The Top 197 Countries in the World You Should Visit

The Top 197 Countries in the World You Should Visit

By |2017-08-23T10:29:20-04:00August 23rd, 2017|Perspectives|39 Comments

Top 197 Countries in the World - map
Ah, lists.

When it comes to online travel information, there’s no shortage. Top 5, Top 10, Top 20…lists, lists and more lists.

Lists telling us exactly which countries in the world we need to visit right now, what to do when we get there, where to stay, what we should see, where we should eat and so on. It’s only a matter of time before we start seeing Top 10 lists that list the best Top 10 travel lists. (Does it already exist?)

With such a plethora of lists about every destination, every traveler ends up doing the exact same things as every other traveler that visits the same place. Even a list of the Top 10 Authentic Travel Experiences ensures that everyone has the same ‘authentic’ travel experience. Nothing is spontaneous any more. And that doesn’t seem right to me.

Popular sights are nice and they make for good photos but often, that’s about it. The major benefits of travel tend to shine when we find ourselves in the little known areas where nobody cares if their corner of the world ever appears on any Top 10 list.

And the only way to have those un-listed authentic travel experiences is to arrive. Just arrive, go outside and wander around, without a clue.

All we need for this to be successful is an openness to the neighborhoods, markets, people, parks, local eateries and more that come our way, wherever we end up, regardless of their popularity online.

Have you been to Dubrovnik, Croatia? The walled old city over there is absolutely jam packed with people running around following their Top 10 lists. I just read that tourists outnumber locals 20 to 1 within those walls.

It’s an impressive old city and spending a day there checking off everything on a list or two will lead to some nice views and neat experiences. And there’s nothing wrong with that at all. You got to see it.

But is that all Dubrovnik or Prague or Bali or Costa Rica has to offer? Can the true value of a place be discovered through a list?

Top 197 Countries in the World

What if we toss our lists in the trash (actual or virtual), walk 20 minutes away from the tourist shops and restaurants and below average gelato stands and the big buses, and into the less photogenic neighborhoods instead?

We’ll no longer be in the famous Dubrovnik that everyone talks about.

But we’ll also quickly forget about our Top 10 lists as we encounter the local people (at a rate of 20 locals per 1 tourist!) and regular places that make this town real. It’s just normal life in Dubrovnik, right in front of us, there for us to connect with and most importantly, learn from. The learning is the main benefit of travel after all.

In my experience, those must-see’s and must-do’s can rarely compete with the memories built from the unexpected encounters and the unplanned adventures that inevitably arise away from the crowds, famous old cities and picture-perfect main squares.

Of course, I understand perfectly well that an attention-grabbing list has some appeal. And there’s nothing wrong at all with taking advice from those who have traveled to a destination we’re about to visit.

My only point is that our travels should not exclusively consist of those mass tourism activities or the things that get classified as ‘must-see’.

Let’s ensure that we also sprinkle in some time among the interesting people and places that tell the real story of a destination, the people and places that no list has ever known.

Top 197 Countries in the World

Of course, with that said…

The Top 197 Countries in the World You Should Visit

In my opinion, this is the only list travelers need.

Antigua and Barbuda
Bosnia and Herzegovina
Burkina Faso
Cabo Verde
Central African Republic (CAR)
Democratic Republic of the Congo
Republic of the Congo
Costa Rica
Cote d’Ivoire
Czech Republic
Dominican Republic
El Salvador
Equatorial Guinea
Macedonia (FYROM)
Marshall Islands
New Zealand
North Korea
Papua New Guinea
Saint Kitts and Nevis
Saint Lucia
Saint Vincent and the Grenadines
San Marino
Sao Tome and Principe
Saudi Arabia
Sierra Leone
Solomon Islands
South Africa
South Korea
South Sudan
Sri Lanka
Trinidad and Tobago
United Arab Emirates
United Kingdom
United States of America
Vatican City (Holy See)

So that’s the list. All the countries in the world. Go everywhere. Go anywhere.

Okay, check if it’s safe first. But if it is, go there. (It’s alright to skip a few though.)

Wherever you choose to go, simply walk outside and start wandering. Don’t plan it. Just keep your eyes and mind open and enjoy.

And whatever you do, leave the other lists behind. At least for part of your stay.

How do you travel? Do you try to venture away from the main sights? Do you like your travels to be structured or spontaneous?

(For those who have joined my Wandering Earl Tours, you’ll know that I aim to offer a mix of the main sights and significant time exploring neighborhoods and regions that far fewer travelers know about. I truly believe in this style of travel!)

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  1. Alex Shur February 7, 2018 at 10:33 pm - Reply

    Very much agreed – friends ask me which country they should go to first and I never have an answer. I ask them what they want to see, eat, learn, spend, etc. Personally I’m just checking countries off with no logic to it, although a cheap flight will help me narrow down my options

  2. Fellowette traveler and world citizen October 11, 2017 at 5:14 pm - Reply

    Wonderful list, Derek! Although not officially “countries”, you could add South Georgia and Antarctica…both amazing places and certainly “home” to the penguins and other critters that live there. It is so sad that many in the world forget we share the same race (human) and live on the same planet and breathe the same air. Surely travel confirms there are wonderful people wherever you go and we have more in common than not.

  3. Ray October 3, 2017 at 3:24 pm - Reply

    After just coming back from a trip to Calgary, I just wanted to let you know that I tried your style of travel instead of sticking to a list. Even though I only had a few days available to check out as much of the city as possible, I ended up just spending more time at some attractions that I didn’t expect I would and cut out other attractions altogether. Had I not done that, then I wouldn’t have accidentally stumbled upon the Calgary Stampede Community Fall Fair or this charity ball hockey tournament near Prince’s Island Park. That mix between scheduled travel with spontaneity fulfilled me a lot more than I had anticipated. Sure, there are a lot of activities or attractions that I missed out this time. But that’s the beauty about travel! There’s always a reason to go back. I may try this mix style of travel some more in the future.

    • Derek October 4, 2017 at 4:37 am - Reply

      Hey Ray – Perfectly said! That’s the exact same approach I have and the same thoughts about what I might have missed. That is indeed the beauty of travel! Glad to hear you enjoyed yourself up there. Never been to Calgary myself, would love to go though.

  4. Izy Berry September 11, 2017 at 4:25 am - Reply

    I suppose you’re right about how keeping to a list doesn’t allow for too much spontaneity but it does make for a good catchy title! Lol. I’m one of the 99% who would definitely click on a Top 5, Top 10 list

  5. Dridd September 8, 2017 at 4:00 am - Reply

    Travelling is easy if you are a westerner and have visa free passport to most countries. Otherwise you will have to prepare just like you do for an exam.

  6. Bill September 3, 2017 at 5:16 pm - Reply

    In FYROM right now … loving it! Off to Montenegro tomorrow…!

  7. Elohh974 September 3, 2017 at 4:49 pm - Reply

    Love the list, but you forgot one that is AMAZING: Réunion (French Department) 😉 Add it and you won’t regret it ^_^

    • Derek September 7, 2017 at 3:31 pm - Reply

      I’m sure Reunion is amazing but it’s not a country, it’s a French territory, which is why it isn’t on the list!

  8. Michael September 3, 2017 at 12:18 pm - Reply

    I am a marathoner and run long distances wherever I go. What a great way to see new places in “slow motion.” I tend to run off the typical tourist routes and see areas that are not frequently visited. No one wants to bother runners, they are too fast and don’t carry anything with them except maybe a GPS watch. It’s an awesome way to see the locals and they have respect for me because they can tell I have just ran a long distance because I am usually soaked wit sweat. I can’t always talk the language but a thumbs up to anyone usually gets a smile and a thumbs up back.

  9. Carola September 1, 2017 at 4:55 am - Reply

    Yes! Thank you so much. That’s exactly how I feel: There is no “Is it worth it?” or “Ultimate Guide to Wherever” or “Place you have to go to. Right. Now.” Everywhere is interesting and worth exploring. You just have to open your eyes (and your mind – cliched but true). So thanks for being honest and doing your bit in making travel less of the list-checking chore that it seems to have become if one trusts the (social) media.

    Happy continued travels!

  10. Victoria @The British Berliner August 31, 2017 at 5:27 pm - Reply

    Ha! Ha! Ha! Nice one Earl!

    I travel in a variety of ways depending on my mood and who I’m travelling with.

    I don’t really aim to venture away from the main sights as I like history, culture & architecture and most of them tend to be main sights!

    If I’m travelling solo, then I prefer to be “in the moment” and change direction whenever I feel like it, so my Gap year after university was invaluable for just this reason! If I’m travelling with my German husband, he prefers a more structured nature and a plan. he’s not really into travelling to exotic places, so this makes him feel more comfortable. When travelling with our son, I use a mixture of the both. He’s been travelling since he was 5, so he’s used to all manner and ways of travelling. Nevertheless, no matter how “loose” the plan, where we stay for the night is pre-booked and planned out so that he feels secure and thus, good food, great wifi, and a private bathroom!

    • Derek August 31, 2017 at 8:57 pm - Reply

      Hey Victoria – Sounds like a mix of travel styles and of course, whatever works for you, it’s the way to go!

  11. Chris Nash August 26, 2017 at 9:27 pm - Reply

    Best list I’ve seen in such a long time!

    Nothing irks me more than lists like “8 things you must see” or “5 things you must do”

    Often these lists are also written by people that have only seen those 8 things, or done 5 things which hardly makes them experts anyway!

    I guess it doesn’t have as nice a ring to it, the “8 things we saw”…

  12. Zascha August 26, 2017 at 8:46 pm - Reply

    There’s never a long list when to travel as long as you feel it’s added value to you. Thank you for the tips! I’ve already been to some places myself and I couldn’t agree with you more on that list!

  13. Dyanne August 25, 2017 at 2:50 pm - Reply

    Yup. I felt the same way about Dubrovnik. Had a great plate of fresh oysters there, but otherwise… “meh”.

    I’ve spent a lifetime traveling the globe (and living in 5 foreign nations) and… Yeah, I’ve seen Uluru, et al (and it truly is a magnificent “Rock”) but… By faaar, my most memorable travel experiences have been the simplest of encounters with a stray local (usually involving a good bit of miming) in the back streets of Bali, Turkey, Myanmar, Mongolia, or most any other country.

    Indeed, one of my favorite travel quips from an online forum arguably says it all: Responding to someone that asked for suggestions as to what they should see/do in country X, the veteran traveler replied: “Go… anywhere BUT where the guidebook recommends.”

  14. Tom August 24, 2017 at 11:41 am - Reply

    Great advise…my best trip
    Venice was an Air b nb ln
    The back streets away from the crowds. It was close to the hospital…..brilliant.

  15. kevan Hubbard August 24, 2017 at 10:34 am - Reply

    197 is impressive! In fact it’s more as some like the UK are 4 countries in a political union.then you have places like Puerto Rico, Greenland, Jersey,etc..what also of Antarctica how would you count that?then international territory like the UN and red cross.then we have the quirky sovereign order of Malta in Rome. Well I’m up to 89 countries and semi autonomous territories and 6 continents,Antarctica awaits my visit!

  16. Sreekanth August 24, 2017 at 6:00 am - Reply

    Dear earl
    My friend
    I like to go to various places around the globe like you
    But really feel few are so chosen by nature
    That they can be them even inspite of reaching watching millions and stay calm.
    Come on some where me u and all those replied here shall meet and make a great together time in any one of the best places chosen by u
    Keep going the tempo
    Be posting and keep your spirits high and be bonded with like minded people
    Sreekanth from India

  17. Kate - Travel for Difference August 24, 2017 at 12:47 am - Reply

    Haha this is amazing!! In my eyes, everywhere is a new adventure. There’s no top countries, but I do think there are top restaurants and sites. But regardless, I totally agree that you should simply just get out and explore XX

  18. Mike August 23, 2017 at 8:19 pm - Reply

    Well said, and I do hope I get a chance to get to all 197 top list!
    My barber has a unique way of traveller. When he gets off the plane he goes and looks at post cards and finds a few places he likes and heads off to explore. Thought that was a little bit in the spirit of your post, and thought I’d share…

    • Derek August 31, 2017 at 9:10 pm - Reply

      Hey Mike – That’s a very cool way to travel. It is the absolute definition of just going with the flow. Thanks for sharing!

  19. I’ve had good experiences just wandering haphazardly through towns and neighborhoods in Indonesia, Egypt, Spain, Tunisia, Malaysia, and Mexico. I’m currently living in the Philippines and still waiting for one of those magical moments with locals, but at least I haven’t had any outright bad experiences. Like you, Derek, I like to just go outside and wander around without a tourist’s guidebook in my hand or backpack. I agree that guidebooks mention places for a reason, but having a walkabout in a random neighborhood where not many foreigners venture can lead to pleasant encounters with locals that no guidebook can tell you about and no tour company can prearrange. Wandering around Bangkinang, Sumatra, led to an invitation to a wedding. Walking down one of the main roads in the town, taking photos of the local architecture, a man on his little motorcycle pulled to the side of the road in front of me. My skin is not a shade of brown, so there is a 99% chance I am not from the Indonesian archipelago, so he wanted to talk to me. I say 99% because it so happened that I met an elderly Indonesian woman whose skin was whiter than mine, she was a descendent of the few Dutch who remained after Indonesian independence in 1949, and she was married to a brown-skinned Indonesian Christian. Back to the encounter, the man, Abdul-Haris, was the local high school’s English teacher. After a few minutes, he invited me to hop on the back of his scooter and go home with him. He had a nice house with a pleasant garden in front, and after his wife and daughters fed us men, he mentioned that his daughter would be getting married the next weekend. Of course I accepted and the wedding was awesome. He loaned me one of their traditional brightly colored outfits and a nifty hat so I would fit in with the other people in the huge wedding procession/march from the house of the groom to the house of the bride. I felt like a National Geographic journalist on assignment, observing the cultural customs of the Bangkinang People during a well-funded wedding. They gave me a prime seat whenever we sat, for example when the two fathers sat at opposite ends of a huge meeting hall, other men filling in all the remaining space, I was given a seat right in the middle. Everyone sat on the floor, and ate with the right hand from big platters in the middle. When a man wanted to walk between two other men, especially two men who were seated and talking, he bent at the waist and lowered one arm straight down as he passed. The two fathers seemed to be carrying on an old tradition, speaking in way that seemed very formal. After the feast of the two fathers and associated men, everyone went outside and the ladies situated the copious wedding gifts atop their heads. They carried the gifts on their head for the 30 or 40 minute walk to the other house, whilst the men just slowly sauntered, wearing our fancy caps. Everyone’s clothing was so vibrant, even the darker colors like blue. They really know how to make colors pop in Bangkinang. Lastly, the groom and bride were the “king and queen” of Bangkinang for the duration of their wedding day. They even had ornate crowns and thrones! So I can say that yes, I have had my picture taken with reigning monarchs, even if their domain was only one small town and their reign lasted only one day!

  20. Steve C August 23, 2017 at 6:15 pm - Reply

    Hey Earl, I’m 100% in agreement with this post. Actually, I just returned from almost 5 months of traveling through Southeast Asia. I travel slow and enjoy just wandering the mile radius from my hotel, (my neighborhood). Yes, sometimes tourist sites are on my route, but not always. I’ve had many non-planned encounters with local residents. There are a lot of very interesting people out there, with stories that are unbelievable.

  21. Vividscapes August 23, 2017 at 2:20 pm - Reply

    We have always had this thought in mind whenever i see a top 10 post, its a top 10 for someone and it migbt not be tne same for someonse else, so we no longer see the tops, instead loom at what we like and enjoy, there is nothing wrong with the top x lists, but there is way too many of them and offbeat fi ds are the best.

  22. Gillian August 23, 2017 at 1:36 pm - Reply

    This is why I like slow travel. When I’m a monthlong resident of a place, my tendency isn’t to run myself ragged getting in all the “must-dos” and “must-sees.” Instead, I try to settle in and live like a local. I go to the same grocery store, neighborhood cafe or bakery, so that I can get to know the place as if it’s my “real” neighborhood. This approach helps me to get comfortable and feel more at home in a place that’s different and new. When I’m in Paris for a month, I can get in the tourist attractions like the Eiffel Tower–gotta!–but my trip isn’t a crazy race to fit everything in, where I wind up exhausted and crabby from standing in too many lines in the hot sun, dealing with too many tourist crowds, or walking more than I want to after a poor night’s sleep. With slow travel, I can take my time, spread things out, and sleep in when I feel like it. Even when I’m in a place for a month, I might forego a bunch of the museums and opt instead for coffee in a sidewalk cafe or a stroll through a lesser-known neighborhood. Those top ten lists can be good for helping people know what not to miss, but we all know how they spoil so many beautiful places. It was disheartening to me that, at last realizing my life’s dream of seeing Italy, everywhere I went I was surrounded by crowds of other Americans and tiresome queues that impinged upon my enjoyment. The Internet is no-doubt largely to blame; it’s so easy now to find out what the latest hip spot is. Thanks for the reminder that the point of travel is to experience new places and meet people from other cultures, not to check a bunch of items off a list.

  23. Hannes Hofer August 23, 2017 at 12:23 pm - Reply

    Bravo Derek, what a great Idea with this post. You nailed it. “Best of”, “top ten” or “best things you have to do before you die” lists have a very positive effect on our travels though: they bundle the pack. These lists and travel books show you exactly the most touristy spots in the world, which you should avoid at all costs or at least visit with according precaution. Since only Santorini is on every Chinese rich man’s wedding picture, other Cycladic Islands still dream their Sleeping Beauty life. As all books describe “The one Pilgrims way to Santiago”, you can hike some 30 km parallel south of it on your own. All mass tourists, backpackers and alike meet worldwide in the top 10 TripAdvisor spots at night, so you can easily stay with the locals, if you ask the cab drivers where they like to go for a beer.

    • Derek August 31, 2017 at 9:13 pm - Reply

      Hey Hannes – That is all very true and for those who prefer something away from the crowds and popular sights, like you said, it doesn’t take much to find it if we can just move away from the lists and recommendations that usually guide us all to the exact same places.

  24. Karol August 23, 2017 at 12:20 pm - Reply

    Hehe. I like this. I also wish I had your generally more positive attitude. 🙂

    “Do you try to venture away from the main sights? Do you like your travels to be structured or spontaneous?”

    I’m actually a fan of tourist attractions, depending on what they are. (Architecture/nature/history? Yes. Museums? Not particularly.) And I’m quite happy to have structure if I know I only have a limited time in a place and may never return. The old “check items off a list” style. That said, my honeymoon was “go to the train station and take the next train to somewhere we’ve never been” so I’m into the spontaneous style as well if it suits the occasion.

    • Derek August 31, 2017 at 9:15 pm - Reply

      Hey Karol – Awesome to hear from you! And fair enough, with limited time, it can be difficult because of course, if we travel all the way somewhere, we want to make sure we don’t end up seeing none of what grabbed our interest in the first place. With that said, your honeymoon idea is brilliant! I hope that turned out well 🙂

  25. Prabhu Darme August 23, 2017 at 12:11 pm - Reply

    Its very inspirational text, we have to see whole world, I will visit southern part of India this November.

  26. Misty August 23, 2017 at 11:30 am - Reply

    very nice looking map – but I noticed that its missing Japan.
    I totally agree that meeting locals, fellow travelers and going off the beaten path is what makes travelling so much fun.

    • Derek August 23, 2017 at 11:34 am - Reply

      Hey Misty – Ha, didn’t notice that! Well, it’s on the list so hopefully it won’t be forgotten 🙂

  27. Jonny Blair August 23, 2017 at 10:58 am - Reply

    Hey Earl, great post, I love your take on this even though we have different mindsets on it! I do “top 10 lists” all the time these days and will continue to do them, it kind of helps me realise that I toured a city and found a top 14 bars (for example) out of a possible 78, more of a selfish – these are my favourite bars, cafes, sights, museums, villages, countries etc . I actually compiled a list of “Top 625 countries in the world to visit”, where I even separated what some class as “countries”, “nations”, “kingdoms”, “principalities” (or whatever name people come up with for their own empires) down into what I believe they are. In all cases, let’s hope we meet again for a drink, whether it be in a city, a village, a country or even in one of your top 197, or my top 625. Safe travels. Jonny

    • Derek August 23, 2017 at 11:38 am - Reply

      Hey Jonny – Great to hear from you. Creating a list of our favorite places certainly doesn’t do any harm and can be a great way to keep track of what we’ve been up to in a destination. The post was more of a reminder to also get out there and allow for some spontaneous travel too. Which I know you do! I like your 625 countries list and definitely looking forward to meeting up again in any of those 625. Be safe too for now!

  28. wandergirl August 23, 2017 at 10:50 am - Reply

    Such a great text. I completely agree with you.

    This year I visited some Transilvanian villages, and Sibiu, Brasov, Sighisoara, and I was also in Italy discovering Lombardy, so I visited the city of Pavia and Piacenza, Lecco, Malgrate and Varenna on Como Lake. And it was beautiful, just going around, meeting the locals, discovering little castles,streets, without buying magnets , without taking selfies ( or watching people taking selfies and posting it directly on Facebook and Instagram)

    On my bucket list are not Paris, Amsterdam, Barcelona ( i really want to see them, but if I do not, I wont be disappointed. On my bucket list are now Dinant ( Belgium), Plovdiv ( Bulgaria), Cesky Krumlov ( Czech Republik), Moldova, Geogria, Lublin ( Poland) etc.

    • Derek August 23, 2017 at 11:39 am - Reply

      Those are some great places – ones you’ve already visited this year and ones on your list for future travels! No magnets, though? Really? (Joking.)

  29. Gordon Moss August 23, 2017 at 10:42 am - Reply

    Indeed, traveling now is not like it was when I first hit the road – back in the 80’s. In so many ways now it is easier and cheaper to travel. But yes, now the crowds are daunting! All I can advise to my friends and loved ones is to Do It Now. Don’t put it off another 10 or 20 years. Yes go everywhere you can. See the sights.. you must!! But honestly, my #1 goal in traveling is not the sights, it is meeting the locals .. and the other world travelers. That is the best part of the journey.

    • Derek August 23, 2017 at 10:50 am - Reply

      Hey Gordon – Perfectly said! That is definitely the best and most memorable part of every journey. And luckily, as people start to travel more, I find that most end up discovering that exact same thing. Doesn’t take long!

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