Recently , I watched a puff piece about a young internet entrepreneur who had already made his pile at age 36. After showing off his mega-mansion , its rooms crammed with his possessions , he began to talk about how he loved to travel. Five more countries , he said and he would have been to every country in the world.His boasts left me unmoved. He seems to view travel merely as a way to keep score , to one-up others . All those countries that he visited — I wonder how much time he spent and what he saw of each . I am not jealous of his travel exploits. I don’t care if I never visit Somalia … or Iraq… or dozens of other countries that I have no interest in.
There is no point in visiting a country just to say ” I’ve been there , done that” as many tourists do. There has to be a purpose , a particular interest to satisfy . My friend Blair is keenly interested in church architecture and wherever he goes he makes it a point to visit notable cathedrals and churches after reading up on them . Interests don’t have to so lofty; one man I heard of has a passion for soups and every country he goes to he samples its notable soups. In my case , I’m keenly interested in food and I like to visit food markets and sample street foods in the countries I go to. My other interest is trying to understand the lives of people in other countries , other cultures ,and I spend a lot of time just observing the local people . This is more absorbing for me than visiting museums and palaces ,though I do enough of that too. After coming back from one of these trips , I spend time reading up on the history of the country (countries) we have visited and trying to cook at home some of the dishes we have enjoyed abroad.
I count myself fortunate that I have been able to see 21 countries, some more thoroughly than others. ( I don’t keep score and I had to sit down with an atlas to come up with that number). I didn’t include countries like Israel or Pakistan where we stopped in transit and I never got off the plane. I have only included countries that I actually stayed in for at least three nights. I realize three nights is not much time to spend in a country but one has to come up with some sort of rule. No matter whether one stays in a country for three days or a week or a month , one can never say that one really knows the country, particularly if it is a large diverse country like China or India. Heck , I’ve lived in the United States for most of my life and I can’t say that I know it. There are still things about it that surprise me from time to time.
Twenty-one may not sound like a large number but then I’m not out to set any records. These are the countries that I really wanted to go to.Most Americans never go to another country ( unless they’ve emigrated from somewhere else) . Those that have been to another country are likely to have gone to Canada or Mexico or one of the Caribbean islands ( on their honeymoon). It is not that Americans are incurious ; it’s just that America is so large. Europeans can travel to a dozen countries without going too far from home ;we Americans can cover the distance from one end of Europe to another and not leave America. Then again , foreign travel is an expensive undertaking particularly in these tough economic times. If I were to hazard a guess , I’d estimate that the median number of countries that Americans have traveled to is about ten , many of them done in a single “ If this is Tuesday, it must be Belgium” tour .
The countries that I’ve been to are as follows :
Asia: China ,India, Japan , Turkey
Europe : England , France, Greece,Italy , Spain , Switzerland
North America : Canada, Mexico, USA
Caribbean Islands: Bermuda ,Dominican Republic, Jamaica , Antigua, St. Lucia, Netherlands Antilles( St. Marten).
Australia , New Zealand.
I haven’t been to any countries in either South America or Africa ; the only countries that interest me in those two continents are Brazil and South Africa.
Of the countries that I’ve been to , the ones I’ve enjoyed most are Japan , England , Turkey and China ; Japan because it has always fascinated me and England because I read so much about it. We really enjoyed our stay in Istanbul and I’d like to go there again and see the rest of the country. China was amazing and we liked what we saw of Beijing, Shanghai and Xian but ,as for going there again, I don’t know.
There are some other countries that I’d like to go to before I re-visit those we’ve already been to. They are , in order: South Korea, Thailand, Vietnam , Ireland, Scotland, Singapore, Hong Kong, Barbados, Sweden , Norway, Holland and Brazil. It’s likely that by this time next year I will have visited South Korea as part of a trip to Japan to visit our daughter and I hope to make another trip to South East Asia in which I explore Thailand , Singapore , Malaysia and Hong Kong. As for the rest , who knows ? I’ve already seen more than most people do in their lives.