How many countries are there and what constitutes a visit?

Usually it’s a civil debate. Sometimes just a brief, frank and cordial diplomatic exchange. Although on a few occasions it has gotten downright, dare I say it, territorial, between a few lesser intellects or overly patriotic nationalists. Blood is lost, and sacred drinks are spilled.

How many countries are there anyway?

I remember three such debates in particular: One, a marathon session in a dank and dark pub in Dublin on a rainy afternoon over numerous pints of Guinness. Another took place on a sultry and easygoing evening at the FCC in Phnom Penh. The most memorable one though, occurred though around a remote fire circle somewhere in the fabled Lost World of Venezuela’s Gran Sabana between a handful of well-lubricated fellow travelers from no less than five continents. All the debates start out the same…and then escalate to terra incognito from there: “So mate, how many countries have you been to?

And so, it begins.

It sounds simple enough. And to some it is. Yet for me, this has always been a tough question to answer. One that I’ve grappled with and pondered obsessively since my graduate school days studying the lofty ideals of international relations at the London School of Economics. (Maybe that’s my problem? I am just a pointy headed intellectual!) Whatever…there’s no easy answer—at least one that makes everyone happy.

1911 British Empire Map of the World…a lot has changed.

Why? Because frankly, countries come and go. So the study of nation states demands a certain flexible multidisciplinary approach: tribalism, geography, history, culture and geopolitics all come into play. Remember, it wasn’t until 301CE that San Marino became the first official “country.” Believe it or not, nation-states have not always been—nor will they always be. Personally, I blame the mapmakers for all the subjectivity and disharmony on this issue. That, and the revenge of geography; outsiders drawing those arbitrary boundaries on pieces of old paper—What were they thinking? Either way, it is political geography run amok…the world map is not settled. Remember: East Germany, Czechoslovakia, South Vietnam, East Pakistan, North Yemen, Sikkim, the USSR and Yugoslavia?

I still have stamps from Sikkim.

So, depending on your definition of “country” it could mean different things to different people: according to the United Nations, there are 195 official nation-states (including: Palestine and Vatican City); the International Olympic Committee says the number is 206 (including: Puerto Rico, American Samoa, British Virgin Islands & Hong Kong); while FIFA of World Cup fame has 211 associate-states (including: Taiwan, Gibraltar, Macau, Northern Ireland & Wales); and the International Organization for Standardization (IOS) lists 249 different country codes (including: Antarctica, Faroe Islands, Greenland, Guam & Western Sahara).

But there are more than just dry political constructs to consider, there are living people to consider too.

Think about this for a moment: It is estimated that there were some 600,000 self-governing communities (tribes) in 1500 BCE, and now, after 3500 years of social evolution and a few hundred thousand wars, the ebb and flow of scores of empires, countless rediscoveries, and more than a few national mergers and acquisitions later, we’re down to just 195 nation-states in the United Nations. We know that scores of unrepresented people’s homeland aspirations lay outside our strict nation-state definition; think Tibet, Kurdistan, Uyghurstan, Scotland and Catalonia to name but a few. In fact, just using unique cultures, as defined by languages as a yardstick, linguists and cultural anthropologists contend that there are around 600 distinct ethnic groups with unique “in-use” languages—over 230 separate languages are spoken by at least 2 million people each day—of the 7,102 living languages still in use. (Differing regional dialects reflect the split of most of those 7,100 languages.)

The many languages of Asia alone…

That said, now here’s where it gets hairy for us travelers: The Century Club claims that there are 327 official countries and territories to visit, while the Most Traveled People list 873 such possible unique destinations. Clearly, a broader working definition of “country” must come into play when one is “counting” their visits—as we are seemingly prone to do.

Here’s my take: Somewhere between the seven geographic continents and 600 distinct cultures lies the answer. Aside from sometimes contentious on-the-ground political realities, islands remain the biggest point of disagreement among travelers whenever the debate ensues. The exact number is impossible to count (While the Chinese keep building more!), in fact, of the millions of islands per se, just 11,000 islands have permanent residents. There are over two thousand islands just in the oceans of the world. Do they all count? No, let’s not get silly.

Out of the way and with no good restaurants! 

What about unique non-politically correct (at least today) places, breakaway and proto-states or unique territories and provinces? Examples include: Palestine, Taiwan, Kurdistan, Tibet, Abkhazia, Kashmir, Puerto Rico, Sahrawi, Somaliland and Scotland, among scores of others. Yes, they do count in my book as distinct and unique loosely-defined “countries”—sometimes within other “countries” by choice or not. I am from Ontario, Canada, and I can tell you that Quebec is uniquely different from the rest of Canada.

Finally, what about geographically disconnected (sometimes islands, sometimes exclaves), peripherally aligned to a “country”? Places like Alaska, Hawaii, Zanzibar, Kaliningrad, Northern Cyprus, Cabinda, Gaza, Musandam, Nakchivan, Temburong and Easter Island, to name but a few. Yes, they do count qualify as unique destinations to count as a visit.

So, 193 “countries” is clearly incomplete, 900 places to visit maybe a tad too high and I side closer to the 300 “countries” number, give or take; although islands remain my biggest point of disagreement with the “counters” I run into. To date, The Global Scavenger Hunt has visited 85 such countries.

The Global Scavenger Hunt 85…heading towards 100!

More importantly for us travelers than how many places there are to visit: What counts as an official visit to one of those countries?

Do you count layovers or fuel stops? What about driving or riding on a train through a country without getting out? Do you have to eat a meal there? Spend a night there? Have at least one interaction with a local?

My technical definition of an official “visit” is simple: You are there, two feet on the ground; there is no minimum time required for such a visit. That said, interacting with a local resident and either enjoying a meal or experiencing something is key. Personally, it is quality over quantity for me as I have aged and traveled more and more.

Proving it? Easy: passport stamp (a visa alone does not prove entry), transportation ticket stub, credit card or meal receipt, selfie of the traveler within the territory with some type of local sign or icon. Trust but verify I always say.
 
Just curious, anybody out there been to the world’s newest country?

Written by: William D. Chalmers

© 2000-19 GreatEscape Adventures, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Read More

Travel Personalities Right for The Global Scavenger Hunt

On a daily basis we get the question: What type of person goes on The Global Scavenger Hunt?

Curiously, interviewers, writers, travel agents and corporate mucky-mucks all want to know what type of personality, archetype or psychological makeup best fits our traveler profile.

It will come as no surprise that our hundreds of travelers have come in many shapes and sizes, of all ages and from all around the world. Mostly we have selected the right travelers for the right adventure—and we know that our annual around the world travel adventure is not for everyone (nor do we want it to be frankly). We have erred on occasion; and more than once over the years, ill-suited travelers took our Blind Date with the World. Although never a total disaster, and no one has ever quit the event in progress; it obviously wasn’t a good fit for them—or us.

That said, we prefer to accent the 98% positive side of the story. So, as we prepare for yet another lap around the world, we thought we’d try to answer that burning question: Who indeed?

We will quickly dismiss from our analysis the “not them” people: apathetics, novice travelers, worry-wart fear-based travelers, personal crisis travelers, endless complainers, social media poseurs and the cruise-only types.

First off, one of my travel-related pet peeves: Please cease and desist with the endless faux debate arguing the difference between traveler and tourist. One is not better than the other; and we are all tourists: AKA “a person who is traveling or visiting a place for pleasure.” A traveler is just a tourist “who travels more often or longer than the average” person, plain and simple. Nuff said.

Traveler traits are however another thing and they vary widely. Vacation personalities, travel styles, and interests differ among us all. There is no right way to travel. Travelers inevitably have different goals and expectations. But travel personalities can be categorized, if you’re curious enough and look closely. Here’s our down and dirty breakdown of the ten travel personalities and distinctive traits of people that are attracted to The Global Scavenger Hunt.

Enthusiasts: Are more laid-back low-stress type-B’s: positive, easygoing, adaptable, tolerant, flexible and open to new experiences. Usually cheerful, they are fun and enjoyment motivated; like to belong, go with the flow and are happy to be here. Typically, they are people focused travelers who like to share, play by the rules and are appreciative of their privilege to travel. Whether on an organized trip as a tourist or in a group setting—it’s all good to them.

Adventurers: Indiana Jones-types with good travel literacy. They are confident, curious, novelty seeking, grand escape-oriented, and DIY independent travelers who can easily make their own travel arrangements. They take public transportation when they can because they know that getting there is still half the fun. They love talking about traveling and are typically foodies too. Often spontaneous and last-minute planners, they love the sense of freedom traveling offers them while seeking out the unfamiliar. They wholly embrace the idea of taking A Blind Date with the World. (Many are reformed Buzz Seekers)

Explorers: Are usually intellectual, mechanical travelers; old salts with high travel IQ’s. Ever-curious, sometimes historic-centric (World Heritage Sites are high priorities), it is all about the journey and taking the road less traveled wandering off the beaten path— sometimes aimlessly. Slow and inquisitive travelers, many are members of the Circumnavigators Club.

Thrillionaires: Know the enriching benefits of novel travel experiences because experiential value, while not worthless—is actually priceless. They rightly equate wealth with passport stamps, friends made, and extraordinary experiences had. They are up for anything, anywhere, anytime; with high degrees of the O-Factor: openness. Always on the lookout for once-in-a-lifetime experiences, they possess a strong sense of self-curiosity and embrace change; they are site-doers and are always willing to trust strangers in strange lands. Nothing beats new and glorious first-hand sensory experiences—be they natural beauty or human-made. They understand the positive psychological consequences of having as many lifetime peak experiences as possible. (Borderline Competitive Travelers)

Offbeat & Highbrows: A mixed lot of creative types and urban sophisticates who are perspective-seeking travelers. They seek authenticity and gravitate towards the culturally-oriented aspects of travel: music, the art scene, history, museums and architecture. (Intangible Cultural Heritage destinations figure prominently.) They like the finer things in life. They embrace uniqueness and the unconventional that stimulate them to think in new ways. Vive la difference may be their operating assumption. They are willing to experiment, learn, and allow for serendipity in their quest to find the meaning of life…and their place in it.


Travel Addicts: Just love to travel and take a lot of jaunts; the wanderlust gene (AKA dromomania) is either a system glitch or a highly evolved feature. Travel is key to their lives: they work to travel, they live to travel, they love being on the road. More long-term travelers by nature, they are always eager and excited to go—to get away. Their travel to-do list keeps growing the more they travel. They don’t count countries—they count new friends. Often a loner, and usually with more will than wallet; they are critical and inquisitive travelers, wanders really, with a sense of unlimited possibilities. Like a chameleon, they easily immerse/integrate themselves in whatever culture they are in. (Often Contrarian Travelers too)

Contrarian Travelers: Love to travel but don’t like crowds, high prices or typical tourist destinations. (80 percent of travelers go to the same 20 places) Often carrying two passports, they avoid trends like the plague and go against the grain—zagging when others are zigging: traveling in the shoulder off-seasons (spring and fall); traveling to a region following a monsoon, hurricane, volcano eruption or earthquake; following a one-off terrorist incident whose subsequent media hysteria freezes other travelers; traveling where the dollar exchange rate brings good value, and flying on carriers that just experienced high-profile incidents. Bad news equals good travel prospects. Weather doesn’t matter to them when or where they go, and they usually stay in weird ass hotels. They avoid hot destinations—they probably have already been there—and seek out quirky offbeat adventures surfing their own wave. (Usually Travel Addicts)

Achievement Traveler: Competitive? You betcha. Bucket List-oriented with type-A personalities: hard-working, driven, status-oriented, compulsive organizers, perfectionists, rule benders who like to play games. Masters of the universe. Amazing Race-like trophy hunters and mountain climbers impressed by travel-related achievements and the bragging rights that go with them. They want to be The World’s Greatest Travelers. Usually country collectors, many are members of the Century Club. Been there, done that, what’s next? Borderline jaded travelers, they love talking about their travel war stories—though they aren’t such great listeners. (Older, richer and mellowed Buzz Seekers)

Harmonious Traveler: They are the virtuous serene travelers. Quest oriented, almost pilgrimage-like, they are looking for either: a soul-purifying personal transformation via cathartic spiritual enlightenment, or to make the world a better place with their own altruistic and nurturing brand of personal diplomacy. Travel is therapy. They care a lot, and are: compassionate, attentive, emphatic, responsible, nature-oriented, conscientious and somewhat mystical. There is spirituality in both the people and places they visit; and there is personal growth and healing to be had in their deep connection with our Global Village’s humanity—and it is their mission to discover it. Or, often, they just want to see if another culture is a better fit for them than their own. They subscribe to Gandhi’s travel is the language of peace ethos. (Evolved Enthusiasts)

Buzz Seekers: Passionate, creative, life of the party, event-oriented Hemingway-types. Adrenaline junkies with high-risk = high-reward mindsets, whose high wire activities make them feel more alive. Type-T personalities, who feed off the rush, the sheer audacity of their exciting thrills; and are usually, although by no means exclusively, male. They are travel outlaws who seek danger for danger’s sake. War zones—no problem. Seat of their pants travelers in a constant state of movement, they are gamblers and risk-takers prone to extreme physical activities…with more than a little machismo present. What you might think of as white-knuckle near-death experiences they merely see as just another thrill—another high; just another epic adventure perhaps to reinforce or enhance some perverted sense of themselves.

What travel personality do you see yourself fitting? More importantly, are you ready for a life-changing adventure?

Written by: William D. Chalmers

© 2000-19 GreatEscape Adventures, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Read More

20 Must See Art Pieces from Around the World: Oh, The Beauty We’ve Seen

Art lover’s of the world unite!

If you love art, beholding art…experiencing art; nothing is better than seeing it up close and personal. Having visited 85-countries on various editions of The Global Scavenger Hunt–we have seen a lot of art. The Masters, avant-garde, religious art, non-Western, aboriginal and street art. Mere words cannot convey the amazing, odd, moving, peculiar, shocking, transcendent, remarkable, sublime…humanity-inspired works of art we have been privileged to personally experience over the years. There is nothing like seeing the real thing, sometimes in the place it was designed to be seen.

And there is a lot to see…more than what is in any art history textbook that’s for sure. Sure, there’s da Vinci’s Mona Lisa and Last Supper, Michelangelo’s David and Sistine Chapel, and Rodin’s The Thinker, all well and good—if not a tad crowded to experience. But know that stuffy European museums are not the only places to experience incredible art; here are a few of some of the exceptional pieces we highly recommend you seeing (before you die–okay I said it!)…Enjoy!


Tree of Life
mosaic – Wat Xieng Thong, Luang Prabang, Laos (*)


Vermeer’s Girl with the Pearl Earring – Mauritshuis, The Hague, Netherlands (*)


Stone of the Sun
– National Museum of Anthropology, Mexico City, Mexico (*)


Picasso’s Guernica mural – Reina Sofia Museum, Madrid (*)


The Taj’s inlaid mosaics – Taj Mahal, Agra, India (*)


Windows of Metropolitan Cathedral of Saint Sebastian – Rio de Janeiro, Brazil


Caves of the Thousand Buddhas – Dunhuang, Gansu, China


Mephistopheles frescoes – Monastery of Saint Ivan of Rila, Bulgaria (*)


Windows of Blue Mosque – Istanbul, Turkey (*)


Rivera‘s The History of Mexico mural – National Palace, Mexico City, Mexico (*)


Klimt’s The Kiss – Belvedere Gallery, Vienna, Austria (*)

Mosaics of Church of the Savior on Spilt Blood – Saint Petersburg, Russia (*)


Madaba Map mosaic – Madaba, Jordan (*)


Zeduan’s Spring Festival on the River – National Palace Museum, Taipei, Taiwan (*)


Chagall’s  Opera Garnier ceiling – Paris France (*)


Orlando Towers – Soweto, South Africa (*)


Ajanta cave 17 paintings – Aurangabad, India


Huaca de la Luna
murals – Trujillo, Peru


Windows of La Sagrada Familia – Barcelona, Spain (*)


East Side Gallery – Berlin, Germany

…and the list goes on and on of course.

Come with us and see what beauty you will experience…

What are some of your favorite pieces of global art that truly move you?

Written by: William D. Chalmers
© 2000-19 GreatEscape Adventures, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Read More