You Can Tell Where You Are By Who Comes To Arrest You

Entering the Gerlache Strait counts as visiting Antarctica
Entering the Gerlache Strait counts as visiting Antarctica

I’ve found that when people ask me about my travels, there’s often some debate about what “counts” as a visit. Does it require setting foot on land? Being within one’s field of vision? Traveling a certain distance inland from the coast? Here I will attempt to clear up once and for all what does and does not count as a visit for anyone as lame as myself that actually keeps score.

What Doesn’t Count:

I think I speak for all travel enthusiasts when I say that flying over a country does not count as a visit. On my way to India I looked down across the breadth of Russia, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Afghanistan and other assorted ‘stans’, before landing in Delhi. In terms of sheer acreage I probably saw more of these countries than I did India, but in no way, shape or form did I “visit” them. So just because another country is visible, doesn’t mean it counts. The same goes with sailing some distance off the coastline (a.k.a. more than a stone’s throw).

What Does Count:

These South Africangame park rangers would have no problemn reminding you of what country you're in
These South African game park rangers would have no problem reminding you of what country you’re in

Obviously, if you set foot on land in any given country, you’ve been there–regardless of whether you are in transit toward another destination. On my way to South Africa, our plane stopped in Dakar, Senegal and we waited on the tarmac for an hour or two before continuing on our way. Some may argue that this doesn’t count, but I insist that a basic rule of thumb applies: You know where you are by who comes to arrest you. For instance, if you happen to be detained by Turkish Border Police, it is safe to assume that at the moment of your apprehension you were within the borders of Turkey. So, using this standard of measure, yes, I “visited” Senegal, even though I did little more than breathe in the desert-scented air and stare out at the dusty roads around the airport. I was there, and I know this because it would have been the Senegalese Army to throw me in prison if I stepped out of line.

Now as for travel by sea, I feel the lines blur a little bit. I don’t think gazing out at the hazy silhouette of Cuba from a cruise ship counts as a visit. But if the vessel you are on is well within territorial waters to the point of being in port or surrounded by the country in question–such as on a river cruise or enclosed harbor–or you can speak to someone on the shoreline because you’re just that close, then yes, in my book you’re there. How do I know this? Once again, just ask yourself: if I decided to commit a felony right here and now, who would come to arrest me?

As a case in point, when I visited Antarctica I never actually set foot on land. But at one point we entered a harbor on King George Island where we were completely surrounded on all sides by the snowy shoreline. At another point, we cruised down the Nuemeier Channel where it would only be a moderate snowball’s toss to hit the penguins and Weddell Seals lazing on the icy banks. We were not near another country (though technically Antarctica isn’t a “country” and therefore doesn’t have any police to arrest you) and there could be no doubt as to where we were. In fact, sometimes the proof of a visit can be ascertained by asking the question conversely: If I ‘m not in Antarctica right now, where in the world am I?

I hope this clears things up a bit, and I know others may feel differently. Feel free to leave a comment to let me know where you stand and I’ll be happy to post a follow-up with the audience’s thoughts.