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If you take a peek inside my passport you’ll see that I’ve been to 33 countries. Or better still, check my scratch map and take my word on it because as a British citizen I have the luxury of visa-free travel within the EU (for now at least, #BrexitSux) meaning that I don’t have any actual on-paper evidence of having visited almost half of that 33. But yeah, I promise I’ve been to 33.
Other than a trip to Florida when I was 4, gate-crashing my parents’ honeymoon at 7 and a family holiday to Dublin when I was 9 (or maybe 10?) the first time I set foot on foreign soil was on a school choir trip to Germany soon after I turned 18. I wasn’t a part of the choir but because I took A-Level music and made up one third of the entire school orchestra I was allowed a free pass. And that’s completely irrelevant to what I’m trying to say, but whatever.
I’d like to say that the trip to Germany was the beginning of this, of my life now, booking flights on a whim to random cities and countries that make people go “Where the heck is that?” when the flag bearer comes out in the Olympics opening ceremony.
But it wasn’t.
By that point I’d already begun to plan my great escape, having booked myself a place on a volunteer programme in Peru for the following summer.
Germany was a nice intro to travelling life, though – an appetizer, so to speak.
The volunteer trip I just mentioned? That was the start.
Four weeks volunteering as an English language assistant in the Sacred Valley followed by one week of conservation work in the Amazon rainforest followed by one week of just being a tourist in Arequipa and Lima was enough to whet one’s appetite, and I was hooked.
The next summer I spent five weeks in Nepal and India.
The summer after was eight weeks in Venezuela, Colombia and back to Peru.
Then I went on my Year Abroad, spending a semester in Italy, during which time I also nipped into Vatican City, San Marino and Germany, and then a semester in Spain.
The summer I arrived home I went on a three week trip Interrailing through Europe with two of my friends.
And THAT is where I got greedy.
In that trip we somehow managed to cram EIGHT countries into just 23 days. That’s not even three days per country! The twelve months preceding the trip, I’d visited 7 countries and for whatever reason this wasn’t good enough and I just wanted more. The excitement of all those new places, the weird sense of pride I felt whenever someone would say “WOW, you’ve been to X many countries, that’s amazing!”, the absolute jump-for-joy feeling of elation I get whenever David Attenborough or Bear Grylls are off somewhere and I can say “Yep, I’ve been there” all got too much, and there’s no better way to say it – I got greedy.
I needed to go places, not because I’d always wanted to visit them, but simply because they were there. Because I had access to them, and because it would mean I could say I’d been to one more country.
And so in that 3-week trip we squeezed in Luxembourg, Brussels, Amsterdam, Berlin, Vienna, Bratislava, Budapest and Prague.
A heck of a lot of cities, right?
Now if you were to ask me today, two and a half years later, if I remember any of it, do you know what the answer will be? No. No, I really don’t.
We crammed so many cities into such a small space of time that it’s all one big blur.
I mean, was it really necessary to squeeze in a one-day trip to Bratislava, during which time we did absolutely nothing but walk through some streets, go to Tesco and go into a museum full of objects made of wire? No, it wasn’t.
What did we really take from that day, other than being able to say we’ve been to Slovakia? Nothing. Absolutely nothing.
I mean, I don’t even have any significant photos of our time there. If you check out my Countries page, I had to use a tree for Slovakia because I just don’t have anything else. And I don’t even know if it’s a Slovakian tree!
Just a few weeks after getting back from that trip I went to Jordan for 8 days, and after the mad rush of those three weeks, it was honestly such a breath of fresh air to be able to focus all of my energy, attention and time on one single country, if only for a short few days. Although I was barely there a week, that trip and that country had so much more of an impact on me than any of those I visited in Europe.
This brings me to my most recent couple of trips.
Firstly, the one that has occupied almost the whole of 2016 and most of my bank account – my mammoth eight-month trip around the world which saw me take in a whopping fifteen countries, thirteen of which I visited in the space of just four months.
You’d think I would have learnt from my Eurotrip that it’s quality over quantity but apparently not. Although to be fair I do remember every single country I visited this time around, I also understand that four days in Argentina just isn’t enough to do the country justice.
Following this was four days in Riga which, just like my trip to Jordan has made me truly appreciate slow travel, sticking in one place and really getting to know it as opposed to flitting from country to country like some sort of mad bumblebee.
So as I already said, I have been to 33 countries.
To some that’s a pretty incredible figure, whereas to others it’s peanuts.
Within the world of travel blogging and ‘influencing’ or whatever you call it, there’s a lot of pressure to go to as many places as you can.
There are a lot of travel bloggers/influencers/call them what you will out there who proudly display “45 countries & counting” or “112/196” on their Instagram or blog Bios. And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. But should it really be a race?
Don’t get me wrong, I would absolutely love to one day be able to say that I’m a proud member of the exclusive ‘I’ve been to every country in the world’ club. I mean, how incredible would that be?!
And to be honest it’s actually a pretty attainable lifetime goal to have! I have one of the best passports to travel with, and am only 24 so there’s plenty of time to get to the 160 or so countries that are missing off of my Scratch Map.
But the thing is, I don’t just want to go to a place for the sake of being able to say I went there. I don’t want countries to become nothing but a blob on the map. I don’t want some of the most incredibly beautiful places to mean nothing more to me than another one to cross off the list.
I don’t want anywhere else I visit to end up like Slovakia or Luxembourg, where the only thing I remember is eating a bowl of spaghetti the size of my head.
I don’t want to cram umpteen countries into a 2 week trip just because I can.
When I visit somewhere – be it a city, country or other – I really want to be able to savour it, to drink it all in and truly experience life there.
I want to be more than a ghost passing in the night.
I want to notice the little things, to see more than what’s on Lonely Planet’s Top 10 Things To Do list, to interact with the locals and go off the beaten path when I can.
Because there’s a difference.
There’s a difference between ‘going to’ a country or city and visiting, really digging in deep and getting to know it.
It’s not a race. Or if it is, I’m not entirely sure where the finish line is?