To Every Country in the World...
I don't know if I should thank Patrick or curse him for giving me that book. Or mentioning it in the first place, as I would have bought it right away and read it anyway. I'm talking about Albert Podell's “Around the World in 50 Years.” The story of a man who has visited all countries in the world. I devoured the book, albeit a bit slowly for my usual pace, in the first three nights of our Panama Canal cruise. I found the writing a bit tedious. Still, it was something I had to read because of the concept.
The first part reminded me of my African crossing 14 years ago and after that I kept reading the book with a constant thought on my mind: How am I supposed to do all the countries, how long it would take... Of course my main worry is Lara. Obviously I cannot, nor is it reasonable to take a four-five year-old child to war-torn African countries. I don't even know how safe and reasonable it would be for me to go. A white solo woman. An easy target for kidnapping. As if anybody would care about me but that's not how it goes in those parts of the world. Of course I'm not in a hurry. I can wait and hope that things will be different in five years time or a decade. The thing is, it may be different but that does not necessarily mean things will have improved. Life seems to be deteriorating in general from the point of travel. At least from my point of travel. As I have an issue with security and cannot really bear it. But again I get stuck at the same thing... I could have done this without any worry for myself had it not been for Lara. I cannot risk her, I cannot risk myself either, for her sake.
In the meantime I still have some easy countries to take off from my list or add to my list, depending on which way you want to look at it. We'll see what life brings. Podell claims he is the only one to have travelled to every country. I know a British guy has done it a couple of years ago without flying. I don't know how Podell did not find about him. Anyway, I may be the first woman to have travelled to every country in the world. But it may be getting much more difficult than what they have done as the world seems it's going to be splitting into even more smaller “countries.” I have also been considering to work around this dilemma. To justify this mission. If it makes sense. Or do I just cross it out as a senseless endeavor? You see, I don't believe in countries. I don't believe in such divisions. Why should I be after reaching a certain number that is determined by some capricious politics? There has to be something more meaningful to set out for a quest.
When someone asked me in an interview how many countries I had been to, my answer went like this:
“Must be more than a hundred but not that I’ve counted, I’ve stopped counting at 15-20. Years later, before my second round-the-world tour, I was curious and it was around 74. I do not keep count of countries I’ve been to. And I don’t like those that do :) Joking aside, in my opinion, someone who is not bothered with borders, who instead attempts to exploit the fact, is not a traveller. Is this a competititon? If you’ve been to NY for two days, are you going to count yourself as having seen America? The US is a huge continent. Lichtenstein is a country, so is Brazil. Or let me give you an idea with numbers: The smallest countries are Vatican (0.44 km2), Monaco (2 km2), Nauru (yes, there is such a country. In the middle of the Pacific Ocean. An island, naturally. 21 km2), Tuvalu (another Pacific island. 26 km2), San Marino (61 km2), Liechtenstein (160 km2). The largest country is Russia (17,100 km2), Canada is almost 10,000 km2, US of A is roughly 9,600 km2, China is just a bit less, Brazil 8,500 km2, Australia almost 7,700 km2, India is almost 3,300 km2, Argentina 2,780 km2, Kazakhstan just a bit less. So how do you justify visiting these places by just setting foot on one part? And how do you put Vatican and Russia in the same counting basket?
Albeit, let’s say you count Hawaii separately. (Travellers have a separate country list count.) There is staying two days in Honolulu, there is seeing five or six islands with Hawai'i, Maui, O'ahu, Kaua'i, Moloka'i... Or even all eight. Let's say you've been to all, there is stopping by the islands for a day, there is staying there for weeks.
Besides, a country you’ve been to divides in two tomorrow. For example I’ve crossed the Sudan from one end to the other. Now there is a country named South Sudan. Does that count as I’ve seen two countries or does it not count that I’ve seen South Sudan as there was no such country at the time of my visit? What’s the point of all this?
And what about countries that disappear? For example, there was once upon a time East Germany, there was USSR. If you had been to those places when they existed, what do you do? Cross them off your list and take your count down?
Apart from all these, after a certain point, it’s difficult to keep a count of countries. Think about it... For the first year in a babies life, you tell their age in months. As they grow older, it’s senseless to keep track of months. Just like that, I now keep the number of round-the-world tours I have done ;)”
How Many Countries Are There?
So just like my arguments, on the debate of travel and number of countries visited, two important things stand out: What constitutes a country and what counts as visiting a country?
The basic and simple reference to go by would be the countries in the UN. But then, there are countries like countries that are not in there. UN is a club. Which only sovereign states and only those recognized by the other countries, i.e. those not vetoed by the big five can join. If you want to be a country, you'd better get along well with the five permanent members of the Security Council -China, France, Russia, UK and the US- as they have veto power. Manny Neira has put it so nicely, so I don't bother to write this in different words and quote from him:
“To be recognised by the United Nations, all that matters is that a government hold power: it doesn't matter how it is held. Indeed, so non-judgemental is the UN that should a coup d'etat replace one dictator with another, after a reasonable delay to ensure that the new thugs are securely in office, they too can join the club. The UN doesn't ask embarrassing questions about how you came to govern. The currency is pure realpolitik: if you rule, you're in.
In fact, United Nations is a cartel for the world's ruling classes...”
(You may read the full article @ http://www.mannyneira.com/nations/imagine.html
Manny is one of the rare kindred spirits to me in this world, seeing the division into states as world apartheid. He wrote:
“When humanity has truly grown up, it will look back on the division of the world into states, and the restriction of the right of humans to travel, live, and work where they wish, as a kind of world apartheid. We will wonder, I think, how we ever felt it was justified, or even meaningful, to speak of a human being's statehood.”
I look at the world now and cannot understand how people see the way it runs as “normal”, how they do not see something very very wrong with it. But then, as Manny says, I guess that's because humanity has not grown up truly yet.)
As I mentioned in the interview, I had heard that there was a special club for travellers but the name had not stuck with me. I just knew you could enter if you had been to a hundred countries and that they counted countries in a different way. Now and then an article appeared in the newspaper saying some man had been to 200 something countries. And I thought “What?! There aren't even that many countries in the world.”
So now I found out the name. Travelers' Century Club. TCC works on the honor system. You don't have to prove your having been to a 100. On it's “Membership Benefits” list TCC asks “Why would a frequent traveler want to join the Traveler's Century Club?” and answers the question itself. “It's more self-satisfying than anything tangible” and the first item on their list is worldwide recognition and “bragging rights.” !!!
Well... The club was founded in 1954 and back then travel was not so easy as today. Consequently, not many people were travelling like today. So it makes sense in a way.
TCC counts geographically, politically and ethnologically separated regions as another entity. Like Hawaii and Alaska. Their count is at 324 right now. It may change over time. So better keep an eye on it if you are after country collection. They have more than 2,000 members. In 2012, nineteen of them had visited every place on the list.
When it's a competition, rivalries start. Apparently John Clause had been holding the record for “world's most traveled man.” Then Charles Veley wanted some other places included. I guess he wanted Tahiti counted separately too. -Even though Tahiti is part of the French Polynesia and therefore belongs to the French Republic.- Of course to boost his number count. People didn't agree. In 2008, before he died, Clause said "This title cost me six marriages, and I do not intend to surrender my sword lightly."
So Veley set up his own club. The Most Traveled People. They claim the land area on Earth is made up of 875 “parts.” They include islands, territories, dependencies, states or provinces of large countries, enclaves and exclaves. To me it seems more reasonable. Not reasonable in the sense of visiting all or making a competition out of it.
Anyway... MTP has almost ten thousand members. On their website it says:
Some travel clubs define "visit" very broadly, to include airplane fuel stops, airport transits, and surreptitious or illegal border crossings. Such arrivals are problematic for several reasons. First and foremost, from a legal standpoint, they are not valid. Without passing through immigration, across borders where passport control exists, a person has not legally arrived in a country. Even if someone were to enjoy an extended time in a country via illegal entry, acceptance of this as a standard would be an encouragement of illegal behavior, something this club is unwilling to do.
I would be willing to do that if I was to set up a club! I certainly would not count airport transit, that is a most ridiculous thing to claim if you ask me. On the other hand, if someone is in a country, regardless of the way s/he entered it, it counts just fine for me.
The second reason they give is it's being difficult to prove. But nowadays there is GPS. Well, even with that, if you want to cheat, you can give it to someone else to take it into the country for you and get it back. Whatever... I'm not interested in proofs anyway. I do something for myself, not to prove it to anybody else. (Well, I got married and tried to stay married just to prove that I could keep a relationship going but that doesn't really count. And it's been long time ago anyway...)
People Who Have Visited Every Country
Podell says he found only two people who had been to every country. He then goes on to say they claim to but they “cheated.” He explains: “They didn’t go to Somalia. They went to Hargeisa, the capital of Somaliland, but Somaliland is not a recognized country.”
If you search for people who have visited every country in the world you run into news like “Businessman spends £350,000 to travel to every country in the world.” An Indian. Kashi Samaddar. 55 years old. In the shortest time possible. 6 years 10 months 7 days. From July 2002 to May 2009. But then there is another Indian. Benny Prasad. Who claims the same thing. Did it in the shortest amount of time. 6 years, 6 months, 22 days. From May 2004 to November 2010. His number is 245 countries. Don't know how he came up with that figure. Spent less than 140,000 USD. He went around playing the world's first bongo guitar that he invented. Born in 1975, he was a suicidal youth. So this is supposed to show how your life may change.
“The youngest American to visit every country in the world.” Lee Abbamonte. He didn't do only UN countries plus some others, did 318. He is aiming to become the youngest to visit all 324 countries on the Travelers Century Club list. The record currently is 37 years 9 months and 17 days. But Lee is only 36 and has very little left, so he's going to “beat” that record. He has already “been to more TCC destinations at a younger age than anyone in history.” That's what he boasts of on his website.
Lee is the youngest American. Youngest person to visit every country in the world is British James Asquith who started in 2008 and finished in 2013 when he was 24. Ah, he was in no rush. His only goal was to do it before he turned 25. He spent £125,000/$209,000 and says he earned money by part-time jobs while travelling. Which doesn't seem so reasonable. People were legitimately asking where he found such a job in a bar or a hostel to pay so much.
The youngest hobby-traveler to visit every country in the world. I did not understand what hobby-travelling was. The discovered it was travelling while keeping your day job. Gunnar Garfors, a Norwegian guy. He was 37 when he completed that in 2013. He is all around the newspapers.
Then there is the youngest to have been to a 100 countries, albeit counted not according to UN but according to TCC. At two years and eight months. Lani Shea. Apperantly she also has a Guinness World Record to have been to all seven continents at about 2 years and 10 months. Then, Vaidehi Thirrupathy (even if the name sounds Indian, she is British) broke the record. She did that when she was 205 days old! That is less than seven months old. Of course, she did not set foot on any of it. Funny...
Chris Guillebeau claims he has been to every country, every country in the UN that is. He has written books, not about his travel but about making something a quest.
I also came across a claim that Maurizio Giuliano from Italy/UK. He has entered the Guinness World Records for having visited all 193 sovereign countries in 2004 four days before he turned 29.
Then there is a man who carried the cross on his shoulder around the world in 323 “countries” for 46 years. Etc etc.
What about the guy who did it overland? Graham Hughes- did 201countries... Completed in November 2012. But Guinness revoked it because he had got into Russia illegally and they did not wish to promote illegal activity. As Hughes had been back by land even when he finished, he could continue. So he got a visa and went to Russia again.
Reading details about his trip... “I did all of South America in two weeks.” Oh my God! Only two weeks in that gorgeous continent?
“Did all fifty states of Europe in two or three weeks.”
“Okay, that's fine,” I thought for this at first. Europe is not that interesting after all. But then he goes on... “I was doing, like, seven countries a day.” Whoa! You are inclined to say. You become aware of the gravity of his declaration. “Then I hit Africa, thinking it might take me a couple of months, but took much more than that.”
Hughes did it in about four years, then there is the Canadian who travelled for 23 years and then returned home in 2013 when he was 44 years old. He actually is the Calgary man. Mike Spencer Bown. “The most extensively travelled man in history.” They have to have such glorious titles.
What about women?
“There has to be a woman too,” I thought after reading all these. Yes, there was. There is. American Audrey Walsworth completed all TCC countries in 2009. Her house is full of furniture and artifacts she bought overseas. She even had a huge sofa, or rather a howdah shipped. If you ask what a howdah is, it's a seat fitted with a canopy and railing to be used on an elephant or a camel. She likes something and buys it. There are only two comments on the article about this woman who has travelled to so many destinations. Those being “Good for her” and “Too cool!” All the other articles about men going aroudn the world generally have many comments full of such admiration. I cannot help but wonder if there really is a difference between a woman and a man. If we are just overlooked because we are women. One author had sent her book to many literary agents and publishers. Not getting any replies or getting only rejections, she sent the same book again with a male name for the author and got 34 positive responses or something of the sort.
Getting back to travelling... Apparently Walsworth is the only woman to visit every country in the world and she believes she will keep that title, saying “With the world situation, there isn’t going to be another woman who’s going to be able to do this.” Maybe she is right, maybe not. There is a Global Degree TV. The concept is that travelling and seeing the world will educate you and to get your degree, you don't have courses to take like in university/college, you graduate when you complete the 193 countries in the UN.
Apart from a couple of complaints about how difficult it was to get a visa for some countries, I did not come across any expression against borders, the irrationality of visas, any proclamation on the unacceptability of people born in certain places being blocked to go to other certain places from any of these people that travelled to every country in the world. I wonder what they'd say if I proposed they join me. If they would accept... If they would be willing to burn their passports which certainly are very precious to them.
The Human Condition
“What I was doing while you were breeding?”
I came across this title while looking at books on travelling the world. To me it's a bit of an offensive title. I looked at a fair share of the book and did not like it. However, there is one part I found interesting. The author Kristin Newman says “A hateful little ex-boyfriend once said that a house full of cats used to be the sign of a terminally single woman, but now it's a house full of souvenirs acquired on foreign adventures.” Of course, this was a derogatory remark. Newman says “Plane tickets replacing cats might be the best evidence of women's progress as a gender. I'm damn proud of us.”
Well... I'm not so sure about that. Isn't there a truth in what the ex-boyfriend said? We, as women especially, need something to give our love to, to show compassion... (I'm not talking about myself, I just heard it from other women friends who wanted children, who had a cat etc.) Cats may be a form of compensation. Souvenirs, like travels, may be a form of compensation. But I don't know why people feel the need to reach conclusions to make judgements looking at these things. People travel, people buy things. It's not necessarily a sign of anything... It only shows they want to travel and shop, and that they have the means to do both. The husband just doesn't like travelling so she travels alone but Walsworth is married. It does not mean she is not compensating for something lacking in her life by travel. It does not mean she is...
And this doesn't only apply to single females. Why aren't men judged with the same criteria? The ending of Podell's book is cheesy. He gets married to a Russian journalist 49 years his junior. The caption under the photo says “I embarked on 'life's greatest adventure,' by marrying...” He repeats the fact, reinforcing it, the book finishes with “On 12/12/12- we were married in City Hall and I embarked upon my last -and life's greatest- adventure.”
I don't want to be cynical –the man may be interesting and fun to be with- but is there a way not to be? But do you need to marry such a man? You be friends. What is marriage for? To have children and to have someone to leave your inheritance to. Maybe he wanted to sort of adopt a child, sorry not even a child, a grandchild, to leave his belongings to. Otherwise what's the point of having all that you have? He could have left it to children in Africa, donated it to a charity, benefiting many more children with it but it's his money, he does whatever he wants with it, right?
There are the ultra rich people going around, throwing money in order to tick off an island. Spending three weeks and 25,000 USD only for the attempt. Apparently that's the cost for three attempts to get to Bouvet Island. Russian icebreakers try to take you there but there is no promise or guarantee. Veley sold his high-tech company and started marking off countries. He did 250 “countries” on TCC's list in three years. Some call these people dromomaniacs, i.e. people who have an irrational impulse to wander or travel without purpose, an uncontrollable psychological urge to wander. There are people who look up to these “most travelled” men, and there are those who claim what they're doing is inferior. Who is to say which is true?
The way I look at it is... We all have our own ways of dealing with the unbearable weight of being. That's it. Dividing the world into 875 parts may make sense to determine how much of it you have seen, but even when you have seen all of it, places you have visited will have changed in time (as you cannot have been to all 875 in a short time!) and in my opinion, you need to go again to say you've seen the world. There is no end to this.
I realized I'm not jealous of any of these people. You know, I sometimes look at photos of some person or a couple on FB or read a blog about someone's travels, and I am jealous. Then I look at my website, my photos and the places I have been, I am more jealous of myself. Because it certainly does not feel that I did all that stuff. Anyway, I'm content with what I have done so far.
There is no glory in the world apart from doing what you are here for, finding your call, being happy and content yourself, and being of use to others. The bread-maker working in the oven, the man sweeping the streets, the cashiers, the people who serve you somehow are all heroes in themselves. The real success stories are not about those who make it rich or famous, or travel the whole wide world, they are the stories of ordinary people.
As for visiting every country in the world... I don't know if I will set out on this mission... But if I ever do, it will be only to burn all my passports to make a statement to the world about the Earth being split in borders, to protest politicians about visas and immigration controls.
I will also make a call to all the other people who have achieved this feat. So that we can burn our passports together. I don't know if they will answer. But it would be nice even if I found one more person to back me up in this. Anybody to lend me material and/or moral support, to help propagate the idea, is more than welcome.