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I am a traveler of the kind that likes to log. I have this "ridiculous" race with a friend to visit as many country as possible, but we start running into issues about what is called a country. The basic idea is the more the merrier. So obviously, only logging existing countries is not enough. So we are considering to extend to territories (e.g. the Azores, French Guyana, Gibraltar, etc), or extend in the other directions where group of countries have a single name (e.g. Scandinavia, Maghreb, Indochina, Hispaniola, etc.).

What we need is an ontology of conglomerate of countries, countries, regions, and territories. The list doesn't necessarily need to be political correct. If in one language a name exists for two or more countries, even if the inhabitants themselves consider that an insult, it is fine for us.

Does such an ontology exist?

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Other answers have given some lists, and talked about the definitional problems, but they don't seem to have anything like an ontology. GeoNames is a large database of geographic names with relations between them. It's not always easy to get all the data from the website... you might need to download the database and write your own programs to access it. For example searching for "Hispaniola" finds the island and shows that it's shared between Haiti and DR, but I can't see how to find the link in the other direction (i.e., DR is situated on Hispaniola).

  • Gah, totally forgot about Geonames, that resource is fantastic. – Mark Mayo Nov 10 '14 at 22:59
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There are tons, and they're all different, because any list of countries beyond "full members of the United Nations" is open to interpretation. Here are a few of the better known ones, in order of increasing size:

  • The ISO 3166-1 standard defines 249 countries and territories. Getting on the list requires a fair bit of political recognition, so lots of interesting places are missing, although it's less restrictive than the UN list.
  • Travellers' Century Club, 324 countries and territories. This is the best known by a long shot, but not without its warts: lots of obscure islands, but larger countries get short shrift (Brazil and China are one place each, mainland Russia is only "Russia" and "Siberia").
  • Most Travelled People, 850 places, many of them states of countries etc. Annoyingly enough, the site is heavily paywalled.
  • ISO 3166-1's obscure cousin ISO 3166-2, which covers countries and all their top-level subdivisions (states, provinces, departments, unitary authorities, governorates, parishes etc), and thus lists over 4,000 places.
  • UN/LOCODE, which assigns codes for both places and transport facilities (airports, ports etc), and has over 82,000 listings!
  • [..]mainland China is only "Russia" and "Siberia" I guess you mean mainland Russia? (note: no sarcasm, I'm just not sure what you mean) – clabacchio Nov 10 '14 at 13:30
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Depends. What's a country? Very hard to define, it turns out. The CIA World Factbook has a list, and some people go by the UN list of member states. I believe that's the list Chris Guillibeau goes by (he's visited all of them).

If you're competing, and want to record it, Most Travelled People and Traveller's Century Club are the two main ones that I found when I got a bit competitive at one stage - I wanted to reach 50 countries by age 30, and ran into the same difficulties.

However, you start realising that everyone has a different view on what makes a country. Is Kosovo a country? I'd say so, people who live there say so, but the UN doesn't (last time I checked). Is Scotland? Some say yes, some say no. What about Sealand? Micronations that exist only one day a year, like Uzipis? It gets very tricky.

And if you're 'competing', the problem with MTP and others is that 1) you have to register, and 2) you have to pay. I'm not paying to be on an arbitrary brag list. Some do, clearly, and indeed, a friend is on MTP and claims to be the x most travelled NZer, even when he joined I'd been to more countries (he's since passed me, but that's besides the point).

In the end, it's best to make your own definition. My friend has as well, he counts what he calls Tier 1, 2 and 3 countries (depending on their independent status and so forth).

Don't forget, and this is what got to me - if you 'visit' a country, have you actually seen anything? I went to Paris for a few hours once, but I decided not to count it as I only saw the airport and a hotel. I've since been back. It's more important to experience the people, the food, the culture, the sights, sounds and memories than a number. However, I get it, I'm also driven by numbers, and I list them in my profile.

So what you're going to have to do is either get your friend to agree with you on one of those 'definitive' lists, and then use that as your reference. Let us know what you choose, and good luck! :)

  • I took a night train from Vienna to Strasbourg. Have I visited Germany? – TRiG Nov 10 '14 at 13:07
  • @TRiG - The Traveler's Century Club answers your question: "After consideration as to how long one must have stayed in a country or territory to qualify, it was decided that even the shortest visit would suffice — even if only a port-of-call, or a plane fuel stop." – Andrew - OpenGeoCode Nov 10 '14 at 16:26
  • @TRiG I count trains and buses if I saw stuff, as you get to see some amazing things from them. I don't count airport stops, even really long ones in Fiji :-( – Mark Mayo Nov 10 '14 at 22:05

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