Does any of this country-counting stuff even matter?

I wrote earlier today about what it means to have “visited” a country– whether a layover in an airport counts, whether a bathroom break on a transnational bus ride counts– but I didn’t address the question of whether any of this really matters. In my eyes, it doesn’t.

Keeping track of the number of countries you’ve visited and stamps in your passport is something that almost every traveler does, whether they like to admit it or not. For me, it’s a mostly harmless exercise in reminiscing, if only for a moment, about all the cool places I’ve been fortunate enough to go. But for others, country-counting develops into a competition, with the holder of the most passport stamps automatically being deemed a travel legend– if only in his own eyes.

Some people even take this competition to outrageous extremes, as they attempt to set foot in every country in the world. Obviously, this kind of speed-traveling often comes at the expense of deeper knowledge about one’s host culture, and I think it really misses the point of travel.

So, yes, if I thought about it, I could come up with a number of all the countries I’ve been to, but that doesn’t in any way reflect the quality of the experiences I’ve had while abroad. I’ve always preferred traveling slowly, and one of my main travel goals has always been, as someone once said, “to know well a tiny piece of one place.” Country-counting, if it becomes a main emphasis of travel, tends to get in the way of that.