Does the Airport Count? When Can You Claim That You’ve Been Somewhere?

Lee and I both have a stamp for Dubai, United Arab Emirates on our passports, but we don’t list it as a destination when we are counting up the places where we have travelled.

Technically, we have been to Dubai. We have set foot on Dubai soil, but have we really BEEN there?

We were flying back to England from New Zealand and our flight had an eight hour layover in Dubai. The airline offered us a free hotel room and since we hadn’t slept in 20 hours and we were only half way round the world from our destination we decided to take the opportunity to take a nap on a real bed.

We went through customs, left the airport, checked into the hotel, got some sleep and a shower and then went back to the airport.

Should we count Dubai, even though we have only seen a couple of streets and the inside of a hotel? We don’t include it, but it brings up an interesting question…

When Can You Claim That You’ve Been Somewhere?

What criteria do you use to determine whether you have been somewhere? Do you have to stay overnight? Is 24 hours long enough? What about a weekend getaway?

I have been through Belgium on a bus from Paris to Amsterdam and I have seen the city of Brussels through the windows. The bus stopped for half an hour and I got a yogurt from the convenience store. Should I count Belgium as a country I have traveled to?

I’d be interested to hear from our readers, what countries round the world have you only briefly set foot in, such as via an airport layover or en route to somewhere else. Do you count these places on your list of countries visited? How long do you have to stay somewhere until it counts?

It’s Not All About the Tally

At the end of the day, although counting up the number of countries you have visited can be fun, it’s not really the point of traveling.

Traveling round the world is all about having exciting and diverse experiences. It’s about exploring different cultures, meeting new people and venturing beyond your comfort zone. It doesn’t really matter whether you have visited five, fifteen or fifty countries. What really matters when you are traveling round the world is what you did and how it helped you grow.

Kelly Dunning

A Canadian freelance writer with a love of art, culture, literature and adventure, Kelly loves exploring foreign lands and expressing her experiences through the power of the written word.

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  1. Ditto, it’s not about the tally! I’m so tempted to include Chile in my list of countries since I did a layover there back in October, but alas, what’s the point? I prefer the art of slow travel too much to bother with numbers.

  2. I have no countries where I have been in that position, but I do have states. When my family drove across the US when I was a kid, there was seriously a sign that said NEBRASKA 2 miles -> that a-way. So we went, opened our car doors, touched the ground, u-turned it over a sidewalk (entertained the Indians standing outside the shop) and drove back to South Dakota. Yep, I count that! Should I? Probably not, but when am I ever going to be back in Nebraska again?

  3. I usually count clearing immigration as officially entering a country although I really don’t count Dubai. Airport > Taxi > Hotel > Taxi > Airport. We really did’nt see any of it.

    We have also driven through a few states, cannot bring myself to count them neither.

  4. I personally think it depends on what you are talking about. If you are trying to describe the beauty of a place that you have visited to a friend, then no you shouldn’t count places you’ve only seen through airport windows. But if you are trying to figure out how many places you have actually been in, of course you count them. You’ve been there. You just can’t claim to have taken a nice long vacation in the airport lounge ;).

  5. Interesting question! My opinion is very similar to Shellene’s above me. Technically I would classify a short trip like your layover in Dubai as somewhere you’ve been. However I wouldn’t classify Dubai as a country you’ve experienced. Well from that trip alone at least. To me experiencing a country means watching the locals, wandering the streets, trying the food, fumbling attempts at a foreign language ect…

    I haven’t come across an international situation like this but have once contemplated whether I should count a city I hadn’t visited before as somewhere I’ve been after spending the entire time in the airport between a transfer flight on to another city. So yes my body physically was in the confines of the city but I hadn’t properly experienced it or gained a sense of what it was like. Thankfully I’ve since visited this city properly. Sadly however it’s since suffered two devastating earthquakes and understandably won’t be the same way I remember it.

    1. Would that city be Christchurch by any chance? We lived there in 2009 and haven’t been back since the earthquakes. I imagine it is quite different now.

  6. I don’t particularly care about the count, except for a laugh and a fun memory. I saw my first sunset from an airplane above Utah. Never been to Utah, yet it holds one of my favorite travel memories and that’s what matters to me. I do “count” being in NYC. I had a two day layover there once and a 14 hour layover another time. I left the airport and explored the city as much as I could.

    I think that even if you didn’t get to explore Duabi, it’s still exciting that you napped there 🙂 I’m sure not that many people who don’t live there can say that!

  7. You are able to capture my sentiments perfectly, lol. I headed over to Facebook and Twitter to like your blog – it’s great. I’ve stopped in multiple cities and had long layovers (such as Philadelphia, U.S.A.), but never really explored the city. I still think it counts because at airports you often get a feel for the town. Charlotte, NC airport feels completely different from Boston or San Diego airport. So it counts for something. Keep up the good work!

  8. Haha – I often wonder about this. If stepping foot in airports count, then I’ve been to several countries! However, I don’t because I share the same sentiments as you, which is travelling is about visiting countries and getting to know their culture, foods, history, doing things, etcetera.

    Your blog posts really give me things to think about!

  9. I take a bit of a fun approach to deciding whether I can “count” a country or not.

    It depends on the answers to these questions:

    1) Did I clear customs and immigration? If so, stop here, the answer is yes. If no, continue below.

    2) Did I eat a local delicacy?

    3) Did I use the restroom more than once?

    4) Did I exchange money into the local currency?

    5) Did I use any kind of surface transportation?

    6) Did I speak any words of the local language to a native speaker?

    Any 3 of the final five and I say it counts. 😉

  10. Well, technically, of course, you have been to Dubai and for people who want to “collect” as many countries as they can you sort of stop-over would count.

    But, really, no you haven’t experienced Dubai.

    I remembered your “About You” when I read this post and your question and went back to it to get this : “Global Goose is a chronicle of their lifestyle as perpetual wanderers as they migrate around the globe together. It offers an insight into the lifestyle of full time travel as well as destination guides, practical tips and interviews with inspiring travelers.”

    Your stop over in Dubai would not give you enough to fulfill the aims of the second paragraph.

    Guess you’ll have to wander back to Dubai guys.

  11. I usually go on the depth of the experience. Obviously that’s a very qualitative measure that cannot be judged, but I’ve spent a total of three days in London, and don’t consider that I’ve been there as I hardly left the airport and yet only 21 hours in Istanbul and certainly count it because I was literally around town for about 16 hours… but really, the tally should barely count.
    Stamp collecting has got to be one of the most annoying habits that you can find in a traveler.

  12. I’m a literalist. If you’ve been physically within the borders of a country, you’ve been there. It’s pretty black and white.
    However, while you can say you’ve BEEN to that country, you can’t say you’ve SEEN that country. That’s how I look at it, if that makes sense.
    I so far haven’t been in a situation where I’ve only visited a country’s airport, but I’ve had single day layovers in Hong Kong and Singapore and would definitely count them, since I definitely got at least some feel for the place.
    Also, I wish people would stop disparaging people who keep a count. I have OCD so I absolutely love lists, and I spend a long time deliberating over how many countries, cities, states etc I’ve been to. I don’t go around boasting or blurting it out, but it’s something I enjoy and attach at least some personal importance to.

  13. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with country counting either. Even well seasoned travellers cannot agree exactly on how to define this, so going with a straight forward definition might be as good a definition as any.

    I tend to think that airports only don’t qualify as having been there. Same for only having been on a train or car driving through that country, but who am I to tell?

    No matter how you define what having been to a country means there will always be grey areas. What if you’ve camped in a tent right past the border for a week?

    Have you really seen the country then?

  14. I recently had a stop over in an African country for five hours, and i count that as a “visit” on the grounds that this country holds no more attraction for me and i have no further interest in it. But that being said i did a 1 month high intensity tour of the UK and i still feel there is still so much to see and deep down the UK is not really counted as i am not really finished with it yet and very well may never be.

  15. Anyone who counts an airport transit lounge as a visit really needs to get out more. After all, people can get stuck in airports for days because they have been refused entry to a country. How can anyone have visited a country they have been refused entry to?

  16. The thing is, I’m not saying it’s about the tally, but scientifically if you are on their land, even if only for a few hours, you have “visited” there & therefore it is a country you have been to. But if you want to say “experience” then no you wouldn’t say that you experienced the country. But you have definitely “been” there and if someone had asked me which countries I had been to, I include the layover but I inform them that it was a layover.

  17. I would count stopover as having BEEN to a country, not visited, but BEEN there, reason why… if by some misfortune you were to die on a 1 hour stopover at the airport in Madrid, I’m sure the death certificate will list Madrid as place of death, therefore, you have BEEN to Spain.

  18. I was scrolling down to make a point which Victor has captured above☝️. If you were only at the Airport in Paris on transit and witnessed an incident or even took a selfie. It goes on record and becomes a statement of fact that you were in France at that material time. . . And this would be a statement of truth.

  19. I keep two separate lists—countries I’ve visited and “airport countries” where I’ve merely transited. Like several people above, I believe you’ve technically “been” to a country if you land at one of its airports. If I had a heart attack and died at the airport, that location would go on my death certificate, so I’m all for counting it—just a bit differently than countries I’ve actually explored.

  20. I applaud your nuanced approach. There’s definitely a gap between “been there, done that” and “just passed by”. Vielleicht is, as the Germans say, a “light touch” scenario to enjoy Traffic Jam 3D.

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