The Places I can’t not Visit in 2017 (and Beyond).

by Ellie Cleary

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Soul Travel Blog is not a political blog.

And yet now, more than ever, when we travel we can’t escape politics. The two topics are knotted messily together, impacting the innocent or curious traveller.

One of my strongest motivators for starting this blog, and for my interest in travel is my deep-seated belief that travel is a tool for multi-cultural understanding, a tool for education, knowledge, compassion and ultimately peace.

When we listen to and understand one another, fear of unknown cultures is removed.

For more on what I mean, take a second to watch this video:

In light of the last week’s political events, I feel more compelled than ever to share my list of countries that I most want to visit in 2017.

Recent political events which affect us all have only made me more determined and keen than ever to visit these countries.

Here’s my list and I’ll explain why.

responsible travel in the middle east

Khaju Bridge, Isfahan, Iran. Photo Credit: Hamed Saber/Flickr.

1. Iran.

Iran has fascinated me for a while now. Stories of a capital city alive with culture and pictures of some of the most beautiful islamic architecture I’ve ever seen have lured me in. I’m also curious. Curious about a country that is so different than “the west” in terms of access to internet, social media and western brands. Since I’m British, I’m officially obligated to do a tour, I cannot just wander unaccompanied….but that doesn’t make me less determined to visit… so watch this space! I made it here, browse our Iran stories on the blog.

2. Oman.

Oman has a reputation for being one of the most peace-loving and friendly countries in the gulf. I’ve got as close to Oman as transiting planes in Muscat, but never stepped outside the airport. It’s time to change that! I hear only good things about the people, the culture, and the pristine desert!

3.Bhutan.

Heralded as an example of sustainable tourism the world over, Bhutan looks like a magical kingdom. A key reason for the success of its sustainable tourism success however is the low volume of people that make it here each year, which is mainly because: it’s pretty expensive to visit Bhutan! A guided tour with a travel agency such as Tourism Bhutan is mandatory and the visa is charged per day..

responsible travel in the middle east

Pakistan. Photo Credit: Umer Malik/Flickr.

4. Pakistan.

Yes, Pakistan. I’ve long been curious about this country, but along with most of the rest of the world just assumed that the whole country was unsafe to travel to. That is, until bloggers Lost with Purpose started writing about their adventures there, and their experiences in this country which has been effectively branded as the global melting pot of terrorism by the western media. Sure, there are parts of the country which are less/not safe—and I’m not advocating taking travel here lightly—but I believe that most of this country is full of kind and generous people who want to show their country to the rest of the world. And that is why I would like to visit.

5. Nepal.

Just a hop skip and a jump (or very long bus ride, or so I hear) from northern India, Nepal appeals to me for its beautiful mountains, but also as a country that is still suffering in the wake of the 2015 earthquake, Nepalis want their tourists back to help contribute to their economic recovery.

6. Jordan.

Petra and the Dead Sea have long been on my ‘bucket-list’, but beyond that, I’d love to see some of this small country’s roman ruins, experience some bedouin camping and see the red sea. It may be small in size but Jordan has a lot to offer. We made it here in 2018 – browse our Jordan stories on the blog.

Responsible Travel in The Middle East

Bukhara, Uzbekistan. Image Credit: Robert Wilson/Flickr.

7. Uzbekistan. 

Just the name ‘Silk Road’ conjures up all kinds of romantic images. Stereotyping aside though, Uzbekistan is written up to be one of the more accessible and beautiful of the central asian ‘stan’s’. For me, just images of the Mir-e Arab Mosque (above) are enough to make me want to head there.

8.India.

Yes I know I’m currently in India as I write this! But the more of India I see the more I want to keep coming back. Sadly my visa expires in a couple of weeks, so I hope to return later this year…. to explore Southern India, Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh and Ladakh, and also see Amritsar in the North East. You can browse all of our India stories on the blog here.

And now the point I’d like to make with this list.

There’s a reason why 5 of the 8 countries on here are majority Muslim countries. I’ve long had a fascination with the culture and an admiration for the stunning Islamic architecture that can be found in these places. I also experience that many are reluctant to travel to this part of the world, or that travel is difficult (in terms of visas/red tape).  Call me strange but I enjoy lying in bed early in the morning listening to the sound of the call to prayer.

I’ve chosen many of these countries because I believe it’s time to push aside stereotypes and fears, and to actually truly learn about other cultures. Only that way can we finally put down the fear mongering that we see governing much of world politics and foreign policy today. Once we have the knowledge, we have all the power.

And I know for sure that I have a huge amount to learn.

I read once, instead of thinking about what we want to do, we should think about what we can’t not-do. So hence the title of this post. For me that changes the question, because of course there are many other places I’d like to see.

I don’t know if I will make it to all of these parts of the world, but I hope that I will be able to discover some of them this year and be able to share the experiences and learnings along the way with you!

What do you think of travel to experience different cultures? Where is on your travel wish-list for 2017 and why? Let me know in the comments section below!

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19 comments

Brianne Miers February 4, 2017 - 2:01 am

This is such an important post, Elie! Thanks for sharing your plans and perspective, and doing your part to highlight countries that have so much to offer but often aren’t on the top of many travelers’ lists due to fear and misinformation. Perhaps we can meet up in India this year!

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Ellie February 6, 2017 - 8:15 am

Thanks Brianne! Glad you enjoyed it, agree that the issues here are so complex but important and we can’t ignore them as travellers. Would be great to see you in India 🙂

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Alex February 4, 2017 - 9:28 am

Mwahaha, successfully brainwashed you into wanting to visit Pakistan! Mission complete!

Just kidding 😉 I share your desire to visit/revisit all of these countries! I also share your love for the call to prayer (as long as it’s not *right* outside my bedroom window). Perhaps we’re strange.

More of the Middle East is on my list—Lebanon, Egypt, Oman. So many places, not enough time!

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Ellie February 6, 2017 - 8:18 am

You certainly did – very easily ;-). Egypt is wonderful – but I went there in 2007, so a good while ago. Lebanon would be amazing too – so many places to enjoy the muezzin!

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Nuraini February 4, 2017 - 10:32 am

I don’t have a must-visit place per se, but I totally believe in this travel concept. I think this was the original way people travelled. My people used to have this concept where you see off your kid when they’re grown – usually the boy – and they go out in the world for a bit to experience it and gain understanding. So for me it’s not really a specific place i must go, but a mindset change from what is very typical in my culture – that I don’t worry about how I shall get this or be able to do that, and when the questions are answered then I decide to go. but instead start from deciding to go, and work it out later, and trust in the way people used to that communities will host the traveller.

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Ellie February 6, 2017 - 8:30 am

Thanks Nuraini – I agree with what you say. I think somewhere we lost the desire for cross-cultural understanding a bit, and travel became more about seeing places and ticking places off “the bucket list” for some. If we can reconnect with that curiosity and desire for experience (such as your people have/had) then that will really help us. Happy travels, Ellie

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Nana February 4, 2017 - 12:20 pm

Hi Ellie, I am sure that one day you will be able to visit these countries. 1, 7 and 8 are countries I want to visit as well. We are still young 😉 we got plenty of time. Hugs, Nana

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Ellie February 6, 2017 - 8:31 am

This is very true Nana! We’ve got to balance that with the desire to do things NOW I guess :-)!

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Alice Chen February 4, 2017 - 2:41 pm

I love this post! I definitely think that travel plays a HUGE part in educating us about different cultures and how to value them. Too often, those of us who grow up and never leave our countries have misconceptions about others. I’m excited to hear what your gains are from these destinations!

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Ellie February 6, 2017 - 8:33 am

Thanks Alice for your kind words! Yes I agree. Also though, travel is still a luxury in some parts of the world and not to be taken for granted – I find it helpful to remind myself of that. I will keep you posted :-). Safe travels, Ellie

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Farah Nadiah February 5, 2017 - 5:44 am

This is a beautiful piece, Ellie. I share your sentiment on the political restrictions over the desired destinations. All 8 are on my bucket list. If I may add another destination, it would be Israel. But my passport restricts entry into Israel. Then there’s US, but with the recent travel ban, I’d just stay out of US for awhile.

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Ellie February 6, 2017 - 8:35 am

Thank you Farah! I appreciate your kind words! I agree with you re Israel although that can be a tricky one in terms of paperwork when combined with the countries above. The tour company in the video in this post, MEJDI Tours, is running some interesting projects in Jerusalem in particular which focus on cross-cultural understanding and peace. Safe travels, Ellie 🙂

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Mehdi February 25, 2017 - 5:50 am

Dear Ellie, We hope to see you in Iran soon 🙂

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Mohamed Ismail March 31, 2017 - 4:12 pm

Pretty post.I like your writing style and I really enjoyed while reading this post.

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Scorpio June 3, 2017 - 8:57 am

Very nice post , these are the best place to visit. Oman has becomes to be known as one of the most popular tourist destinations in Middle East thanks to the country’s strategic location and its unspoilt natural beauty with its scenic landscape.

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Ellie July 7, 2017 - 12:29 pm

Thanks for your comment! Yes I agree with you, Oman looks incredible. I’m shortly off to Iran and looking forward to exploring more of this beautiful part of the world. Ellie

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July Summary & August Travel Plans. - Soul Travel Blog | Mindful Travel Inspiration August 7, 2017 - 8:12 am

[…] finally made it to Iran! I wrote back in February about wanting to visit this beautiful country most of all this year, and after months of planning […]

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[…] The Places I Can’t Not Visit in 2017—My 2017 wish list with a bit of a difference, and a look at how travel can’t help but be impacted by politics, and what we can do about it. […]

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