When can you say you’ve been to a country?
Can you say you have been to a country if you only spent a few hours in one of its cities? Changing planes at international airports doesn’t count (of course), but what about a weekend or day trip to one place? Technically you can, but do you?
I was thinking about this question when filling in one of those where have you been maps that you might have seen doing the rounds.
I had a go at one of these maps when someone sent me a link, and I found that large countries lit up because I had been to one of its cities. I felt like a British colonial cartographer, trying to shade the world red.
[British Empire Map (from wikipedia.org]
I wasn’t going count some countries, but then I thought I should just to illustrate this train of thought. This is the map of the world of the countries that I’ve technically been to. (This map of Visited Countries by VirtualTourist).
Notice how all of Turkey is coloured in. I did a day trip from Rhodes in Greece to Marmaris in Turkey. Marmaris has a large expat beach scene and the 4 hours I was there didn’t really feel like Turkey.
I once spent a weekend in Mexico at Puerto Penasco (Rocky Point), about 60 miles from the US border on the Gulf of California. I went with some friends from Arizona. Rocky Point is a beach resort town and it is the closest beach to Phoenix. I didn’t feel like I was in Mexico (except for those mariachi buskers with oversized hats) and back then you didn’t even need a passport to go there. So when I’m asked if I have been to Mexico I usually say no. I guess you could say I’ve been there, but I haven’t done it.
I have been to the capitals of every Scandinavian country but I have never seen the Fjords of Norway or the Wilderness of Lapland, so I don’t usually say I’ve been to Norway or Sweden either. I have though beaten myself with birch branches in a sauna in a small town in Finland, so I don’t beat myself up about that one and proclaim Finland as done.
With these sorts of maps at least they break down the states and territories of the US and Canada. Even so, some of these areas can be vast. The territory of Ontario has been lit up on my map because of a weekend I spent, mostly indoors, at a convention in Toronto.
I have lived in a few different countries and I have found my preference is to base myself in one place and get to know a country. I feel confident in saying that I have done England, Ireland, Switzerland and Hungary.
Australia is my home country so I have to say I’ve been there but so far I have only done the East Coast.
Another question to ponder is if say you have been to a country when it was known as something else or part of another country.
Serbia is a good recent example of this. In 1991 Serbia was part of Yugoslavia. Since then Yugoslavia gradually split up to become Croatia, Slovenia, Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and the Republic of Macedonia, leaving just Serbia and Montenegro in 2003.
In 2006 Montenegro voted to end its union with Serbia and become a separate country, thus adding another nation to the world tally.
In 2008 the region of Kosovo in Southern Serbia declared independence from Serbia, and they too proclaimed themselves a separate country. Here is where your country count gets tricky. Serbia has not recognized Kosovo as an independent country as it counts the region of Kosovo as a historical and integral part of Serbia. Half of the world has recognised Kosovo as an independent country and half of the world hasn’t.
If you are on a quest to visit every country in the world and you ticked off Yugoslavia before 1991, you now have to come back and visit 7 countries, or 8 if you count Kosovo.
When do you say you have been to a country?
Enigma of Bellevue says
Interesting point to ponder. Including stopovers seems quite inelegant. How many cities in which countries until you’ve ‘been’ anywhere? A wonderful topic for nomads to discuss over late night beans.
I have asked myself the same question. I have travelled a lot, but have also spent many ‘stopovers’ in airport hotels… do they count? I don’t really think so. I would consider a weekend in Paris ‘been there’… but a week in Boston hardly qualifies as having ‘been’ to the US. Interesting point.
Of course airport stopovers count. Box-ticking or not, you were there, weren’t you? I’m not saying it’s a good way to experience anything, but if you have been somewhere, no matter what you did or how long you spend time there, you have been there. Period.
Lasse, airports are international territory. So, if you have had a stopover in France, you have never been on territory of France, so you have never been to France. That is international law.
Reading your thoughts about when one may claim to know a country I must totally agree with you and Lynda.
It’s a shame I hardly have any photos of Portugal, France and Southern Africa, countries I thoroughly know. When I see people who have been to almost every major city of the world where they spent hardly a week I can only smile.
They think they know while not having a clue.
I live on Tenerife Island now where I know much. However, I am still learning more about it which makes it interesting for myself.
Erica Valentin says
right! I agree to an extent….I went over the border to canada once but it was only a few hours and i didnt do much …..so in my mind ive never really been to canada!