Country Counting: Memory Markers or Just Bragging Rights?

Awhile ago I found a neat little tool that highlights all the countries you've visited on a map. Naturally, I was curious to see how our 2 years of on/off travelling the globe would look on a virtual map. Of the 201 countries out there (debatably more of less depending on your source), I couldn't help but feel deflated by the number we had visited: 17.

Thrifty Nomads Map_Fotor3

Admittedly, this is higher than your average Joe – a fact that I don't take for granted. But in the big ol' world of travel, that figure is just a drop in the ocean. I've been chewing on that fact now for quite some time.

Why does this number matter? Shouldn't I be thrilled it's greater than 1? Does the number of countries visited mean a single thing?

I'd argue a big fat nope – it doesn't.

Now, I don't see anything wrong with wanting to visualise the places one has been, or savouring the moment you reveal them one by one on a scratch map (you bet I own one of these!). It's exciting to see the distance and places covered on this enormous, beautiful planet we live on.

Evolving social norms and living standards have now turned travel into a must-do for people of all ages. It's easy to forget that decades ago, it was a luxury. Flight prices were once double, triple, even quadruple what they are today. For many, travel has replaced the traditional path of finding a stable job and working it till you die. Travel is a rite of passage, a checklist of life, and for some, a way of living.

Social media has birthed an unspoken pressure to see as much of the world as possible in a perfectly poised way. Some have broken world records for seeing all of the world's countries the fastest, for being the youngest to venture every country, and plenty more. It is not an uncommon “bucket list” to visit every country in the world. But when the focus is on numbers, are people truly seeing much of the globe at all?

There shouldn't be pressure to zip from one place to the next, often leaving with a nagging sense of “I would've loved to stay longer…”?! But there is. Social expectations dictate the travel habits of many, and a large number of people believe that racking up nation names and numbers implies makes us exotic, well-travelled, and rich in experiences. Is there any truth to that?

People have begun to count countries like Facebook friends and likes. The numbers build a sense of pride. But what about those who haven't travelled much? Should they feel less fulfilled because they haven't hit as high a number, or any at all?

Whether a nation is as big as Canada or tiny as Taiwan, crossing a border doesn't mean a thing. What should matter is how a place made you feel, even if it's simply home. What did you see today that struck you as interesting? What irked or inspired you? Or have you not even stopped to smell the roses?

The essence of travel is to be inspired, to savour new tastes, to meet people who surprise you, to create lasting memories. Truth be told, all of these “new” experiences can be had at home, just in a different way.

One should never feel any less “travelled” or experienced based on numerical country counts. Travel is a great teacher, but a heavy focus on running a tally can detract from everything travel has to offer. And boy does it have a lot to give us.

The more Ted and I travel, the slower we move. This is not the only way or the “best” way to travel, but it has made our own ventures richer. We feel less rushed, can be more spontaneous with our plans, and have had the most random adventures along the way.

At the end of the day, travel can be done however the heck people want. If one genuinely just wants to cross names off a list – and some do – let them be. There is of course a satisfaction in knowing you've explored a number of places. But let us also place value on the ways that travel experiences change us – experiences that are often missed if we are focusing solely on crossing as many borders as we can. Remember – at the end of this reel we call life, our timeline of moments will hold far more value than any checklist could ever replay.

What are your thoughts on country counting? Have you ever felt a sense of pressure to rush through places and check countries off your list?