Sunday, June 1, 2014

50 in 5

It's no secret that I've done quite a bit of traveling since I began my expat adventure in Czechland almost five years ago.  While I've been to a whole lot of places I have yet to visit every country in Europe.  At least not yet.  Sooner or later I will visit every country in Euroland at least once.

So how many countries have I been to?  Well that's a great question.  I've met lots of fellow travelers on my many adventures and it seems that everyone has their own definition of what counts as a visited country.  Some make more sense to me than others.
  1. It doesn't count unless you get a passport stamp.  Schengen did this one in.  There are no more passport stamps between member countries.  Besides, when I went to Reykjavík last year, I flew from the UK (non-Schengen) to Norway (Schengen) then on to Iceland.  I got a Norwegian stamp in my passport since I entered the Schengen zone from the UK but I only spent 30 minutes in the airport before my flight.  I don't think it counts.
  2. It doesn't count if you just drive through the country.  I agree with this one.  But does it count if you stop along the way, have a meal, buy some gasoline and keep on driving?  I don't think so.  When I travel to Vienna airport, and buy a latte or something along the way I never count that as a trip to Austria.  
  3. You have to spend a night in order for it to count.  I don't necessarily think this is right either.  What about a day trip where you spend several hours?  If you've spent money there, supporting the local economy, then I think that counts.  
  4. It doesn't count unless you have sex in the country.  This is probably the craziest guideline I've heard.  Does it have to be with a local?  What if you hook up with a tourist, not from the country you're visiting, does it still count?  I'll just leave this one alone.
  5. It has to be an internationally recognized country.  This gets a little trickier.  I don't count Transnistria because it's a break away republic and only other break away republics consider it another country.  While most of Europe has recognized Kosovo as an independent country, it is not a member of the United Nations (because Russia has veto power and is allied with Serbia).  I count Kosovo.  The Vatican isn't a UN country member but is a non-member observer state.  I count Vatican City as a separate country.
So now how many countries are there in Europe?
  1. As already mentioned, I count Vatican City and Kosovo but exclude Transnistria.
  2. I count England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, collectively, as one country - the United Kingdom.  If Scotland votes for independence, then any visits prior to an independent Scotland will still count as a visit to the UK.  
  3. Turkey is generally considered to be part of Europe.  After all, it is trying to join the EU.
  4. Some consider Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan to be part of Europe.  Some consider them to be part of Central Asia.  Some consider them to be Eurasia.  It's a bit of a stretch but, given the Eurasia argument, I'll count the Caucasus as part of Europe.
So in my book there are 50 countries in Europe.  According to how I define "visiting a country" then I say I've been to 44 countries.  The only ones remaining are Belarus, Cyprus, Latvia, Lithuania, Norway and Ukraine.  I still haven't made it to Wales yet either but again, all four parts of the UK still only count as "1" in my book.

44 countries so far
July 1st will be my five-year anniversary of my arrival in Europe.  I don't see that I'll visit all 50 countries by then.  I'm going to use up practically all of my holiday time this year when my family comes in a few months so I don't see myself getting to all 50 countries by the end of the year either.  But maybe by the end of 2015.  So while it won't be 50 European countries in my first five years it could still be "50 countries in five years".

I always wanted to visit Charleston, South Carolina.  I've always heard how beautiful it is.  It's only about a four-hour drive there from Atlanta.  But in 13 years, I never once made it to Charleston.  It was always one of those things that I meant to do.  When I started this little adventure I vowed that I would not have "another Charleston".  I want to go everywhere.

Of course it's much more than just "collecting" countries.  If I was only concerned about collecting countries then I would have for sure already hit all 50 by now.  If the "50 in 5" was all that motivated me then I would not have gone to Italy, Croatia, France, Poland or Germany so many times.  I could have easily skipped going to Sicily and spent a weekend in Riga in order to pick up Latvia.  It's not about putting a tick in a box.  It's about visiting places that I've only read about before.  It's about trying to understand history.  It's about figuring out another culture.  It's about meeting locals and fellow travelers along the way.  It's about getting out of my comfort zone, and having wonderful adventures along the way.

No matter if my "50 in 5" is reached in 2014, 2015 or beyond, it won't stop me from continuing to travel.  There are still plenty of places that I want to see, in countries that I've already been to (most more than once).  When it does come time for my adventure here to end, and who knows when that will be, there's no way that I'll have another "Charleston". 

Update:  I finally made it to all 50 countries in 2016.  Just over seven years.

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