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Globe-trotting dreams: Urge to visit every country

Globe-trotting dreams: Urge to visit every country Photo: Travel by plane (

Traveling the world has become routine for many and a passion for some – a pursuit of collecting experiences. The number of people who have visited every country continues to rise each year. CNN Travel explores why many individuals aspire to venture almost everywhere on the planet.

Travel as country collection

The number of individuals who have visited all 195 recognized UN countries and territories has reached 400. According to travel tracking platform NomadMania, in 2023, an additional 50 people joined the list of record-setting globetrotters.

The first person recognized for visiting all the countries in the world is the Finnish writer Rauli Virtanen. He explored all 170 UN-recognized countries by 1988 and has continued to add new places to his "collection" since then. He explained his desire to see every country as stemming from "extreme curiosity and collector´s mentality."

The concept of "collecting" countries predates Rauli Virtanen's articulation of it. Since 1954, the Travellers' Century Club (TCC) has been in operation for individuals who have visited 100 or more countries and territories worldwide. Subsequently, other platforms emerged, including the tourist community Most Travelled People and Nomad Mania.

Globe-trotting dreams: Urge to visit every country

Photo: Tourists in New Zealand (

Accessibility of travel contributes to fulfilling dreams

Michael O'Regan, a tourism lecturer at the University of Glasgow in Caledonia believes that historically, only those with financial resources, career flexibility, and robust health could travel. However, today more people can earn money while traveling, and some choose to explore the world after retiring.

He points out that in the past, travelers faced visa issues and needed a "strong" passport. Today, thanks to low-cost airlines, visa-on-arrival options, and online booking systems, travel has become more accessible.

The COVID-19 pandemic has temporarily paused travel due to border closures and lockdowns.

Patrick Gilliland, an American, fulfilled his dream of visiting all countries in 2023, overcoming doubts about its feasibility for a long time.

"I figured certain places would be too dangerous or visas impossible," he explained.

Many people have taken on the challenge of setting records after visiting a significant number of countries. Social media has played a significant role in the increasing number of such globetrotters.

"The advent of social media platforms like Instagram and TikTok mean, some will be continually inspired by others who are pursuing this goal of visiting X, Y or Z across the globe," says Michael O’Regan.

However, it is essential to recognize that this accessibility is limited only to those who have the financial means for frequent travels and passports that allow entry into various countries.

Globe-trotting dreams: Urge to visit every countryPhoto: Visiting locations in Africa (

Not everyone has the opportunity to travel the world

The first person to visit all countries, Rauli Virtanen, born in an affluent country, expresses a sense of guilt, recognizing that he belongs to the minority of people who can travel wherever they wish. Therefore, he never tells people in less affluent countries that he has visited all the countries in the world.

"I have been very fortunate. I had editors who signed my travel expenses and accepted my ideas to travel to distant countries so that my readers and viewers would know what’s going on," he notes.

Traveler from Jamaica, Romaine Wells, had limited opportunities to explore the world until he moved to the USA in 2007 and began working for an airline. He started traveling thanks to free and discounted flights through his job. Romaine Wells visited 100 countries and then set a goal to visit the remaining 95 UN-recognized countries, becoming the first Jamaican and Caribbean resident to achieve this.

Travelers spend varying amounts of time to visit every country in the world. Wells was able to accomplish this plan in approximately 15 years, while Hilliland took about 40 years.

Some travelers competed to achieve this in record time – for example, Taylor Demonbreun from Canada currently holds the title of the "fastest time to visit all sovereign countries," reaching the goal in 1 year and 189 days.

Globe-trotting dreams: Urge to visit every countryPhoto: Ancient city of Petra in Jordan (

Hopping from one country to another and sharing selfies

The increasing number of people striving to visit all countries in the world, "jumping" from one country to another and sharing only selfies, raises concerns among "collectors." They note that achieving this "feat" has become remarkably easy with sufficient funds and an international passport.

"We are not a ‘tribe’ of Lonely Planet guide book-carrying backpackers anymore. The motivations are changing. The majority is still a curious explorer type, but also vanity is taking over now when globetrotting is becoming so easy," points out Rauli Virtanen.

While some travelers may be driven by a strong desire to visit every country, O'Regan expresses concern that the pursuit of "collecting" countries may lead to superficial journeys, neglecting a deep understanding of the culture.

"There is incentive to hop regions quickly and risk the very things we want to recover from: physical and mental burnout. It undervalues travel’s potential for cultural exchange, self-reflection, and the concepts of slow travel and sustainability," warns the teacher of tourism.

"Collecting" travelers believe that "racing" around the world is a waste of money and emphasize the importance of enjoying the journey at a moderate pace.

Globe-trotting dreams: Urge to visit every countryPhoto: Tourist in USA, Alabama (

What is considered "visiting" a country

The idea of what constitutes a genuine "visit" has been a hot topic of discussion in recent years, and many travelers disagree on the criteria.

Last year, NomadMania compiled detailed recommendations on this topic after surveying its users in 2022 and 2023.

"It has been important for me to get to know as much as I can about each country we visit," says Gilliland.

He had to spend up to six weeks in a country, performing tasks, but in smaller countries like Monaco and Luxembourg, he spent only half a day.

"My opinion regarding a ‘visit’ is that airport stops/transits won’t qualify. Stay overnight - but on the other hand day trips to smaller countries like Nauru, San Marino, Andorra, Liechtenstein or Luxembourg are ok. A ‘real’ traveler stays days or weeks in places like Lagos, Mumbai, Mongolia, Colombia," notes Virtanen.

As more travelers, previously hindered by border closures and political unrest, can now cross off their "final" countries, it is expected that the list of those who have been to every country will grow in 2024.

The achievements of individuals like Hilliland, Virtanen, and Welds will likely inspire similar journeys for others or create new challenges in the coming years, fostering competition for titles and records. Raúl Virtanen urges those aiming to visit every country to find ways to make a positive impact to improve the lives of those who cannot afford to travel.

We wrote about why taking selfies is prohibited at tourist spots worldwide. In the pursuit of the perfect shot, many people lose their lives.

We also talked about the 10 least visited countries on the planet. The United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) has identified 10 destinations that are least likely to suffer from overtourism.