There’s something about walking into an airport that lifts a man’s spirits. I’m not sure if it is the smell they all seem to share, or perhaps it’s the brightness of the lights hung high on the ceilings. Maybe it’s simply the feeling that I will soon be in the air and on the way some place new, somewhere I have never been. All airports generate this same sensation, and I love it.

I have been travelling fast these last 5 days; and after a series of late nights, early mornings, and long bus rides I was feeling rather burned out. You could say the morale of this man was at an all time low. But after I walked into the airport in Sofia, Bulgaria, I had a renewed sense of excitement. This excitement has only grown and I am now writing to you from 11,600 meters above sea level on my way to Germany, my 5th country in as many days.

I have never been one for fast travel. Five days ago I was leaving Albania on a bus bound for Kosovo. I loved Albania and could have stayed longer. I seem to get this seem warm feeling inside whenever I stay more than a few days in any given location. It takes time to win my heart, but once a city does, the feeling will remain forever. Needless to say, in my heart Albania will stay.

I once lived on a beach in India in the same hut for close to 2 months, and leaving was perhaps the saddest time of my life. I feel a part of me was left there, and I hope soon to return. In Thailand, I lived on an island for 20 days and… well you get the idea.

I feel you must get a to know a country as if it were the seduction of a fine woman. You must take your time, don’t rush things. You must get to know her on a personal level; build a relationship. Learn about each other and discover her inner-most secrets. Only then will you get to experience all she has to offer, and the reward is one we all know well. If you rush this sort of seduction she will reject you. You will leave feeling unfulfilled and unsatisfied. Let me be clear, we are talking about travel… of course.

I have met many a traveller on a mission to cross off countries. Blasting through Europe over the course of a few weeks then proclaiming, “I have been to 30 countries!” When I hear this I think to myself with one eyebrow raised, “Have you?” When you took a bus from Albania to Macedonia and drove through Kosovo for 3 hours and say you have been there, does that really count? When you stayed in Budapest for 2 days and partied until 5am both nights, slept all day, then left without seeing the city during the light of day, let alone any other part of the country does that count? You were physically there I suppose, but I can’t accept this. Maybe a more appropriate claim would be “I have been to 30 cities.” Even that is a stretch.

So this brings me to the question I now ask myself as I sit on this flight to Berlin, do I count the countries I just passed through? I stayed a night in each one, if that means anything. In Kosovo I ate at a local restaurant, which counts for something. In Macedonia I went out on a Saturday night with some friends, although I don’t remember what the city looked like in the dark. In Bulgaria I didn’t really leave my guesthouse besides to get food across the street and take a cab to the airport. The view from outside the cab’s window looked lovely. Was I really there? I suppose I have the passport stamps to prove it.

If I do claim to have “done” these countries am I a hypocrite? Must I take back all the thoughts about the fast travellers I have condoned in my mind over the years? Am I now like them, crossing pieces of land off of a mental list? Upping my bragging rights so at parties with other travellers when asked how many countries I have been to I can answer with confidence?

I have left these countries feeling unfulfilled. My thirst for completion is not quenched. I feel as though I must return to finish the seduction that I started.

In my opinion to “do” a country you must get out of the capital city. An hour or 2 drive away at the least from the hustle and bustle and you will be somewhere completely new. Driving through southern Albania just checking out the backcountry was a far cry from the Tirana nightlife.

I like a good capital city as much as the next man, but it’s when you get away from the tourist hub you see what a place is really about. When I tell people I have been to Kosovo, I will feel like a fraud. I haven’t really been. I merely passed through the capital, staying one night, on a mission to catch a cheap flight 3 countries over from where I booked the ticket.

Fast travel leaves me in a state of confusion. It’s like the last few days didn’t happen. Luckily am I planning a week in Berlin to chill out and regenerate. From what I hear Berlin can be quite the temptress. Let the seduction begin.

3 Responses

  1. Bec

    I feel exactly the same way! there are so many posts out there now that are like ‘travel X countries in 7 days’ or variations of that, I always think, whats the point of that, you wanna take your time and actually see the place not just zoom through.

    this makes it so hard for me cause theres just so many places I wanna go but then I also wanna stay a bit in each.

    Loving your page (and your insta pics:)! keep up the awesome posts

  2. Francisco Ortiz

    Alex! Couldn’t agree more. Counting the countries has no sense, and travelling fast and only getting to know the capitals is not knowing the real culture of the country. I’m traveling to the Balcans in a few months and planning around a week in each, it’s not a lot, but it can be 2-3 different places.
    Loved your adventures and the blog!