When I hear this in my head, it’s in John Wayne‘s voice, of course.
I don’t like being asked “How many countries have you been to?” And I generally respond with a vague, “Oh, I don’t really know.”
Truth is, I don’t really know. I refuse to total up the numbers. It’s not really the question that I find so annoying, it is the attitude behind it. The tally, the keeping track, the competitive travel stats. Who cares?
Well, a lot of people I meet, actually.
Traveling is a combination of desire and opportunity and, sometimes, just odd luck. I get excited about going to a new country and checking it out. I don’t have some lifetime goal of a certain number of notches in the belt. I also am not interested in competing with other travelers in a one-upping contest. When I meet people who do this, I fight off the urge to slap them and then I go find someone interesting to talk to.
At one point, in high school, I did have a goal: I would see every country on Earth before I died. Ha! Now, my goal is to be open to chance, travel when I can, and enjoy it as much as possible. Also, they keep changing the countries, so trying to hit every place on an exhaustive list would just be an exercise in frustration anyway.
The other question I am not fond of is “Which country is your favorite?”
I don’t have one. I really don’t. (I do have a favorite dive destination, but I don’t tell anyone where that is…ever.) Having a favorite country seems odd to me: They’re all interesting. It just is a matter of personal taste. I love Australia for its beautiful urban spaces, its wide-open Outback, and its witty salt-of-the-earth-type people. I love Italy for its food, its infuriating and endearing disorganization, the loud and demonstrative people who perfected gigantic hugs and la dolce vita (and really, we Americans could use a little of that these days). I love Mexico for its lack of pretension, its utter distain for schedules, and the general friendliness (not to mention the tequila). I could go on, but you get the point. How could I pick a favorite?
Travel is almost exclusively the domain of the wealthy and privileged. I know what you’re thinking: Since when did you become wealthy and privileged? I’m not–clearly!–by American standards. But when you look at the wider world–for example, where your plane ticket to get there costs 5 times the average annual income–then, yes, you find yourself oddly, unnervingly among the elite.
Shortly after college, I met a woman who’d been on one of those packaged 8 days/8 countries tours. I’d always thought they sounded insipid. How can you possibly count it as visiting a country when you see one tourist attraction, eat one meal, and then hop on a bus to the next country, all while having your hand held so you don’t have a bad experience involving actual contact with the locals?
This woman proved my point. She was showing me pictures from her trip, and came to a shot similar to this:
“We went to this huge museum, but I can’t remember if it was in France or Holland,” she says.
“That’s the Louvre. It’s in Paris,” I say.
“No,” she says. “That’s not it. I’ll remember in a sec.”
I drop it because I want to see where she’s going with this. I see more photos–people sleeping on buses, mostly, in several European cities. A few minutes pass.
“I remember!” She says. “That museum. It’s called the Lauw-vray…I still don’t remember what country it was in.”
I rest my case: That cannot possibly count as traveling.