One of the things about living overseas (particularly if you move between countries fairly often) is that you tend to travel alot and therefore meet a lot of other travellers. And in a lot of ways socializing with like minded nomads can be quite rewarding. Intense, short term friendships can be formed.
More importantly, information can be exchanged. Like ants along a trail waving their antenna and discharging pheromones, other travellers can be the best way to find out what is going on further down the path. The benefits of this enforced mingling with other travellers are clear, but the pitfalls can be a little more complicated. Essentially it boils down to this: the people you meet whilst travelling are often colossal fuckwits.
Get any group of travellers together — usually in some chai house in Vang Vieng — and the conversation will always go down a similar path. Sure, it might start with useful tips on the price of a Mauritanian visa, but before you know it you will be receiving an unsolicited lecture on where to get the best bhung lassi in Jaisalmer.
Next thing someone will say something like “well of course the first couple of times I was in Suriname it was AMAZING, but it’s so touristy these days”. And in no time at all someone else will drop into conversation that they once drove through Kashmir on a motorcycle. These stories always become a matter of one-upmanship. “When I was living with the nomadic salt traders in the Sahara…” “That was the time I was lost in the jungles of Borneo and was rescued by Sarawak tribesmen”. In simple terms, it’s a pissing contest.
These stories of adventure are an essential part of the travel industry. From the days of Richard Burton and Mary Kingsly, or even Marco Polo and Sir John Mandeville, it’s been self-evident that there wasn’t any point going anywhere if you didn’t get to tell everybody all about it. And there is no harm in that. Traveller’s tales are a keystone in world literature not to mention global understanding.
The problem is in the hands of your average fisherman’s pant wearing backpacker, or zip off trousered bird watching enthusiast these stories tend to be little more than boring boasting. It’s hard to make a story about a Sarawak tribesman tedious, but somehow most travellers manage it.
The thing is, when all is the stories have been told the usual way to adjudicate this contest of travellers’ bragging rights is by resorting to simple arithmetic. A race can’t be won by anecdote. You need numbers. And when it comes to travellers there is only one vital statistic. How many countries have you been to?
This numerical rivalry is currently a hot topic in our household (Of course I’m not excluding myself from this tirade against travel braggarts. As a contributor to a travel blog I figure I’m automatically quite high up on the fuckwit list). My wife and I are on the same number of countries — its forty for the record — but we have just booked a ticket to the Netherlands, a country already on my list but not on hers. I am about to be overtaken.
Luckily when it comes to accounting in these situations there are quite a lot of gray areas which make it possible to cook the books. To begin with, what constitutes a country and what doesn’t? Do we accept only U.N. recognised sovereign states? Do you get one point for the United Kingdom, or individual points for England, Scotland, and Wales? What about the Chanel Isles? Surely you don’t get a point for visiting Herm. And then what happens when you go to Western Sahara which is occupied by Morocco, technically administered by Spain and recognised by eighty-one U.N. states as the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic? It’s really quite complicated once you start.
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To resolve all this, a friend of mine (possibly just someone I met in a pub) argued that you should get half a point each for ‘the dodgy countries’. Up until now I have always thought this was stupid. But if it keeps my wife from taking the lead I’m prepared to change my mind. Even if it means I have to give myself half a point for Vatican City.
Speaking of the Holy See, I’ll end this post with a reminder that pride is a sin. Whatever your numbers are, it’s always important to keep things in perspective. Amazingly, for all the dreadlocked explorers and North Face clad adventurists out there, the only person who can really claim to be a winner in the race around the world is this guy…
Kashi Samaddar holds the world record for most countries visited with 218, including all 194 sovereign states. So next time someone is showing off about how well travelled they are, just think of this picture and remember Kashi was there first.
Living overseas and travelling overseas are two similar but actually completely different things. Your understanding of a place changes completely once you stay there, rent a place, find a job, make local friends. The series Gentlemen of Leisure — nope we’re not being sexist, simply referencing Norman Lindsay’s iconic Magic Pudding — is stories of Australians living overseas. Got a post you’d like to pen? Email [email protected]