November 2015

Visiting Every Country in the World: Some Reflections in 2015

 

By the time I completed my Long Trip, at the age of 27, I had been to more than half of the countries of the world that existed at that time. By the end of a Canadian diplomatic career that spanned thirty years, until the summer of 2011, I had been to all but eight.

Until my retirement, I refused to go to a country if I had to go on an organized tour..That continued until September 2012 when I celebrated my 59th birthday by arriving in the fourth last country, North Korea with Koryo Tours. In September-October 2013, I went to Turkmenistan, also with Koryo. The final two were Eritrea in December 2014, and finally Mauritania in January 2015. At the age of 61, I have now visited every country in the world.

It is a slightly odd feeling. When I first started travelling, I was very interested in going to other countries and the love of travel and pouring over the National Geographic Atlas defined the political world as it evolved over the last forty years.

Around twenty years ago, in my early 40s, shortly after my 1992-1993 Trip Around the World, I first made a list of those that I had not visited. Back then, there were 37 countries and seven territories left. A few more, like Montenegro, Kosovo, Timor Leste and South Sudan, which did not exist in the mid-1990s have since been recognized. Mine has always been a personal list  based for a couple of decades upon entries in the Canadian consular booklet “Bon voyage…but”, so my current list is 226.

The “tightest list” and most unambiguous list would be current members of the United Nations which is now 1993.  The Travelers Century Club and, more recently Most Traveled People website have come up with their own lists. TCC list 311. MTP is now up to 875.

At least for me, to follow these more extensive lists to their logical conclusion, you end up spending a long time on boats chasing after uninhabited or almost uninhabited rocks and small islands in the world’s oceans, something which while appealing for some, would add a distortion to why I enjoy traveling to new places.  In the end, it has always been a personal goal rather than a “competitive” one, based on a list compiled by someone else.

For me, the “country list” was not so much an end in itself, but a vague, if structured, means to an end. Perhaps that is the reason it took more than forty years to complete. I almost always wanted to spend time in a place and get to know it rather than simply arrive, then leave quickly to “tick it off a list”. It provided a National Geographic Atlas coloured sense of direction of what new place on our planet that i might consider visiting next. Fundamentally, it was the human connections just about anywhere that constituted the greatest highlight. For many years it has been quite enjoyable selecting the most interesting not yet visited country I could think of, and then go there when I had a vacation from work. During long winters in Ottawa, when I was working at Canada’s foreign ministry headquarters, taking a couple of weeks off to visit another new island in the Caribbean was a positive motivation.

I am glad, however, to now “retire the category”. Exploring recently opened northeastern parts of India and border areas of Myanmar, spending some time in parts of the Arctic and Antarctica, have been more personally rewarding as travel experiences than some of the remaining countries that I visited in the last few years.

I see it less as a completion, though in one sense it is, than as a transition. That same sense of wonder and desire to explore new place as well as return to new favourites, is still there. My curiosity about going to new places on our small planet continues and I hope and expect it will still be as fun and as motivating for as long as I have the health and ability to do so.

With best wishes to all who visit my website, and the best of luck in fulfilling whatever dream or goal that you set for yourself.