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Confessions of Country Collectors

“So I was looking at the map…” This is how many of our travel conversations start. This is sometimes followed by, “And if we just did XYZ, we’d be able to go to [fill in the blank – a new country for us].” It’s become a bit of a running joke. Over the years, I’ve come up with some pretty random experiences. So, yes, we’re country collectors.

Country collecting is a topic among travelers that always seems to generate significant debate. Some people would argue that it is just another form of keeping score – an opportunity to one-up your fellow travelers. Others argue that country collecting emphasizes quantity over quality (as if those two are somehow mutually exclusive).

But…perhaps…country collectors just want to have a bit of fun. Is there anything wrong with that? And, as we’ve said before, there’s really no “right” way to travel.

View of the harbor in Gibraltar with flags
The view from the Rock of Gibraltar

Being country collectors has also given us some of our most memorable travel experiences. On a trip to Spain, we took a day-trip to Gibraltar. It was a quirky little outpost of British colonialism on the mainland, but it wasn’t an enriching cultural experience. However, on the same trip to Spain, we also took a day-trip to Tangier, Morocco. This was our first significant country collecting experience and Morocco was our first visit to an Islamic country.

While our time in Morocco may have been brief, it was transformative in bringing about our love of Islamic art and Moroccan cuisine. Without our country-collecting day-trip to Morocco, it is unlikely we would have ever gone to Oman or Dubai.

Ladies gather in Tangier's medina
Tangier’s old city

Our single most memorable country collecting experience was a day-trip to Greenland from Iceland. It started with a National Geographic article on global warming, but we quickly discovered more in Greenland than vistas and pretty landscapes. In Greenland, we were able to see 1,000 years of human evolution condensed into a matter of years. We were able to see the downsides of European colonization and the toll that massive social change takes on indigenous peoples.

Colorful houses in Kulusuk, Greenland
The colorful buildings of Kulusuk

Being country collectors can sometimes yield surprises too. For us, we made a last-minute day-trip to Bratislava from Vienna. We didn’t really have a lot of expectations, but Slovakia would be a new country. We discovered a vibrant, charming city full of quirky sculptures. The quick trip allowed us to discover a place that we want to visit again in the future.

Lance and Laura with the quirky Napoleon statue in downtown Bratislava
We invaded Bratislava with Napoleon

Being a country collector really isn’t about keeping score against other people. For us, it’s about discovering as much of the world as we can and finding places we want to go back and visit. So every time I say to Laura, “You know, I was looking at the map and we could…” she laughs.

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Raphael Alexander Zoren

Wednesday 23rd of April 2014

That's the only reason I visited Luxembourg to be honest hahaha, I still don't see the appeal :/

Candice - Desert to Jungle

Friday 18th of April 2014

I try not to judge how other people travel (as long as they are not harming people or animals along the way). I used to think the 'century club' (for people who've been to 100 countries though they don't count them properly!) was pretty pointless but now I just think if numbers matter to them then go for it.

I don't have time for the whole traveller v tourist debate that is all over social media these days. Travel is personal and I like to tot up the number of countries too - though I don't keep an exact score.


Wednesday 16th of April 2014

Great post! I have a bit of country-collector in me...I'm always looking at maps and saying something quite similar to your mantra "oo we're so close to [insert country that is actually not that close at all but sounds new and exciting]...but then, in the moment, I tend to find a place I like and have a hard time leaving. So, even though I've been traveling for over a year, I've only ever been to 7 different countries. But it's okay, because travel is SUPPOSED to be personal and there really is no right or wrong to do it. I wish travel bloggers could be a little more relaxed about this. I feel like a lot of people think that because they are purporting themselves as "travel experts" on the internet (lol right?) they have to make huge statements about traveling authentically, not being a tourist, blahdiblahdiblah. But really, there's only one all-encompassing travel rule in my book-- don't be an asshole. Easy peasy. Now let's all travel and have fun!

Laura Longwell

Wednesday 16th of April 2014

I think "don't be an asshole" is a pretty great rule to have :)


Tuesday 8th of April 2014

Everyone has thier own travel style. If it makes you happy I say go for it!

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