Counting Countries: +1

Volume 6, Issue 118; 21 Nov 2003

Some of my friends engage in a friendly contest: they compete to see who can visit the most countries. It’s a life-long game.

Nothing ever gets anywhere. The earth keeps turning round and gets nowhere. The moment is the only thing that counts.

Jean Cocteau

Some of my friends engage in a friendly contest: they compete to see who can visit the most countries. It’s a life-long game. One of the sub-goals is to always have visited more countries than you are years old.

Now, we’re talking about engineers and mathematicians here so there’s room for considerable debate about the rules. What, for example, constitutes “visiting” a country? And does it count if you were so young that you don’t recall the visit?

For the sake of argument, I’ll stipulate that you’ve visited a country if you have slept at least one night in that country not at an airport or entirely in transit to another country. By these rules, I can’t count the Netherlands just because I’ve been through Schiphol Airport several times and you can’t count Germany if you’ve only slept on a train travelling through it.

But I can count Japan now, which brings me one more country. If memory serves, I have visited Canada, Ireland, England, France, Italy, Scotland, Thailand, and now Japan. I suppose one has, axiomatically, visited the country where one resides, so I get the United States for free.

Nine. Nine. I’m going to have to average more than one a year for a while if I’m ever going to catch up to my age.

[Updated 7 Mar 2004: Uhm. Eight, actually. Subsequent conversation lead to a discussion about what constitutes a country. My working definition: it’s a country if it has its own ISO country code. Scotland doesn’t, so I’ve only got eight in this essay. Nine now.]


I think my score is around 16-20. The sleepover rule knocks my score down, removing a lot of places like Bahrain (which for all I know could just be a shopping mall in the desert).

Anomalies: I've visited Madeira, but not mainland Portugal. What of Vatican City?

Also got a few European countries I think I've visited, but can't be sure because either I was too young or they serve beer/wine that is particularly hard on the memory.

—Posted by Danny Ayers on 23 Nov 2003 @ 06:17 UTC #

I have just order a fancy backpack small enough to be handluggage on any plane... (Hope its not those colours though!)

It was just under £200 (around $340)

I read a few stories of guys travelling with them...

Maybe, I have just been ripped off. But it is just fun thinking about where I can fly off to and explore!

And I've just discovered a strange problem caused by these characters '''''''''''''''''' tehe!

—Posted by Gary Cornelius on 24 Nov 2003 @ 10:32 UTC #

Vatican City is a puzzler. If that was counted, I'd be at ten already. :-)

—Posted by Norman Walsh on 24 Nov 2003 @ 10:53 UTC #

I keep track via Virtual Tourist - here's my map:

—Posted by Simon Phipps on 25 Nov 2003 @ 03:37 UTC #

Gary, I think I've fixed the encoding problems. I can now talk about £'s and ¥ and even €'s without problems. Très bon.

—Posted by Norman Walsh on 25 Nov 2003 @ 12:52 UTC #

How do you count countries that were different when you visited them? E.g. Yugoslavia before 1989, or East Germany before 1989. The number they are now, or the number they were when you visited them?

—Posted by Lauren Wood on 25 Nov 2003 @ 04:48 UTC #

I think you get to count the countries as they were when you visited them. So if you visited a town in East Germany twenty years ago and you visited the same town last week, you can say you visited two countries.

On the other hand, if you visited a town in Yugoslavia twenty years ago, you don't get to count it twice just because it's in a different country now. Unless, of course, you go back and visit it again.

—Posted by Norman Walsh on 25 Nov 2003 @ 05:03 UTC #

Norm, you count Scotland - does it mean for example different US states count separately, too? 8-)

—Posted by Jacek Kopecky on 27 Nov 2003 @ 04:02 UTC #

Fair point. If it doesn't have its own country code, it isn't a country, I guess.

Eight. Rats.

—Posted by Norman Walsh on 04 Dec 2003 @ 02:29 UTC #

Blimey - 32 ! Even I'm surprised by that.

—Posted by Jolyon Patten Patten on 08 Mar 2004 @ 09:08 UTC #

rules interpretation please Norm:-) Does sleeping in a ship for a week, moored alongside a country count? If so it doubles my score!

—Posted by Dave Pawson on 11 Mar 2004 @ 02:20 UTC #

No, Dave, I don't think visiting on a cruise ship counts.

—Posted by Norman Walsh on 11 Mar 2004 @ 05:32 UTC #

Wow,I've counted and I'm amazed! I visited 12 countries:Ireland,the UK,The Netherlands,Germany,France,Switzerland,Austria,Hungary,Greece,Italy,Portugal and my home country(Belgium) Now I only have to make sure that I double this number before August,I'll be 22 years old then- uhm...a piece of cake?don't think so:)

—Posted by Karen on 22 Mar 2004 @ 07:17 UTC #

BTW, I know the pub 'De Groote Witte Arend'in the centre of Antwerp:it has got a very cosy Italian-like courtyard&classical music playing in the background(sometimes live)and old high wooden chairs and benches.. I used to go there with my mom after I went to the theatre.

—Posted by Karen on 22 Mar 2004 @ 07:22 UTC #

34! And still got very itchy feet indeed!

—Posted by Dani on 28 Apr 2004 @ 11:50 UTC #

90 by my count (54 years old). I am including the vatican city however I have never spent a night there as I think only priests and nuns are allowed to stay the night.

—Posted by Michael Ivory on 20 Jan 2005 @ 11:49 UTC #

Hi Norman, I'm an avid country counter. I am at 75 or 76 (must check!). I deliberately go out of my way to visit new countries. I recently drove from Barcelona to Andorra to get that one. I started out by counting a visit as putting both feet on the ground, but I have decided now to include passing through a country on a car/train, but not an aircraft, although landing without disembarking is OK. My friend insists that you must use the toilet! I use the country list and guidelines. Incidentally Scotland (where I am) counts as a country and/or a nation. As does Northern Ireland, Eire (Ireland), Isle of Man, Jersey, etc. The USA is just one big country. Good luck,


—Posted by Stewart Cooper on 08 Sep 2005 @ 12:08 UTC #

hello just visted scotland and got mugged by a group of boys in hooded tops whilst out site seeing in dundee. i was laughed at by the local police

—Posted by laura on 04 Oct 2005 @ 02:10 UTC #

Oh dear Laura. You ought to have known not to visit Dundee without the aid of a small UN peace keeping force. I was at the cinema there last week to see the new Harry Potter film and there was hardly a soul in the cinema. It was spooky considering the film is a new release. Maybe they had all seen a pirate copy of it already on DVD!

—Posted by Stewart on 09 Dec 2005 @ 11:52 UTC #

Have people seen ?!

—Posted by Norm on 23 Feb 2006 @ 04:01 UTC #

I've been keeping track of my countries for the last couple of years - I'm at 31 now, which at the age of 30 is not too bad according to your target :-) My target was actually the same, but now I am aiming to visit at least two new countries per year... Easy at first if you live in Europe, but getting increasingly difficult!

Anyway, about the rules (I am quite strict with myself on that too lol) - you can't have the sleeping one night rule because a) some places you can't sleep like Vatican City as was mentioned before and b) sometimes it's just not worth it, especially for the small countries, but you can still see enough in order to justifiably say you've been there. On the other hand, passing through an airport or driving through definitely doesn't count. I had been to Zurich airport millions of times before I counted Switzerland. Anyway, sometimes you don't even officially cross the border inside the airport.

So anyway, my rules are

a) you need to have crossed the border officially,

b) for city states and "small countries" (eg. Vatican, Monaco, San Marino, Andorra, Liechtenstein and I also count Luxembourg here) it's enough if you spent a considerable part of one day there (at least 6 hours)

c) for any other country you should really sleep one night

d) you need to have experienced a significant element of that country's culture - this can be visiting a landmark or touristic site, eating local food, drinking local beer...

e) UK: England, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland are all officially separate countries in a union, so each counts separately, which also applies to Channel Islands etc.

f) US: How does it go? "One country, undivided? indivisible?" can't really remember, but this definitely counts as one country, although you can keep track of the individual states separately (I'm on 15 ;-)) Of course places like Puerto Rico and Virgin Islands etc count separately

g) Countries which have changed - my thinking is to count the country which the place you've been to is in now. Otherwise, theoretically assuming you'll ever reach that level, you could theoretically have visited more countries than currently exist in the world, which doesn't make much sense. Also if you're talking parcentages of countries visited, it screws things up. So if you visited East and West Germany when they existed as such, these days it counts as 1 - tough luck ;-) On the other hand, if a country splits into two, you've only visited the country which encompasses the place you've actually been to. So if you visited Ljubljana before the Yugoslav split, you've only visited Slovenia, not all former Yugoslav republics!

h) Some disputed places like Palestine, Western Sahara, Kosovo etc, I would count as well - if it is generally recognised as a separate entity. If and when the dispute is clarified and if that region becomes incorporated into another country, rule g applies

i) Islands: If you've been to Hawaii, you've been to the US; if you've been to Madeira, you've been to Portugal.

j) Countries you can't remember - this is a tough one, but I'm going the technical route and saying if you've been there, it counts. But you should really go back to refresh your memory ;-)

Have I gone over the top? LOL

Anyway... there are some side-competitions I like to engage in, which don't necessarily increase the number of countries visited according to the above rules:

*) As mentioned above, US States visited

*) Maximum number of countries set foot in in one day (mine is 4 - Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, Germany - although I don't think I'll beat that anytime soon)

*) Maximising the number of countries you've visited in the last 10 years (you may need to revisit some of those you visited in the 70s, 80's, 90s.... ;-)

So have fun travelling!

—Posted by reisgericht on 23 Jul 2008 @ 10:33 UTC #

Vis-a-vis the rules and 'just passing through': True, you may be just passing through, like at an airport or on a train, but if you were to suddenly drop dead, your death certificate would list that country as your place of death. So shouldn't that count? (Not to mention getting your passport stamped at border crossings, etc.)

20, not counting "passing through" (which would add 3 more)

—Posted by Denise on 24 Feb 2010 @ 02:51 UTC #