If I have a layover in Beijing, have I “been to” China?

In his “Ask the Pilot” column over at Salon, Patrick Smith has an article of interest to every traveler who has ever wondered, in this age of layovers and transcontinental bus trips, so how many countries have I visited? What constitutes “visiting” a country? If I’m flying from Chicago to Bangkok, and I have a six-hour layover in Tokyo, does that mean I’ve been to Japan? If I’m on a bus from Prague to Budapest, and we stop for a bathroom break in Slovakia, does that mean I’ve been there?

Salon’s article provides an answer– albeit an unsatisfying one– for those who care about such things. Smith writes that, of course, each traveler is free to come up with his or her own criteria for what constitutes a “visit,” but his own criteria are as follows: “[A] passport stamp alone doesn’t cut it. At the very least, a person must spend a token amount of time — though not necessarily an overnight — beyond the airport and its immediate environs.”

What about a visit to the Spanish enclave of Ceuta in northern Morocco? Here, Smith has no answers– only more questions. “Consider the world’s various territories, protectorates, self-governing autonomous regions, occupied lands and quasi-independent nations. Yeah, I know, Vatican City is a sovereign state, politically speaking. But in practical terms, is it really? Did my visits to Hong Kong count as visits to China? What about Tibet? Western Sahara? Sure those are foreign nations, but which ones?”

Feel free to list your own criteria, if you have any, in the comments.

Read the whole article here.