Something that both impresses and baffles me is when people set out to visit every country in the world. There are 195 of them, so it’s not a small feat. On one hand, I think it’s admirable that people are aiming to have stepped foot on every country in the world, on the other hand, I tend to disagree with their motives.
I met someone at a hostel in Montenegro who was on her way around the world, aiming to visit every single country. I found it fascinating and spent hours on the hostel bar stools chatting to her and finding out about her trip. She had already been permanently on the road for 2 years and was expecting to continue for another 4 or so. I was impressed with how she was doing it because she wasn’t just flitting between countries to do it as fast as possible, she was spending between 2 and 4 weeks in each country, giving her time to properly explore it. After she left the hostel I began thinking more about her goals. I still think she’s an incredible person for attempting to travel to every country, but it’s definitely not something I aim to do.
I have a bucket list as long as the Nile but I am also realistic and know that I will never do everything or go everywhere that I want to, but that’s fine. I also don’t want to be on the road for years on end because I enjoy having a base and a home and friends to return to. I enjoy the build up to a trip, the researching, the planning and the packing. I enjoy returning and developing photos and looking through all the crap I picked up on the way. All of this would be taken away if I embarked on one long trip.
I also love staying in one country for an extended period of time and getting to know it really well instead of trying to fit in more countries and seeing less. My travel style simply isn’t compatible with trying to tick off every country in the world and I don’t mind in the slightest.
So I pose a question. Why do we have this need to ‘tick off’ countries? What brought that about? Why is a trip containing 5 countries deemed more adventurous and exciting that a deep exploration of 1 country?
I have always found that the longer I spend in a country, the more I love it. I love getting to know the language and the locals. I love knowing my way around the supermarket and understanding what road signs mean. I love answering questions on different places and advising other travellers where best to go. You can’t get all of these small pleasures from only spending a couple of days in a country.
I’ve also found that every country has a lot more to offer than it’s touristy capital. There’s nothing wrong with the capital, just that it’s nice to explore beyond that. What about the countryside, the small towns, the coasts or lakes?
I always come back to the idea of the great Interrail trip. I’ve never done it, and nor will I. I understand the appeal and I’ve never heard any complaints about it, it’s just not for me. I think it forces you to miss out on a lot of things and that’s a shame.
So what am I proposing? I am proposing we stop being obsessed with ticking countries off a list or scratching areas off a map and start enjoying experiences and seeing diversity in the world. There’s a lot to see out there, and it needn’t be defined by borders.
The other day I made a list of the countries I’ve visited, purely out of curiosity, and I was impressed by the number. I’d never bothered to keep track and I’ve actually since forgotten how many were on the list, but it really is insignificant. The things I count are the experiences. Like swimming in a mountain lagoon, horse riding around a salt lake, hiking to 2500m, watching the sunrise over a Caribbean Island, doing karaoke in a Portuguese bar, kayaking in the sea, jumping in the bluest waterfalls, watching the northern lights, seeing a baby elephant scuttle across the dirt track and playing ultimate Frisbee at the beach at sunset. This list is endless and is far more important than a list of countries.
So the moral of the story? Collect experiences, not countries.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on this.
PS. This summer, the day I was leaving Croatia for Montenegro, I was pulled in 2 directions. I had 2 weeks left of my trip and so many people had told me I should go to Bosnia. It would’ve been a small detour but it looked beautiful. I was almost ready to get on a bus to Mostar but knew it would cut my time in Montenegro significantly. I messaged a few friends to ask their opinion (literally as I sat at the bus station), and most came back saying I should go to Bosnia. Their reasoning? It’s another country to tick off. Asking my friends made me realise that I was going to Bosnia for the wrong reasons. I could spend 2 weeks in either of these countries, and I’d rather dedicate the time to one than split it and want to see more of both. I hope that someday I will go to Bosnia, but I am so pleased I decided to spend those weeks in Montenegro because they were some of the best of my life.
Thanks for reading!