July 6, 2009

Video Update: What Criteria Do You Use When Visiting Countries?

Today’s post arrives in 3-minute video form, recorded on location at the airport in Guayaquil, Ecuador.

If you can’t watch the video, here’s a short summary:

Lots of people have asked me about the goal of visiting every country. What criteria or standards do I use?

This is a big discussion in the travel community – everyone has an opinion. Some people count airport stops, some believe you have to spend the night or a week somewhere, and so on.

My opinion is that this is largely a personal matter.

For me, I don’t count airport stops and I try to spend at least a few days in each place I visit, but I also don’t worry about it that much. Out of 192+ countries, naturally there are going to be some where I’m not able to spend much time, at least not on the first visit.

I don’t worry about it because I’ve been traveling regularly for nearly 10 years. I don’t claim to be an expert about any place I visit – lately I haven’t even been reading guide books or doing much research before arriving somewhere. I just show up and see what happens, for better or worse. I end up returning to a lot of the same places over and over, so if I miss something the first time, it goes on the list for a return visit.

Also, travel is a deeply personal experience.

A big goal requires deeply personal, internal motivation. While I’m thrilled that so many people have become interested in my travel quest, I know that ultimately I have to own my own motivation for doing this. Any trip has lots of ups and downs, a certain amount of loneliness, sacrifices that must be made, etc.

If you rely on others to set criteria and standards for you, I think you’re setting yourself up for failure or disappointment. Better to define what success looks like on your own, and not worry about what other people think.

***

That’s my $0.02 about visiting every country or pursuing any other important goal. As always, feel free to share your own perspective with other smart readers in the comments section.

Wishing you well from Ecuador,

cg

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29 Responses to “Video Update: What Criteria Do You Use When Visiting Countries?”

  1. I am with you. You should spend a few days in a country or at least more than just the airport. But it is certainly personal to everyone on how they choose to count the countries that they have visited. Have a nice time in Ecuador

  2. Chris,

    The last paragraph “if you rely on others to set standard for you…”. goes for every aspect in life! Keep goin’ and I look forward to reading your story from the middle east.

    Etsuko

  3. July 6, 2009

    Richard Eldridge

    Well, I agree totally. You call your blog “The Art of Nonconformity”, and it would require a name change if you were to set your standards for anything based on someone else’s opinion.

  4. Did you came to Bogotá? Oh, man I can’t believe I missed that!

  5. Hi Chris,

    Last year I biked 340 miles across Italy. Many people asked me why I wanted to do such a grueling thing. I answered, “Because I wanted to do something big, something I would never forget, something I wasn’t sure I could even do.” It made it all the more sweeter when I did it.
    I completely understand it when you say the motivation has to be personal. Problems arise when the motivation to do something isn’t personal. Thx, G.

  6. Great thoughts, Chris. Especially as I prepare to head a country I’ve never been this week – Denmark. As a musician, I rarely get to do any tourist type stuff (even in the U.S.), but I do get to hang out with people from the city I’m in, and learn more about the city through their perspective, which is great. Makes my experience seem a bit more grounded in reality, as opposed to me creating a fantasy around sites seen. Plus, I meet new friends who I stay in touch with for years.

    Your post reminds me of this fact – and it’s not something I should take for granted. That personal experience is a big deal!

    Always love reading and hearing your posts. Safe travels!

    Jon

  7. I have had a similar quandary since I often have gone through or stopped over in places on my way to a main destination. This is complicated if I have time to actually do something besides sleep and eat in the area. I like your solution but I think I would add a category like tertiary visits, or something like that.

  8. July 6, 2009

    laurence

    Hi Chris,

    It’s great to hear your video from Guayaquil, Ecuador.Travelling is a personal state of mind ,no need to worry too much about what people think, you are right .Human being has a faculty of auto determination based on thought, le libre arbitre.

    Enjoy your flight to the Middle East

    Laurence

  9. Hey Chris,

    Glad to hear your tour of South America is going well.

    I guess you wouldn’t be much of a non-conformist if you were visiting all these countries on other peoples terms. Keep doin your thing brother!

    Joe

  10. I agree. Setting your goals according to other people’s criteria sort of implies that it’s a competition. “Who’s visited the most places.” For those who like competitions or people who get pushed by the notion of competition and winning, this might inspire them to go… which in my mind is always great since I think that by traveling we become better people.

    Personally I’m not big on stopping for a day or two in a place. I pack up my belongings and move there for a few years. It’s just the way I like to do it. Since I’ve been doing this for about 18 years now, I don’t have a lot of belongings. The move is much easier this way. For me, one of the greatest motivations for traveling (or in my case, living abroad) is learning the languages. I’m a language junkie. I love the process, starting with not understanding a thing, to thinking you understand when you don’t, to having the vocabulary of a 5-year-old, to being able to really express yourself. I think I go through the same process in trying to understand the culture, but I haven’t ever thought about it that way. So there’s my $0.02 on why I travel the way I do.

    Again, at the end of the day it doesn’t much matter “how” a person travels or ticks off a place on their list. Traveling is enough in and of itself.

  11. Excellent point, Chris. Goals are a very personal thing-which take internal motivation in order to achieve them.. By definition, you control the standards, not someone else who whats to give you their opinion. Thanks for the enlightening tidbit for my day!

    I’m looking forward to hearing about the next leg of your trip! :)

  12. Airport stops definitely do not count! I used to have this argument with a dear friend of mine. But, I think as long as you spend a few days getting to know as much as you can about the country you’re in, then it counts for sure! I try to leave the country every couple of months, if not every month, and my trips have to be short due to work. I usually get a lot of people claiming that how can I really get to know a place in such a short amount of time. Well, I’d rather visit a place for 4 days then not visit it at all!!! So, set your goals and don’t listen to anything else anyone has to say about it.

    Hope you’re having safe travels and I wish you all the best in the Middle East. I was just in South America myself. Maybe our paths crossed and we didn’t even know it. :)

  13. When you get to visiting Nauru (in the middle of the Pacific) your choices will be 1 hour or 1 week. Those are really your only choices. I was in the lounge of the Nauru airport for an hour during a stopover from the Solomon Islands to Kiribati. Other than that stopover, you have to stay there a whole week because there are no other flights in or out of the country.

    I think the biggest issue is what constitutes a “country”. The 192 countries in the UN misses a lot of places which are countries, but are not independent countries. Taiwan, Palestine, Puerto Rico, French Polynesia, Guam, Hong Kong, Gibraltar, French Guyana, Curacao and other territories which are not in the UN, but are distinct from the country which rules over them.

    I personally use the list from the Traveler’s Century Club (http://www.travelerscenturyclub.org/) and their criteria: if you set foot in the country, you were there. They have 319 “countries” on their list, many of which are not independent countries in the strict sense of the word.

  14. Hi Chris,

    I overnighted in Guayaquil once a long time ago. The original destination was Quito but due to crazy fog, we couldn’t land and got redirected to Ecuador’s coastal city. American Airlines put us up in the Marriott for the night… I had never been in such a high-end hotel before. … sigh… those were the days :)

    Anyhoo, I’m interested in the video camera you are using. The video looks pretty high quality and it must be pretty compact if you are travelling with it. I’m looking to buy a video camera and I’m looking for recommendations :) Thanks!

  15. Good response Chris. I like your answer to this question and I hope I didn’t come across as being judgmental when I asked you about this a few months ago. I was really just trying to find out what your take on this matter was, because I too get asked this question all the time. I say “there are no rules” (except your own) when it comes to this sort of thing.

    Anyway, I liked your response and I think it’s a good one. Keep up the excellent work!

  16. I’ve had several people ask me about this very same question regarding my upcoming trips. I personally don’t really see airports as counting, but that’s because the purpose of my traveling is to pick up languages, cultural mores, etc, which is not the same for everyone.

    Everyone does have a completely different reason for traveling (if they choose to travel at all!) and I think this touches on that never-ending debate over whether tourists are as ‘legitimate’ as travelers who spend more time in a country (or more time in non-touristy locations). You’ll hear very different opinions about what travel means depending on who you talk to, and I think they are all correct answers.

  17. Thanks, everyone!

    @All I use for the airport videos is my MacBook laptop – no external camera for now, and just the preinstalled software.

    @Darren,

    Nope, no problems at all! You’re doing great stuff too.

  18. Excellent thoughts, Chris – thank you!
    Most travelers I’ve spoken to have copped some sort of judgment from friends back home or fellow travelers on the road about how they’re going about their travel adventures.
    When I started traveling a few years ago, I almost had a camera crew in tow as it was going to be turned into a travel show. I’m glad it never panned out though, because my travels would not have been mine…they would have belonged to a television audience I didn’t know.
    Travel is incredibly personal…from the underlying motivations to technical travel style…let every traveler revel in their individuality!

  19. July 6, 2009

    Stewart

    Chris,
    this quote is the strongest piece of wisdom I have heard in ages:
    “If you rely on others to set criteria and standards for you, I think you’re
    setting yourself up for failure or disappointment. Better to define what
    success looks like on your own, and not worry about what other people
    think.”
    Bless you for putting it so succinctly.
    Have a great trip through South America and the Middle East.
    Stewart

  20. This idea you have about goals is exactly how I feel too. If there is one thing in the world that bothers me, it is people who judge others. I think people judge others because they want to make themselves feel better. People need a wake up call that the world doesn’t revolve around them.

    Great post and have a good rest of the trip!

  21. Before visiting a country, I would like it to be exotic, hot, and have entertainment. I’m young so I would like a country with a bustling nightlife.

    I just travel places that seem interesting.

    Keep on traveling Chris.

  22. My criteria is Natural beauty, how much it attracts me to experience its majesty.

    Let me know if you plan to visit Pakistan during your mid east trip.

  23. I have traveled alot of the world and alot of time deliberately alone. I agree with the ‘loneliness’ aspect. There are certain times and moments where you just want another to capture it with, the shared scene or feeling; cant be authentically replicated by a picture.

  24. This was something I wondered too. I’m glad people bothered to ask the question so I didn’t have to. :)

    Your approach seems to be the most logical, although I can get quite fanatical and it wouldn’t feel “right” unless I stayed at a place for at least 4-5 days for it to count as a true visit. Just like you said though, tis’ a very personal matter.

  25. Safe travels! Chris!

    I feel that some airport stops still may count. These could be the cases when something went wrong and you had to wait for quite a long time. And you had to contact locals extensively. Or vice versa, something great happened in the airport. Anything that build personal attitude of the traveler to the country. Something worth remembering.

    Your thoughts?

  26. For me, it is less the amount of time and more the experience. I count my visit it Monaco although all I did was to attend an opera. I don’t count airport stops–no matter how long or complicated–because airports are international areas. I spent more time the Tokyo airport than I did in Monaco, but don’t count it because I don’t feel that I visited Japan.

  27. July 7, 2009

    Paula Grant-LeClaire

    Chris –

    You’ll never know how much your blog has meant to me this year! For me, travel is an integral part of living a full life and continuing personal growth and it’s something I’d quit doing for a while because of bad times.

    But after vicariously living through you I’m on the go again — thank you so very very much!

  28. Awesome you’re in my home country (a little jealous, in fact)…BTW the pronunciation is: WAH-YAH-KEEL
    :-)

    As a globalization consultant, with teams in over 50 countries, I have been just about everywhere save a handful of countries (mostly Africa and middle east, unfortunately!)…and yes, I don’t count airport visits or passport stamps. Generally I count “experiences” and maybe it’s because I travel so much and have developed a deep disdain for airports…experiences in airports are rarely anything worth counting.

    Happy travels! have some Zhumir (aguardiente)!!!

    -Nathalie

  29. July 7, 2009

    Joelle Brink

    I like to read about places that interest me and research independent travel there, which usually leads to actually picking up and going. By the time I reach my destination I know quite a bit about the geography, the history and the people living there and even speak a few words of the language, which helps me get around and make local friends. I also do volunteer work, which is the best way to meet people in other countries.

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