How Well-Traveled Are You?

Great Wall of China, 2009

I recently heard a radio program about the most traveled person in the world. He’s an American named Charles Veley and he’s visited 822 places. He’s only got 50 more to go. He documents his experience on the website aptly called Most Traveled People.

Of course, I immediately went to the website to see how I ranked. They have a whole method for figuring out what “counts” as a destination as far as regions, countries, and islands go.

But then it occurred to me that traveling isn’t about racking up a list of places as fast as I can. I mean, I crossed the border to Brazil at Iguazu Falls, Argentina but that hardly counts as traveling to Brazil, does it? Sadly, for some people it does!

As much as I’m turned on by the idea of seeing every country before I leave this world, (what an amazing human experience that would be!) I’d rather take my time and get to know a place intimately. You know?

In fact, I stopped counting countries a while back. And I’m getting more picky. While I love Western Europe, I’m not likely to seek it out even though I haven’t seen it all. I’d rather go to India or Russia or some totally unfamiliar place to me.

In any case, if I leave this world sooner than later, these are the spots on earth that left the greatest impressions on me: Namibia, Zanzibar, Turkey, Alaska, and Mexico.

Okay, so I did count countries after all. My number is 32.

What’s yours and which countries have had the strongest impact on you?


15 thoughts on “How Well-Traveled Are You?

  1. I am totally with you on this, Mary. Are you a serious traveler only when you traveled to 100 countries or more? No way. I believe it’s about discovering various cultures (different cultures) around the world: Asian, African, European. If I look at your list of most impressive countries and I know that you now live in Japan, I guess you have experienced a variety of cultures. Yes, you are a serious traveler Mary!

    • maryrichardson

      Dear Emiel,
      Thanks for your comment!

      From all your experiences, you really know how to get into a country yourself! And you get to share and teach that to your kids, which is awesome…

  2. Dan

    I agree as well. I would prefer to spend some time in a country and get to know what “normal” is rather than just blow through in a couple weeks hitting the tourists spots and drinking with ex-pats.

    My roommate in college often lamented the fact that I had traveled more than him but I reminded him that he had spent 10 years living in the Philippines. He has quality, I have quantity. I’m working on the quality now.

    I live in Djibouti now and have for the past 5 months which is the most time I’ve spent in a foreign country as an adult. I feel like I have a sense of what life is like here now.

    20 countries and I’m visiting Ethiopia in a couple weeks for #21.

    • maryrichardson

      Dear Dan,
      Yes, sadly the quickie kind of travel doesn’t afford much opportunity for exploring in any depth, does it? I’ve done the expat hostel travel and it was certainly fun, but now I see how much of that was about expat culture and not really local culture.

      I think it’s so cool you live in Djibouti! I remember your comment from Matador! And now you get to go to Ethiopia. I never made it there when I was in Namibia, but I hope to one of these days. How’s food in Djibouti?

      • Dan

        Djiboutian food is an interesting mix of Arab, African, and European.

        Spaghetti bolognaise can be found in nearly every eating establishment. While Arabic chwarmas’s, normally eaten with flatbread, are instead eaten inside French style baguettes.

        The French baguettes are EVERYWHERE and seem to be eaten with nearly every meal here.

        Yemeni moukbassa is another popular dish consisting of baked fish and eaten with chunks broken off a giant piece of flatbread.

        Then there’s Ethiopian food, which I would consider to be the best food found in Djibouti. Everything is eatn with injeera, a pancake/bread/crepe thing made from tef, a grain that only grows naturally in Ethiopia. Shero wat is a stew/sauce made from, well I don’t know but it’s delicious.

        Djibouti is an amalgamation of Somali’s, Afars, Arabs, and now refugees so there isn’t really a national food as each group brings different things to the table.

      • maryrichardson

        The food sounds awesome. I don’t know why, but it always surprises me that something like spaghetti bolognese or baguettes are eaten all over the world. I mean, I know there are “universal” things out there, but still. I’m moving to DC this summer and so looking forward to Ethiopian food. Not much of that in Okinawa as you might imagine.

  3. I agree with you 100%. I keep track of the # because that is usually the 1st thing I’m asked, but at the end of the day I could care less. Plus, I love to repeat countries. I’ve been to the Bahamas 20X,Argentina 9X, China 3X, Oz 3X… SO awesome you’ve been to Zanzibar, dying to get there!!!

    • maryrichardson

      Dear Andi,
      Like you, I prefer to develop a relationship with specific countries like Japan (I once visited Japan 3 times in one year before I was living over here) and Mexico.

      Go to Zanzibar now! I still dream about the food and the ocean!

  4. A timely post as I just got back from Spain last night, feeling as if I have never really even been there! A whilrwind 4 days, trying to fit lots of stuff in a short amount of time, and left wanting so much more. I am so grateful that I even got to go in the first place, but I know there is so much more to experience. I too, like to get the feel of where I’m at and settle in for a while, even if just for a few weeks. It can be difficult to soak in the vibe of a place in just a short hour/day/weekend.

    • maryrichardson

      Dear Claire,
      The traveler’s dilemma, right? Either we struggle with time or we struggle with money to enjoy a place. If you ask me, even if you only have 4 days, it’s still worth it. Do you feel jazzed up by the travel? I always do even if it’s for a short time.

  5. I’m very few countries ahead of you, Mary, I’m 36. But just like you, for me, it’s not the number of countries I’ve visited that counts. It’s how much time I got to spend there, the experience I got from there, and in general the FEEL of the countries. Words can’t describe it, and in this case, neither can pictures. The people, the food, it all comes together to make one great trip. And that’s why I feel the number of countries just isn’t important. You went to a place, you got an experience you’ll never forget for the rest of your life. That just pretty much sums it up for me.
    I’d say I was very attached to Italy, because I’m an Italian-American (with the insanely awesome ability to make great coffee, of course!) but also because it’s like another home for me. I’ve been to almost every place, there, but I’m not counting. Or maybe I am.

  6. I made it to 32 as well (not counting Vatican City of course!) But I think Europe makes it easy, with so many countries close together. California and New York should really count as two! xo bb

  7. So, there’s this anthropology documentary (Cannibal Tours) this post reminds me of. At one point this old, fat, German with a ridiculous mustache and full safari gear lists off all the countries he has been to. I felt like he really represented this odd sort of traveler who goes places for the credential of saying “I’ve been there,” and it was pretty humorous to witness this mindset juxtaposed with such a comical appearance.

  8. I am also a big fan of Zanzibar. I don’t think I could live there, but I will gladly go there on holiday. I once did a weekend trip to Las Vegas from South Africa and can absolutely relate that I can’t realy count it as destination. There is just so much to do and see.

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