I’m sometimes asked in interviews, and recently included in a bio, the number of countries I’ve visited.
You’d think “How many countries have you visited?” was a straightforward question.
I mean, how can anyone NOT know how many countries they’ve visited?!
Well, I visited Czechoslovakia, both the Czech half and the Slovak half. That was one country then but is two countries now.
And, because I’m British — well, English, really –I automatically count England, Scotland and Wales as three countries, under the mistaken belief that they’re the three flags in the Union Jack.
Further, what about if I only spent a few hours in a train station or at an airport?
And, more importantly, how many countries are there anyway?
Because I’m British — well, English, really — I automatically count England, Scotland and Wales as three countries, under the mistaken belief that they’re the three flags in the Union Jack.
Now, I always thought there were around 200 countries in the world.
Zac and I travel slowly, and I’m really not into bagging countries, so I don’t, honestly, keep count.
Still, I was wasting time on Twitter when the question of countries came up.
I’d always understood, largely from online bios, that Gary Arndt, a well-known blogger behind Everything Everywhere, had visited over 100 countries.
That’s an impressive figure, because it covers more than half the world, and not every country in the world is safe to visit at any given time.
But then I heard that these “countries” included Alaska, Hawaii and all seven emirates of the UAE. Which didn’t make sense to me.
Gary’s quite upfront about his country list. And he’s definitely been to a lot of places. But…
While I can understand the desire to include Taiwan, what kind of “country list” includes Alaska? Sicily? The Isle of Man? Okinawa? Sarawak? Tasmania?!
What kind of “country list” includes Alaska? Sicily? The Isle of Man?!
Well, this kind of list.
The Travelers’ Century Club is a US organisation established in 1954, when international travel was really rather difficult.
Its main benefits, according to the website, include “bragging rights”, and its function appears to be to list as many countries and territories as possible so that members can say they’ve been.
The TCC includes no fewer than 320 places on its list of “countries and territories”.
A member needs to have visited 100 “territories” to join.
And, according to the rules, it counts as a visit if you’re passing through overland, even if you’re in a car without stopping.
Its main benefits, according to the website, include “bragging rights”.
Put politely, the Travelers’ Century Club list of “countries and territories” is not the most intuitive.
You can score a maximum of seven points in Indonesia, and three in Malaysia, plus a point each for Turkey in Asia and Turkey in Europe, although, bewilderingly, they insist on you leaving Istanbul to do this.
Island-hopping, whether in the Med, the Pacific or the Caribbean, reaps rich rewards. You can bag Greece, Crete, the Ionian Islands and the Dodecanese, plus Italy, Sicily
, Corsica and Sardinia, for a total of eight seven points across two countries.*
Confusingly, a trip to Ibiza appears to count only towards Spain, whereas Majorca bags you the Balearics as well. Catalunya doesn’t figure at all.
You can bag Greece, Crete, the Ionian Islands and the Dodecanese, plus Italy, Sicily, Corsica and Sardinia, for a total of eight points across two countries.
The TCC list does, as Gary makes clear, include “distinct geographic and cultural destinations”.
On which basis, Indonesia, with its 17,000 islands and 700 languages, has to count for rather more than seven.
Because, believe you me, a Togutil hunter-gatherer in the Halmahera forest, is culturally, linguistically and geographically highly distinct from a Jakarta bond trader with a Harvard MBA.
But then we really would be talking about “places”, rather than “countries”.
And that way madness truly lies.
A Togutil hunter-gatherer in the Halmahera forest, is culturally, linguistically and geographically highly distinct from a Jakarta bond trader with a Harvard MBA.
So, if the Travelers’ Century Club list sucks – and, since it describes itself as a list of “countries and territories”, I don’t really see why anyone would use it for counting countries – what other options are there?
The most obvious is the list of UN member states, which comes in at 193 nation-states or, for the layman, “countries”.
This is the list that Chris Gillebeau uses on his mission to visit every country in the world – he’s up to 188 right now!
Tiny self-governing European principalities, like Liechtenstein, Monaco, Andorra and San Marino, and Pacific island nations like Vanuatu and Tonga, have seats at the UN.
But, of course, the UN excludes many peoples who are not self-governing – Tibetans, Palestinians, Abkhazians, Scots, Catalans, Kurds… – on the grounds that they are, well, not countries.
Still, many folk (including About.com) would add the self-governing entities of Kosovo, Vatican City and Taiwan to the list of 193 UN nation-states, bringing the total to 196.
It’s the UN list that Chris Guillebeau uses on his mission to visit every country in the world.
Now, I’m sure I learned in school that England, Scotland and Wales are separate countries, so I wasn’t going to give up on my notion of them being distinct just because the UN said so.
I turned, naturally, to the world of sport.
The list of 206 Olympic Committee members includes young countries such as South Sudan, and non-UN entities such as Taiwan and the Palestinian Authoritory.
But, sadly, Team GB is just one entity.
Back to the drawing board.
I’m sure I learned in school that England, Scotland and Wales are separate countries, so I wasn’t going to give up on my notion of them being distinct.
We TOTALLY have different football teams.
FIFA includes 209 member football associations.
And – yay! – it includes England, Scotland, Wales and, umm, Northern Ireland.
All the same, it is probably the FIFA list that comes closest to the list of countries I have in my head.
Although given I don’t even know where my own national flag comes from, I’m probably not the best person to ask.
FIFA includes England, Scotland, Wales and, umm, Northern Ireland.
Over dinner in Bali with the well-travelled and geographically literate Stuart and Sam of Travelfish, the question of how many countries there are came up again.
Unencumbered by being English — let alone Scottish or Welsh! — they were definite that the UN list was the only one to use.
“But what about ENGLAND?” I said, pleadingly. “What about ENGLAND?!”
Sam flattened me. “Nobody says they’ve been to England, Scotland and Wales. They just say they’ve been to the UK.”
I have to confess that the internet really doesn’t back me up on this one, either.
“Nobody says they’ve been to England, Scotland and Wales. They just say they’ve been to the UK.”
So, forsaking the warm embrace of the Travelers’ Century Club, which allows me 70 “countries and territories”, and the boy over 40 (you can see the list here, if you care, although I might have missed a couple – our Where We’ve Been page is a lot more visual), I turn to the UN list.
The UN allows me a measly 53 countries, down 5 from my ropy 58, and the boy a mere 30.
The UN allows me a measly 53 countries, down 5 from my ropy 58, and the boy a mere 30. And if you knock off the three where I was only passing through, I’m down to a mere half-century.
Which means that I — well, I need to go edit that bio!
But… What about you?
How many countries have you been to? Do you keep a count? And, what list do you use to count them, if you do?
Thanks to Flying Singer for the Earth image.
*: Edit: thanks to Ali for pointing it out. Corsica is, just as when Napoleon was so famously born there, a part of France, not Italy. facepalm