I was an accountant before I became a travel journalist, so maybe counting things just comes naturally. When I first heard about the Travelers' Century Club (TCC), the idea of "collecting countries" was so appealing that I immediately went to the TCC Web site to learn more.
The premise of the TCC is simple--anyone who has traveled to at least 100 countries (as defined by the TCC) in the world is eligible for membership in the club. TCC is not a new club. It was first organized in Los Angeles in 1954 by a group of the world's most widely traveled people. Since then the concept has attracted members from both the United States and around the world. TCC currently has over 1500 members, with about 20 chapters around the world. For those of us who love to cruise, this club is perfect since we often get to visit many of the countries on their list.
"Collecting countries" also gives us a good excuse to travel even MORE!
The TCC is more than just "collecting countries." The motto is--"World travel...the passport to peace through understanding." Members come from diverse backgrounds, but all love adventure and exploration and have a special zeal for life. They truly believe that knowledge about other cultures and countries promotes peace. Many of the members are senior citizens, and I was encouraged to read that some of them have done much of their traveling after retirement.
How many countries are there? It depends on which list you use. The United Nations has 193 members (November 2016), but the number of independent countries in the world with capital cities is 197. The Travelers' Century Club "country" list includes some places that are not actually separate countries, but they are either geographically, politically, or ethnologically removed from their parent country. For example, both Hawaii and Alaska are counted as separate "countries" for TCC purposes. The current TCC list, which was last updated in January 2016, totals 325.
When the club was started, much consideration was given as to how long one must have stayed in a country or island group to qualify. It was finally decided that even a very short visit (such as a port of call on a cruise or an airplane refueling stop) would qualify. This rule certainly widens the opportunity for cruise lovers to rack up the countries quickly.
Membership in TCC comes in different levels. Those who have traveled to 100-149 countries qualify for regular membership, 150-199 countries silver membership, 200-249 countries gold membership, 250-299 platinum membership, and over 300 are diamond members. Those who have visited all the countries on the list get a special award. I was surprised to find that several members of TCC have been to over 300 "countries". I can only imagine some of the wonderful stories they must have to tell! The club members organize several trips each year to some of the more exotic locations.
Since many of the TCC countries are islands, some of these trips are cruises.
I couldn't wait to go through the list to see how many countries I had visited. I used to dream of visiting all 50 states, and I've been to 49 (still looking for North Dakota, but can't seem to get there on a cruise ship). Now I can dream of checking off as many of the countries on the TCC list as possible. When I started reviewing the list, I wasn't sure how many I would end up with since some places I have visited, like the San Blas Islands off Panama, I would not have counted without the list in front of me.
Some countries (like Italy) I have visited many times; others (like Swaziland) I spent less than an hour. I relived many pleasant memories of past vacations and cruises as I scoured the list from top to bottom. It was a little depressing to see how little of the world I HAD seen, but it gives me a good excuse to travel more! (Addendum: I'm now at 127 TCC countries as of November 2016).