COUNTRY NUMBER FIFTY

  Looking out at the Bay of Kotor this morning.

Looking out at the Bay of Kotor this morning.

I know this is cheating, but I’m excited. This is Sunday and we’re not due in Montenegro for another four days.

We’ve only just left Skopje in Macedonia and we’re headed for Tirana, Albania. I’m also sat on a coach that’s clearly passed its sell-by-date. The recline on half of the seats has broken, the upholstery wearing thin, and there’s a pungent smell on board. I’ve decided it’s a combination of must and the remnants of cigarette smoke from yesteryear, clinging to the fabric by its fingertips.

This will be my home for the next six hours or so, but it will be worth it.

Although I’m in limbo, between countries 48 and 49, I can’t stop thinking about the one after. Yes, it’s Montenegro, a small nation that was once a part of Yugoslavia and then Serbia and Montenegro before becoming a singular state.

I just can’t help myself. On a personal level, the allure of Montenegro extends far beyond its natural treasures, its beautiful coastline and an intriguing capital.

It’s more than just a holiday, more than just the next adventure. For me, this is a milestone, because not only does it offer the chance to explore new territory, but when I cross the Albania-Montenegro border on Wednesday I’ll be entering my fiftieth country.

And, here I am…

I took a break following that bus journey, and despite entering Montenegro two days ago when we got off the coach in the capital Podgorica, it’s only today in our Tivat apartment that I resume this blog post.

Why? Because Tivat is REAL Montenegro. Rugged coastlines, glamorous ports and water so clear it may as well be a pane of transparent glass. Podgorica was okay, but this is what I’ve really been waiting for.

It's weird, because country borders are just a man-made concept. They exist and divide simply because our race said they do. But I've always been fascinated by countries, capitals and flags, and visiting as many nations as I possibly can was something that I've wanted since a young age.

  In Lisbon, Portugal.

In Lisbon, Portugal.

  In Andorra la Vella, Andorra.

In Andorra la Vella, Andorra.

Let the country counting begin…

Until this point, I’d never really kept a strict count on how many nations I’d been to. Every now and then I’d tot up casually and offer estimations whenever people asked. It had never appeared in my Twitter bio, nor had I really made it public. Not that it’s something to be ashamed about, nor is it a brag, but I’ve been waiting to hit this first, big goal to start counting seriously.

But why 50, specifically? Well, it’s obviously a nice, round number and halfway to a century. But it’s also a quarter of the countries in the world, of which I count 197 (193 United Nations observers, plus Vatican City, Taiwan, Kosovo and Palestine.

I decided a while back not to formally start counting each country one by one until I hit a big number, and 50 seems like an appropriate starting point.

It’s crazy to think that prior to 2015, I’d only ever set foot in eight countries – still impressive, by some accounts – but nothing compared to what I've done in the last 32 months.

I’ve had so many great adventures up to this point, and to have effectively seen a quarter of the world just after turning 24 makes me realise just how lucky I am.

Now I'm in country number 50. I don't feel any different, per se, but I do know that the places I've seen and been have all shaped me in some way. Whether that's learning new information, or gaining a greater understanding of the world, deciding to become a frequent traveller has been one of the best things I've ever done.

I’ve shared great memories with great people, and I’m sure that is something that I’ll keep on doing.

So there you have it, 50 up. Here’s to 147 more.