Been There, Not Done That

solo travel fears

Dear travellers of the world. Some of you are doing something that drives me crazy, and makes you sound stupid. You know who you are. You need to stop saying the word “done” when you talk about countries. There, I said it!

This is a bit of a rant post about my biggest travel peeve – and it follows on from a post I wrote last year about why I don’t like country counting. I’m talking specifically about phrases like “I’ve done Thailand” or “I spent three months doing Asia.” It’s a terrible choice of word, and honestly it makes you sound just a little bit ignorant. Or at least like somebody who doesn’t really understand the true value of travel. Here’s my issue with the d-word…

First, you simply haven’t “done” a country. Ever. It’s pretty much impossible. I don’t care how long you spent there – there’s no way you did everything. How long have you lived in your home country? I’ve lived in England for nearly 29 years and I’ve barely seen any of it. There’s no way I could call it “done”. So why would I say that about any other country I’ve visited?

Second, even if you literally did every single thing and went to every single place in a country, it’s still not done. A country isn’t a level on a video game – there’s no final boss fight, no 100%. Countries are fluid, ever-changing. The people change, the culture changes. New things open, others close down. Forests burn down. Towns become cities. Names change, borders change. There are wars and natural disasters, developments and economic booms. No country itself is ever 100% complete, so how can one ever be done?

Girl train travel

Now, you might be thinking, “it’s just a turn of phrase, what’s the big deal?”. After all, I’m sure that if you say “I did Australia last year”, you don’t literally mean that you did Australia. But if you think about it, saying “done” just sounds a bit ignorant, and even a little derogatory. You’re reducing an entire country to a box-tick, and that just doesn’t do justice to true experience of travel.

I remember overhearing a conversation with a guy who was exploring “most” (his words) of South America in three weeks. This was about halfway through my own five month trip, during which I barely covered a fraction of the continent. The girl he was chatting to asked how, and his reply was something along the lines of “Well, I did Brazil in about a week, flew to Buenos Aires and did that in about two days, then I flew to Santiago for a day. You can basically do all of Bolivia in three days, so I’ve done that, and now I’m going to Peru and Ecuador”.

Isn’t that just depressing? An entire continent (in which there are twelve countries) reduced to a few quick stops on a three week trip. Now, I understand that everyone likes to travel in different ways, and just because I’d hate a whirlwind trip like that it doesn’t mean it’s not a viable travel option. In fact it can be a great way for someone with limited annual leave to see as much of the world as possible. But it was the language and tone the guy used that got my back up. From his account, after this trip he’ll have done all of South America – tick! – and will never have to come back. Which just seems like the wrong attitude to have towards travel. And, by the way, three days is absolutely not enough time for Bolivia – one of my favourite countries in South America!

Travel deeper

So please, don’t say “done”. Say visited, explored, been to, spent time in. Say travelled. Say anything but done! Countries are not points on a checklist. Once you’ve been, you can still visit again – and still see something new everytime. Stop focusing on what bits of the world you can tick off – and instead start talking about the experiences you’ve had and the places you’ve been. That’s surely what travel is truly all about.

What are your biggest pet peeves when it comes to fellow travellers? I can’t be the only one who hates the d-word! 

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Been There, Not Done That: Why travellers should stop calling countries "done"

About Emily Luxton

An award-winning writer and travel blogger on a mission to explore the world through deeper, more intelligent travel. Seeking out adventure, cultural exchanges, food experiences and more as she attempts to get to know the world. Lover of the great outdoors, sunsets, good food, and the odd bit of luxury!

46 Comments

  1. Can only agree. Once in a while I find myself in this discussion, and even though I’ve heard so many people say it, I still don’t get it. This annoys me just as much as when people choose a country on each continent when they go traveling (fx. a 2 month trip to egypt, nepal, new zealand, cuba, chile – just to be able to say that they’ve been to all the continents..) Ickkk.

    • Haha I know exactly what you mean. I DO understand wanting to be able to say you’ve visited a lot of places, and it’s fun to watch your list of places visited go up, but when that becomes the sole reason for your travels or you become really flippant with it and barely give a place your time, it really irks me!

  2. Another pet peeve is a person flying into an airport via a connection or crossed a border to shop and say “Oh, I have been to that county.” What?!

  3. This is so true!! I’m an Australian living in London and I was really offended recently when a friend said that they wanted to spend a few weeks in Australia so that it was “done” and they wouldn’t ever have to go back again since it’s so far away! Ummm… do you know how large my country is?! It’s the sixth largest country in the world!! I spent 28 years living there and I’ve barely scratched the surface of all of the places there are to visit. Also, the idea of ticking off countries so that you don’t ever have to go back is strange to me! What if you really enjoy it there? No need to go back anyway because it’s done?

    I understand that when travelling such a long way it’s good to have a nice long trip to experience as much as possible, but “done” is a really tactless choice of words, and travel is supposed to be about experiences not a list of accomplished places!

    • Exactly! Thanks so much for commenting Dominique – I feel like you’ve said it much better than me! It’s tactless!

      Can’t believe someone said they want to get Australia done just so they don’t have to go back. Just don’t go at all then! If you go anywhere for a few weeks it won’t be “done”, and the only reason you “don’t have to go back” is if you tick it off your own list. No one else is standing over you pointing at a clipboard saying “come on, there’s still 160 countries to go….”

      • About to say – why can’t we admit to not wanting to go somewhere?! No offense, but personally I have no desire to go to Australia, I don’t know why, I just don’t. I may go one day if an opportunity arises and may change my mind, but for now I am not keen. Why should that not be an okay thing to say even as an avid traveler?! And to go somewhere not to have to go back just makes you a pompous a…hole.

        • Another great point! There are loads of places I’m in no hurry to visit, too (Australia is one of them and I don’t know why either!). For some reason as travellers it seems like we’re supposed to want to visit (or “collect” it feels like) all the countries – but there are plenty that don’t appeal as much to me.

          Also… pompous a-hole!!! Love it! So right 🙂

  4. In addition to Dominique’s comment, not only “done” but “tick off” countries is also a pet peeve of mine, it sounds like someone need to rush through a place as a task and then he/she dont have to come back there, ever. It is also a low-end travel writing expression like “done” What happens to just take time travel to get to know a place, embrace the culture and have fun? It seems some people want to travel but does not enjoy travel itself at all. Sorry I am a travel snob.

    • Haha I don’t think you’re a travel snob at all Julie! I think you’re exactly right. Travelling just for the sake of ticking off a country is pointless – you may as well stay at home and collect stamps or something!

      PS – I will reply to your email soon, I promise! Super busy in Thailand atm 🙂

  5. Love this! I absolutely agree with you. I always get annoyed when I come across people who ‘do’ a country too. It’s not a chore, or laundry! And it’s really sad to see people going somewhere merely to tick off a list and boast about how many places they’ve visited. To travel just for that, is a waste! Also can’t stand the overused terms ‘bucket list’ and ‘off the beaten path’ anymore! Turns out I have quite a few travel peeves too 😉 Anyways, great post Emily.

    • Hahaha! I share those travel peeves. I used to have a bucket list, but I took it down from my blog because I realised that the world is about so much more than a tick-list. There are a few “bucket list” things that I really want to do, still, like wing walking and skydiving, but I don’t really think of it as a bucket list. It’s more just a big pile of stuff I’m hoping to do someday!

      Off the beaten path I have mixed feelings about. I use the phrase, because a lot of what I try to blog about is less typical or un-touristy things, but in reality there are very few places left in the world which are truly “off the beaten path”. It’s more a generic turn of phrase these days. We could come up with another way of saying it, but then I think that would also become overused and meaningless eventually!!!

      Thanks for commenting and sharing the post on Twitter 🙂

  6. agreed! Im planning at least 3 and a half days for Bolivia, maybe even four! 😛

    joke! JOKE!
    it’s an ugly turn of phrase isnt it. It actually suggests something a little sinister if you ask me. to have ‘DONE’ a country. Im heading to south america finally this year, going for two months. Im dismayed at how little time that is for the places I want to see and visit, but sadly thats the reality of life and work for me these days.

    • Haha! Four days might be a tad too long Andrew, you’ll run out of things to do 😉

      Yeah I agree, it’s just a bad choice of word. Sounds ugly and just wrong. Really rubs me up the wrong way when I hear people saying how many days it’ll take to “do” a certain country. Someone told me you can “do” Uruguay in a daytrip from Buenos Aires because you only need to see Montevideo :/

  7. Couldn’t agree more! It’s better to know a few countries intimately than dozens of countries superficially. And you can never really get to know a country intimately if you’ve just gone to it so that you can drop it in to conversation later…

    I don’t think I’ll ever ‘do’ a country in the completist sense of the word. Or in any other sense for that matter!

  8. Yes, thank-you! This is one of my pet hates too! I think it also shows up people who are only travelling for the instagram photos/glory.

  9. I would tend to agree, I think the phrase is representative of an attitude to travel that is at best superficial and naive, and at worst arrogant and narcissistic. It also annoys me a bit when someone dismisses a town (or even a whole country!) as “not worth visiting” – even the grimmest places on earth can still teach you something valuable or provide you with a memorable experience.

    There’s definitely nothing wrong with trying to cram a lot into a shorter itinerary though, or restricting yourself to the ‘highlights’ of a region – as you say, it’s often the only option for those of us working full time with limited annual leave, and it can be a good way of getting a little taster of several different places, to see which ones you’d like to return to later and explore in more detail.

    • I agree with you. I hate it when people say somewhere isn’t worth visiting! What some people find terrible others love, so there’s no way I would ever say a place wasn’t worth it. And even the worst places I’ve been have at least left me with some kind of story or experience worth remembering!

      I can remember someone told me there was no point in going to Ecuador as it was “just like the rest of South America only smaller”. Whatever that means! It just seems like some travellers have the worst attitude towards travel – and it’s usually those travellers that use the word “done” a lot!

  10. ‘Done South America’ in 3 weeks??? Impossible. I’m with you – I intensely dislike the d-word. We spent 16 months in South America in 2008-9 and barely scratched the surface. Now we’re back for more. We spent a lot of the last year in Argentina and cannot truly say that we are ‘done’ with that… I could go on. You are absolutely right. Ban the word, I say!

    • Hahah I’m SO glad it’s not just me who feels this strongly about it. The absolute WORST I think are people who say they’re going to go to a place just so they can say they’ve done it! What’s the point?!

  11. It’s totally stupid and would only be used by someone checking off a checklist of countries. What, so he/she can brag about it later? Were full-time travellers, have been now for a few years. We recently had someone ask us how many countries we’ve visited. I scratched my head. I’ve never bothered keeping count, what’s the point? I don’t get it.
    Frank (bbqboy)

    • It is stupid! I really hate people that talk about a country like it’s a box they’ve ticked. I can’t understand the point in travelling for that purpose only. So glad to have so many people agreeing with me 😉

  12. Okay, I sometimes count countries, but just because I’ve visited a country, I would never count it as “done”. Nearly everywhere I’ve been I’d love to return to, whether to revisit the same places (every experience is different) or to visit all of the other places I didn’t have time for, or it wasn’t the right season for, or I’ve heard of since then, etc.

    And talking about counting countries, I sometimes get a bit jealous that I’ve spent so much time travelling around my home country of Australia (including a 5-month trip), but I can only count it as one country. Precisely the reason I shouldn’t count at all!

    • I do count countries too – in that I know how many I’ve been to. But that’s all I do with the count – it doesn’t mean anything to me!! I know what you mean about spending a long time in a big country. If you’ve travelled extensively in one place, to anyone who just looks at numbers it might look like you’ve hardly travelled. Same problem with me and going back to places (like Spain) over and over – it tends to look like I’ve not travelled that much. It’s why I wrote my post “Why I Don’t Count Countries”.

      But the saying “done” is a whole other, and way more annoying, issue! I can’t believe anyone would consider a country done after just one trip. Or ever, in fact!

  13. Funny that I just spotted this on Twitter, it’s something I was thinking about just the other day. I think I kind of decided it could be used in a “I feel like I’m done with country/town for now”, meaning you want to dedicate more of your travel time to a new place, but accept that, although you feel you’ve gained everything you wanted to from the country, you accept there is always more to see and do, and may decide to return some time in the future. In that way, I find it less irritating…. But that might just be me.

    Overall, though, I couldn’t agree more with what you’re saying.

    • I know what you mean, and context is important – it’s ok for you personally to feel done with a country. I just hate the blase way it keeps being used by travellers, and how it normally goes hand in hand with very shallow/superficial exploring 🙂

  14. Nothing in my life is ever done, I grow and change and know the same place will look different to me because of this. I shared this in a few places:) Cheers to travel and loving the not so clear cut life of travel.

    • Thanks so much for commenting and sharing 🙂 I agree with you completely, nothing is ever done – places change, we change, and other people change. Everything changes and that’s why we should never stop travelling. Or going back to places! 🙂

  15. I am so with you on this one, one of my pet peeves too. I spent three months in Thailand and that didn’t include anywhere south (or on fact East – with the exception of Nong Khai) of Bangkok. Yet I still felt like I’d done barely more than scratch the surface. I also spent three months in Peru, and again felt exactly the same when I left. I met a lot of people who claimed to have ‘done’ south East Asia or South America in two months. How is it even possible to visit only the major tourist attractions in two months when travel between destinations in these countries probably accounts for a quarter (if not more) of this time? I’m so glad someone else shares my anger and frustration with this concept 🙂

    • Haha it’s definitly my biggest annoyance when it comes to travel terms! I think most people only use it flippantly, without thinking – but it just sounds terrible. And if they really mean they’ve “done” a place, well that’s even worse!

      For me the MOST annoying is when people use it whilst giving advice. I’ve been told so many times “oh, you can do such and such a place in a day”, or “you can do Vietnam in a week” or whatever. NO. YOU. CAN’T!!! You can’t “do” any place in a day; in my opinion you can’t ever “do” any place. It just sounds so derisive. #Rantover 😉

  16. Like so many others, I totally agree! It’s never possible to be ‘done’ traveling ANYWHERE, unless you choose to be done looking for things to experience and explore! 🙂

    • Thanks Valerie!!! I had to write this rant because it was driving me crazy – so many travellers seem to “tick” things off and only travel for the sake of new ticks. It drives me crazy!

  17. Uff I could not agree more! I was just thinking this morning that so many people have on their blogs or twitter XX Countries visited – it does reduce travel to a tick box exercise. I agree, for those not lucky enough to travel as much as we do they want to see as much as they can in the limited time they have – but whizzing through a country in 3 days surely isn’t doing it or their journey justice.

    • Thanks Claire 😀 It’s not that I don’t think you should try to see as much as possible, but I hate people who just see things for the sake of saying they’ve “done” it. I know so many people who did that with amazing places like Machu Picchu – and it drives me crazy!

  18. I am so glad you addressed this! This is my ultimate travel pet peeve as well and it annoys the heck out of me when I hear people say that. Thanks for sharing your thoughts! I can definitely relate to them.

    • Thanks so much for commenting Brittany 🙂 I always love when people agree with me on this – I meet so many people who talk as if the world is one big checklist and it drives me crazy. Been hanging out with a one of them this week at my hostel in Bali – the kind of guy who’s just going to places to get a photo of himself there!

  19. I love this post!

    It tickles around the edge of an interesting dilema the philosophy of travel, which, curiously, always seems to be quite an emotive subject.

    What is a ‘traveller’?

    Is it someone who goes to Benidorm for a week and bakes on the beach all day and drinks predominantly in english bars at night but had paella instead of McDonalds one night to try something ‘exotic’?

    Is it the ‘gap year’ traveller that races half way around the world ‘bagging’ places that they found after googling ‘top ten gap year destinations’ (The travel equivalent of being a trainspotter if you like)

    Is it someone who travels with work and spends a few fleeting hours ‘exploring’ where they are, or who keeps coming back to the same place time after time?

    Or is it someone who seeks a more immersive experience when visiting a country and likes to experience more of the culture and understand how a place works. Who gets away from the ‘sights’ or even live in another country for a period of time?

    Do you define a traveller as someone who’s luggage is a backpack rather than a suitcase? or stays in a hostel rather than a hotel?

    Or is a ‘traveller’ someone who visits countries for months at a time rather than their two weeks annual leave from work?

    The answer, of course, is that travel is all of those things and more. With all these conflicting philosophies, there are always going to be disagreement on whether there is more (or indeed anything) a country has to offer.

    My slightly laboured point is that we shouldn’t be too troubled because we meet people along the way travel differently, who have a different philosophy on visiting places, so long as they don’t try to impose their philosophy or ideas on us.

    Just so you know, where I am in all of this: With the exception of being a gap year traveller. (Gap Years hadn’t really been invented when I was a student) I have, and continue to be, most if not all of these travellers.

    As I have gotten older and wiser, I find the notion of having ‘done’ or being finished with somewhere a bit fascile. In all the countries I have visited and lived (and it didn’t occur to me to count), I have never left a country feeling I don’t ever need to go back, so I guess I am not ‘done’ with any of them!

    • Wow Stu – I think you’ve just won the award for the longest comment I’ve ever received!!! Thanks so much for taking the time to read the post and to write such a lengthy and well thought out comment.

      I completely agree with you. It takes all sorts to make a world and it takes all sorts or travellers too. I actually hate the kind of tourist vs traveller debate that circulates because there’s an annoying snobbery to it – something I hope I’m not displaying in my own post. And I definitely want to be open to all philosphies and ideas and types of travel.

      That being said, I think the word “done” when it comes to countries will always sit badly with me. It’s just far too blase and really seems to show that the person saying it considers the place they’ve just visited little more than a word. A list-item checked off. I’ve never, ever felt done with any place in the world and I don’t think I ever will. As I’ve said before – I’m not even “done” with my hometown; it changes all the time and there’s always something new to discover.

      I guess I’m just trying to encourage people to look at the world, and at travel, as this evolving and constantly changing adventure, with new things to uncover. Not to look at travel like a game or a tick-list, but as a series of experiences and wonderful memories that can mean so much!

      • Ha! Sorry for being quite so verbose, obviously caught me on a slow day!I quite like the philosophy of why people travel. I like your supposition (is that the right word?) that travel should be ‘an evolving and changing adventure’. I like repeat visits. My record is 29 visits to Cairo over a three year period. Each trip was completely different to the last and I would go again tomorrow if I had the chance.

        It would be quite good fun to make some check list travellers go back to places they have ‘done’ and let their travel experiences grow a little.

        • Oooh absolutely it would. I’d love to see someone experience a place for a second time after calling it “done” – I think they’d very quickly change their mind! Always something new to discover 🙂

  20. Nice post. I have to say there are a few places that I’ve been to quite briefly and ‘ticked off’ either because I didn’t like them that much or I don’t imagine myself going back, but I wouldn’t say I’ve ‘done’ them, just that I went there and that was enough for me in that particular place.

    There is always more to see and do in a certain country, it just depends on your level of interest. I will never be finished with Ukraine as I always find more and more and more to do there, but I’m not extremely interested to see the rest of, say, Croatia or Switzerland just because for various reasons they were not really my thing.

    Then again there is no right or wrong way to travel. I love to stay for months in one place or go back dozens of times if I like it, but sometimes a beach holiday or sightseeing tour is a lot of fun too.

    • Thanks Alexa. I get what you mean – there are a (very) few places I probably wouldn’t choose to go back to. But when I talk about people saying “done”, I don’t necessarily mean someone who feels like they’re personally done with a place. I mean people like the guys I’m currently listening to in my hostel dorm, who are saying they went to Siem Reap for two days just to “do” Angkor Wat, and that they went to Angkor Wat “just to get the classic sunrise photo” and left before 11am because it was boring. What is the point in going somewhere just to say you’ve been, or to get the photo, or just because it’s in the guidebook?! Why not leave those places to people who are really interested, and go do the things that you actually want to do.

      My biggest pet peeve is people that travel just for the sake of doing something, and treat it like a tick-list. I can’t understand it!

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