Doha's Corniche, Qatar


travel by numbers

playing the travel totaliser game


It's the travellers' version of keeping up with the Jones'. It's the question every traveller, trekker and adventurer gets asked and it's a staple of the traveller conversation: 'How many countries have you been to?' This piece is part rant, part appreciation because, whilst people flaunting their stats and numbers at you is so unbelievably cliched it's irritating, I can also appreciate where the desire to do so comes from. Conversations about the number of countries travelled to inevitably find representation on the plethora of blogging and travel websites out there. They take a variety of forms: world maps with pins, statistic bars, country lists (add them up yourself) or simply just the total number of countries written in bolded text in a particularly high-profile location of the site. In this competitive, commercial world where people want to 'own' things, the language of many travel blogs tellingly include words like "just 'done' Barcelona", "I've 'bagged' Bolivia" and "I 'owned' Burma". Perhaps there is a sense of greed in all this but, I would argue, travel totalisers are a natural response; a product of our innate human instincts to compete with each other and to collect. Some people collect stamps or fridge magnets. I collect countries. What's the problem?

Before I go any further I feel the need to confess. I have a travel calculator running on the homepage of this very site. My totaliser carries not just a country total, but a continent count, too. Excessive? I don't think so. I change it once on my return from a trip thus sharing my nomadic numbers with all. I also have to admit that I'm rather eager to update it; eager to add on that extra digit and that higher total. It is among one of the first things I do when I arrive back home. Other parts of documenting my recent journey on the site remain on-hold whilst I recuperate and get over the jet lag. But the totaliser must be updated! Perhaps there's an element of vanity, too. Who knows.


nomadic numbers leading you astray?

It goes without saying that, as with all statistics, country calculators or nomadic numbers or travel totalisers - whatever you want to call them, can be highly misleading. A digit on a chart can represent three years' worth of travel in a country - or, heaven forbid, three hours. Numbers can mask the real depth of experience and can, therefore, be questioned as a way of gauging someone's travel experience and knowledge. I must make another confession here, too. My visits to countries are often reasonably brief being, as I am, constrained by time and money. Both are a luxury I cannot afford. Shamefacedly, on a ten-day trip to India, I tried to squeeze in Nepal! Stupid, I know. My briefest stint in a country was my recent trip to Qatar - where I was in transit and purchased a transit tourist visa for 24 Hours. Whilst this is an extreme example from my Destination Chronicles, it nevertheless underscores the point definitively - I get the extra digit on my totaliser, but did I really get to grips with Qatar? Obviously not. To be fair, I never hide how long I have been in a place, preferring to be honest where others may choose to be obscure. Qatar, though, was an opportunity to see another place - and like all good travellers, you take what chances you have. Qatar was brief-beyond-belief but still, arguably, of some traveller value. Who's to say otherwise.

Whatever you think of Travel Totalisers, mine is here to stay: it is just the modern equivalent of the adventurer's backpack upon which are sewn badges from every country ever visited, just the modern equivalent of souvenirs bought and experiences had. Just try not to flaunt your souvenirs in conversation too often. Travel calculators: go figure.


An extra digit on my total: the impressive Al Corniche in the Qatari capital Doha. Brief but still of traveller value. Who's to say otherwise?




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