Yeah, I’ve been there! Sort of.
When globetrotting, you meet a lot of beautiful people who have been to a lot of really fascinating places. Without fail, whenever I meet fellow adventurers, we end up talking about where we’ve been. There’s almost a hint of competition to the conversations sometimes. Has the person I’m conversing with been to cooler places than me? Have they been to more places than me?
The idea of visiting and living in different places has always been of interest to me. But, what constitutes having been to a particular place and what constitutes having lived in a particular place? My roommates and I used to have fun little discussions like this. We used to joke about how we had “lived” in Trinidad for a few hours when we passed through the airport on our way to Guyana. So, here’s a breakdown of some of the places I’ve definitely been to…for sure, and some of the places that, depending on who you are, you may or may not count as me having been there:
The countries in question:
The first thing worth talking about, is when you’re so close to a country, but you haven’t touched it
Eyes on the Prize: Countries I mostly just stared at.
- Brazil – I encountered Brazil twice when I lived in Guyana. First, I experienced it when I went to visit a waterfall in the interior of Guyana that borders Brazil. This waterfall flows into a river that divides the two countries. I swam in this river and waded through it, specifically trying to find a spot in the water where I may be able to get across to the land on the other side. I didn’t have any luck, the current was too strong, but I wondered if the river was shared between the two nations, divided right down the middle. Then, maybe I could say I’d waded in Brazilian waters. Along with this odd encounter with (maybe) Brazilian waters, the plane I was on also had to circle over Brazil upon landing and taking off. I vividly recall soaking up the moments we were over the Brazilian grasslands and taking a hard right turn to fly back over Guyana. My second encounter with Brazil happened a few months later when I went to the town of Lethem, Guyana, a community on the border of Brazil and the only legal entry point between the two countries. It was here that I was able to walk directly up to the border. I stood right beside it. I even asked the men at the checkpoint if I could walk across. I took pictures with a fence behind me, thinking it was Brazil and then later found out it was just a fence and it was just empty Guyanese land beyond it. I spent two days glancing over at Brazil from Lethem before heading back to the coast.
- Suriname – For three days, I stayed at a hotel in Guyana on the Corentyne River. This river divides Guyana and Suriname and the two countries are connected by a ferry that glides from one coast to the other every few hours. There are also ample fishing boats that slide back and forth (illegally) from country to country all day long, but it’s not really policed. People just live on one side of the river and work on the other. While I was at this hotel, I thought about taking an illegal ride across, just to say that I had done it, but something about neither nation being my home country made me really uneasy. So, I stayed firmly planted on the shore and just observed the greenery of Suriname from across the water.
- Turkey – I landed at the Istanbul airport on my way to and from Kenya back in 2012. Although I never left the terminals, I felt like I was getting a chance to experience the culture while I was in the airport as Turkish people kept mistaking me for one of their own. Not to mention, I had a great view of the city from where I plopped myself down to wait for my flights. For 4 months in 2018 and for 11 months in 2019, I lived less than 15 kilometres away from Turkey and could literally see the Turkish landmass on a daily basis from the cliffs and mountaintops of the island that I was living on. At night, the city lights would illuminate the horizon. Not to mention the connection of where I was to Turkey. Almost daily, people sailed across the water from Turkey in search of a better life in Greece. The connection was constant, and my life was directly impacted by the country’s proximity.
The second thing worth talking about, is when you actually set foot within a country, but it’s such a small amount of time, or the experience you have there is so limited, that it just doesn’t feel like it should count.
A Foot in Both Worlds: Countries I set foot in.
- Costa Rica – In 2010, I went to Panama for an 11 day excursion. At one point, we crossed over into Costa Rica for all of ten minutes. Some of the students I was with even took photos with cars that had the Costa Rica license plates. The only thing I really remember about this blip of time in this foreign country was that there was a man walking around with a giant gun, supposedly border patrol, but clearly not doing his job. I slipped in and out of the country with no issue or second thought. The border was also through a store. I’d never experienced something like it before and I’ve never seen it again since. The place was so poorly policed that people literally walked in the front door of this store in Panama and exited through the back to Costa Rica. It’s actually pretty cool if you think about it!
- Mexico – For this one, I actually got a stamp in my passport. I was in Big Bend National Park in November of 2017 and my brother and I exited the park via the Rio Grande. We were rowed across the river and then brought to town by a guide. We explored this small little town for a few hours, ate lunch, and then went for a hike in the Mexican desert. We spent the whole day there. Neither of us had ever been to Mexico before.
- Bahamas – I went on a free, two-night cruise with my sister in 2016. The cruise went from Miami to Bimini, Bahamas. It was originally supposed to go to Freeport, but the city had just been struck by a hurricane, so we ended up just a few dozen miles off of the coast of the U.S. on the microscopic island of Bimini. We disembarked from our ship and spent 8 hours on the island. Then, we got back on the boat and headed back to Miami. We legitimately only had 8 hours on the island, but we were still able to walk the entire length of it. We explored the towns, saw some of the local activity, ate authentic food, went to the beach, and got rained on. It was a great day. We did all Bimini had to offer. But, it was only for 8 hours.
The third thing worth talking about, is if passing through a country’s airport terminal counts as having “been” there.
Airports: Terminals don’t count, right?
- Trinidad and Tobago – Flying from Miami to Georgetown. I had to layover in this airport for maybe 4 or 5 hours, my first experience in the Caribbean.
- Australia – After 16 hours in the air from Dallas to Sydney, I had half of a day to kill in the airport before flying on to New Zealand.
- England – In 2015, I went to Italy and we had a layover in London. When we switched terminals, we had to ride on a shuttle that took us from one terminal to another. This was noteworthy because it was the first time I ever rode on the opposite side of the road. Being a teenager at the time, it was also the only country other than Canada and Italy I could claim having been to.
- Spain – Dang it, I passed through Spain twice, once in Barcelona and once in Madrid. Other than a couple of “hola’s” from the flight attendants, I didn’t get much out of either experience. I missed my connecting flight in Barcelona though, so I got to have some fun trying to sort my life out in Spain for a few hours after that.
- Portugal – Connecting from Cabo Verde on my way to Athens, I had to spend 12 hours in Lisbon, many of which I spent outside of the airport, but not traveling anywhere. I just gulped in the fresh air from outside and relished how happy I was to have not been questioned on my way into the Schengen Area.
The last thing worth talking about, is if you just have a really out-of-the-box experience within the borders of a country.
More Ambiguous: Tell Me a Story
- Croatia and Slovenia – I spent a few days in Austria and a few days in Bosnia. I got between the two countries by driving through Slovenia and Croatia. It’s one of those things…you see a lot of a country when you’re driving through the entirety of it. Both Slovenia and Croatia were beautiful, lush green and mountainous from the highway that we cruised through them on. I didn’t love the border crossing aspects of them, especially Croatia, but I more less enjoyed the few hours I spent in each. Driving through a country is a bit more of an experience than flying over it.
- Russia – This one gets me. I would never get invited into Russia, so I certainly haven’t been there legally, but I did get pretty close, so much so, that there’s the chance I was on Russian sea ice. When I lived in Nome, Alaska in 2012 I got to travel to the village of Diomede. This little settlement of just over 100 people is positioned on the cliffs of Little Diomede, an island in the Bering Straight. Directly across from Little Diomede is the island of Big Diomede. Little Diomede is the United States, Big Diomede is Russia. The plane I was on landed on a runway on the sea ice. There isn’t any flat land for an airport or a runway to be built on, so each winter once the ice is thick enough, a makeshift runway is plowed out on the sea ice. Each year, depending on the ice, the runway is built in a different place. The year I went, the ice we landed on was Russian ice. There’s more of a story to tell here, but I’ll have to wait for another time…
Ultimately, it’s probably up to the traveler to decide where they’ve actually been. But, at the same time, when you’re in a friendly face-off with another travel-junkie, they may not count some of the circumstances you’ve been in as significant enough to “count”.
For me, I don’t count any of the countries I’ve listed above as classified in the “I’ve been there” category. Except for these exceptions:
The Bahamas. I was there. I experienced a whole island. Obviously there’s more to see, but I’ve been there.
Mexico. I had a fairly memorable and fun experience there. Though the hours logged were brief, they were significant. I’ve been there.
Suriname, Australia, & England. Where as I do NOT count any of the above experiences as having “been” to these countries, I have since traveled to all three countries for a more significant amount of time and created bigger experiences in each.
The rest of the above listed countries? I wanted to throw some ideas around. But I certainly do not claim to have been to these places.
What do you think? Where have you been? What “counts” for you?