I’m confident that it would be possible, and not particularly arduous, to drive in a day from the Netherlands into Belgium, down to Luxembourg, zig-zag through France and Germany and end up in Switzerland for supper. If you were so inclined, you might even be able to cross the border into northern Italy before the end of the day. That little trip would allow you to tick at least six countries off the current list of 192 UN member states.
On the other hand, you could spend months or years visiting China’s 22 provinces, five autonomous regions, four municipalities, Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan and you’d only be able to tick one country off the list.
Clearly, visiting a lot of countries doesn’t necessarily mean you’re well-travelled, or that you’ve gained anything more from your travel experience than a gratuitous detour along autobahns, autoroutes and borderless borders. Yet it’s so tempting to try to tick off as many countries as possible.
I’ve been reading a blog written by someone who’s visited 134 countries and plans to complete the set in the next few years. I’m envious. But I’m going to try to resist that ‘gotta collect ’em all’ attitude as I plan my route through south-east Asia. I suppose it’s not so hard, really – I’ve visited fewer than 10% of the world’s countries, so whether I visit another 3 or another 5 is neither here nor there at this point. What will be harder to resist is my urge to drop by the Chinese provinces that I have not yet seen (see image, above).
I’m resigned to the fact that I won’t have time right now to see the big western three (Tibet, Qinghai and Xinjiang) but at least they fit together neatly for a future trip. What I can’t bear is the idea of leaving China with a couple of unsightly, unringed central provinces on my map. So, for that reason, I suspect that my trip later this year may involve a little more ticking off than I would like.