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“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.
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.
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.
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.
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.