number high enough? Was I a real traveler if I had not yet been to [insert country name of your choice here]?

This insidious thinking started to creep its way into my travel planning. Next year Jim and I have a 10-day window in which all three boys will be away. Naturally, that is the perfect opportunity for us to take a wonderful adults-only trip. My beloved sweetheart suggested we travel to France.

My initial reaction (which I really hope I concealed!) was one of slight disappointment. I’ve been to France. Many times. Heck, I have even lived in France. This would not boost my country count.

What the heck was I thinking? I love France! I love Jim! Ten days in France with Jim enjoying good food, great wine, and a beautiful countryside would be AH-MAZING!

Kathy from The Trip Takes Us posing in Zapallar, Chile
Zapallar, Chile. Our second trip to this long, thin country was just as fabulous as our first. We would have missed out on so many great experiences if we had considered Chile “done” after one trip.

And that, in my view, is the danger of the competitive travel mindset. I don’t want to travel to check destinations off a list. Somehow I had let competition infect my travel philosophy. I want to travel to have new experiences, meet interesting people, learn, relax, and spend time with the people I love.

So, I won’t tell you how many countries I have been to, and I don’t care what your number is either. For me, it simply does not matter. I will be no better or worse a person if  my family never sets foot in Vanuatu or Kiribati.

Tango dancers performing in Mendoza province
A Tango show with the Andes as a backdrop? Yes, please! But that was only possible on a second trip to Argentina.

I hope that you will travel for pleasure, that you will go to the places that move you, and that you will resist being motivated by checking items off a list.

What do you think? Have you fallen in this trap? Or is competitive travel the right approach for you?

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Why “The Trip Takes Us”?

The fire at Notre Dame teaches me a lesson I must learn over and over

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