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Country Counting – What Counts As A Visit?

My Where I've Been Travel Map
A screen shot of my “Where I’ve Been” map, keeping track of all the countries I’ve visited

Anybody that’s traveled extensively will tell you that eventually your ego gets involved in your travel decision making. At a certain point, a point which surely depends on the person, you start to count the countries you’ve been to, and you begin to collect the “notches under your belt”. When you’re making travel plans, you start to consider neighboring countries to your prime destination, not because they’re of particular interest to you, but because you feel like you’re so close you may as well check it off the list. It’s at this point that you have to ask yourself, what constitutes a visit to a country?

What if I had a 2 hour layover in Moscow, can I cross Russia off my list? What if it was 8 hours? I drove from Split to Dubrovnik (both in Croatia), passing straight through Bosnia along the way, can I claim I’ve been to Bosnia? What about the time I arrived in Amman at 6pm, spent the night wandering the city, and left at 7am the next morning, does that count? It’s tough to put a minimum time on it; people travel at different speeds, and different places require different lengths of time for proper visits. One time while traveling by train from Bratislava to Zagreb I got off and spent a half day in Ljubljana. Although this wasn’t as much time as I would have liked, I had a very nice walk around the city, a good meal, and I got back on the train and continued as evening approached. I’m certainly no expert on the country, but there’s no doubt in my mind this counts as a visit to Slovenia.

Today, this is a subjective question, different people will give you different answers. However, we as travelers need to come up with some sort of determination as to what the minimum visit is to a country before you can claim you’ve been there. Here goes my best shot at it, and I’d love to here you opinion in the comments below as well.

I think you have to answer a few simple questions in order to determine whether you can check “I’ve been” on your travel map:

  1. Did you leave the airport / train station?
  2. Did you eat at least 1 meal while you were there?
  3. Did you use the toilet there?
  4. Did you take at least 1 form of public or private transport? Car, Taxi, Bus, Train, Metro?

If you answered yes to all of these then in my opinion, you’re free to count your visit. Otherwise you probably need to go back and actually experience something in the country before you can claim to have been there. What are your thoughts? Share in the comments below.

  • Lesley Davis

    There was a day when I ate a meal in four countries – Holland, Germany, Belgium and England… 

    • http://blog.thecheaproute.com/ Mike

      If you were making a list of countries you’ve been to would you include all 4?  (I assume you saw 2 of them in the start and end).

  • Kat

    Technically you don’t arrive in a country until after you have cleared customs and your passport is stamped, so if you only transit through their airport, then this doesn’t consitute a visit. But if you drove through a country for a couple of hours, only stopping at its borders, then I would claim that as a visit.

  • Dan Fredinburg

    Equally interest, what constitutes living in a country?  Does it count if you live there for 6 months? 3 months? Any arbitrary duration?  

    What about if you live in a hotel for 30 days versus if you pay rent for a month in a flat you share with locals? Do you need to learn to speak the language? Do you need to fully assimilate, have intimate friendships, or register with the local governments?  I’d say that, like a visit, it is highly subjective.  Home is where the heart is.  But can you live in numerous countries at once?

    • http://blog.thecheaproute.com/ Mike

      That’s interesting, I never thought about that. It’s for sure very subjective, probably even more so than counting visits. In my opinion I’d say there has to be a minimum duration, and I think you’re about right with the 3-6 months. But, I don’t think it’s possible to put an exact duration because it’s also largely dependent on your mentality, how much you explore, interact, and immerse yourself in the place.

      I don’t think how or where you live makes or breaks the criteria; living with locals obviously makes it easier to have a genuine local experience, however someone living in a hotel making the effort to meet people daily will certainly experience more than someone living with locals but sitting in their room all day talking to friends on facebook. Although, I suppose some people are hermits and don’t leave the house anyways, so you could argue none of this matters.

      I don’t think you have to learn to speak the language, although in my opinion you should.

      People assimilate at different speeds, and different places allow for more rapid adjustment than others. For example, an American moving to the Middle East and having to learn the language, the customs, and the ins and outs of a totally different culture will assimilate much slower than if they were to move to Australia. I think you need to be comfortable in a place because you can call it home. You need to know how to get around, where to get your basic necessity shopping done, and have some favorite places to relax, eat, socialize, etc. Having friends in a location is too personal to generalize. I’d say you’d have to compare on an individual basis someones social practices and situation in their previous place of residence, if they have lots of friends where they used to live, you’d expect to have at least a few goto friends around their next home. But obviously if someone isn’t social not having any friends around may not be a sign of not having actually lived somewhere. Registering with the local government is again location specific, depending on the country it may or may not be required. Or what about living somewhere illegally, I don’t think this really changes where or where not someone may call home.

      I suppose you can only live in one place at a time, but you can have multiple homes in different places.

  • Sim

    I think you have to also consider the size and diversity of the country before checking it off. I spent 10 days in Istanbul and Turkey is nowhere close to being checked off my “list”. I spent 10 days in Budapest (including a couple day trips outside of the city) and Hungary is checked off my “list”. I prefer to keep track of the cities I have been too.
    Also I saw that you split up USA and Canada in states/provinces on your map. I assume you are Canadian or American then. I am from Québec and I speak french, my uncles and aunts would also split France into regions for example. I have been to Paris many times, but I never say I have visited France. So there is also a question of perspective.

    • http://blog.thecheaproute.com/ Mike

      Good point, it’s tough to compare the United States to Singapore. You can see Singapore as thoroughly in one week as you can the US in one month. However, I find that often I consider that I’ve visited a country even though I can’t check it off complete as in I’ve seen everything and don’t need to return. Visiting a country is definitely different than seeing everything in a country for me.

      Yes, I am American. And you’re right, I think people tend to split up their own countries by region, because they know so much more about their home country and see it in such high detail. Again, for me there is a difference between a visit and a complete visit, but perhaps this is just semantics. If I really enjoy a country I don’t think I can ever say I’ve seen everything and don’t need to return; I’m still exploring and finding new places in my hometown!

  • Nat P

    I love this! I have challenged myself to visit 50 countries before I’m 50 and I’ve made the rule that I have to spend at least one night in the country to check it on my travel map. I drove through Belgium on my way to Holland and unfortunately, that one doesn’t count toward my goal.

    • http://blog.thecheaproute.com/ Mike

      Did you stop at all in Belgium? If not, you should have! You can get a good idea of what Brussels is like by having a meal inside the main square (it’s one of my favorites in Europe), grabbing a beer at Delerium and walking around looking for the little boy peeing statue. In my opinion I’d say you can count it if you did that all that, and it wouldn’t even take that much time. Plus, when you drive all the way through a country you get a good feel for what it’s like outside the main cities too which is always nice.

      Thanks for sharing Nat!

  • Stephanie Kurkjian

    Well done! And clever, too! I have been waiting for someone to write this article. As a lifelong “state counter” I have struggled with the criteria for what counts as a visit to a state. The tally so far – thirty six out of fifty using one criteria: that the visit must include an overnight stay in a hotel/friend/family home. FYI If my family members used your four criteria one of us would be fifty out of fifty!

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