Do Numbers Matter?

Canada, Mexico, Italy, France, Portugal, Spain, England, Austria, Slovakia, Hong Kong, Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, Malaysia, Singapore. This is my current country count. Fifteen countries in total. Not bad. I also expect this number to spike in the new few years with all of Europe on our doorstep (I can add Germany at the end of the month). Does this list make me “well traveled” though? How do you define that? I have not spent extensive time in any of these countries, but does that number of countries visited matter? What’s more important: number or experience?

Most well known travel bloggers are quick to note their country count. It is a badge of honour. As if someone who has been to 50 countries is more informed than someone who has visited 25. But what if the person who has only been to 25 has spent more time in each place, extensively used public transport, stayed in small, local accommodations and only consumed authentic cuisine while the person with 50 only spends 6 hours in each country while his cruise ship is docked in port? Essentially, has more real experience. Does that not make them “well traveled” as well?

Chris Guillebeau was one of the first travellers to promote this type of travel, with his personal goal of traveling to every country in the world, which he accomplished just shy of his 35th birthday. The logistics behind planning this type of travel is daunting. Arranging travel to Equatorial Guinea is not like booking a flight home for Christmas. Due to time restraints, he spent very little time in most of his destinations, maybe hitting one city before flying to the next destination. I find his achievement unbelievably impressive, but a bit empty. Why would I travel to a foreign land, stay there for a day and then leave without getting to know the people or the culture? Isn’t the experience part of travel more important than the passport stamp?

I will admit that it is not hard to get sucked into the number game. Checking off another country is always exciting. Julie is a passport stamp fan, thrilled to find that we had to go through customs in Slovakia, ensuring a place in her passport. I am a bit bummed that my passport from our Asia adventure is now expired, so that my new passport seems empty. We both have a goal of visiting every country in Europe while we are living on the continent. The difference I feel is that we would not sacrifice a great experience for a passport stamp. I would not take back any of my previous trips to Italy for the chance to visit another country. The experiences during those stays is worth more than stamp ink.

We admittedly got stuck in the number games during our Asia trip. Narrowing down the itinerary was challenging and we wanted to visit as many places as possible while we had the time. We spent around 3 days in each locale, before moving on to the next city, often spending most of a day in transit. Looking back, we should have taken a step back, shortened our list to have more time to experience the place we were visiting.

For me, the desire to visit new places is not to add it to a list of places I brag about to others. My drive is to be exposed to new cultures, customs and cuisines. I want to learn about people and what makes them and their country unique. I will continue to collect passport stamps, but that will not be the driving force. Sometimes it is nice to sit down, relax and take a look around.