New Countries, Who's First?

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Sure you had to cancel your travel plans for Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia due to the terrible Ebola outbreak and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) travel advisory. But don't despair, there are always new places to visit.

The latest ones? Well, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (aka ISIL. Or is it ISIS?) has recently proclaimed itself a state--I am sure you have heard! The Scots are deciding on their independence from the United Kingdom Thursday and the independent-minded Catalonians of Spain hope to vote on their freedom referendum in November.

Three new countries to visit.

Anyone who has traveled over the last few decades knows that despite all geographic certainties, that the word map is decidedly not a settled affair. Ask any mapmaker. Cartographic stress abounds! As with the Big Bang theory, so too does the list of nation-states keep expanding. It seems that bigger is not always better and one should always be suspicious of straight lines when it comes to maps. And as the atlas gets more and more settled--or unsettled in the case of ISIL--travelers have more and more places to visit.

In one of my books entitled On the Origin of the Species homo touristicus, I sarcastically stated that the Century Club--an august society (read: old and rich) of country collectors, or country baggers as they like to be called, whose sole membership requirement is to visit 100 countries--causes nation-state inflation. Maybe not, but for every newly minted independent state there is an equally new tour group coming to claim their passport stamp. South Sudan was really busy in the summer of 2011--now, not so much.

The post-WWII colonial era's demise was a big boom to country collectors when over three dozen new states in Asia and Africa achieved independence. It seems that those arbitrary boundaries drawn on pieces of old parchment by equally crusty old Europeans really aroused strong feelings among locals--wars in fact!

And just over the last few decades no fewer than 25 new nations have emerged; the big events being the fifteen new states created in the wake of the Soviet Union's demise and the seven that formed once the gunpowder residue settled in the post-Yugoslavian territory. Small it seems, is beautiful.

Back to the Century Club causing nation-state inflation. You see competitive travelers, and we are legion, are indeed a funny breed. We like to brag about the latest places we have visited and are always adding them up. The Century Club--as of today anyway--claims "321 Approved Countries & Territories"...even though the United Nations has only 193 member states!? Really, 321?

New countries are good news for the global travel industry that package these new destinations for us travelers. And aside from Scotland and Catalonia, secessionist movements are on the rise once again. We may in fact see another Big Bang occur in the coming years as more than a dozen other tribes with flags seek autonomy. It should keep the map makers busy.

Think of it, new tourist bureau booths at travel trade shows hawking beguiling destinations like: Tibet (from China), Puerto Rico (from USA), Palestine (from Israel), Flanders (Belgium), Lombardy (Italy) Quebec (Canada), Somaliland & Puntland (from Somalia), Northern Cyprus (Turkey), Kurdistan (from Iraq, Iran, Turkey & Syria), Santa Cruz (Bolivia), Abkhazia (Georgia), Transnistria (Moldova), Nagorno-Karabakh (Azerbaijan & Armenia), Azawad (Mali), Kivu (Congo), Baluchistan (Afghanistan & Pakistan), Zanzibar (Tanzania), Tatarstan (Russia), and Polisario (Morocco). Who knows, maybe even a new country called Texas might emerge! (One can hope, right?)

In fact, while we are at it...since "corporations are people too", maybe a bunch of them will get together to form a more perfect union and plant their flag. Oops, my bad, they already have, it is the Stars and Stripes of a nation ironically called the United States of America.