57(ish) countries in 56 years

(Updated from here.)

I have been fortunate enough to travel to many places. In fact, the number of countries I have been to has generally kept pace with my calendar age. Today seems like a day to reflect on the places I have been, in seven-year cycles.

I was born in Belfast, and celebrated my 7th birthday in Washington DC. In the meantime I had also been to the Republic of Ireland, Italy, France and Canada, for a total of 6 countries before my 7th birthday.

By 1981, we had had family summer holidays in Bulgaria, Romania, Malta, Spain (with a side trip to Andorra), and we lived for a year in the Netherlands with side trips to Belgium, Germany, Luxembourg, Austria, Yugoslavia as it then was (Ljubljana and Zagreb), Switzerland and Liechtenstein. That got me to 19 countries by the time I turned 14.

By 1988, I had added only three small countries to the list – Monaco and San Marino in our 1981 family summer holiday, and the Vatican City while inter-railing with my then girlfriend in 1986 – for a total of 22 countries by the time I turned 21.

By 1995, Yugoslavia had split up, giving me an extra notch for the earlier visit to Zagreb and Ljubljana which were now in separate countries; I’d had a Nordic trip to Finland in 1990 with my sister, going overland via Denmark and Sweden with a side trip across the water to Estonia (then still part of the USSR); I went to Portugal with another girlfriend, and then to Cyprus on honeymoon when I married her, which all got me to 29 countries by the time I turned 28.

By 2002, I’d added what were then the other successor states of the former Yugoslavia – Bosnia/Herzegovina (where I lived in 1997-8), Serbia/Montenegro (Serbia in 1998, Kosovo in 2000 and Montenegro in January 2002), and Macedonia, now North Macedonia (first visited in 1997, and I love going back – my favourite of the Balkan countries). I’d also visited Hungary, Greece, the Czech Republic, Moldova, and Israel, with a foot into the territories not internationally recognised as part of Israel. So that takes me to 37 or 38 countries, as they then were, by my 35th birthday.

By April 2009, I had added the three South Caucasus countries – Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan – also Russia and Ukraine, and the last South-East European gaps, Albania and Turkey, and Slovakia for extras. In addition, the independence of Montenegro (2006) and Kosovo (2008) gave me another two. So that takes me to 47 or 48 by the time I turned 42.

The following year added another four, as my trips to South Sudan (then part of Sudan) took me through Ethiopia, Kenya and Uganda. (I have never been to the northern part of what was then Sudan, so I get no extra point for South Sudan’s independence in 2011.) I went to Poland for the first time in 2013, and 2014 brought business trips to Iraq and Nigeria. So as of my 49th birthday, I had been to 54 or 55 countries.

The last seven years (especially the last three) have seen fewer additions to the list. I went to South Africa in 2017 and Latvia in 2018. So as of today, my tally is either equal to my calendar age, 56, or still one ahead on 57 if I’m allowed to count the Latrun salient and/or East Jerusalem. (I am not tallying the TRNC, or the Green Line, separately from the rest of Cyprus, for technical reasons.)

I still have not been to four European countries – Iceland, Norway, Lithuania and Belarus. I’ve never been to Latin America or the Caribbean, or to Africa outside Nigeria, South Africa and the eastern cluster, or to Asia apart from three countries in the Middle East, let alone the Pacific. But I hope I will have a few more years to put some of that right.

As I landed in Azerbaijan for the first time in May 2004 in the company of my then boss, I mentioned to him that it was my 41st country. He growled that he was roughly 100 ahead of me. I suspect that he still is.

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