“Stop ‘collecting’ countries – nobody cares how many you’ve visited” – The Daily Telegraph, 2019. Ouch. It doesn’t take a particularly long time to have hurt feelings if you Google ‘country collecting’ or ‘visiting every country in the world’ and see headlines like the above. And even crueller posts on travel blogs. Particularly, if like me, one of your lifetime goals is indeed to visit every country in the world. I’m currently on 151 countries on NomadMania’s UN list.
And as you’re currently reading this on a platform like NomadMania, I can safely assume this might be a goal of yours, too. I suspect you’ll be used to defensive and often critical responses from some people when you tell them you plan on visiting every country in the world.
Mike’s profile on NomadMania.
“Well, what counts as a visit?” “I guess you just stay at the airport and tick a country off that way?” “What’s the point if you’re rushing through them?” “It’s all just ego isn’t it though, trying to boast about how much you’ve travelled, no?” These are some of the common retorts I’ve gotten in the past. No amount of pleading “I’ve spent years of my life abroad… In some countries I’ve spent months… It’s about understanding the world and different cultures” will seem to change their minds.
Is it jealousy? Or do these people have a point? Is our collective desire to visit as many countries as possible a truly worthwhile pursuit? Or are we misguided?
In Defence of Extreme Travel
Well, perhaps unsurprisingly, I’m going to do the noble thing and stand up for my lifestyle choices (as we all tend to do). I firmly believe that trying on visiting every country in the world is not only a worthwhile pursuit. It’s a pursuit that can fundamentally change your views on humanity and the world for the better and can even transform you as a person, too. It certainly did for me.
I believe this so strongly that I’ve written an entire book about the subject – The Travelling Ape: What Travelling (Nearly) Everywhere Taught Me about Humanity, Geopolitics, and Happiness.
For me, perhaps like many of you, the desire to travel and visit as many countries as possible kind of crept up on me.
I got the travel bug when I was around 18. By 24, I realised I’d visited 50 countries. So, I thought “I’ll get to 100 countries and then stop.” Not realising that I was a dromomaniac – someone truly addicted to travel – I naively hoped that once I’d reached 100 countries, I’d simply have gotten travel “Out of my system.”
Somewhere in Tajikistan
At this stage, surely, I’d grow up, retire my backpack, and live a stable and normal life like my peers? Alas, I reached 100 and then said I’d stop at 150. Then 150 came up and I figured I may as well finish them all. The pandemic and having a baby have slowed progress in recent years, but my goal remains intact. I now accept that travel isn’t a hobby; it’ll always be a fundamental part of my being.
Personal Transformation Through Travel
But is my goal just ego? Do I want to visit each country merely so I can boast about it to people in pubs and bars for the rest of my life?
Maybe, a little bit, perhaps. We all have an ego, after all. But mainly, my desire to keep visiting new countries is underpinned by the transformational impact that it’s had on me as a person. Growing up, I was naive and a touch insular. I believed stereotypes about nations other than my own (the UK). I feared that much of the world was unsafe. And that people in some other countries may as well be from Mars.
But as I travelled to more and more countries, things started to change. My worldview frayed at its seams. I began realising that all I’d learnt about the world growing up was woefully inaccurate. As someone who writes economic and political research for my career, I then kept finding that the countries I was supposed to be an ‘expert’ on, were quite different when I visited them for myself, rather than analysing them from afar. There’s no comparison to direct experience, it seems.
Mike at the end of a 10-day silent meditation retreat in Kanpur, India.
To Travel is to Fall in Love with the World
The great thing about trying on visiting every country in the world is that it forces you to visit countries that most don’t ever consider going to. These are places perhaps without your typical ‘tourist landmarks’, or which most people deem to be ‘unsafe’ or ‘dangerous’. Most everyone couldn’t understand why I’d want to go to North Korea, Iraq, or Venezuela, for example. But if you go to these countries – and so many others – what you’ll find is people almost identical to those in your home country. You might realise that there’s so much more that unites rather than divides humanity.
Despite cosmetic and superficial cultural differences, you might understand that most humans want strikingly similar things. And you are certain to realise that most people are nice. Perhaps 99.9% of humans are good people (it’s a sad fact that the bad eggs among us get a lot of news coverage). Far from being despondent about the world – as anyone who reads the news too much will become – my travels left me feeling that the world’s in much better shape than we’re led to believe.
Mike admiring the landscapes around Rawanduz during his trip to Iraqi Kurdistan.
Embracing the Good in Global Travel
There are problems, sure. Big problems. But my travels left me feeling these aren’t insurmountable, and that the good in the world vastly outnumbers the bad. Could it merely be a coincidence that most other dromomaniacs feel the same way? From conversations with so many others trying on visiting every country in the world, similar insights ring true.
Having seen the world for themselves, these other extreme travellers are often left feeling a deep love for the world and humanity at large. And with the spread of social media and negative 24-hour rolling news coverage, I feel like a bit of positivity is just what the world needs right now.
Luckily, you don’t just have to take my word for it. A research paper showed that trust in humanity was boosted by travelling to multiple countries. Its experiments showed evidence that there’s a relationship between the breadth of foreign travel experiences and increases in trust in the benevolence of humanity.
The study author added, “The more countries one travels, the more trusting one is. Breadth is important here because breadth provides a greater level of diversity in people’s foreign travel experiences.” (‘See everyone, that’s why Michael Richards has been to so many countries,’ the study author forgot to add.)
Algeria was one of the countries that positively surprised Mike.
If science isn’t your thing, why not take heed of one of the greatest travel writers of all time, Mark Twain? He famously said “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of man and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the Earth all of one’s lifetime.”
Why Visiting Every Country in the World Matters?
So, if you get pushback on your travel obsession. Or you read an article somewhere decrying the rise of ‘country collectors’. Just know that they’re entitled to their views. But that deep down, you can rest assured that travelling to every country in the world can uplift the soul. It can help you fall in love with this beautiful, awe-inspiring, planet that we live on, and its wonderful people too. You have one, fleeting lifetime. And this journey can be one of, if not the most, meaningful thing you’ll look back on in your final moments.
This, surely, is enough!
Mike in front of Buddha Dordenma statue in Thimphu, Bhutan.
Michael Mackay Richards – The Travelling Ape: What Travelling (Nearly) Everywhere Taught Me about Humanity, Geopolitics, and Happiness is available now in eBook, paperback, and hardback on Amazon. Search ‘The Travelling Ape’ in Amazon to find it.