There are many ways to keep track of the places one visits in the world. Here I list six options. I use five of them (I don’t use the FIFA list). My primary count uses the 193 UN countries plus the two observers plus Taiwan and Kosovo. I try to keep track of my Travellers Century Club locations, I mark my UNESCO World Heritage Sites on the post “The Best Places to See in the World, and I have filled out all my places on the Most Traveled People and The Best Travelled web sites. It’s all a numbers game.
HOW MANY COUNTRIES ARE THERE? By most accounts, 197.
There are 193 members of the United Nations (and 2 non-member observer states: the Holy See (Vatican City) and Palestine). Therefore the number 195 is too often used to represent the number of countries in the world.
There are 61 dependent areas, and six disputed territories. Places commonly confused as being countries include Puerto Rico, Bermuda, Greenland, and even the components of the United Kingdom (such as Northern Ireland, Scotland, Wales, and England) – they’re not countries, states, or nation-states.
Diplomatic recognition is clearly not much guide to real life. Taiwan for example, which due to pressure from China is recognized less and less (countries with formal diplomatic ties to Taiwan has shrivelled to around 23 – mostly small, cash-strapped islands). It is the one outsider – Taiwan meets most of the requirements of an independent country or state status – is not just a country, but a rather important one, but it fails to be recognized by much of the world, so most count 196.
Also note Israel, it joined the UN in 1949, but 19 of its members do not accept the Jewish state’s existence. The other non-UN member that can clearly be defined as country or ‘sovereign’ state is Kosovo. A third of UN members do recognise Kosovo, but the UN itself does not!
So UN full-members 193 + 2 observers + Taiwan & Kosovo = 197. Some like to include Western Sahara, Somaliland and other countries of questionable or not fully recognized status to make a round number like 200. It all depends how you want to define the word country. South Sudan, Kosovo, Montenegro and East Timor are the world’s youngest countries. Although another way to look at it is Uganda is the world’s youngest country, since ~50% of the population is under 14. By those rights Italy is the oldest.
However, no one really knows the correct answer and it is actually a very tough question since in doing so you have to define what makes a country. Apply on-line for visa-free entry to the United States you have more than 250 choices for ‘country where you live’. That is probably a pretty ambitious number as it includes Bouvet Island, an uninhabitable icy knoll belonging to Norway in the South Atlantic (for Penguins that need a visa). For Star Trek fans there is even a ‘Neutral Zone’, a diamond-shaped bit of desert between Saudi Arabia and Iraq that vanished after the 1991 Gulf war. That is the trouble with such lists. Places that are not real countries at all end up on them and places that approximate a bit more closely to countries (at least in their own eyes) may be absent. For example, the list excludes Abkhazia and South Ossetia, self-proclaimed states that broke away from Georgia with Russian backing. Just three other countries: Nicaragua, Venezuela and the islet of Nauru – recognize those breakaway ‘statelets’ as independent. Private-sector lists are just as odd as those compiled by governments. There are 242 ‘countries/territories’ on the options Hotmail offers from which you can register an e-mail account.
German thinker, Max Weber, defined statehood as “the monopoly of the legitimate use of violence”. That may be a practical approach but it doesn’t end the confusion. Somalia spectacularly fails to meet this criterion, yet still counts as a sovereign state. However its northern bit, Somaliland, has met this standard with increasing impressiveness since it declared independence in 1991. It has a currency, car registrations and even biometric passports. But only private firms such as DHL, a courier company, link it to the outside world. International postal service requires membership of the Universal Postal Union, which for non-members of the UN need approval by at least two-thirds of that body’s members. The African Union refuses to recognize Somaliland’s independence because it dislikes changing any African borders….. the debate goes on. Any attempt to find a clear definition of a ‘country’ soon runs into a thicket of exceptions and anomalies.
It is interesting to think that on the eve of the First World War, imperialism had reduced the number of independent countries in the world to just 59. The advent of decolonization was the leading cause to the dramatic increase in this number. In 1946 the number of independent countries was 74. In 1950, 89. And today 195, with the biggest increases coming in the 1960s mainly in Africa where 25 new states were formed in 1960-64 alone and in in Eastern Europe as the Soviet Union fell apart. Today many of the new countries are tiny. No fewer than 36 have less than 500,000 inhabitants and many are formed as a result of civil war or multi-ethic policy, which is the most common form of conflict since the Second World War.
A. MY COUNTRY LIST (I use 197 as this seems the most reasonable)
1. Canada. Born in Saskatchewan, raised and went to university in Alberta and lived since 1976 in British Columbia. Have driven across Canada to Nova Scotia but have still not visited Newfoundland. Worked in the Canadian Arctic five times in all towns west of Hudson’s Bay so have seen all the territories of Yukon, Northwest Territories and Nunavut.
2. United States. Hundreds of trips including 33 trips to the desert South West. 2008 – drove entire west coast. 2008-09 – drove camper down Eastern Seaboard through Boston, NYC, Washington DC, Skyline Drive and Appalacians, Georgia, Florida to Key West and Dry Tortugas. Returned via New Orleans, Texas, New Mexico, Utah.
3. Mexico. 1980 Mexico City and climbed Popacetepetal.
2007-08: Baja Mexico to Cabo San Lucas.
2008-09: drove down west coast to Yucatan, 3 big trips inland and up Gulf coast.
4. Cuba. Old Havana, north coast resort, Trinidad
5. New Zealand. 2009-10 – 4 1/2 months, did all nine great walks, 10 day kayaking trip and saw just about everything.
6. Guatemala 2009 (Flores and Tical), fall 2009: Guatemala City, Lake Atitlan, Antigua
7. Honduras. Fall 2009: Copan, Utilla, Bay Islands.
8. Nicaragra. Grenada
9. Costa Rica. Fall, 2009 Fortuna, Monte Verde, Corcovado NP.
10. Panama. Panama City,
11. El Salvador
13. Belize. 2011 Belize City, Caye Cauker, sail to Placentia, kayak Glovers Caye, San Ignatio area
14. France. Paris, Chemin de St Jacque (750 kms Le Puy to St Jean Pied de Port)
15. Spain. 2011 Camino de Santiago (850 kms Pyrennes to Santiago), 6300 km road trip to everywhere.
16. Portugal. 2011 road trip through south
17. Andorra. 2011 drove through in one day
18. Colombia. Fall 2011. Almost every city except Cali
19. Ecuador. Dec, 2011. Quito, Banos, Cuenca, Galapagos Islands
20. Peru. Archaeology N coast, Cordilla Blanca, Nasca, Arequippa and Colca Canyon, Cusco, Maccu Piccu,
21. Bolivia. Lake Titicaca, La Paz, Pampas and jungle, Oruno carnival, Potosi, Tupiza, Uyuni salt flats
23. Chili. 1995: Buenos Aires, South lakes to Puerto Montt, Patagonia – Torres del Paine, Ushuia and Tierra del Fuego.
2012: San Pedro de Atacama, Valpariso, Santiago, Easter Island, south Lake district
24. Argentina. 1995: Barriloche, Perito Moreno Glacier, Fitzroy. 2012: Buenos Aires, Iguazu Falls.
25. Uraguay. Colonia, Montevideo,
26. Brazil. Pantanel, Isla Grande, Rio de Janeiro, plus much more
27. Venezuela. Angel Falls, Roraima
28. Nepal. 2012: Kathmandu, 28 day trek across south side of Annapurnas, Chitwan, Lumbini, all 7 World Heritage Sites
29. India. 2012-13: 4 months went almost everywhere except Kashmir, Ladach, NE states
30. Sri Lanka 2013: 20 days, everywhere but extreme north, all 8 World Heritage Sites
31. Maldives 2013: 7 days snorkelling and diving, Male
32. Singapore. April 2013
33. Malaysia. April 2013: Kuala Lumpur, Cameron Highlands, Perhentian, Penang, Feb 2014: Sabah
34. Bhutan. November 2013:
35, Myanmar. November 2013: Yangon, Inle, Mandalay, Bhamo, Began, Golden Rock, diving Mergui Archipelago
36. Thailand. November, December 2013: Bangkok, South Islands, Ayuthaya, Kanchipuri, Sokathai, Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai
37. Laos. December 2013: Luang Namtha, Luang Prabang, Ponsavan, Viantiene, Khon Lo Caves, 4000 Islands
38. Cambodia. December, January 2014: Temples of Angkor/Siem Reap, Phenom Penh
39. Vietnam. January 2014: Ho Chi Minh City, Na Trang, Hoi An, Hui, Phong Na, Halong Bay, Hanoi
40. Philippines. Jan, Feb 2014: Manila, Luzon, Palawan, Cebu, Apo Island
41. Brunei. Feb 2014
42. Taiwan. Feb, 2014: Taipei, Toroko Gorge
43. South Korea. March 2014: Seoul, DMZ, JeJe Island
44. Japan. March, April 2014: everywhere but Hokkaido and Okinawa
45. Russia. Sept 10-27, 2014: St Petersburg, Moscow, Suzdal, Trans-Siberian RR, Irkutsk
46. Mongolia. Sept 28-Oct 11, 2014: Ulan Bator, Ulgii and the Golden Eagle Festival
47. North Korea. Oct 13-19, 2014: Pyongyang, Kaeson, DMZ
48. China. Oct 11-13, Oct 19-Dec 15, 2014: All of eastern China, 20 provinces, 23 Unesco sites. Aug 25-Sept 30: Gansu, Tibet (Lhasa, Everest Base Camp), Xinjinang (Turpan, Urumqi, Kyqa, Kashgar). Dec 17-Jan 7 2016: Zhejiang
49. Palau Dec 15-24, 2014: 28 dives from live-aboard including Blue Corner, German Channel, Ulong Channel and Jellyfish Lake.
50. Indonesia Dec 24-Feb?, 2014-2015: Java, Bali, Lombok, Flores, Sulawesi, Papua diving Raja Ampats 7-day live aboard
51. Timor Leste Jan 18-21, 2015. Dili
52. Kyrgyzstan Sept 30-Oct 5, October 19-23, Nov 12015. Bishtek, Karakol, Arashan Valley, Osh.
53. Kazakhstan October 5-19, 2015. Almaty, Astana, Karaganda, Shymkent, Turkistan, Sauran.
54. Tajikistan Oct 24-Nov 3, 2015. Murgab, Pamir Highway, Wakhan, Khorog, Dushanbe, Khojand.
55. Afghanistan Oct 31, 2015. Sheghnan.
56. Uzbekistan Nov 3-17, 2015 Kokand, Tashkent, Samarkand, Bukhara, Khiva, Nukus.
57. United Arab Emirates Nov 17-27, Dec 4-5, Dec 8-14, 2015. Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Sharjah, Al Ain, all 7 Emirates
58. Oman Nov 27-Dec 4, 2015. Muscat, Nizwa, Sur, Khasab.
59. Qatar Dec 6-8, 2015. Doha.
60. Bahrain Dec 14-16, 2015. Manama
61. Kuwait Dec 16-17, 2015. Kuwait City
62. Tunisia Jan 8-24 2016. Tunis, Carthage, Matmata, Bedoin villages, Jerba, Tozeur, El-Jem, Kairouan, Dougga, Bulla Regia.
63. Lebanon Jan 24- Feb 1 2016. Beirut, Balbek, Byblos, Caves, Tripoli, Bcharre, Sidon, Tyre, Chouf Mountains.
64. Jordan Feb 1-17 2016. Amman, Desert castles, Madaba, Jalash, Ajloun, Irbid, Umm Qais, Karak, Dana, Shobak, Petra, Wadi Rum, Aqaba.
65. Israel Feb 17- Mar 7 2016. Eilat, Tamna, Mitzpe Ramon, Masada, Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Nazareth, Galilee, Golan Heights, Haiffa, Acre, Caesarea, Tel Aviv
66. Palestinian Territories Feb 26 2015. Bethlehem, March 2 Janine, Nablus, Sebastiya.
67. Morocco Nov 15-Dec 1, 2016. Chefchaouen, Volubilis, Fez, Meknes, Rabat, Marrakesh, Essaouiria, Agadir
68. Western Sahara Dec 1-4, 2016. Laayonne. Not a recognized country, it has been completely controlled by Morocco, although this occupation is not recognized by the UN.
69. Mauritania Dec 4-9, 2016. Nouadhibou, Nouakchott
70. Senegal Dec 9-16, 2016. Saint Louis, Lac Rose, Dakar, Ile de Goree
71. Mali Dec 16-22, 2016. Bamako, Siby and Kamajan Arch
72. Guinea Dec 22-28, 2016 & Jan 2-5, 2017. Daboula, Tinkisso Falls, Conakry, Bossou Chimpanzee Sanctuary
73. Sierra Leone Dec 28, 2016 – Jan 2, 2017. Tokeh Beach, Freetown
74. Liberia Jan 2-5, 2017. Robertsport, Monrovia
75. Cote d’Ivoire Jan 9-11, 2017. Yamoussoukro and Basilica
76. Ghana Jan 11-29, 2017. Kintamo Falls, Mole NP, Kinte weaving, Kumasi, Accra, Cape Coast, El Mina, Volta, Whi Waterfall, Akosombo
77. Togo Jan 29 – Feb 2, 2017. Cascade de Wone, Mt Agou, Lome, Ancho, Togoville
78. Benin Feb 2-5, 2017 Grand Popo, Ouidah, Ganvie, Porto Novo, Ahomey
80. Nigeria Feb 5-13,2017. Abeokuta, Lagos, Abuja, Drill Ranch Wildlife Sanctuary
81. Cameroon Feb 13- March 1, 2017. Bamenda, Ring Road, Foumban, Buea and Mt Cameroon, Limbe, Yaounde
82. Gabon March 1-4, 2017. Lambarene and Albert Schweitzer
83. Republic of Congo March 4-9, 2017. Point Noire
84. Democratic Republic of Congo March 9-14, 2017. Boma, Matadi
85. Angola. Cabinda March 9-10. Angola March 14-28, 2017. Moon Viewpoint, Luanda, Pungo Andogo, Kalendula Waterfall, Gabela, Binga Waterfall, Tunla-Vala Volcanic Fissures, Serra de Leba Pass, Lubango
86. Namibia March 28-April 14, 2017. Etosha NP, Odjitotangwae Cheetah Farm, Himba village, Petrified Forest, Damara Cultural Visit, Twyfelfontein, Burnt Mountain/Organ Pipes, Brandberg, Skeleton Coast, Cape Cross Seal Reserve, Swakopmund, Windhoekk, Sossusvlei, Luderitz, Kokmanskop Ghost Town, Fish River Canyon.
87. South Africa April 14-May 7, 2017. Cape Town, Robben Island, Table Mountain, Agulhas NP, Bontebok NP, Garden Route, Robberg Nature Reserve, Addo Elephant NP, Camdeboo NP, Golden Gate NP, Royal Natal NP, Central Drakenbergs, Kruger NP (Satara and Pretoriakop Rest Camps – saw big five in one day), Blyde River Canyon, Pretoria, Johannesburg.
88. Lesotho April 25-27, 2017. Drive north and east to Sani Pass.
89. Swaziland. April 29-30, 2017 – Sibebe Rock, Mbabane, Milwane Wildlife Sanctuary.
B. TRAVELERS CENTURY CLUB
Some may be interested in the travellers’ century club, an American based travel club which does count the likes of Wales, Bermuda and Antarctica (in-fact they count that last one seven times!). Their rules established in 1970 define 324 separate destinations as of Jan 1 2014 as being ‘countries’. Although some are not actually countries in their own right, they have been included because they are removed from the parent country, either geographically, politically or ethnologically (see their Territory Status page for detailed criteria). After consideration as to how long one must have stayed in a country or territory to qualify, it was decided that even the shortest visit would suffice — even if only a port-of-call, or a plane fuel stop. This greatly widens the field and will give the traveler a better chance to qualify for one of the most unusual clubs in the world.
If you have visited over 100 of these so defined countries and you too can pay a $100 joining and annual membership fee ($50-60) for your own self-satisfaction and a news letter.
Using their (somewhat lax criteria), I would be able to add the following territories.
1. Prince Edward Island, Canada
2. Alaska, USA
3. Hawaiian Islands, USA
4. Easter Island, Chili
5. Galapagos Islands, Ecuador
6. Gibraltar, Britain
7. Andaman Islands, India
8. Sabah, Malaysia
9. Siberia, East Russia
10. Jeju Island, South Korea
12. Hong Kong
14. Irian Jaya (Papua, Indonesia)
15. Lesser Sundra Islands (Bali, Timor, Indonesia)
16. Sulawesi, Indonesia.
C. MEMBERS COUNTRIES OF FIFA
Avid football fans have made seeing football games in all FIFA member states their “country” goal. There are about 500 Germans and a few British in this loosely affiliated “club” and most know each other. One well advertised traveler visited 207 “countries” in 3 years (and didn’t fly to any of them) and became famous. I always wondered what his 207 countries were but they were FIFA states. The German man with the most FIFA countries has 180, the fellow I talked to had 129.
In total, FIFA recognizes 209 national associations and their associated men’s national teams as well as 129 women’s national teams. FIFA has more member states than the UN as FIFA recognizes 23 non-sovereign entities as distinct nations, such as the four Home Nations within the United Kingdom and politically disputed territories such as Palestine.
Of the 196 sovereign states in the world, 8 countries are not members of FIFA: FS Micronesia, Monaco, Nauru, Palau, United Kingdom, Republic of China (Chinese Taipei or Taiwan), Kosovo, and Vatican City. 24 are not internationally recognized sovereign states but are members of FIFA: American Samoa, Anguilla, Aruba, Bermuda, British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands, Chinese Taipei, Cook Islands, Curacao, England, Faroe Islands, Guam, Hong Kong, Macau, Montserrat, New Caledonia, Northern Ireland, Palestine, Puerto Rico, Scotland, Tahiti, Turks and Caicos Islands and US Virgin Islands.
Potential FIFA members have been divided into three categories: 1. Independent states not in FIFA (Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Monaco, Niue, Palau, Tuvalu) 2. Non-independent territories (Guadeloupe, Greenland, Isle of Man, Jersey, Martinique, Northern Mariana Islands, Réunion, Sint Maarten, Zanzibar), and 3. Politically sensitive areas (Abkhazia, Crimea, Gibraltar, Kosovo, Northern Cyprus, South Ossetia).
D. UNESCO WORLD HERITAGE SITES
Started in 1972, this is the foremost international treaty for the protection of major natural and cultural heritage around the world. Today, 936 sites are on the list. Located in 153 countries, they include 725 cultural, 183 natural, and 28 mixed sites.
Part of my pre-trip planning is to make a list of all the ones in each country and mentally make a note of them. For China, I actually constructed the entire itinerary around them and also added several National Parks and some other “natural” areas. I marked them all down on a map and connected the “dots” with a highlighter. I don’t keep a separate list of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites I visit, but on the post “The Best Things to See in the World”, I do mark with an asterix the World Heritage Sites I visit in each country. I saw 31 out of 41 possible sites in China, all 8 in Sri Lanka and ? in India. There are over 1000 sites in the world. Not all are completely worth seeing – for example the ones in the UAE are kind of disappointing.
E. MOST TRAVELED PEOPLE
A website that lists 875 places and allows you to keep track and keep all sorts of stats.
F. THE BEST TRAVELLED
A website that lists 1281 places, register and start to keep track.
SOME OF THE WORLD’S GREATEST TRAVELLERS
1. Gunther Hollberg. This German man travelled to over 200 countries in his Mercedes G named “Otto”. How he got to all these places with the car is somewhat of a mystery but he had some German diplomatic connections that got him into places like N Korea with the car. He also told almost no one about his travels so was much “under the radar”. His travels are detailed in German at www.ottos-reise.de and in English at www.ottosreise,de/en/start.html.