There’s this nagging question that keeps coming up every time I read an interview with a travel writer or person who spends a great deal of time on the road, and frankly it’s starting to bother me: “How many countries have you been to?”
The problem with that question is, visiting a country is different for every person. Some people are there for business; some are there for pleasure. Some step out of the airport for a smoke while others stay for months or years. It’s not a balanced question, and using the number of countries visited as a blind measure of comparison is like asking a frat boy how many beers he had at a house party. Maybe it was fifty. Does that make him a better drinker?
Here’s a fun alternative, because in reality I don’t think that anything should be used as a comparison between the status of one traveler or another: let’s keep track of the ICTS stickers on the back of our passports. Not sure what I’m talking about? ICTS International is the organization that runs the second layer of security required for many passengers flying to the United States. Whose bag is that? Did you pack it? Has it been with you the entire time? Do you have any weapons? Those are the guys.
As soon as you pass their rigorous (but perhaps predictable) questions, a sticker goes on your passport and your information goes into a database that’s cross referenced with the airline prior to boarding. If you haven’t been approved, you can’t get on the plane.
ICTS is a another step — the sometimes laughably long process of making it from the ticket counter to the gate. That effort and that trudge through the swamp of international airline security should be heralded. I have not been to France; I have been through security at Charles de Gaulle. I have not been to sixty-seven countries. I have been patted down fifty-nine times, strip searched twice and chased through Heathrow on an electric cart. I have suffered, and these are my scars.
Count them up. I have 21 on a passport from 2004.