Issue #17 · To All of the Places I Will Never Visit

More likely than not, a portion of our bucket lists will remain untouched forever — and that's okay.

There are 193 countries in the world — well, to be technical, there are 193 member states of the United Nations, plus two non-member observers (Taiwan and Kosovo) which brings us to 195. There’s also Palestine and the Holy See, so the count is actually more like 197. There are also several dozen disputed territories in various corners of the globe, and while I am obviously a massive geography nerd, I am certainly no diplomat — so rather than open any geopolitical cans of worms, let’s keep it moving.

Whatever the number you abide by, one thing is for sure: The world is big, and no one single person can see every nook and cranny.

As of this writing, I’ve stepped foot in 34 countries, 4.5 continents, and 37 of 51 U.S. States/DC. Sure, that’s probably more than most people — I’m awfully lucky to have had the opportunity to travel, especially recently (28 of those countries came in just the last 2.5 years). But to be honest, none of those numbers mean anything. Even though many of us do it, keeping track of our country count is a completely superficial statistic.

You know those scratch-off travel maps? No shame if you’ve got one, I do too in a storage bin somewhere (and I haven’t hung it up yet because I don’t own any walls). But these maps are kind of silly when you think about it — you're telling me that someone who takes a stroll across to the Canadian side of Niagara Falls, snaps a few photos and grabs lunch deserves to scratch off all 9.9 million square kilometers of the Great White North? Now, I've never been, but I have to imagine that the Canadian province of Nunavut that reaches the damn Arctic Circle provides a slightly different experience than the I ❤️ Canada souvenir shop a half block from the U.S. border. And just because Vancouver and Québec share a Prime Minister (that’s mostly just paperwork), these two polar opposite cities shouldn’t be lumped into one single checkbox.

In a similar vein, I’m writing this to you from Belgrade, Serbia, where I've essentially locked myself into an Airbnb to focus on work before a big group trip starts in Cyprus next week. So should I even count that I’ve been to Serbia if *quite literally* the only interaction I've had with any locals so far is sheepishly asking “cappuccino, please”?

Sometimes I joke about doing a European Micronation Tour — Luxembourg, Liechtenstein, San Marino, Monaco, Andorra — just a quick trip to each one for good measure, just to check them off the list. But hold on — with the exception of Monaco that I genuinely would like to see, do I really need to spend all that time, effort and money to get to the others just to say I’ve been there? For bragging rights?! I don't want to offend any Sammarinese folks that on the very off chance might be reading this, but it just sounds like an unnecessary bitch of a travel day that requires several trains and a bus connection to finally arrive in… a watered-down version of Italy? (Someone please educate me if I am being ignorant and there is something great that I’m missing in San Marino).

Anyway, my point is — warning, it’s a bit cringe — my point is that we should be collecting meaningful experiences, not just collecting countries (told you it was cringe).

But I stand by it. Simply tallying the places we’ve been or doing a whirlwind daytrip across a border quickly turns things into a quantity vs. quality debate, and in my attempted era of slower travel (I’m trying, I’m really trying), I’ll always prefer the latter — after three years of this, there’s no doubt in my mind that doing a deliberate deep dive into one single place will provide a much more memorable, well-rounded and fun experience rather than skimming the surface of a few.

It’s not possible for every trip, but whenever I can, I love sinking my teeth into a place. To stay somewhere long enough to not need a map, to have time to make local friends, to determine a favorite and a least favorite café, to feel like I lived there, and to form such a tight personal bond with the place that I leave feeling homesick. To me, that’s what meaningful travel is, and it usually takes several weeks (and a bit of intangible magic) to arrive there.

What this means of course, is that unless you have a clone machine, you can’t do it all.

There are plenty of places on this earth that I will never get to visit, and there are several alternate versions of my life that I will never get to live. It’s a game of tug-of-war mixed with musical chairs — the pull to be everywhere at once while watching the opportunity cost of each decision vanish every time I book another flight. I’m learning to be okay with that, and not counting how many places I’ve been helps. Even so, as I mourn the places that will inevitably remain untouched on my bucket list forever, it’s important to remember that there’s no point in crossing the 197 country finish line anyway — because when it comes to travel, daydreaming about the unknown is half of the fun.

* * *

For the other geography nerds: I challenge you to take this Countries of the World Sporcle quiz — I got 171/197 (even with wasting a full minute trying to spell Kyrgyzstan). If you take the quiz, send me an email with a screenshot of your results. No cheating, Brad.

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Here’s a list of every issue if you want to keep reading!

  • Issue #16: Embracing the Blank Canvas [Sep 2023]

  • Issue #15: In Pursuit of an Endless Summer [Aug 2023]

  • Issue #14: Follow Me to Weird Places [Jul 2023]

  • Issue #13: Self-Inflicted Social Overload [Jul 2023]

  • Issue #12: Schlepping It 🎒 [Jun 2023]

  • Issue #11: Finding My “Next Thing” [Jun 2023]

  • Issue #10: Book the Damn Flight and Just Go [May 2023]

  • Issue #9: Choosing Your Own Life Adventure [May 2023]

  • Issue #8: Eat, Sleep, Write, Repeat [May 2023]

  • Issue #7: My First Month of Indie Making: An Honest Review [Feb 2023]

  • Issue #6: Ten Years of Making Money on the Internet [Jan 2023]

  • Issue #5: The Modern-Day Mission Trip [Dec 2022]

  • Issue #4: Ready, FIRE!, Aim [Nov 2022]

  • Issue #3: A New City Every Month: An Experiment in Change [Aug 2022]

  • Issue #2: Defining My North Star as a Nomad [Dec 2021]

  • Issue #1: One Year on the Road: Looking Back [Oct 2021]