I realized recently that, after years of being in love with travel, I had no idea how many countries I’d been to.  I sat down and had a lot of fun making the list, which of course brought back a flood of memories (most of them positive).

I finished writing down the last country’s name (Canada) and sat back.  My grand total came to about 40 countries.  Not bad for 28 years old, I thought, but was it even a good chunk of the “small” world we live in?  I did some research for official numbers.

Of course, politics and other complications play a role in the official number of countries.  The United Nations, for instance, has 192 members, so that number is often quoted as the number of countries in the world.  The UN, however, doesn’t include Vatican City, Kosovo, or Taiwan (which, interestingly, was a member of the UN and the Security Council until 1971, when it was replaced by mainland China and started its struggle for recognition as an official country).  The U.S. State Department recognizes 194 countries but, like the UN, does not include Taiwan.

Amidst different reports/political posturing, it looks like the best answer is that there are actually 195 countries in the world.  This number is of course fluid, as maps have changed and will continue to change over time.  Change might come sooner rather than later, as we’re going to see if South Sudan issues its declaration of independence on the targeted date of July 9, 2011.

So, after hopping on countless airplanes, trying different foods on five continents, getting deathly ill twice, and spending hours exploring foreign lands, I had managed to see a little more than 20% of the countries in the world.  Again, not bad, but that means that 80% of the countries out there are still left to be experienced.

I wondered if anyone had ever visited all of the countries in the world, and a quick Google search gave me that answer.  In November 2009, the British press reported that Kashi Samaddar, an middle-aged Indian businessman, had traveled to 194 countries in about six years.  My first thought was, I guess he didn’t stop that often for coffee or shopping.

I guess that’s the beauty of travel; even though the world is figuratively small, it’s also full of places to see.  I don’t know if I’ll ever make it to all 195 (or 196 depending on South Sudan), but if I do it will certainly take me longer than six years–I need my coffee and shopping breaks.

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