What constitutes a country visit?

map of the world with pins in places visited

I recently read an article in the Washington Post travel section about one couple’s trip around the world to “five countries, one island city-state and a former British colony administered by China” (click here for article).  It got me thinking about not only what counts as a “country”, but also what constitutes a “visit” to that country.  The couple in the article had stopovers ranging from 24 hours to 3 days on their RTW trip.  They determined that they would visit a landmark, eat a local dish and snap up a souvenir.  I don’t put a premium on souvenirs, but I would definitely agree that to visit a country means you have left the airport (or the car if you’re driving), you’ve eaten a local dish, visited a landmark, and in most cases spent the night.  Also, I think you should only count a country that you actually remember visiting- i.e., if your parents took you there when you were four years old and you have no memory of it you should probably keep it on your “to visit” list.

bora bora
Is Bora Bora a country??

So I looked back at my list of countries.  Previously I had considered that I had visited 88 countries.  But I spotted some problem areas.  One set of countries were visited when I was ten years old, and I have a terrible memory, so I only remember two things about that trip: the train that we traveled on was so long it seemed like it stretched from Moscow to Leningrad and was freezing (so I’m counting Russia, although actually it was the USSR then), and visiting Dracula’s castle.  I know that is in Romania, so I was definitely in Romania- my 10 year old self even bought a souvenir, a wooden painting of Dracula, which still hangs on the walls of my mom’s living room (I think; I haven’t looked for it in a while).  But other than that one castle, I have no memory and no remembrances of even the capital city, Bucharest…. so I am hereby taking Romania off my “visited” list, as well as Czechoslovakia, Poland and Hungary, apparently also visited on that trip but not remembered by this traveler.

Romania is worth a second trip

Another problem spot: El Salvador.  I have passed through this airport four times in the past four years, spending close to 24 hours there.  But I have not been able to actually leave the airport, and I will assume El Salvador has something more cultural than Monsenor Oscar Arnulfo Romero Airport to see.  The same with Austria and Switzerland- in Switzerland I never left the airport, and although we did get a speeding ticket in Austria, it was only because we took the wrong exit trying to get from Germany to Lichtenstein.  We didn’t see any cultural landmarks, spend the night, or eat a meal there.  So off the list they go as well.

Liechtenstein counts!

Other areas present not just issues of how long you stayed there or what you did, but who it actually belongs to.  Unfortunately Martinique and Guadeloupe islands are both departments of France, so they don’t count- but Domenica does.  It’s an independent country and I stayed there for several days.  So it’s on the list.  Sadly, Turks and Caicos is not, as it is a British Overseas Territory.

Martinique doesn’t count but Domenica does!

I struggled with how to count Tibet, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Macau on our long trip last year.  Technically speaking, China claims them all.  However, I decided to count them as separate places due to the trouble it takes to get to each, how long we spent there, and the unique culture that each present.  Chris is a Traveler’s Century Club purist, and follows their list of countries and territories, which includes them all as China.  I don’t. It’s my list so I can do what I want!


Finally, there’s microstates. They are tiny places and don’t always have a lot to offer.  We spent 24 hours in Andorra- spent a night, ate a few meals, and saw a movie.  We count it.  I spent a whole day in Vatican City but did not spend the night- counted.  I think I took a train that went through Monaco- but as I can’t really remember for sure, and I didn’t get off and do anything there, I’m not counting it. It’s only 2 square kilometers, but they must have something to eat and something to do there, so it’s staying on my “to visit” list.

Europe 2005-Juliana 279
Vatican City is small…. but we did see the Pope.

All this is to say that I have revised my “Countries Visited” list.  I previously thought I was at 88, but have downgraded to 81 now.  This summer we’re visiting Scandinavia so hopefully that will bring me back up to the upper 80s.  And then I need to start planning something to Poland, Romania, Hungary and, bonus: I’ll get TWO new ones if I go to both Slovakia AND Czech Republic!

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