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  • Writer's pictureGunnar Garfors

How To Run Out of Countries

Over Kabul in Afghanistan.


I have noticed a clear tendency lately; More and more people want to run out of countries. They do, in other words, want to visit every country out there. I did so myself in 2013, and ever since I have been contacted by people that are doing the same. Often they want advice on routing, visa issues or travel tips in general.

An estimated 120-150 people have visited every country the world, given that “every country” refers to the 193 UN countries. Then again, not to count UN observers The Vatican or Palestine feels very odd, so most travellers aim for 195 countries. Leaving out Kosovo, Taiwan and Western Sahara, all of which are acknowledged as states by a dozen or more UN members, cannot be done in good conscience either – which brings the country count up to 198.

I really think travelling extensively is a good thing. Because nothing opens eyes to other people, ways of life and mindsets like travelling. And I refuse to let fear stop me from roaming this world, seeking experiences and learning to know, understand and appreciate cultures different to my own. Travel generates a mutual understanding like no other method known to mankind. In between individuals, cultures, nations, religions and faiths. I truly believe that this world will be a better place if more people travel, interact with each other and are open to thoughts different to their own. That can only lead to more respect, more friendship and more mutual laughter.

Here I have gathered answers to some of the most usual questions from people who are travelling hard to run out of countries.

1. Decide on your goal. In my opinion there are 198 countries, but many are happy with the 193 UN nations. Other people go by the nations listed by FIFA (211) or IOC (206). Then there are some clubs that rather count territories such as Travelers’ Century Club (327), Most Traveled People (874) and Nomad Mania  (1281). You will regardless have to pick your list in order to be able to run out of countries. Although you can of course run out of one after another, although you will save a lot of time and money if you plan everything from the start.

2. Do leave the airport, railway station or bus. You can argue that you have sort of technically been in a country even if you only transit through an airport or a railway station or drive through it in a car or a bus. Some people even count an airport transit even if they haven’t left the airport. Guinness World Records unfortunately let people merely cross a land border with ts little as a toe, which ridicules the concept of travel (but which makes it possible even for South Koreans to “travel” to otherwise closed North Korea). You will, as an absolute minimum, have received a stamp or gone through customs in order to legally have been to a country. But seriously, for all of the above ways of “visiting”, what is the point? I thought you wanted to explore the world and contribute to a common understanding of other people and the world. Then again, this doesn’t really apply if you are collecting passport stamps only, not experiences. If you do, please don’t call it travel. Call it logistics.

3. Stay at least 24 hours. This is, as this entire article, merely a recommendation. I have myself counted day trips as visits, but later regretted staying for such a short period and decided to revisit the few countries I had not stayed overnight in (I have now slept in every country). Again, I want to get a proper taste and a real impression of a country and its people. Even 24 hours is short for that, but it sure as hell beats 90 minutes. I usually feel that I am getting to know a country to a certain extent after three days.

4. Make sure you have stories to tell. This is first of all for yourself, so that you feel that you have done something in a country. But also in order to have at least one experience to share from each and every country. Because, believe me, you will get questions about every country in the world. It is a bit embarrassing to only be able to tell about the duty-free shop, or the lack of one, in the airport.

5. Don’t only hang out with fellow travellers. A lot of people take gap years or travel extensively for months on end, yet they never speak to locals in the countries they visit (perhaps with the exception of check-in personell, waiters and receptionists). It is understandable as you will meet so many interesting people on your travels, and many will travel with someone

6. Go solo. I don’t necessarily mean all the time. You may after all not want to leave your better half or your friends for days or weeks, but at least for a few hours now and then. The main reason for this is that travelling in a group easily can send a signal to the rest of the world that you do not want to be disturbed. It is so much easier to get in touch with other travellers and locals when travelling on your own, even if only for an afternoon.

7. Speak to locals. They know the area you are in much better than any guidebook author. There may be language difficulties, but do not let that stop you. There will usually be someone around that can translate. If not, sign language, drawings and smiles are a pretty good start. And if the first local you approach is too shy to interact, try again with the next.

8. Don’t be a sheep, see something unusual. Yes, The Little Mermaid in Copenhagen, the pyramids in Giza and The Eiffel Tower in Paris are all nice, but not exactly original. Find somewhere more exciting and unique. There will be less or none tourists, you are much less likely to be ripped off and you will actually see something that most others haven’t. Dare be different and seek your own paths.

9. Don’t rely 100 % on guidebooks. Guidebooks can be great tools, many people will never travel anywhere without one. But think about it, that book was out of date the day after it was printed, not to mention a year, three or five later. It was also written by someone who passed through the area in a very short amount of time, someone who doesn’t necessarily share your interests. And “all” the other travellers read the same guidebook, which means that you might easily end up on a touristy path. Which again increases the likelihood of being ripped off. The restaurant owners who suddenly find herself in a popular guidebook doesn’t need to be a part-time brain surgeon to find it useful to increase prices due to increases traveller traffic. You may of course be able to afford that price hike, but locals are often less likely to do so and will go elsewhere. Which means that you will end up in a restaurant with no locals, only fellow tourists.

10. Eat local food. Come on, it is probably the most distinct part of most cultures. Just follow normal precautions to decrease the risk of food poisoning.


11. Take photographs in every country. This is probably needless to say after the “invention” of the selfie, but nevertheless. Photos are great as evidence. Not that you need to prove yourself to any greater authority (unless you are trying to break a world record), but they work brilliantly as souvenirs too and beat fridge magnets by a mile. And don’t forget to also take photos without you in them. To remember those incredible sights you will come across.

12. Travel with hand-luggage only. You will thank me forever.

13. Be humble, respectful and polite. You are only a visitor. Please do not lecture people over their beliefs, cultures or dress codes. Never forget that your country or your way of behaviour is not superiour to theirs. Shithole countries do not exist. Only shitty behaviour and shithead individuals.

14. Experience each country. I mean, you really do not want to be glued to your phone or laptop most of the time. You may of course have to rebook tickets or plan your next destination, but please don’t sacrifice all the time you have somewhere to do that.

15. Don’t plan your trip to death. You are on holiday, remember. To decide on what to do somewhere you haven’t even been yet doesn’t make much sense. Chances are the places aren’t like you expected, that prices are much lower when you get there and/or that you will receive far better recommendations of what to do by locals after you have arrived.

16. Apply for a second passport. Many countries allow this, as long as you can prove that you need it. A letter from yourself or your employer is often needed. A second passport enables you to travel even when your other passport is stuck in some consulate or ambassy for weeks, awaiting an essential visa.

17. Be aware of each country’s borders. Some avid travellers will for instance knock you if you have visited Somaliland instead of Somalia. First of all, I think you should totally ignore such badmouthing, but it is good to know about such “controversies” in advance. Somalia consists of six states, Somaliland being one of them which is normally easier to visit than the five others. Most people do for instance not require you to visit all 50 US states to say that you have been to the United States. Other “divided” countries, with areas considered “easier” to visit in brackets, include Iraq (Iraqi Kurdistan), Yemen (Socotra) and China (Hong Kong and Macau). Find out what you are comfortable with and travel accordingly. The visa situations are also often different.

18. Prioritize travel over anything else. I do not suggest that you should stop hanging with friends or family or decline taking part in other activities, but most of us will have to make sacrifices in order to afford trips to every country. To me, to travel is all about collecting experiences and sharing memories. I don’t care much for sports cars, designer clothes or famous paintings on my wall (nor can I afford them). My journeys provide me with uncountable experiences and memories. As a traveler I have also learnt to to appreciate home, however unimpressive it may be. I have been in dusty towns, on rocky roads and in salty waters and I think that I have understood why and how to smile because of the little things in life.

19. Make room for in-trip holidays. This is actually quite easy and can even save you money. You will often have to transit via a third country anyway. Stay a day or two there on your way to your original destination and do the same somewhere else on the way back home. You can then visit three countries on a holiday instead of just one. And you won’t have to wait for hours in the airport in between flights.

20. Don’t knock travel styles different to your own. Everyone is different and some people prefer to spend a week or a month in each country, whereas others are happy with daytrips. Make your own travel rules an stick with them. In other words, don’t write articles such as this one…

Sunset over Tripoli, Libya.


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