Countries have always been a competition. I’ve got a map of the world on my wall and I’ve coloured in all of the little splodges I’ve been to in different colours. My dad’s got one just like it, except the colours happen to be in slightly different places. It’s been a long standing jostle for first place. Planning family holidays becomes as nightmare as we both try and suggest a destination where the other has already been whilst secretly notching up another score on your own tally.
Then comes the question of return visits. Can you count a second visit as a whole new encounter, or once you’ve seen it once have you seen it all? I’ve always been in favour of the latter argument, mainly because it puts me ahead in the leader board, but also because there’s so much out there to see in a lifetime, why waste the time on a return trip? But that’s when the counting starts to get a little bit silly; the time you went to France when you were three and far too young to remember a thing, that twenty two hour stopover in Singapore airport and the time you stopped merely to use the toilet in a German service station.
I’ve always tended to travel with people. And countries have always been a competition. The first time I ever travelled alone was when I went to Australia and it wasn’t until I first stepped off that plane that I began to get a sense of how large a place can be. When you travel in a group you tend to stay in your own isolated bubble. Whilst you might look at the scenery and, for the more adventurous, speak to the people, you still never really become immersed in the culture.
The realities of travelling alone are different. The relationships you build are more meaningful; you don’t have the safety of your fellow travellers to fall back on. It’s not until you really start talking to people that you begin to get an insight into the culture. And once you start realising this you realise how different your experience could be, minutes, even seconds later. If you hadn’t spoken to that girl on the street or let that guy buy you a drink, you would have had a totally different experience.
It was then I realised that it doesn’t matter how many times you return or really how many places you go to. Every trip is a new experience. Countries are not a competition.