Travel Advent Dec. 15: Tiny Country Fascination

I have an unhealthy fascination with tiny countries. They’re adorable and I love their little egos. I’m fascinated by their history, how they were able to survive for so long and still press on with sovereignty. Why do the likes of Andorra, San Marino, and Liechtenstein still exist, and what do they even do? Why is Liechtenstein’s main export dentures? How does a country’s GDP survive off denture sales? Why do you exist, little Liechtenstein?!

This is a fun fascination but it’s also cost me a lot of money. I simply visit these places for the bragging right to say I’ve been there. I know that the culture of Liechtenstein or San Marino is not wildly unique from that of nearest cities just outside the borders, yet I still must visit and experience it. But it’s unfortunate because with that time and money I could probably delve deeper into other locations that are more interesting or worthy, rather than just checking another country off a list.

This behavior in general is dangerous, I feel. Even though I’m guilty of it often. Part of the problem is this consumeristic culture we’ve adopted around travel. The purchase of a scratch-off map may seem innocuous, but it influences travel behavior. When I look at my scratch off map, I see all of the places I still have yet to scratch and get a physical itch to go there. What the fuck is there to do in Yukon? Is it worth going when I could use the same money and time exploring more of my native Colorado? Is going to Monaco just to say I’ve been there worth going when I could go explore more cities of France around Monaco?

Certainly not. But my ego has driven me to take this journey to check off all the countries in the world. This is unreasonable and expensive. Rather than going to Burkina Faso, which I’m sure has some beautiful scenery and cultural experiences, maybe I could use that money and time to dig into Ghana or Senegal, countries that deserve a deep dig. But I have most certainly fallen deep into the consumeristic side of travel, and like butterflies or Pokemon, I wish to collect every country’s stamp in my passport. Yes, the cultural experiences to be had in those places are fantastic, but with only a finite amount of time and money, I’m sure my resources could be allocated to different areas. So I’m working on it.

In the past years, I’ve been trying to adopt the philosophy of traveling for people rather than the location. I will browse a country based on its couchsurfers, or whether or not I have a friend to visit there. This is because, at the end of the day, every city is more or less the same. It’s the people that make it special. I’ve never been to Oslo, for example, but I have been to several small towns few tourists visit in Norway, just because the people there sounded interesting — and I’m certain I benefitted from that experience over going to Oslo just for the sake of going to Oslo. So while I still want to collect every country in the world, I want to do so while making it the priority to meet the locals that make that country unique. Not just to be able to scratch it off my map when I get home.

What are the philosophies you use when traveling?

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