Should travelers tick boxes? Should we be counting countries when we travel?
I recently saw a post on a Facebook group I’m part of asking if it was “unhealthy” for people to keep track of the number of countries they’ve visited.
I thought the question was odd because my own answer is basically, “Why should you care if someone is counting countries they’ve visited?”
Personally, I think travel makes most people mentally healthier – whether they’re counting countries or not. It does for me anyway.
I’ve been to about 50 countries now. Halef, too. And I keep an online travel map showing every one of them!
Counting countries motivates people
Checking boxes is part of what motivates me.
It’s sort of like at work when I check off a task list I’ve set for myself for the day. If you don’t have goals – specifically, if you don’t write them down – you’re less likely to accomplish them, right?
That’s what the experts say anyway!
Is it competitive? Probably. But it’s not like I’m trying to keep up with anyone. I have several friends I could never hope to “catch” even if I applied myself!
Counting countries I’ve been to is just an internal competition and not, in any way, the reason I travel.
Your travel style isn’t “the best”
A lot of people advocate for “slow travel.” That’s when you’re traveling long-term and you stay in the same place for a long time. You certainly learn a lot about the everyday experience where you are, and this seems like something I will enjoy once we get on the road full time soon.
I want to “live life” on the road – not rush around ticking off boxes. But for right now, when I’m working to save for that trip, I’ll take as many small vacations to as many countries as I can.
I’ve been on cruises that brought me to 3-4 different countries. I certainly don’t profess to be an expert in any of them. But are you really much more of an expert if you’re a westerner visiting a developing country and living in an area with a bunch of other expats?
You never had to go through the same experiences as the native population.
You probably didn’t have to struggle just to put food on the table.
What makes you happy about travel?
So you know how to shop at the local market and find an Airbnb for a month or so. Congratulations! That’s valuable, of course, but it doesn’t mean you’re happier than the person who jumped off a cruise ship for a day in Cozumel and saw an ancient Mayan ruin.
I’d rather be happy doing one or two luxury cruises a year than miserable sitting in a non-air-conditioned room in the middle of the Amazon somewhere where I couldn’t get a nice cold beer.
(Who am I kidding? I’d actually love that Amazon trip, but you get my point.)
For some people though, it seems what “other people” do matters a lot, and I’ll never understand this. Whether it’s travel or how someone different than them should live in general, people seem to always want to have a say.
Why should someone else’s travel style matter to me or you?
Why should you care if they’re counting countries or ticking off any other boxes, for that matter?
Do you have a bucket list like ours? I bet you do! What’s the difference?
What’s the point of travel?
The point of travel – at least for me – is to learn something about each place I visit. For example, I learned recently that New Zealand has probably the best coffee I’ve ever tasted. I also learned that sticking to a budget there on a 2-week trip is far more trouble than it’s worth!
Sometimes, I want to go to local markets and just watch people. Other times, I want to sit at a sports bar in Rio and watch a futbol match – even though I’m not a huge fan.
And there are times when I just want to sit in the common room at a hostel and watch The Big Bang Theory while everyone else is out exploring the city.
Travel is like anything else in life. If it’s not making you happy, then why do it? More importantly, if someone is having a great time traveling a certain way, why should I try to convince them that their way is wrong and my way is right?
Travel should make you happy.
I’d find it exhausting, but if you want to see 100 countries before you’re 30, 40, or 50, do it!
It would make me want to scream, but if you want to visit at least one fancy all-inclusive resort in a dozen countries over a year, go for it!
And I can’t drink as much as I used to, but if you want to do a 2 week run across Canada to find the best craft beer, more power to you!
You’re not doing it wrong. You’re doing it!
The point is, don’t let anyone guilt you into believing you’re doing travel wrong. There are as many ways to travel as there are travelers. And if someone is having the time of his or her life counting countries, checking off bucket list boxes, or hanging out at a hostel talking to others, don’t discourage them.
Just be glad they’re happy doing it.
I recently did a trip to Eastern Europe for two weeks and spent a few days in each of Bratislava, Vienna, and Budapest. In other words, I ticked off Slovakia, Austria, and Hungary. I’m sure that there are people out there would look at me and say, “You didn’t really do Slovakia, Austria, and Hungary!”
Insert eyeroll here.
What does that even mean, anyway? Here’s what it means: It means I didn’t do it in the way that those people think a “real” traveler should.
This trip was about doing what I could with the money I happened to have at the time. I had two weeks and a few hundred bucks after the cost of the flight.
Would it have been better if I’d stayed home? How much does a person with limited means or limited vacation have to “do” before they become a “real” traveler anyway?
The answer is “Who cares?”
I have fantastic photos, met some great people, and recorded a bunch of travel vlogs that I’ve shared with others from that one trip alone!
Counting Countries is OK, so MYOB 🙂
Travel should be a wonderful experience for those who do it.
And it’s human nature for people not to like to be told what to do all the time. If someone asks you for your advice, give it. But don’t offer it – at least not in a way that makes someone feel bad for the way they’ve decided to do it.
You’re just ruining their good time.
You don’t hold the secret to the best way to travel. You only know what makes you happy inside. Same with me.
Telling people that only you have the secret to the correct way to travel? Well, I think that’s what’s unhealthy.
Travel styles change
Halef and I have a certain way we like to travel now. And I’m sure that’s going to change when we get on the road full time. But what we do works for us. When we write our posts, they are about the way we do things.
Take this one, for example: I wrote a post called “Things to Pack for a Liveaboard Diving Trip,” I never wanted it to come across as “Here is the only way to pack for a liveaboard and if you do it otherwise, you’re doing it wrong and should be embarrassed!”
The goal was to tell you, from experience, what I think the absolute minimum is to pack and what’s already available to you that you don’t need to pack.
I’ve been on 5 liveaboard diving trips now, and I promise you I’ve seen people with 5 suitcases – some full of shoes and makeup(!) – who were having at least as good of a time as I was.
Share your stories – but don’t proselytize
If you’re a fairly experienced traveler, share your stories in a way that helps people decide what’s right for them. If you’re a slow traveler and someone asks you about it, talk about all the things you enjoy and be honest about the challenges.
The person you’re talking to may decide to give it a try – and and maybe hate it!
Let them go back to ticking off cities and countries and enjoying life without feeling judged for being happy!
And if all else fails the way someone else is “doing” travel is simply too much for you to take, maybe the best thing to do is let it go.
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Everyone counts countries – even if they don’t admit it
For people who came here wondering if big time experienced travelers are counting countries they’ve been to, well, I’ve met some. And if you ask any traveler how many countries they’ve been to, they’ll know.
So even the most experienced people do it.
They just don’t want you to know they do.
What do you think? Have you ever felt the wrath of an experienced traveler telling you you’re doing it wrong?
On the flip-side, have you ever done it to someone else?
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Michael is originally from Canada but now resides in Atlanta, GA with his husband, Halef, who also writes here. He is a Couchsurfing expert. Michael has traveled to over 50 countries learning how to experience more for less as he travels.