It Counts but It’s Pitiful

We’ve had a lively discussion in the comments to the "I’ve Barely Been There" article. I described the official 12MC Rules in the original article: if I touch the geographic area, no matter how briefly, I count it as having been visited. I defined "touch" as anything more than flying over it.

One doesn’t actually have to grab a handful of dirt. Automobiles, trains, horses, white water rafting or shoe leather would all be acceptable intermediaries. Helicopters, airplanes, hot air balloons, hang gliders or winged dragons would be excluded except for where they land. I’m conflicted with ocean-going vessels that bump into territorial waters although I’m inclined to consider those out of bounds too, except where they pull into port and one disembarks.

Those are my personal criteria. That’s the beauty of counting. Each participant defines his or her own rules. Here are some thoughts from a few readers:

  • Mike Lowe has flown through the Minneapolis airport four times. He figures it should count as a Minnesota visit after all those distinct layovers.
  • jlumsden has changed planes seven (soon to be nine) times in Texas. He counts Texas. He also wants to know if anyone participates in "mileage runs" to increase their frequent-flier perks.
  • Peter portrays airports as a "neutral ground" of a sort. They could be construed as conceptually removed from the physical geography underlying them.
  • Jean described an international flight that stopped in Toronto, Canada, briefly. The airport had a preclearance agreement with the United States. He passed through U.S. customs and immigration in Canada and continued forward on his journey to the U.S. as a domestic passenger. He states compellingly, "I was then legally in the United States and physically in Toronto, how would you count that? I personally consider I’ve never been to Canada."

Those are all valid points.

I noted that I have this issue personally with only two U.S. counties: Shelby Co., TN (Memphis airport) and Salt Lake Co., UT (Salt Lake City airport). Fortunately I’ve visited lots of other places within Tennessee and Utah so counting the overall state isn’t an issue. Shelby Co. and Salt Lake Co. might come into question, although I count them according to my rules.

My Pathetic Visit to Ireland

What should I make of my single pitiful trip to Ireland when I never left Shannon Airport? I have evidence that I was there based on this photograph from the early 1990’s. I could see the Irish countryside from a terminal window. I even collected a handful Irish coins (this was pre-Euro) since I had to exchange a few dollars to get a snack. Undeniably I’ve been to Ireland and I’ve marked it on my map.

However, when prompted, my response always includes a giant, flashing neon-red asterisk next to it. I may have visited Ireland in some exceedingly narrow technical sense but I’d never go so far as to say that I’ve experienced Ireland. That would be pathetic. I’ve experienced nothing more than a generic airport terminal fully removed from anything Irish except perhaps for a patch of the Emerald Isle that happened to sit beneath layers of concrete.

That, really, seems to be an underlying theme for all of our personal rules: where do we draw the line between technical exactness and more experiential considerations? Mine tend to fall closer to the technical side. Nonetheless I still want to go back to Ireland someday and do it justice. Right now it’s embarrassing, rules or no rules.

14 Replies to “It Counts but It’s Pitiful”

  1. My wife and I refuse to count airports, we consider them to be “neutral” sites. That being said, I can’t think of any airport I’ve been in where I also haven’t visited the state/country. “Visit” means walking around. Driving thru without stopping doesn’t count.

    Of course, on a few occasions I’ve taken an afternoon (or a bit longer) to rent a car and drive to a state adjacent to the one I was currently in (Idaho comes to mind). I’d always stop and usually eat lunch (and keep the receipt as proof!)

    Last year, when our flight from Paris to Amsterdam was canceled (due to the Iceland volcano), we rented a car and got to add Belgium to our list when we stopped for lunch. Still want to get back there for a real visit, though.

  2. A few of my more pitiful “counts”:
    1. I took a train from Zurich to Innsbruck that passed through the tiny nation of Liechtenstein. The train stopped in Vaduz, but I never got out.
    2. On the same trip, returning to Paris I took an overnight bus from Prague to Paris that passed through Germany during the night. I only got off and back on the bus at a rest stop, but count myself as having been in Germany.
    3. As a teenager I went to a “flight” camp at the University of North Dakota in Grand Forks. On a training flight I landed at a grass strip in Warren, MN. I don’t typically count airport layovers. Other than two stops at MSP, that is my only foray into Minnesota, but I count that one.
    4. When I visited Hoover Dam I made sure to walk across halfway to the Arizona state line, where I remained for about 30 seconds before coming back. Other than a couple of recent airport layovers in Phoenix, that’s my only time in Arizona.
    5. On a ride from Kansas City to North Dakota I stopped over into Omaha for lunch with a friend, for the primary purpose of picking up the state of Nebraska.

    Fun stuff.

  3. For me, the magnitude of the list matters. For example, a country cannot be visited without leaving the airport or else I would have two more. But if I’m just counting counties, the standards are lower. For states, I’m with Erick in that I have two lists, one for visited (all 50) and one for slept in (stuck at 46).

    Peakbaggers and the like face a similar conundrum and have developed their own internal sets of rules. If you are snowskiing and take a lift to a summit, does it count? What if you drive to the top? What if you drive to within 1/4 mile of the top? 1 mile? What’s the cutoff? The only hope is to log everything but set it up so it can be filtered by various criteria.

    1. As an addicted peakbagger, the only rule seems to be there is no rule. Any method counts. Most will make some sort of hike out of a peak, but sometimes you take what you can get. Some peaks on military bases may allow periodic “visits” but escorted by military. You must touch the highest point (as best can be determined). No stopping short.

      1. I wonder if even the “no stopping short” rule is relaxed in especially impossible circumstances…
        As had been calculated a few years back, the highpoint of Kaliningrad Oblast, Russia, appears to be a few meters behind the border fence. Of course getting over that fence was all sorts of illegal, so the highpointing party who realized that just cuddled up to the highest spot next to the fence (which was probably less than a meter below the actual HP).
        Good thing these guys appear to be the only semi-serious Russian “state” highpointers; I don’t know what would anyone else do with a spot like that (I suspect some would try to climb the fence after all).

        On-topic, my list of countries “slept in” used to be the same as “visited” in the loosest sense (overnight airport/hotel stopover in Bulgaria – I did walk on the streets a bit, but most of the time I was sleeping; several times on an overnight train through Belarus – I did get out of the train there once, at 5 in the morning; and a train through Kazakhstan that probably took more than 24 hours to cross the country).
        I’ve since been to Bulgaria properly, but now there’s a country I’ve definitely visited that I’m not sure I’ve slept in – Serbia: I had enough time before my next plane (to Bulgaria, incidentally) to visit lots of places in Belgrade, but it was a daytime, not nighttime, stopover (something like 12:30 PM to 1:30 AM, IIRC). Does a nap (in preparation for a sleepless night) count?
        …To be fair, I don’t usually count Uzbekistan, either. Last time I’ve been there, I was three years old; I don’t remember any of that country (to be fair, my very earliest memory was attributed by my parents to my Uzbekistan visit, but this attribution was somewhat uncertain, and in any case it took place well indoors).

  4. I may have the lamest claim to a state visit. In this case, it’s Idaho. Back in the pre-passport days, crossing the border from Canada into the States by car literally required a ten-second stop and a friendly chat at customs. Sometime in the mid-90s (1996, maybe?), I was traveling through southeastern British Columbia on my way back home. An mudslide had cut off the section of Highway 3 between Creston and Salmo AND the section between Yahk and Creston. Stuck at a truck stop in Yahk about six miles north of the border), I decided instead of waiting to drive through Idaho and Washington to bypass the flooded section of highway. I got to the border at Kingsgate, BC/Eastport, ID only to be told that THAT section of road was also washed out, and that I had to turn around – which required a U-turn around the US customs office. That U-turn technically sent me into Idaho and back. I’ve literally spent 15 seconds in Idaho (and another 90 minutes at that truck stop diner until the road reopened).

  5. I count it as a visit if the police of that jurisdiction can arrest you (without having to send the airforce to ground your plane). So in the case of Jean and the Toronto airport, there is nothing stopping the RCMP from arresting Jean if he had done something truly dastardly to the Canadians, even if he had pre-cleared Canadian customs. He was not in the U.S.A. He was in Canada.

    I guess I don’t know what to do about embassies. When I was in grad school, I went to a great party at the Belgian ambassador’s residence in Washington. Under international law, this is Belgian territory and outside the jurisdiction of the U.S. If I had violated U.S. law and was welcome by the Belgians, then I could hang out there indefinitely. Am I then in Belgium?? Compounding this, I have never otherwise been to Belgium. What do you think oh wise 12MC readers? I never considered adding Belgium to my places I have visited, but maybe it counts.

  6. I count airports. It’s not so much whether they can arrest me as did I interact with that location’s systems at all? Did I place a call from a pay phone, buy something, use the facilities, etc.? If so — I was there.

  7. I count everything but flying. Airports count. Harbors too. As long as you get off the boat. You don’t even have to formally immigrate. I’ve also encountered almost every border condition, which is what makes me count looser. My two most borderline cases?

    * I flew from Maui to Kauai, with a short stop on Oahu. I did not get off the plane, as planes in Hawaii pretty much function as a bus. Land, people get out, people get on, and onwards. I stayed on the plane. So, the questions is: Have I been to Oahu?

    * And the most dubious ever, also on Hawaii. I’ve (SCUBA) dived on Lanai. But never set foot on the island. The only reason why this is a borderline case is that we dove *through* lava bubbles/caves created by lava that (once) flew from the island. So I have literally been surrounded by lava that belongs to Lanai and is connected to Lanai. I’ve touched it as well in the narrow passages. I guess the question is whether an island stops at the water line, or are the sea bottom (which in the case of Hawaii is thousands of feet under water).

    1. I also have a pretty loose interpretation. In my book, Oahu would count as a visit but Lanai would not as my mental definition requires dry land (sitting in a vehicle where the wheels touch the ground counts — I don’t have to physically touch the dirt with my own hands) — can’t fly over it; can’t boat through it and have it count though. Obviously there aren’t any defined rules so your Lanai visit may be perfectly acceptable to some, and that’s fine too.

  8. Salt Lake City is the airport I’ve transited through the most times without ever flying there as a destination unto itself. I’ve been there on the way to or from Great Falls, MT and Jackson Hole, WY. The one time I actually visited friends in Salt Lake City, I drove all the way there from L.A.

    I figure that situation of transiting through but never having the city as a final destination is reasonably common with SLC, since it’s a common connecting point between major cities and small airports near scenic/skiing destinations in the Rockies. It seems like every time I’ve flown through there, everyone was in the middle of a mad dash to catch a connecting flight, me included.

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