This week I read an article about a 27-year-old who’s just completed his mission to visit every single one of the 193 UN-recognized sovereign countries in the world, and in doing so becoming one of the youngest people to have achieved this impressive feat.
Since this happens to be an aspiration that I personally hold as well, I thought this was an opportune time to recap my own progress and take a look at what lies ahead.
Some of you might have noticed the "Road to 193" section I put on this site’s Travel Talk page, documenting which countries I’ve visited so far, and if you click over there you’ll see that I’ve so far reached the humble total of... 30 countries.
The 30 Countries I've Visited
St. Kitts & Nevis
This list excludes places that I’ve visited purely “in transit”. This of course means I’m not counting Egypt or Turkey, where I've had airport layovers, but also places like Austria, which I traversed as part of a train journey from Munich to Venice, and Bosnia & Herzegovina, whose sole seaside port – the town of Neum – splits Croatia in half and necessitates a double border crossing along any journey down the Adriatic coastline to Dubrovnik.
Obviously, living in Asia and Europe for some parts of my life has afforded me the opportunity to pad my numbers with countries in those regions – especially Europe, where travelling through dozens of countries in a short period of time is both easy and inexpensive.
Having said that, there’s quite a few gaping holes in my travel map – Africa and Oceania are entire continents I’ve yet to set foot on, while the vast majority of South America and the Middle East remains uncharted territory.
Even large swathes of Europe, such as Central Europe, the Baltics, and Scandinavia, are still on my list. And having lived in Canada for five years now, it comes a genuine surprise to me that I still haven’t been to Mexico.
Over the course of 2018, I hope to go back to South America, travel to Russia for the World Cup (that’ll be a big one knocked off the scratch-map I keep at home!), and hopefully end the year with my country count in the high 30s. By the end of next year, it’s my hope that I’ll have zoomed up into the 40s or 50s, and that I’ll have set foot on my two remaining continents as well.
The Magic of Points
Every traveller flirts with the idea of visiting every country in the world at one point or another, but the ability to travel on points helps bring this goal into a much sharper focus. After all, if I had to pay out-of-pocket for all my trips, I’d either have to be filthy rich to begin with, or I’d have to alter my travel style significantly, doing things like “voluntourism”, hitchhiking, or working at hostels for free lodging.
Having access to Miles & Points changes all that. Oceans and borders can be crossed simply by tinkering around on your computer. Luxurious flights and hotel stays boil down to opening credit cards and collecting the bonus points. As I’ve said many times before, by formulating an action plan and carrying it out, anyone can get to the stage where they’re able to go anywhere in the world at the drop of a hat.
And it’s not just the major tourist hotspots that are at your fingertips. If the entire world – including all of its off-the-beaten-path nooks and crannies – is on your horizon, you’ll definitely have to get a little creative, but points can still help you reach your goals. For example, much of the South Pacific islands might seem hard to get to, but it's really only a matter of collecting enough miles in Alaska Mileage Plan to redeem on Fiji Airways.
And travelling to the farthest reaches of Siberia can be a surprisingly simple affair by redeeming Avios on S7 Airlines. The examples go on and on, but even if you’re genuinely stuck trying to get somewhere that points can’t take you, there are cards like the Scotia Gold Amex that can help you easily offset your out-of-pocket costs.
Every time I travel, I’m genuinely thankful that we’re able to play this game. Long may it continue to enrich the lives of everyone who wants to see more of the world.
The Big Picture
Of course, travel is about so much more than checking countries off a list, so I don’t want to give the impression that hitting up 193 countries is the be-all end-all. After all, some of the most popular destinations around the world, like Bora Bora or the Galápagos Islands, are truly special in their own right despite not being sovereign nations.
Furthermore, the vast majority of countries possess a huge variety of distinct cultural identities within, so I’d never hesitate to return to a place just because I’ve already been there before.
To give a few examples, while I’ve had the pleasure of experiencing the spiritual tranquility of Bali and the sultry vibes of Rio de Janeiro, I haven’t motored along the busy streets of Jakarta or trekked through the Amazon in the heart of Brazil. Even having lived in China in 17 years, I’ve never ventured further west of Xi’an, the home of the terracotta warriors.
There’s simply so much more to the world than what you can put down on any checklist, and that’s a key part of what makes travel so exciting and addicting.
Instead, my country count is simply a fun thing to keep track of, something to add a layer of meaning to all those hours that every traveller has lost gazing blankly at a world map. I’m sure that the perfectionist in me would be over the moon when I finally do achieve it, but until then, there's plenty to slowly savour along the way.
Am I going to hit 193 countries by the time I'm 27? Most likely not. I've got a long, long ways to go, but by adding a handful of countries to my list as each year goes by – mostly thanks to the magic of Miles & Points – I'm slowly making progress towards my distant goal.
What's your country count? And what do you make of the idea of visiting every country? Drop a comment to let me know!