Some people feel that you must be in a country for at least twenty-four hours to “count” as being to a country. That almost certainly rules out layovers. I however did spend twenty-four hours trapped in Shannon Ireland’s airport, never being permitted to leave the terminal. Does that mean I have been to Ireland? Not to me it doesn’t, I saw nothing more than the landscape on approach and departure and several gift shops inside of the airport.
Many cruisers take eight hour day tours around the small islands that the cruise ships visit; can they consider themselves as having visited the country? I say yes, they left the confines of the ship and spent hours seeing the countryside, experiencing its wonders and interacting with the locals.
Many “countries” are considered territories of larger countries. The Cook Islands are a territory of New Zealand. Samoa and Guam are territories of the United States, and Easter Island is a special territory of Chile. Hong Kong now released from Great Britain is a territory of China. France oversees St. Martin and French Polynesia. Let’s not forget Ireland, Scotland, Wales, Cayman Islands, Bermuda and others, they are not really countries either. All of these areas are considered countries by some, especially if they have their own currency and/or language.
At this writing the United Nations recognizes 196 countries (others state 206 countries) but that is changing all of the time. In my lifetime we lost the USSR and gained fifteen countries. We also had several other nations dissolve and form new independent nations. So if years ago you visited East and West Germany now you would only have visited Germany. And if you had visited the USSR now you may have visited Russia, Lithuania, Moldova, or the Ukraine.
So my answer to the number of countries I have visited is if it was a country at the time of my visit and if I feel that I got a good feel for the country, then I consider myself as having visited it, hanging out at an airport just doesn’t make it for me!