Counting Countries

“How many countries have you been to?”
This is a question that often comes up among acquaintances and friends when discussing travel. People wonder, “What constitutes having actually BEEN to a country”? Is it a matter of time? Participating in certain experiences? Do airports count?
This issue came to my attention during a recent trip to Southeast Asia, when I had two different layovers in the Taipei, Taiwan airport.
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I guess I’ve “been” to Taiwan. I’ve spent two afternoons there, I spoke to people, I learned a bit about the culture, I saw what the weather was like, and I feel like I got a good idea of what to expect overall if I had left the airport. But I don’t count it as a “visited” country. For me personally, airports don’t count unless you go through customs or step onto the ground. It’s more of a technicality issue for me. It’s like riding a boat to the shore, never stepping on the beach, and then claiming you’ve visited that place. It doesn’t make sense. You’ve seen it, sure, but technically visited? No.
So what else “counts” as having visited a country? Time isn’t an issue to me. Just because you haven’t lived somewhere or have a job that allows extensive time off doesn’t mean that your experience isn’t valuable. I can’t stand when people try to say that someone else’s experience wasn’t “enough”. I think that if you step foot in another country, and have a meal or visit a landmark, or what have you, it absolutely should count! No one can ever experience every single aspect of a culture…so whether you experience one thing or twenty, it’s still a legitimate experience.
Another issue is, “What even counts as a country”? This seems like an obvious one at first, but it’s more complicated than one might think. For example, there are so many territories, islands, nations, etc. that are not considered a “sovereign state”. One example of this is the United Kingdom. I’ve been to England, Scotland, and Wales, however it “counts” as having been to only one country. Personally, I think that’s ridiculous because they are each so different from one other, they have different cultures, histories, etc., but it is what it is I guess. This also goes with counting former countries. For example: visiting Moscow in the USSR. Do you say you’ve been to Russia, the USSR, or both? Again, this is personal preference, but I’d only count it as it existed when you were there. I think it’s cool to have been to the USSR, knowing that it doesn’t exist anymore! But these issues make everything messy and do make you question whether or not counting countries even matters.
I think on a personal level it does. If you have a set goal in mind, counting is important. For travel blogging, counting countries gives your readers an idea of where you’ve been, since it’s the subject matter anyway. And even for your own personal fulfillment, counting countries is fine. But the actual number of countries you’ve visited is an arbitrary thing. What matters is each experience you have when you travel…quality, not quantity. Quantity is great, and realistically the more you travel, the more you learn. This is true with anything. But rather than just going to a country for the sake of checking another one off the list, go somewhere to learn something new about the world and yourself. That’s immeasurable.

Here are some photos I took while in Taiwan’s Airport:

Flying into Taiwan

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Taipei Skytrain
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Hello Kitty Statue
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Sanrio Store

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Hello Kitty Gate C3- Operated by EVA Airways

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Gate C3 Seating AreaIMG_1872

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Mumuhug- TV Character in Taiwan. These guys were all over the airport!

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Taiwanese Dolls- The airport had a lot of art displays

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Model train display

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Hut display

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Taipei Airport at night

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How about you? How do you “count” a country? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

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