Guide for travelling to dictatorships

One of the largest reasons for people not to travel is fear. Specially when it comes to countries with bad reputation or with systems that is very different from the one of your own country. I thought I would share my experience travelling to some of those countries and 10 tips about how to prepare and how to behave 🙂

1. Freedom of thought does exist even in dictatorships

First of all, let me just state that there is no definite way of defining a dictatorship and even if you pointed at a country you think is a stereotype dictatorship, there will be millions telling you it is not. But this exact thing is actually the essence of the first thing you have to understand before even researching the country you want to visit.

Just like there are people of all different convictions and political opinions in your country, there is different convictions and political opinions even in the strongest dictatorships. And this is not just another “political correct” statement, this is an actual reality that you will encounter while travelling in dictatorships. You will actually get to meet people with opposite beliefs, but I will get back to that.

2. Do your research!

This is of course a given. But to relax your nerves I will tell you this: Dictatorships are often more safe to visit than democracies because law is strictly enforced, meaning no much space for thieves, rapists, scammers and the like. Some of the most safe countries in the world are what most people would call dictatorships. Just look at the Gulf or even Central Asia.

3. Check comments online

Another important piece of information is knowing the extend of the strictness of the dictatorship. The word dictatorship is thrown around very easily, even in democracies where a large minority just don’t like any of the options in an election. So it ranges from  dictatorships that probably are not a dictatorship at all, to dictatorships where you can be hanged for saying an opinion different from the ruler’s.

So here is a piece of advice you can’t just get from researching the country: Go into different social medias and find a random political topic that people has commented on from that country. Read the comment’s closely and note these questions:

  1. Are there anyone from this country that expresses the opposite opinion of his government or openly talks bad about them? (Make sure they are actually living in that country)
    • If there are many, probably the “dictatorship” is not that strict. So go there and relax but keep your opinions to yourself when meeting officials or total strangers.
    • If people comment but agreeing with the government even on insane matter’s, you will know that the country is very strict, however the population might love their “king”. But you will have to know, that there is always someone of the opposite opinion and if none of them express their opinion openly it is because they are scared for their lives. You can go there, but under no circumstances should you talk against the government while you are there (unless you are a political activist, then I wish you luck from all my heart).
  2. Do people easily fight in the comments?
    • Be aware of the topics they discuss and avoid talking about your own opinions with the wrong persons. Do some research to know in which part of the country or city that those opinions are dominating. Do NOT be afraid of talking to people from both sides. People on the internet are way more aggressive than in real life. When meeting people from the opposite opinion than your own then ask lots of open questions instead of discussing your personal opinion. Maybe you will even learn something new.

4. Passport renewal and visa

Some dictatorships and questionable democracies do not allow you to enter the country if you have been visiting one of the “enemy” countries. If you are going to several countries and you know that the second country do not like the first one, you can sometimes ask for a removable visa. It is basically a normal visa, but instead of gluing it to the passport, they just put a paper clip so you can remove it.

Another idea is to renew your passport before you leave. Be careful that they would not be able to find out where you have been e.g. if you have visited before with the old passport or if you have lots of pictures online from that country. If so, do not lie if you are asked.

5. Take precautions before landing

Some dictatorships will interrogate you upon landing, specially if you come from a country they do not like or if you are known for your political statements on the internet. I would advice you to delete your Twitter app and log off from most of the websites and apps you normally use to express your opinions. Delete sensitive messages. Some dictatorships looks intensively in your phone and make you unlock it for them to read your messages.

They can be very insisting, even if you do not have anything to hide. For example: If you say “I don’t have Facebook”, they will insist they don’t believe you.

If you are going to China or another country who block’s common western websites, then make sure to install a proxy and WeChat before going. A proxy might be illegal in some countries so prepare yourself before going. For China I would recommend installing the proxy beforehand because they are not nosy with your phone at arrival, but keep a low profile. Do not walk around with Google showing on your screen or you can be facing a large fine.

Remember, this is not only for China. WhatsApp and Skype might be blocked in many countries, at least the calling service of it. Here WeChat or Telegram might be handy to use instead, but make sure those at home also have it.

6. Keep it cool at interrogations but do not lose your integrity!

If they want to talk to you at the airport, do not freak out. This happens probably a lot and in the worst case they will just send you back. Do not state any political opinion, just say that you do not care about politics and only interested in seeing culture and nature. But do not compromise your integrity either. Do not admit to an opinion that you do not have – but do not tell them your real opinion if it is against their system. Just keep avoiding the question – either they get tired of you and let you in or they get tired of you and send you back. There is nothing worth losing your integrity over, specially if you only want to do tourism.

My best advice, is keep an open mind, stay out of political discussions and treat them with a sweet behavior.

7. Do not express yourself openly

Keep your opinion to yourself publicly. Watch your mouth for things you say. I have done this mistake before where I just say something without thinking about where I am. Always be conscious about what you are saying and where. Most importantly: Do not question the ruler’s authority, right or opinion.

8. Adapt to the culture  

You are out to experience a new culture, so adapt! It will also keep you safer. Again, do not lose your integrity, but do not do anything that is culturally not accepted or shameful in this country you are visiting.

9. Be careful with photography

Some dictatorships will ban you from photographing government controlled buildings or border crossings. I did the mistake once to have my GoPro video camera up at the border crossing between two dictatorships but I luckily got away with it after assuring them it was not filming. If photography is legal, then still be careful not to pose in a disrespectful way.

10. Meet different people

Remember the whole reason why you travel. It is not to confirm your own ideas about the world but to actually learn about the world. If you only hang out with people of the same political conviction as your own you will have wasted a whole trip convincing only yourself. Instead engage with everyone, do not be afraid and be understanding when someone expresses something differently. If you travel right, you cant avoid meeting people on both sides or even hearing opinions you never heard before. This is the best thing about travelling, so enjoy it with an open mind!

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The Palace of one of the most terrifying dictators in human history

The good and the bad travel blogger

Forgive the slight negativity in this post, but I have to address certain things I’ve started to witness on different travel blogs and social medias.

I’ve seen so many traveler’s travel the world and end up with just the same type of people not even realizing that this type might not be the majority of the place he is visiting.

Traveling should not just be for selfish reasons. It’s not about you visiting all countries in the world crossed off a map and hanged on your wall as a trophy. This kind of travel is endlessly provocative and in such a bad taste.

Instead cross off the countries you have actually understood and done a real connection with. Not just with the one type of people you met. But with the different groups. The different view points and those who taught you something that you didn’t expect them to. Even if you are superior to them in intellect, in richness and education. You can still learn from the old lady living on the street, the kid begging you for money, the police officer at the border and the priest at the temple that does or does not belong to your own faith.

It saddens me when a person had traveled to more than 150 countries and end up talking bad about one certain kind of people there, just because they do not fit his  vision of the country, or his twisted idea about how this country is (because he only hang out with one certain kind of people).

And when he comes back home he only talks about the freedom of traveling and how boring everyone else is instead of actually encouraging the others to travel more, see more, learn more, and most importantly not get afraid of places the media talks bad about.

Basically this is just an appeal to my fellow travel bloggers, Instagram photographers and youtube vloggers: spread positivity and accept people of the different opinion. Engage in a discussion. That is the only way to learn from each other.

If not I simply don’t enjoy following these bloggers.

And even if you have explored so much you think you can judge. DON’T!

Because all countries have people of all spectra of any scale you can think of. So don’t just assume you can judge.

  • I have traveled more than 12 times to Egypt: No I do not know everything about egyptians and their culture.
  • I have lived in Japan studying: No I do not know everything about Japanese people and their culture.
  • Even my own country(s): I do not know everything. I still meet people who I never knew existed in this country. Not just travelers or immigrants but even ethnically and culturally local people who just belong to such a different subculture within this country.

Remember: You do not simply become a better, more knowledgeable, more tolerant gentleman by traveling the world. You become all that by actually trying to understand and accept different viewpoints. By showing interest in people who are on the other spectrum of yourself. And by seeing the world as what it could have been and not what it has become.

Or maybe I am wrong? Let me know your opinion in the comments, specially if you disagree. I want to strive to be a better traveler and my blog is always open for anyone!

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Traveling is not only about freedom. It is about widening your horizon.

Seven modern wonders of the world

In my last post I called the CERN facilities in Switzerland “our times Wonder of the world”. It made me think what else out there could be categorized as such and I made a list of 7 wonders of the modern world.

The originals

Do you remember the original Seven Wonders of the World? The ancient ones are all destroyed except the Pyramids of Giza. Later few architects agreed upon naming a new list with structures that still are standing today. This is maybe the more famous one featuring well known landmarks like: Taj Mahal, The Great Wall of China, Petra and Colosseum amongst others.

Here are the very original 7, and the New 7:

Ancient and new

My modern 7 wonders

In my list I have tried to choose wonders that have the most significant impact on the world we know in 2018. I imagine that nothing will ever beat the Ancient 7 Wonders, because they have simply outperformed anything in their time. In our modern world new technology makes it easier to break records. Therefore, the candidates for this list has been chosen through following criteria:

  1. The level of impact it has had on our self awareness as humans
  2. Shown an outstanding achievement in our ability to create.
  3. Is memorable and iconic.
  4. Is going to be well preserved for centuries.
  5. Has an actual function rather than just made to show off.

I was trying to think what they will remember us for 3000 years away from now. Which landmarks will be visited by tourists 3000 years from now? What has transformed into museums?

Here is the list: The Seven Wonders of the Modern World

Modern

A little bit about every one and the reason

  1. Large Hadron Collider, CERN, Switzerland
    I have mentioned the importance of this facility many times before. Basically it has been the reason for many important discoveries and helped us understand the universe better. If you wanna read a little bit more about it, check my blog post here.
  2. Panama Channel, Panama
    Besides being one of the longest and hardest engineering projects in the history and killing more than 25000 people in the making,  the Panama Channel has even today a huge impact on the history. It is basically the number one reason behind USA’s success and super power status today. The importance of maritime force and trade is way more than you imagine. Destroy the Panama Channel, and you will see the decline of the US power pretty quickly. This is also the main reason why I chose the Panama Channel above the Suez Channel which is longer and just as impressive engineering wise.
  3. ISS, Outer Space
    Need I say more? The International Space Station of course is a wonder. Not only the whole world is collaborating, but it is collaborating to reach out into space. In 3000 years when the Earth is only visited for tourism they will visit this station and say.. here it all started!
  4. The Palm, United Arab Emirates
    The Palm is so iconic that it doesn’t need introduction. The reason why it made it to the list is, that it shows a whole new era of narcissism. We have build islands before, but never in a shape to impress people from the air. In addition, this could be the start of a new era of creating land instead of conquering it.
  5. NEEMO, Aquarius, USA
    This facility is maybe the least known on the list. NEEMO is an underwater laboratory ran by NASA. They basically send their astronauts here to live underwater in 3 weeks to prepare them for the harsh space environment. Again, this place had a huge impact on making us understand our own capabilities as human beings and therefore it made it to the list. As a teen I dreamt about being sent there and finally to space.
  6. Burj Khalifa, United Arab Emirates
    Now this one I was a bit in doubt about. It is the tallest building in the world, the skyscraber of skyscrabers. But the record will soon be overthrown by another tower in Saudi Arabia. However, I decided to include it because this really kickstarted the race to the skies. In addition, being located in the desert, this building has a very important function of keeping the whole city of Dubai together. Everything in Dubai is done indoors and the need for huge a building is therefore legit.
  7. Dìxià Chéng, China
    This is another less known facility. Can you imagine that beneath the capital city of Beijing is a nuclear shelter large enough to house the whole population of 6 million people of Beijing? Well this is the name of this shelter. Just the thought of it makes you get goosebumps. Hopefully, no one would ever nuke China and it will stand as a memory of the time when humans were so afraid of killing themselves, that they spent billions on structures like this.

Other structures in scope that did not make it to the list: 

  • Transit siberiean railway, Russia
  • Atacama large milimetee array, Chile
  • Hubble telescope, Outer space
  • Three Gorges Dam, China
  • Cheyenne mountain bunker, USA
  • Tokyo train and metro, Japan
  • Shanghai metro, China
  • Hashima Island, Japan
  • Boeing Everett Factory, USA
  • Ski Dubai, UAE
  • Rungrado May Day stadium, North Korea
  • Suez Channel, Egypt
  • Zhangjiajie Glass Bridge, China

Take a look at the candidates. Did I miss any important? Do you think something else deserve to be on the list? Let me know in the comments!

Top one place to visit in Switzerland

What if you had the chance to visit Switzerland for 1 day only – what is the one experience you should visit? There are many amazing places in Switzerland but the one I would recommend is the only one I consider an actual Wonder of the World: The CERN campus!

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Me arriving at the reception in CERN. If I look tired it is because I woke up at 3 am to drive from Bern to Geneve to make it to the early morning guided tour. 

 

What is CERN?

I think most people know CERN by now, but if not then here is a little background:

CERN is the most advances scientific research center in the world. The density of knowledge and great minds in this campus is not seen anywhere else in the world. Also they have the most advanced and the biggest machinery to perform their experiments. The engineering work of this is what I consider the Wonder of the World!

Here they try to answer the most fundamental questions of the universe by experimenting with nuclear particles. This helps us to understand how the world actually were created and unveiling some of the most complex questions about our reality. How does the world work? Why are we here? Can God possibly exist?

Oh yeah.. and they also invented the World Wide Web!

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The worlds very first Large Particle Accelerator. This one is now retired, but they have build even better ones. The Large Hadron Collider is the most famous and biggest – 27 km in diameter.

But it doesn’t seem like something for me?

Maybe you aren’t interested in science but when I say people should come here it is because you will learn a life lesson here. I think every well rounded adult should have at least some basic understanding of what this place does. How are we gonna answer our children’s silly questions if we haven’t even looked into science?

What will you answer if a 5 year old asks you how come we exist? Why we believe in God? Why we don’t believe in God? What is the universe made of? Why can’t I fly? What other universes can you imagine and who is right and who is wrong?

No matter who you are or what you believe in, you should look into this! Bring your brain and come here. Don’t think you know anything about science before you visit this place.

Even if you believe in whatever conclusion you hear the scientist say. You need to come here to understand that this is our times philosophy hub. Answers are never clear even if some people would try to convince you they are.

Everything is free there. Go there and take the guided tour (book in advance). Even if you only grasp 2% of what they are telling you, it will be worth it!

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Me philosophizing at CERN xD

What did they find out so far?

I consider myself somewhat a man of science but even I only grasped like half of what the Pakistani scientist told us on the tour. However, the basics is this:

They have built the Large Hadron Collider which is the essence of the Wonder. This is basically a big circular tube under high pressure and low temperature buried 100 meter beneath the Swiss/French border. They use this machine to accelerate beams of particles and make them hit each other right where they have built enormous sensors to detect all data from the explosion, process the data and send the most interesting and newest discoveries to scientists all over the world to analyze.

Discoveries could be new unseen particles, antimatter or bosons. Antimatter is basically the exact opposite of matter.. of everything we know. In theory everything has an opposing counterpart: Night and day, hot and cold, love and hate, matter and antimatter. But for some reason antimatter just disappeared when the world was created. With this machine scientists have been able to recreate it.

Another important discovery was the Higgs Boson that you might have heard about. In simple form the boson is a particle that gives gravity to everything. Gravity is not just something that exist out of nothing, it is an actual particle that gives it. Meaning everything in the world has been in touch with this particle. This was also discovered using this wonder of a machine.

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You can actually see the scientists working on this tour! Isn’t it amazing?

I am not an expert

Okay guys, I am not an expert and I have not discovered the answered to everything. I like to learn always and of course I don’t understand the physics behind this fully. I find it interesting so the above is simplified to make it as easy to read as possible. If I am mistaken please enlighten me!

For me this was a true wonder to see and experience. Just as impressive to be there as it was to visit the Pyramids of Egypt or the Great Wall of China.

Is it unique?

Someone asked the Pakistani scientist if there was any other thing similar. He answered that there are particle accelerators in the USA but they are linear which makes it hard to do the collisions. Also he said that China is doing it as well. I think they are building one just as impressive. But will it be the same wonder? I doubt it.

Not because I don’t trust Chinese science. Not at all! But because CERN is actually international. While Chinese and American like to do everything themselves CERN is open to the world. First of all CERN is totally independent from the industry and military. This is ONLY about science – not war or economy. In my honest opinion peace and science works better together. Only when all the world’s brightest minds work together we can create amazing things – have anyone read the Babylon story of the Bible? Once we get divided by nations and languages we loose everything.

Well in CERN more than 100 nationalities have united their greatest scientists only to enlighten the world in a peaceful manner. You cant feel anything but humbled walking around it’s streets and laboratories. This is a strength not seen anywhere in the world not anywhere in history since the Babel Tower was built!

After walking the tour an old Dutch gentleman asked the scientist: “Amazing.. where do you start?” And the scientist responded: “9 o’clock in the morning”.

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You can’t feel anything but humbled walking around in this place were geniuses have worked their whole life to unveil the mysteries of the universe.

The prejudice about Albanians and my experience traveling there

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InsThe Albanian Flag – picture taken by me 

When I told my colleagues back home that I will be traveling to Albania their reaction was a surprised face with the words: “Albania? I have heard they are a bunch of thieves over there!” and then the jokes started about stolen Mercedes’s and terrorism.

To be honest, the reaction disappointed me a lot but did not surprise me. Albania is one of these many countries with a bad reputation for absolutely no good reason. Actually no reason at all.

Where does the prejudice come from?

I will not attempt to explain this because there is never an excuse to have prejudice. So the answer is that it comes from narrow minded people. Any person who thinks bad about another entire population or ethnicity is either stupid or consciously evil which is worse.

That said, Albania has large disputes with other countries about territories – thus many neighboring countries have a large Albanian minority and as you guys know, minorities are always picked on. Again – because of stupidity.

Another answer is the media! I have heard specially bad things about the Italian media portraying Albanians as criminals and drug dealers. Again – not an excuse to actually believing in it.

What is the deal with Kosovo?

You might have heard that 3 Swiss football players made the Albanian eagle sign after scoring against Serbia in the FIFA World Cup 2018. The players have roots in Kosovo, so why the Albanian eagle?

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The Eagle sign by Shaqiri (Picture belongs to Yahoo Sports).

Here is the quick story:
There once was a country named Yugoslavia that consisted of many different people: amongst others; Slovenians, Croats, Bosnians, Serbians, Montenegrins, Macedonians and Albanians. Albania was not a part of Yugoslavia though. The Albanians living in Yugoslavia were from a region close to Albania but on the Yugoslavian side called Kosovo.

At some point the country split up (after a long bloody war). The Serbians tried to keep the country together under their rule but no one else wanted that. Eventually they agreed upon borders and everyone settled with their own country – except Kosovo. Because Albania existed, they were seen as immigrants by the Serbs and the right to have their own country was not recognized. Of course they could not just merge with Albania, because that would have been seen as an “invasion”.

Long story short – after a long struggle Kosovo is now recognized by most countries as an independent country. Not Albania, not Serbia – just Kosovo.

So how is Albania actually?

Mind blowing! It is certainly the most underrated country in Europe. Surely, you have already heard about the beauty of Belgrade, the famous bridge of Mostar and the amazing waterfalls of Plitvica. All those are well known tourist attractions in Balkan, while Albania is almost empty for tourists despites it’s unique history and beauty.

The people are very friendly and are actually good English speakers. I did not encounter any even slightly suspicious behavior from anyone. The country is very diverse religiously and everyone seem to respect the other’s way of living.

Albania has had a very dark history and was one of the last countries to recognize the end of the cold war, and that is very pronounced when you visit. You see it in the museums and the architecture of Tirana.

The Albanians are also very honest about their history, and they are not shy to talk about it and explain it to you. Because of that, their museums are very interesting. If you have been to Berlin, you would maybe think their museums were interesting but also a bit depressing. Tirana’s museums will not depress you but terrify you. And while Berlins museums are kinda apologizing for the horror, Tirana’s are just pure honest which makes them so much more interesting!

I will soon be doing another blog post about the history of Albania and what you can expect and learn from that country. If you are interested in knowing more let me know 🙂