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!

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. 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. from where I would love to cross to…

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.

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. 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 is mandatory and the visa is charged per day.. so let’s see if this one works out, or will remain “on the list”.

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!