Checklists of places we’ve been are kind of silly, but most of us still make them. Here’s how I decided how to add a new place to my list.

You’ve probably had this conversation before: Someone asks if you’ve ever been to a city like, say, Atlanta.

“No,” you might reply, “but I’ve been to the airport.”

“Oh that doesn’t count,” someone might counter as you nod your head in agreement.

I’ve had some variation on that conversation countless times, and it gets at a strange but seemingly universal travel truth: There is some threshold you have to meet before you can say you’ve been to a place. So what is that threshold? When you can you say you’ve been to a place?

Admittedly, there’s some absurdity to this idea; I’ve spent more than two years in Brazil and a day in Morocco, but on a list of places I’ve been they both get one notch. The idea, then, is not when you can say you fully understand a place or anything like that. It’s just when you can put it on the list of places you’ve been. So here’s the criteria I use.

1. I have to leave the airport

Occasional non-chain restaurants notwithstanding, airports tend to be pretty generic. So, if all I did was spend a few hours in the Dallas airport, or switch terminals in JFK, or whatever, I don’t count it.

2. I have to interact with at least one person who doesn’t work at an airport.

Meeting people is one of the primary reasons to travel. If I don’t meet anyone at all who isn’t checking my plane ticket, I don’t really count that as travel.

3. Driving through without stopping doesn’t count.

This one is a little harder to pin down; if I spend an entire day driving through Colorado without stopping, have I been there? If I drive through Manhattan while en route from JFK to Newark does that count?

The answer varies by situation, but my feeling is that if you’re driving for a long period you’ll at least have to stop for gas or food. And if you don’t, it wasn’t a very long drive. I’m flexible on this one, but in the end I’ve driven straight through entire states in the middle of the night without stopping, and it just doesn’t feel fair to say I’ve had any real experience in those places.

4. Ideally, I have to eat something in a place.

I recently visited Kentucky. I was not there for very long, but in that time I went to the grocery store, then stopped by a restaurant where I ate and chatted with the staff. It was hardly enough to give me any sense of what Kentucky was like, but afterward it felt like I could reasonably at least say that I’d been there.

In the end there’s a lot of wiggle room on these points, but I like thinking about them because they speak to the underlying idea that travel should be meaningful. It should facilitate connections. And if that isn’t happening, well, maybe it doesn’t really count.

Related reading: 

Here are our favorite restaurants across the United States

— Jim Dalrymple II


Written by Jim Dalrymple II

Urbanism and travel writer. Also a journalist covering the news.


  1. I like to have slept there. I’m not a stickler about that rule though.

    I wonder about this when it comes to claiming having lived somewhere. I usually err on saying you’ve lived somewhere if you don’t have a return ticket booked, but that’s admittedly an imperfect definition.

    1. I like the “slept there” idea. And yes, living in a place opens up a whole new thing. I sort of feel like it counts once you’ve made a dentist appointment in a place; you’d never do that on a trip, and it usually takes awhile before you get around to it in a new city. But yeah, that’s also very imperfect

      1. Haha! That’s a fun definition, but by that account, I never actually “lived” in SLC (because I kept my Provo dentist).

    2. I think about the claim of having lived somewhere, too. As a flight attendant with flight benefits, I generally don’t have a return ticket booked when I travel. Always one ways; and always not sure when I’m coming back — whether its from work in New York, or from travel abroad. But I guess if there’s an idea of return, then maybe the new place was never really home. Although I guess I’m also conflating the idea of having lived somewhere with the identity of home.

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