A Little Awkward…The Best Country in the World

I can see the question forming on their lips and I instantly backtrack in my mind– what did I just say to prompt it? I know better. I thought I could avoid it this time – will I go tactful, flippant, or just make up an answer…or can I just pretend they phrased it differently?

In slow-motion the lips of the person across from me begins to pucker in formation of the “wh” sound followed by the soft opening of the palette for an “a” and ending with the abrupt staccato of a “t.” There’s just no stopping them now.

“What country is the best country you’ve visited?!” they gush.

Arghhhhh! Can I run and hide?

It’s as if all of the countries are in a police line-up and I have to point out the suspect.

“That one right there. That’s the best country in the world. The rest, psh, don’t even bother.”

Now I’m being cheeky here and I’m treading dangerously close to coming off as snotty, but I’ve been to a bunch of countries, how can I announce a single country that’s far better than the rest? That’s just not fair to all of the countries that have people and experiences I loved.

They’re all different. And sometimes I feel like the question is being asked in the spirit of gaining an absolute recommendation – I tell you my favorite country so you can go visit and you will love it too!

Jumping for joy

Ireland...best country in the world?

But it doesn’t work like that. Travel’s personal; what I love you may not. I loved something about each country I’ve visited over the past two years – and yeah, some countries jived better with my travel style, foodie preferences and learning goals, but each one is memorable in some way for me.

So How Do I Answer This Question?

I normally rephrase the question into something I can answer and feed it back to them:

– “Oh, you want to know some of my favorite experiences! Well yeah, I can tell you some of those:

– I loved India for the food. I loved India for other reasons too, but my love affair with Indian food is epic.

– The sweet and gentle “Sab bai dii” sung into the evening air from the vendors at Laos’ night market sticks with me to this day.

– The crisply fresh smell of absolutely pure and clean mountain air several days into my Himalayan hike – now that was awesome.

– And spending several hours getting randomly serenaded with a dozen different versions of the Happy Birthday song on Fraser Island in Australia gives that giant sand island a fond place in my heart– I still find myself humming the insanely catchy Israeli birthday song!

I could go on. And on. And on… (A “thanks for putting up with me” is in order for my St. Pete friends who get subjected to my every random and wistful recollection when I visit home ;-).

Those memories make me love each of those countries…and I’ve had experiences that make me not too in love with a place too. But whether they were good or bad they’re my memories and I would hate to taint a person against a place they’ve always dreamed of going just because I was in a bad mood the week I was there.

But What if That Answer Doesn’t Suffice?!

Nearly every time answering with experiences is precisely what the person was actually asking.

But occasionally it’s not.

“No, but you one has stick out as better than the rest. Which one is the best/greatest/coolest/grooviest of them all?”

“India.”

Roof-Top Seat

Smiles from the top of an Indian Bus

I tell them India.

Why do I tell them India? Because it cracks me up. One person sputtered. The other gave a thoughtful nod. Neither was expecting that answer.

And I figure it like this: India offers up a huge range of awesomely human experiences and you could spend a decade exploring it and never be done. It’s definitely not a great fit for every type of traveler. The sputter-er will hear my answer, think I’m nuts and discount it, move on with their lives and travel to some country that meets their idea of “best.” Awesome! The thoughtful nodder will consider this an affirmation that it’s worth a visit and perhaps put it on their travel list. Awesome as well!

Either way, there’s no way to pick “the best country in the world,” so if you ask me more than once you’re going to get a very different answer every single time!

So tell me, what’s your favorite country in the whole wide world?  ;-)

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35 Responses to A Little Awkward…The Best Country in the World

  1. Claire October 30, 2010 at 2:15 pm #

    This is also a question I get, and find impossible to answer. Each country provides a different experience, at a different time in life. I usually settle on Guatemala, because that is where I developed a healthy dose independence and courage, learned a whole lot of Spanish, and fell in love with our globe.

    • Anonymous October 30, 2010 at 3:37 pm #

      Guatemala certainly stands out for me as well – I went for a couple of weeks
      and stayed for three months! My first trip out of the US was to Italy where
      I did the same as you, learned the language, culture, and learned the sweet
      tangy taste of independence :)

  2. Kyle Crum October 27, 2010 at 4:51 am #

    I like to choose Brunei dar Salam even thought I’ve never been there, just to move on. Then again, sometimes the next thing is “What’s the craziest thing that’s happened?”.

    • Anonymous October 27, 2010 at 3:07 pm #

      Brunei, lol, that would even give me pause…I’ve also had the “craziest
      thing” question and always dread coming up with a wild story…I’ll take the
      fav country question over that! :)

  3. Jason October 26, 2010 at 12:11 pm #

    Shannon, I get this one all the time, and like others who have also commented. I tend to not name countries but stick to regions of the world I like best, and where I’ve had my most memorable experiences. My answer does sometimes change, but there’s no doubt that central and eastern Africa is a region I constantly name as a favourite.

    • Anonymous October 26, 2010 at 5:19 pm #

      Africa is still so much at the top of my travel list – I just have this feeling that I too will love it once I make it there :) Your photos from there are gorgeous, every time I see one Africa gets higher on my “to visit” list!

  4. SoloFriendly October 26, 2010 at 2:33 pm #

    Great advice! I often get that question “What’s your favorite place?” and I always fall back on the old “I loved them all” answer (which is mostly true, by the way), but no one’s ever satisfied with that. The other danger, as you point out, is that just because I liked a place doesn’t mean someone else will. Everyone’s tastes are different. I like turning it into favorite experiences, though. I’ll have to give that a try.

    • Anonymous October 26, 2010 at 6:28 pm #

      Lol, that’s my answer when I am just don’t feel like getting into it (tho it’s also mostly true)! :-) I find listing your fav experiences also gives you a reason to reminisce..and lord knows most travelers are always looking for a reason to do that!

  5. Booklady October 25, 2010 at 7:28 pm #

    Sorry to write again so soon…but wanted to state my age 79 yrs young!

  6. Booklady October 25, 2010 at 7:26 pm #

    My favorite country in the world would be Ireland. Was first there in 1970 when I put together a small family tour (Mother & three of her cousins) for 3 weeks in Ireland & England. Was last there in 2006 for 4 weeks (2 in England and 2 in Ireland) with two trips between 1970 and 2006 for 30 more days. I have visited the 2-story home in Dublin City where my g.g.g.g grandfather was born and his nearby tanyard.

    • Anonymous October 26, 2010 at 5:17 pm #

      ::sigh:: Ah Ireland, it’s def up there at the top of my favorite places in the world :) Like you, I anticipate that it’s a country I will return to many times over the course of my life to explore. I also went and visited the house where my g. grandfather lived before coming over on the boat! (and hugs for your youthfulness and spirit of adventure :)

  7. Earl October 25, 2010 at 4:30 pm #

    I often go with India as well :)

    But since I generally love every country I visit, sometimes I’ll just pick another one, often so that I can relive my experiences while explaining why I enjoyed my visit so much. Of course, it really is an impossible question as you say but in the end, many who ask it are really interested in learning more about what attracts us to the traveling lifestyle…

    I still love India though!

    • Anonymous October 26, 2010 at 5:13 pm #

      Now that you say that, I reminds me that I have varied it up a bit lately since some of my stories and anecdotes started to get too “overtold” by me…gotta keep things fresh!

  8. Audrey October 25, 2010 at 8:34 am #

    Even after getting this question all the time, I tend to ramble a bit like Laura (a wandering sole) and ask whether they mean by people, food, etc. Other times, I go for Kyrgyzstan or the Pamir Mountains in Tajikistan and see the surprised look on the face. Sometimes they ask “Why?” and other times they think I’m odd and move on to another subject. It’s kind of a fun game :)

    • Anonymous October 26, 2010 at 5:11 pm #

      I’m guilty of the ramble too…the “-stans” are an interesting choice….I admit I’m guilty of not really having them in my mind for upcoming travels but I’m intrigued…

  9. Brian October 24, 2010 at 2:50 pm #

    Isn’t that the question every long term/extensive traveler gets? I have my response down pat now. I have favorite cities, but my favorite country is the one that lets me in and lets me leave in peace!

    • Anonymous October 25, 2010 at 12:38 am #

      Agreed – I could list of cities I would love to live in one day but as far as countries…if you let me in without hassle then I am in peace! I just wish that it was easier for Americans to live in other countries without the pesky work permits! :)

  10. Mikw October 24, 2010 at 2:00 pm #

    Interesting article. As someone who’s never traveled to another country, I actually am kinda looking forward to being asked that question. However, I’m sure once I start traveling I’ll understand what you are saying.

    • Anonymous October 25, 2010 at 12:25 am #

      It is cool to be asked for advice and tips – I just hate the responsibility of telling a person where they should go to next since travel tastes are so different! Congrats on your own trip…just over a week left before you leave! :) Safe travels and thanks for stopping by and commenting Mike!

  11. Michael Hodson October 24, 2010 at 4:22 pm #

    TOTALLY agree with you on this one. Get this question all the time. Nice that they want to know, but most of the people asking me know that I hit 40+ on my last trip. One is a tough one to pick. I usually go with “5 countries you should visit,” since I think that is what they are usually asking.

    • Anonymous October 25, 2010 at 12:44 am #

      I also tend to gauge answers by the person asking and will give them recs I know they might like….40+ is impressive…I am still just hitting 30…not that we’re counting or anything :)

  12. a wandering sole October 24, 2010 at 4:09 pm #

    Definitely a difficult question. I usually give the “Well in terms of people… In terms of culture… In terms of activities….” I end up listing off like 10 countries before I realize that I’m rambling :)

    • Anonymous October 25, 2010 at 12:40 am #

      Lol – I can’t lie, I’ve been guilty of the ramble as well. There comes a point where they shift awkwardly and get a glazed look in their eye – that’s when I realize I’ve started reminiscing a bit too much! :)

  13. Gary Arndt October 24, 2010 at 3:47 pm #

    http://everything-everywhere.com/2010/09/12/my-most-frequently-asked-question/

    I’ll sometimes just say “Micronesia” to move the conversation forward.

    • Anonymous October 25, 2010 at 3:33 am #

      Lol! I love the ending and that you gave me the link to the URL – and though
      I hadn’t read that post previously our tones are pretty similar, perhaps
      an inevitable attitude developed on the road… :)

  14. Flipnomad October 24, 2010 at 3:08 pm #

    china and thailand for the food :-)… philippines for the beaches and india for… limitless adventures

    • Anonymous October 25, 2010 at 12:39 am #

      That’s a great way to describe India – I love it! I haven’t been to the Philippines yet but it’s on my list for sure…I hear there is some good diving out there as well!

  15. Ayngelina October 24, 2010 at 2:46 pm #

    I also love how people ask you while they are traveling so that you can name the country you are in. I have learned to never name the bordering country as you are received with a scowl.

    • Anonymous October 25, 2010 at 12:37 am #

      Hah! That is so hilariously true…they have some fierce patriotism that is best left without questioning :)

  16. Anonymous October 24, 2010 at 2:38 pm #

    France because my answer is almost always either where I’ve just been, or where I’m going next.Unless it’s Tuesday or I’m in an odd mood. I always shy away from asking people “absolute” kind of questions or giving absolute answers… usually ask “what’s one of your favorite places?” or “where have you been recently that you really liked?, always following up with “why?”

    • Anonymous October 25, 2010 at 12:36 am #

      I feel like I need to give France another shot – I’ve only been there once, to Paris, and I had some not-so-fantastic experiences…I agree with you about asking for a more general, “one of your favorite” type of questions…it really makes the pressure of answering easier!

  17. Anonymous October 24, 2010 at 2:37 pm #

    I used to think I couldn’t answer that question until I got to Colombia :) But you’re right, there’s certain aspects of almost every country I love. For example, I have a favorite city that I don’t know enough about (Rome), a favorite city to live in (Melbourne), the easiest people to meet (Indonesians). And some countries I love because I met great people or got special insight, but didn’t have much to do with the country itself.

    • Anonymous October 25, 2010 at 12:34 am #

      Is it that good?! I haven’t made it there yet but several other travel bloggers have really raved about it – you have me intrigued :) I too love Rome for the history – Italy is one of those countries I feel I could visit an endless number of times throughout my life and always enjoy the language, people, and food. Thanks for stopping in and commenting :)

  18. Tour Absurd October 24, 2010 at 2:31 pm #

    The best country? Usually whichever one I happen to be visiting at the moment. I agree, there are just too many unique an likable things about every place you go. I often answer similar questions with a neutral — and honest — “It depends on what you’re looking for!” ;)

    (And cheers to you from another Indian food lover!)

    • Anonymous October 25, 2010 at 12:28 am #

      The sheer number of foodie options when you’re in India continually boggles my mind! I also tend to rave about the place I’ve just visited so whoever asks the question can be subjected to that bias as well! Thanks for stopping in and commenting :)

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