What exactly is visiting a country?

What makes a countryOn a couple of occasions recently I have been asked how many countries we have been to. We don’t keep count so I had no idea how to answer and to be honest wondered whether it mattered at all how many we had visited. This led me to wondering what constitutes actually visiting a country and this simple thought seemed to open up a real can of worms.

What’s wrong with Country Counting?

Nothing at all. Let me get this out there straight away, I have no issues with anyone counting the number of places they have been to as I love statistics and like nothing more than a good old list. Keeping an up-to-date score of the countries you have visited is great and a good way to give you impetus to visit even more. No problem with that.

Countries

My issue is that everyone counts ‘visiting a country‘ in a different way. So it is completely impossible to ever compare two peoples numbers (if that’s what they want to do). In social media circles and on numerous travel blogs the number of countries visited is a big deal and that number shouted from the rooftops. Because their followers or visitors don’t know what constitutes their ‘visiting a country‘ rules this figure is obviously very confusing.

I guess it’s a little like me saying I ate out three time last week when I bought a sausage roll from Greggs, had a sandwich from Costa, and purchased a pork pie on the train platform at Warminster station. Technically I did ‘eat out‘ but it’s not really eating out is it.


Is there an actual definition of visiting a country?

With all of the differing views I wondered if there was actually a definition anywhere so checked out the Guinness Book of Records as there are a lot of countries-visited records out there. They define it as follows;

“Visiting a country is defined as setting foot within its border. It is not necessary to remain in any country for any length of time. Video/photo evidence, at a recognisable landmark/border sign within each country must be provided”.

So to complete a Guinness record relating to countries you just have to set foot there regardless of the time you spend, for as long as you get a photo by a landmark or border. Simple eh?

Guinness World Records


How many countries are there?

Seems like a simple question but unfortunately it’s not. There are differing lists of the number of countries depending on where you look. The Guinness Book of Records states that;

There are 193 countries(UN member states) plus 2 others (Vatican City and Chinese Taipei).

So many people have different numbers though that it often causes major arguments especially over countries-visited records of course.

Countries

Assuming we can agree on the actual number of countries it is interesting to see some individual ideas of what ‘visiting a country‘ is. Here are a few ideas gleamed from online and personal conversations.

  • “You have to spend a few hours there outside the airport”
  • “Getting your passport stamped”
  • “Definitely have to stay a night or two for it to count as visited”
  • “Going through immigration means you are in the country so it counts”
  • “Not airport transfers or travelling through, you have to spend a couple of days there”
  • “My foot must touch soil (ground) or a sidewalk outdoors, in a place where there are no walls and no ceilings.”
  • “As soon as you set foot in an airport you are in a foreign country”

So many different views on it aren’t there which in themselves don’t matter at all. If one person counts just walking through airport arrivals as visiting then it doesn’t hurt anyone but as soon as they start comparing numbers with the couple who’ve spent 3 weeks there it all becomes a bit skewed.

Airport Arrivals


What is our definition of visiting a country?

We didn’t really have one until this discussion started but we think that we need to have had an overnight stay and have visited two separate places at the very least. We’ve transferred through Dubai several times and spent many many hours there but would never count UAE as a country that we have visited. Just our opinion of course.


Country visiting records

There are world records for visiting every country, the fastest time to get to them all, the youngest person to do it, and so many more. And when you start drilling down into the detail there are so many people claiming they aren’t valid or that someone else did it better/faster/etc.

The Fastest time to visit all sovereign countries (as defined by the Guinness Book of Records):

Taylor Demonbreun from Toronto in 2018 visited all UN member countries in 1 year, 189 days.

(Guinness record)

Taylor Demonbreun


Look at some of these other records, and they are all official:

  • Most countries visited in 24 hours on a bicycle7  (Guinness record)
  • Most countries visited by scheduled transport in 24 hours13  (Guinness record)
  • Most countries visited on a continuous car journey111  (Guinness record)
  • Most countries visited by train in 24 hours11  (Guinness record)
  • Most countries visited on a single tank of fuel14  (Guinness record)
  • Most sovereign countries visited in 6 months191 (Guinness record)

Fascinating huh? Just goes to show that there is more than one way to get around. Perhaps Jo could attempt the ‘Most countries visited with Jonno‘ record or the ‘Most countries JWalked to in a year‘ one. I’ll get in touch with Guinness straight away ……………

Countries


So is Country Counting okay?

Of course it is, it’s a great way to remember where you’ve been and to give yourself incentive to travel elsewhere. We all have different reasons to travel and whether it’s seeing museums, walking up a mountain, or adding the country to your list then that’s entirely personal and completely up to that traveller.

How do you decide if you have visited a country? Do you country count?

Pinterest - What exactly is visiting a country?

56 comments

  1. I think you need to have left the airport or train station for a 24 hour period to count it as a visit. How’s that sound. So, if you left then you most likely looked around a bit, spent the night, etc.. That could be a visit .

    Liked by 1 person

    • Totally with you there Sue. Some sort of effort exploring needs to have taken place doesn’t it? Twenty Four hours sounds like a good guideline though.

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  2. That Guinness record is just going somewhere for a bit. It’s like saying you know someone when you happened to be in the same room with them for a minute sometime in 2013. A visit must result in unique memories crafted from experiencing the place you are in, the people you are with and the people you meet on the way.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Really great article. I’ve often thought of this question to justify where I have been. I have only been less than 48 hours in one country – Liechtenstein. You can actually drive through it in 20 min but I did all I could there!. I even think to myself “have I actually visited x country” as often just seeing one city isn’t representative of the whole country so I usually like to travel around it a bit to get some kind of “experience” of the country..I reckon this question will run and run. For me at least 24 hours in the actual country (not just airport or transiting), seeing several things (eg famous site) and an overnight stay at least would personally count as the minimum.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m with you all the way Barri. An overnight stay and visiting at least a couple of places is what we count as visiting somewhere. It’s not a numbers game.

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  4. I consider at least a two night stay somewhere as the minimum to count for visiting a country to get a feel for it and experience local cultures but with the exception of the Vatican City I’ve not been anywhere for less than 4 days. I’m not really into numbers so without counting up my list I couldn’t recall how many countries I’ve visited as, along with many people, its not a ticking off list but the fact that I actually want to visit these places. I do know though that my most visited country is Finland and I could return there any day rather than adding to my list but, of course it’s also interesting to get the opportunity to visit certain ‘new’ countries too!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Interesting, and got me thinking. I went from Thailand into Myanmar, just walked there one morning. Had to leave my passport at the border and pay some money (leaving my passport worried me but I did get it back. 2 Burmese men approached me offering to be my guides. I tried to ignore them but was charmed by one and had a lovely time with them on a walking tour, taking me to a nice place to have lunch and well worth the money I gave them. I went back into Thailand later in the afternoon and never consider I’ve visited Myanmar. I’ve also been in Addis Ababa airport but wouldn’t say I’ve been to Ethiopia. So, I agree with you that you have to at least spend a night in the country.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. For me, I say I’ve visited a country if I’ve left the airport and done something there. I don’t have a certain number of hours I have to spend. But just because I “visited” doesn’t mean I won’t go back or that I’ll write a in-depth blog post on a place I only spent a few hours. I’d like to think that most people in the travel space who show off their number have to back that up with the info. So if they’re bragging about visiting 80 countries but 20 of those were just airport layovers, it will be pretty apparent when their blog is empty of content on any of those countries.

    Also, super fascinating records! I bet that girl from Toronto was so exhausted, likely on a train/plane every single day.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I think you definitely need to explore and have some experiences to claim you’ve seen a new country. Not sure all those travellers with high numbers of countries visited have actually done a great deal in those places.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. It will mean different things to different people, and there’ll still be a grey area for all of them. I spent 24 hours in one country as an enforced stopover, and managed to see a few bits of the city I was in, but I don’t feel it counts. For some, that would count. And at what point would it begin to? Or because i managed to see several places of ‘interest’, and walk around different types of neighbourhood, perhaps that does count. But what if I’d been there for a week but hardly left my hotel room?

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I think for a country to count that you definitely need to leave the airport or train station. I don’t necessarily agree with the 24 hour train of thought for it to count though. Many cities, like Seoul for example, have tours specifically for people with long layovers. I am going to be in Spanish Basque Country this month, but might pop over to France for a day trip. I’ll be spending time in France and it should count as I will be seeing things/doing things, but for less than 24 hours.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It’s all so subjective isn’t it? Everyone’s ideas of what constitutes visiting a country are so different but it really doesn’t matter as long as they enjoy the visit. Only tricky when people compare lists I suppose.

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  9. I haven’t counted countries, but at one time my ambition was to visit every American State and I have similar “rules” for that. Eg technically I’ve been in New Jersey, but landing at Newark and getting the train or bus into New York doesn’t really count. Kind of gone off that ambition now anyway.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. For me stepping foot in s country is not visiting it. I see it as actually seeing the country, experiencing its culture, scenery and food. You can then argue is going to the ‘British part of Ibiza’ visiting?- not for me, it’s Blackpool with sunshine, so nope, not that (not that I’d go, quite frankly the thought turns my stomach!). I’ve been through countries on my way to visiting somewhere, so if I’m counting having been to, or through a country, that’s not the same as visiting.

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  11. I love this post. Its a conversation I often had with work colleagues as most of us were geographers and travellers and had this ‘friendly’ competition. It’s fun to see where you have been albeit for a few minutes etc but for me its getting a feel even a two week visit doesn’t mean you know a country.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Interesting thoughts Jon. I was in Singapore airport for a few hours waiting to get a flight to Sydney but I never say I’ve been there. On the rare occasions I‘ve mention it, I always say just to the airport. It would feel like cheating if it didn’t include that.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Leaving the airport for a few hours or even just getting a stamp doesn’t really classify to me as “visiting a country”. It’s more a tick off the list rather than actually experiencing the country, its culture and people. To me there should be at least some sort of engagement involved such as speaking to locals, dining at a restaurant, interacting with a seller when you go shopping or even wandering around and taking in the surroundings.

    Carolin | Style Lingua

    Liked by 1 person

    • I agree 100% Carolin. You really have to have some experiences of the country you are in don’t you rather than just step in and out of it. Different criteria for different people I guess.

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  14. Heaven forbid, you’ve thrown me right off my breakfast! I reckon it would take me 24 hours just to cycle the breadth of Melbourne these days, so they must have been very small and close countries or perhaps she just ran in and out of Lichtenstein, which I think we ran though whilst waiting for everyone else on the tour bus to visit the toilet. Can I count an airport hour in a very small country that was later pretty much obliterated in a war as a visit? And then, see you have got me on a roll, there’s my late very well travelled aunt who once declared that she had visited all countries in the world bar three “and those aren’t worth visiting daahling!”

    Liked by 1 person

    • No you definitely can’t count an airport hour anywhere. At least your aunt probably experienced all of the countries she visited. Wonder what the three not worth going to were?

      Liked by 1 person

  15. I agree that stopping in an airport doesn’t count as a visit. I definitely would not count my experiences in Dubai and Doha’s airports as visiting the UAE and Qatar. And even though I technically left the airport the last time I went through Chicago, it was just to stay in a hotel after my flight had been cancelled, and straight back to the airport the next morning. I think you need to actually spend time exploring and experiencing a place to add it to the list!

    Liked by 1 person

  16. I count countries as leaving the airport. For example I had 6 hours in Narita during a layover and we crammed in so much, went to a temple, saw the sites, ate some of the local food, so I do count Japan as a country I’ve been too. I have no problem returning to countries, I’ve been to Australia 3 times, I’m going back to Portugal next year. I do try and aim to visit at least one new country a year though. I also count using my ‘coffee table book’ Lonely Planet’s ‘Countries of the World’, they do include places like Gibraltar and they spilt the UK into England, Scotland and Wales. I do consider the UK as different countries, for example I have no idea how to speak Welsh, Scotland has it’s own version of GBP, England has it’s own football team. I agree though, it’s hard when it comes to the ‘right way’ to country count. I do it because I’m a stat nerd, I know how many flights I’ve been on and how many hotels I’ve stayed in too!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Love the fact that you’re a ‘stat nerd’, think I’m in that club too. I know the number of different beds we’ve slept in since we left our old lives and how many train journeys we’ve taken etc. Not to tell anyone just for my own interest. The countries visited thing is such a divisive subject though. I agree with you that you need to do a few things and see some of the culture. England is definitely a different country to Scotland and Wales.

      Liked by 1 person

  17. What a great post Jonno. Reminds me of when I did my Contiki tour back in my early twenties. I think it was something like 15 countries in 30 days. It was a whirlwind but very enjoyable!

    Liked by 1 person

  18. I often wonder about this myself. I have no idea how many countries I have been to. I would have to sit down and think very hard with the help of my photos and diary to figure it out.
    Personally I don’t really understand the obsession with counting but everyone’s different. As for how long someone should spend in a country, well that’s a question I see frequently in Facebook travel groups. People ask, “is 3 days long enough to see ———?” I have been to Lisbon, in Portugal 14 times and I am still discovering it! There are many countries I have only spent a few days in and yes I can say I have been there but I would prefer quality (a longer stay) over quantity.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Agree with you wholeheartedly Jill. Everyone is so different and one persons ‘visiting a country’ is completely different to anothers which makes counting fairly ridiculous. Hopefully it’s not all about showing off but I wonder with some travellers. Love Lisbon by the way but only been once.

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  19. Great post, Jonno! I wrote a similar post about this. I find it really interesting seeing what people think counts as a visit, especially as I’ve done a lot of day trips to countries, and if someone says “it only counts if you spend a night there” then that immediately wipes something like 6 countries off my list. How can you say I haven’t been there? But then where is the line? I love your bit about sure, count a country if you’ve done this, but don’t compare it to someone who’s spent 3 weeks there. Absolutely true! And I really don’t like it when people say “I’ve done this country now” when they’ve been to one city (…or even three!). It’s about your experiences, not the numbers. 🙂

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    • You’re so right about it being about experiences and not about counting. Although it’s nice to know where you’ve been and keep your own list I suppose, just don’t start comparing it to others as their pre-requisites for visiting could be completely different.

      Liked by 1 person

  20. Not a country counter myself. If asked I have to stop and think. I wouldn’t include countries I’ve just been in the airport though. I count airports as neutral territory until you’ve gone through customs and been admitted into the country. I don’t personally think a minimum stay matters but certainly visited vs experienced are different. For instance the record holders visited those countries but their goal was to enter multiple countries in the quickest time so there will have been no sight seeing and limited cultural interaction so I wouldn’t say they experienced those countries.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It’s so subjective isn’t it? Everyone’s definitions are so different that the one thing you can’t really do is compare. No problem counting countries just for your own interest though.

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