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25.2.11

Been There, Done What?

A place to accomplish the 2W1P in China.
A popular travellers' dilemma is: How do you count the countries you've been to? At the first glance it would seem the simplest question - just count 'em, man! But when you start to look into the matter you'll very soon notice different people have a very different number and kind of trip prerequisites one has to meet before the visit counts. Typically for many people airport stopovers don't count. Some of them might allow them as a visit, if you walk outside the airport building. Some say you have to spend at least one night or use money there, others even argue that if you don't remember e.g. your childhood trip any more, it can't possibly count. And then there's the infamous 2W1P rule which refers to the minimum number of toilet visits during the trip. I'll let you figure out the abbreviation yourselves.

It's a controversial issue, a mixture of snobbery and competitive nature of some traveling people, like someone has well put it. Some people undoubtedly are 'box-tickers', who choose their destinations so that they can visit as many countries as possible with the least amount of trouble, while others say you have to actually live there before you're 'allowed' to say you've been there. All-inclusive resorts look, smell and taste about the same all around the world - you can visit one without actually seeing at all the country you're supposed to be in, yet people tick the country off their list when they've stayed in one. Talking about senses, a Lonely Planet author Jane Ormond has put it in a very lovely way in an article that prompted me to write this entry:
I’ve decided I can say I’ve been somewhere when I can recall it in all five senses – when I can hear the subway, smell the bus fumes, picture the rain-drenched pigeons in doorways, taste the bagels and remember the feel of the dive bar’s resident labrador’s ears.
According to the discussion on the matter, you can also break it down to levels of being: At the lowest level you just set your foot on the turf. At the mid-level you see at least something, like you might on a business trip. At the highest level you plan your trip carefully, stay longer, experience must-see's and carry out your plans.

In my opinion, of course it is always the better the more you get actually to spend time in a place, preferably see more than one or two places at the time, talk to natives, eat local food and so on. But as soon as you start setting conditions to what counts as a visit, you're in trouble. For example, 2W1P is easily accomplished during a relatively short airport stopover. Leaving the airport? You mean if I step outside the building and walk around that tree over there it counts as visit? I find it intellectually untenable to create imaginary rules where you have to jump through a set of hypothetical hoops in order to say you've been somewhere, when the most straightforward and undisputed interpretation is binary: Were you there or were you not?

The person in this airport photo is in Vietnam.
That means that the airport stopovers count. Driving a car in Germany and crossing over the corner of France without stopping counts. Former countries count (East Germany + West Germany + Germany = 3). Train trip through Switzerland without setting your foot on the station platform during the stops counts. Walking around the three-state-boundary mark where Sweden, Finland and Norway meet counts as three. Laying for a week on the same spot by the compound patio pool chugging down Gin & Tonics at a characterless all-inclusive hotel some- or anywhere counts. Just entering a country counts. How else could it be? You're not anywhere else at the moment, you're there!

Sure, box-ticking and all the competition among some travellers might turn the discussion about the issue foul-tasting. If you want to compete, there's always the option to create lists with your preferred set of preconditions: countries where you've stayed overnight, countries where you've driven a motor vehicle, countries where you've got laid, countries where you've hopped naked on one leg a bouquet of daffodils shoved up your derrière while howling at the moon... But it's not an issue of competition. It's just a list of countries where you have been to, and for that the binary approach is still the simplest and most intelligible way to deal with the question.

1 comment:

Stu said...

I've found a geocache in each of the countries I've visited. That includes a very short trip into Germany from Vaals (NL), and a 'drive-through' of Luxembourg.

Visiting the highest point of each country is a more concrete goal, but gets pretty tricky in some countries!