Are You Well-Traveled?
I thought I was well traveled. Then I met Riza. She is well into a years-long quest to visit all of the world’s 193 nations (as recognized by the U.N.) I admire her pluck and tenacity, traveling (safely) even during the pandemic and visiting countries not on the typical tourist’s itinerary: places like Iran, Afghanistan and South Sudan. Last time I checked she was in the Himalayan Kingdom of Bhutan (“U.N. Country #181”).
Is Riza well-traveled? On one hand, yes, she clearly is. She has seen more places, tasted more cuisines, haggled in more souks and bazaars, than most of us ever will. Case closed, yes?
Not so fast. What makes someone well-traveled? Surely it is more than simply a raw tally of countries visited, but what exactly?
The other day I was at a dinner party when that very question was raised: Who among us was “well-traveled,” inquired the host?
It sounded like a simple question, a matter of straightforward arithmetic, but it wasn’t. First, we needed to lay some ground rules. Do airport layovers count (no). What about visits that don’t include at least one overnight stay (no). What about micro-states like Lichtenstein and Andorra? (Yes. To borrow from Dr. Seuss: “A country is a country no matter how small.”) What about nations that not everyone considers nations, such as Taiwan and the breakaway Moldovan Republic of Transnistria? (No consensus there.)
Someone suggested a sliding scale, with dangerous destinations (Somalia) counting more than tamer ones (Canada). This, too, was rejected on the grounds that it’s too difficult to gauge relative tameness and, besides, it seemed somehow undemocratic.
On the road, ideally, we give our comparing mind a rest and live, however fleetingly, in the moment. And that requires pausing for a beat. To travel well is to travel slowly.
And how does luxury factor into the equation? Someone suggested a country shouldn’t count if you only stayed at a five-star hotel there. She had a point. Five-star hotels go to great lengths to insulate you from the host country. It is possible to spend many days at a five-star hotel…