Is there a disproportionate number of stamp collectors among postal workers? I doubt it. Young philatelists don't necessarily harbor dreams of sorting mail. But I'd bet that the travel industry holds a significant number of people who had wanderlust in their youth and who sought out a career that could feed their travel habit.

That's a good thing for the industry. Though there's probably not much correlation between a passion for stamps and the ability to vend them effectively, enthusiasm about travel fuels both the creation and selling of great travel products.

Somewhere along the way, many of us in the industry begin collecting countries. We start to take pride in the quantity as well as the quality of our travels. We start counting. But there's a problem with country counting: There's no agreed-upon methodology.

Depending on the instrument I use, my bragging rights can include 111, 95 or 86 countries or 199 destination "visits."

The layman, of course, would begin with the United Nations member states, of which there are 192. I have been to 95 of them. But that list is found wanting by those of us who desire credit for taking the time to visit, for instance, Ceuta, a small Spanish enclave carved out of Moroccan territory, or, a couple of hours away by boat, Gibraltar, where a bit of Great Britain has been grafted onto southern Spain. In culture, language and cuisine, both of these are quite distinct from their surrounding territory, and the experience a traveler finds in them is quite dissimilar from their motherlands.

The most permissive of checklists is found on MostTraveledPeople.com. As I write this, I am tied for 147th place on its master list of travelers, with 199 "visits," and am classified as a "senior ambassador." If all goes as planned, by the time you read this, I will be tied for 145th place and can claim "gold" status.

I'm not sure I fully understand why, in this sites' logic, one can get credit for each U.S. state or province in China visited but not, for instance, provinces in France or Spain. But I think it's a great site nonetheless, in part because you can input your travels and they show up on a map, and also because you can see where you rank among other country collectors.

The oldest organized group of country counters I'm aware of is the Travelers Century Club (TravelersCenturyClub.org), established in 1970. I've been to 111 countries (out of 317) as it defines them. TCC, based in San Diego, has chapters around the world that get together from time to time.

(Perhaps predictably, it has come under attack from MostTraveledPeople.com for its definition of a "visit." Three paragraphs are spent explaining why TCC's rules are inferior.)

My final list was found in a wonderful Belgian publication called the Globetrotter's Logbook (GlobetrottersLogbook.com). I keep this small journal with me when I travel; it's simply more personal than Web record keeping, and it's very handy to have if you find yourself someplace without Internet cafes (or electricity, for that matter).

I'm a fan, despite the fact that it grudgingly gives me credit for only 86 countries.

The flaw with all these measurements, of course, is that they take into account only space, and not time. TCC allows you to credit yourself for a visit to a political entity that no longer exists (East Germany, for instance) but that's not really what I mean.

My visits to Jerusalem in 1970, Kathmandu in 1983 and Prague in 1991 earned me a credit each on these lists, but I can never truly revisit those places. Not only have they changed dramatically, but intervening experience has also changed the way I would perceive them.

The expression "been there, done that" is supposed to convey a sense of sophistication, but more often than not it reveals the opposite. The richness of travel is such that, after visiting all the 673 countries, territories, autonomous regions, enclaves, geographically separated island groups and major states and provinces listed by MostTraveledPeople.com, one could start all over again and have completely different experiences.

I mentioned earlier that there's no need to be a passionate stamp collector to sell postage effectively. There are, after all, machines that sell stamps. Likewise, there are machines that sell travel. In fact, these machines are in most American homes. I'm typing on one right now.

There are clearly types of travel for which these machines work just fine. But it has been my experience that if I want a trip that's rare and valuable -- the equivalent of an 1857 Tre Skilling Blanco to a philatelist -- I'll end up most satisfied when I turn to a fellow country collector.

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