The Passport Game, Two Different Worlds Apart

The story goes like this: Chris, an Australian citizen, is travelling around in Asia. He wishes to go to Indonesia. He needs a visa. He is currently in Thailand, so he goes to the Indonesian Embassy there. The lady at the embassy informs him: “We do not issue visas here to third-world countries. You need to get it from the embassy in your home country.”

Chris is stupefied. He thinks to himself: “I knew our economy was going down and we had problems, but I had not realized we had sank down to the level of a third-world country.”

Of course, what the woman at the embassy meant by that was totally different to what Chris had understood. First-world countries are your neighbours, second-world countries are countries in the same continent as you, and the third-world are all of the rest.

It is now sort of politically incorrect to call a country third-world. They are rather called ‘developing’ countries. And the way we use the term first and third-world today has nothing to do with how the term originated. It was during the Cold War era: The US and the countries aligned with NATO were first-world countries, the Soviet block was the second-world, and all the rest was the third-world. After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, ‘first-world’ came to signify developed countries with high standards of living and strong economies, the rich and the ‘civilized’. In contrast, the ‘third-world’ consisted of the poorer, under-developed ones.

In his article ‘The forgotten land migration route: “We all want to go to Italy”‘, Fausto Biloslavo writes that migrants call what they are doing the “World Game”.

While young migrants play this game, there is another game very similar to theirs played by a different group of people. That game is called the “Every Country Game”. And it seems to be getting popular every day, if you have a look at the increase in number of the members of Every Passport Stamp group on Facebook, or the news about someone being the first, the youngest, the fastest, to visit every country.

“With a membership of only approximately 100 people, it’s one of the most exclusive clubs on Earth. In fact, more people have been to outer space than have earned their way into this – the ultimate travel club,” announces Ric Gazarian in the introduction of his “Counting Countries” podcast, interviewing the 193 country chasers.

Others playing this “Every Country Game” make similar claims: “5,000 people have climbed Everest, whereas there are about 300 people who have been to every country in the history of mankind.” What’s our history? How long have we been around? It’s just so short. Besides, a century ago, some of the countries that we know today didn’t even exist. So who was to go to every country? Even if there were countries, people simply didn’t have the opportunities that we have today. It’s only recently that we have gained easy access to commercial flights. Buses and cars also help to make it all possible. So now more people are joining the “club” of people who have completed the “Every Country Game”.

People in this game try to elevate their status with the number of countries they’ve been to. The basics is 193 UN countries. Then there are those who add the two observer states: Vatican City and Palestine. Some add Kosovo, Western Sahara, and Taiwan to their list, too. 

There are different travel clubs partitioning the world into different numbers. The oldest most known is the Traveler’s Century Club, which says the world is composed of 327 sovereign nations, territories, enclaves and islands. The Most Traveled Person divides the world into 891 unique parts. Nomad Mania divides it into 1,281 regions. And SISO says there are 3,978 places to visit if one wishes to see the world.

It is definitely a game. Some play the basic game, the 193 countries. Others have more money; they play the game of going to every “territory”, spending tens of thousands of dollars in order to get to some rocks in the middle of nowhere.

The people playing this “Every Country Game” all have first-world passports, or at least some sort of strong passport. There is a whole range of nationalities that are missing among the “Every Country” chasers. Have a look at the Henley & Partners Visa Restrictions Index- Global Travel Freedom at a Glance or at the info-graphic “How powerful is your passport?” by Ricky Linn. How do you expect an Afghani to play the “Every Country Game”? How can you expect any Pakistani to overcome all of the hurdles to obtain a visa for the 160-165 countries that is required of him? As most people playing the “Every Country Game” agree, visas are one of the, if not the main obstacle to travel. Keep in mind, the people who are saying this have obtained only about 20-40 visas maximum. The rest was visa free or VOA (Visa on Arrival) for them.

So the game these people with first-world passports play is basically this: Go to every country. Whereas migrants play a totally different travel game. Their game is as follows: Try to get to one country with the third-world passport you have, without being caught and being beaten up by the police, without being robbed on the way, or cheated by smugglers. And of course, make it in one piece and alive!

Their challenge is the passport they carry. Their challenge is to cross borders and make it to the one country in which they can be safe, without the right passport. For the hundreds of thousands of people who are faced with barriers to go from one place to another, for those who are faced with deportation, who are put in detention centers, who die in unimaginably horrible circumstances… it’s not a game. For them, travel and crossing borders is a matter of life or death.

First-world citizens play the “Every Country” game, third-world citizens play the “Reach This Country With This Passport If You Can” game. They both form groups and share information amongst themselves, give each other tips on how to get around the troublesome points, give advice, names of places to stay, people to contact and maps to use. What both parties have in common apart from that is this: They all want to move around the world they were born on.

However, it’s not the same world they inhabit. They belong to two different worlds. Just like the first-world problems are much different than the real problems of the third-world, the games they play are very different too.