number of countries

This post is part of Geek Takeover Week 2022.

Many of you have been following this site for years know my goal is to visit every country in the world. One question that comes up often from people who hear this story is, “how many countries are there?” Well, the broad answer is a big “it depends” but there are a few specific numbers you can count on, based on who’s counting.

United Nations (Sort Of)

One way to count the number of countries in the world is to use the United Nations (U.N.) member states. Currently, there are 193 member states of the U.N. Add to that 2 observer states (Palestine and Vatican City) and now you have 195 but you can already begin to see how these numbers can get muddled up, based on who recognizes whom. In practice, U.N. members can only be sovereign states and doesn’t include nations such as Kosovo, for example.

Blurred Borders

One other way to count the number of countries in the world is to use the International Olympic Committee (IOC) list, which includes territories (like Guam) and de-facto states like Taiwan. The number of countries recognized by the IOC is 206. A bit more than 195 and while there is a good deal of overlap between the U.N. and IOC lists, they both don’t include places like Antarctica. Yes, it’s not a country but it’s an entire continent, which should be worth something on any self-respecting travel list.

More Lists

You Can't See The Curve Of The Earth From Your Airplane Seat (Mostly)

There are other lists which include places like the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus which might not be an official country but on the ground, it certainly behaves as one. Same thing goes for Puerto Rico. Tibet is not it’s own nation and as much as China tries to suppress its identity through ethnic cleansing, lines on a globe don’t tell the whole story.

coffee caye islandia

When you travel to a place, you may feel a stark difference between cultures. Chamula in Mexico behaves like a separate entity. Islandia? The Luhansk People’s Republic is a proclaimed territory within Ukraine, would it make your list?

Why Keep A List?

So how many countries there are changes with time based on who’s counting and how. There’s politics involved. It can be controversial. For many though, 206 is a solid number. Using the IOC list, it includes Taiwan and Kosovo, for examples. Personally, this is the list I lean toward since it’s relatively stable and contains a widely agreed upon list of nations.

What Is Harry Potter Shifting?

But why keep a list at all? For me, it’s a goal post. A target to aim for. Having the journey to visit every country on Earth has lead me to places I never would have thought to visit. It can take me out of my comfort zone. But it’s never really been solely about the list. I go back to places and I’m in no rush to check every country off the list. I’m over 100 countries now and could have been done a long time ago but ultimately, I want to travel the world. See its natural beauty and cultural diversity. Neither of which lines on a map could ever entirely encompass.