I know you’re looking at the title wondering what the hell vexillophilia is but before you run off to Google, I urge you to sit tight as I’ll explain. If you actually knew what vexillophilia is before coming here, congratulations. You’re going places in life. Feel free to skip the explainer!
Vexillophilia is defined “as a person who collects and displays flags.”
I suppose I’ve always liked flags. When I was younger, I used to love looking at the front of the phone book where they gave a list of each country and their dialing codes. I would look at the flags and be amazed at the places that weren’t in the child’s atlas which I’d read a million times from cover to cover. Microstates and small Pacific Islands, dependencies and obscure nations that sounded amazingly exotic. Djibouti, Brunei, The Federated States of Micronesia. This was in the time before the internet so finding out about such wonderful places wasn’t easy but I sought out the information where I could. My interest in seeing the world all began with that atlas and the phone book.
The first time I bought flags, it was because I thought they would look great in my room. I was about 10 or 11 and I remember buying the flags of Argentina and Brazil in Carrolls Irish Gifts on O’Connell Bridge. I’m not sure why I bought those particular flags but I think I just liked them best from the small selection they had. They hung in my room for a while but then I redecorated and put them away. I had bought another couple in Carrolls, I remember we had Japan for the World Cup there in 2002, sticking out our window with the other decorations in support of the Irish team!
The official beginning of what would become an obsession with actually collecting flags began in December 2007 in St Julian’s, Malta. We found ourselves there on a cheap holiday because Ryanair had just launched flights and were doing great deals. As I sat alone as my friends slept, I pondered how many countries I’d been to up to that point (Malta was 13) and how great it would be to collect a flag from every country I visited.
And so it began! My Vexillophilia!
There were rules, of course. I like rules.
- A country must be visited for a flag to count (Brazil and Argentina are under my bed still to this day, waiting for me to visit!)
- Transiting does not count as a visit. There must be an element of touristing!
- Only national flags count (constituent country rules in effect for the UK, Netherlands and such)
The first thing I did was get the flags from the countries I’d already visited and then I set off in earnest around the world. In the 11 years since that trip to Malta, I have been to 43 countries, an average of 3.9 per year! I’ve had a little help along the way at times. You can visit 6 countries in 11 days inter-railing or on a cruise ship. Some places have close enough neighbours; Montenegro and Bosnia-Herzegovina are quite close to Dubrovnik in Croatia for example. I’ve become used to booking a holiday and thinking “is there another flag I can get here somewhere?” It’s why I’ve not been to Lithuania yet. I’m waiting for visa free travel to Belarus which is just down the road 🙂
My husband Denis and best friend Patrick have both gotten in on it a bit. Patrick and I have found ourselves on the most random of journeys to a variety of places to get flags. The one that really stands out is the time we took a day trip from Benalmadena in Spain (it was April and out of season so was a great bargain!) to Tangier in Morocco. I actually liked the city and enjoyed learning a bit about the country. As a day trip, it was grand however when we got back to the port, the weather was too bad for us to sail back to Spain and we had to travel for an hour and a half to another port and THEN had to wait for 8 hours for a ferry, stuck in a room with a few hundred others with not even a vending machine to keep us going. That flag was well earned.
I’ve been asked before do I have a favourite and it’s hard to pick one without my experience of that country impacting my feelings. I suppose if I had to pick from my current collection I would say The Bahamas, simply because teal is my favourite colour. (It’s only now that I realise how much of a total nerd I must sound!)
I actually also have a favourite flag of a country I’ve yet to visit. My Vexillophilia holy grail – Vanuatu!
And so my mission continues. I’m fast approaching 60 now with Bulgaria, Honduras, Belize and Cape Verde next on the list. I’m excited for the day I finally hit 100 and who knows, maybe Belarus might even open up visa free travel before then!
- Czech Republic
- Northern Ireland
- South Africa
- New Zealand
- Isle of Man
- San Marino
- Costa Rica