We all know the expression “never say never”, and even I am sometimes guilty of saying things like “I would never do this” or “I would never go there” , but let’s just be honest: No one can predict the future and (I believe) anything is possible! Things happen unexpectedly, life changes and you might end up on a path you never thought was even possible in the first place.
As for me, when I graduated from business school (right in the middle of the global financial crisis), I couldn’t find a job in the area I wanted at that time, which was in (fashion) marketing/PR. I got so tired of looking for jobs that I decided to get into one of the few industries that was still doing well: I’m talking about aviation! I’ve always loved traveling, so I was like: Why not travel the world and get paid for it too? So from 2008 till 2010 I worked as a flight attendant, which allowed me to see parts of the world I’d always dreamed of visiting, but at the same time my work also got me to countries I otherwise would have never ever set foot in for various (political, social, economic, cultural) reasons.
Hence, in this post I’ll share with you 6 countries (of which 4 are on a travel warning list!) I never ever thought I’d visit, but due to my work as a flight attendant I actually did.
Up until the early 90s Albania was under a communist regime and till this date the Balkan country is still seen as an unstable country that struggles with mostly political and economic issues. So you can imagine this would be enough of a reason why I would never visit the country as a tourist. Nonetheless when I visited the Albania’s capital city Tirana on a 10-12 day work visit, I expected to see a very underdeveloped country, which wasn’t the case(well not in a major way).
Obviously Albania is not like any country in Western Europe, but from what I remembered it was under development. There were pretty decent shops and malls, the people were friendly(although it was hard to find people who spoke English), the nightlife was great and the weather was hot! And for me at that time, it was just enough.
Now when people think of Albania they think of the Khardashians, although I’m not sure if it would do the country any good. Nevertheless, the Albanian government is trying hard on making it more of a tourist destination. I believe it’s possible, but obviously not overnight.
I don’t think I have to explain why I would never ever visit Afghanistan since we all know it’s nothing but a war zone over there. And that was exactly the reason I traveled there for work from 2009 till 2010. I used to work for an airline that did various charter flights and one of those involved military charter flights to Afghanistan, mostly to the cities of Kabul and ‘Mazar-e-Sharif’.
Basically what we did was transport soldiers to the military base and back. Those were horrible flights to be honest, not only for the fact that I traveled to a warzone, but sometimes we would bring coffins of fallen soldiers back home and witnessed the army honor at the airport. So you can imagine one week you would bring a soldier to his “job” in Afghanistan and the next week you would bring him back in a coffin…just horrible! Nonetheless, that was my job at that time and I’m fortunate that I can write about my experience today…After one year of doing these types of military flights I quit my job to travel the safer side of the world on my own, but that’s another story…
Azerbaijan is a country in the Caucasus region (between Europe and Asia)and shares borders with countries like Turkey, Iran, Armenia and Russia. Azerbaijan is very oil-rich, but prosperity is actually nowhere to be seen, at least not when I was there in 2008. Yet, till this day Azerbaijan remains a somewhat “poor” country(there’s a big gap between rich and poor) with a corrupt economy and is pretty much politically unstable.
Azerbaijan is not a typical tourist country I would say, although they tried to change that when they hosted the Eurovision Song Festival in Baku back in 2012. Nonetheless, when I traveled to the country’s capital and largest city of Baku in 2008 I tried my best to like it(trust me I did), because the people were amazingly friendly(although it was hard to find someone who spoke English, except for the hotel staff) and the historical architecture was lovely. Other than that, there was not much to do over there.
Iran is another country I thought I’d never ever visit in my life, but that was mostly because of the way the country is projected by the western media. So I was quite nervous when I traveled to Tehran-Iran’s largest and capital city in 2009. That nervousness went away the next day, because I soon realized that most Iranian people(at least the one I met) are very pro-west, as opposed to the government. And I have to say that I REALLY REALLY enjoyed the 9-10 days I spent in Tehran, simply because the people were so friendly and generous, plus there’s so much to see and to shop!!
I never felt unsafe during my time there. You just have to obey/respect the over exaggerating laws and regulations of the country, which I did; One of those rules is to cover up as a woman by wearing for example long sleeved shirts, trousers and a headscarf(which can be in any color by the way). Although Iran has many restrictions, still I’ve noticed people will always find a way to go around the rules(without getting caught obviously!).
At a night market in Tehran where you can get all things fresh!
What was once one of the wealthiest countries in the world(back in the 80s) has become one of the most unstable ones. I pretty much don’t have a lot to say about Libya, except for the fact that this North-African country has been unstable for many years, and more so after the revolution/Benghazi Cival War of 2011. I got the opportunity to travel to Benghazi in February of 2009, just 2 years before the revolution took place and got to experience the city as very poor that lacked a lot, a lot of things(poor infrastructure, unfinished or let down buildings) – I believe I even didn’t have access to internet: Let’s just say that there was basically nothing to do in Benghazi except for eating and drinking. I just felt very uncomfortable during my 36-hour stay. Nonetheless, my trip remains one for the memory and that’s just it.
The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia or KSA was besides Iran also one of those countries that I was very nervous of traveling to initially. And this was for the simple fact that Saudi Arabia has a strict regime of sex segregation; In other words, the government is just very unfriendly towards women. Women’s rights and activities are so restricted in Saudi Arabia, that I consider myself very fortunate to live in a country where at least I can open a bank account without my husband’s permission! Anyways, when I got the opportunity to travel to the cities of Medina and Jeddah for the first time in 2009, I was able to experience the country (and its restrictions) for myself.
I spent about one week in Saudi Arabia and I do have to say that I didn’t feel unsafe or stared at whatsoever as I went for sightseeing and shopping etc. I tried to blend in as much as possible, when it came to obeying/respecting the law like the dress code etc.
KSA is obviously a male dominated country so even in western shops like ZARA you would see only male sales staff, even in lingerie shops, which was pretty awkward. Nonetheless, my time in Saudi Arabia was a great experience, but I don’t see myself living in a country where I don’t have a voice. I believe I’m just too opinionated, expressive and I guess independent to live in a country that’s unfriendly towards women. KSA isn’t only unfriendly towards women, but to tourists in general. “Normal’ tourist visits are not allowed in Saudi Arabia, and by normal I mean that not everyone can just enter the country. Saudi Arabia only lets in pilgrimage groups(during Hajj and Umrah – which were the reasons of my work visit btw, as the airline I worked for facilitated travel for pilgrims as well), business travelers or if you have family or friends living there.
In case you haven’t noticed, but all these 6 countries have one most important thing in common: They’re all Muslim countries. Most people, and especially nowadays, are judgmental about visiting Muslim countries. All I can say is that I’m a very open-minded and cultural person, but I used to be judgmental about certain countries before. And that was because I got easily influenced by the media. What I know now is that most of the time the way a country is ruled, doesn’t always have something to do with its most practiced religion. There are many factors that play a role in it too. Then again, no country is perfect. And if there’s one thing traveling has taught me is that you can only judge something until you’ve experienced it yourself. Nonetheless, if I didn’t make the choice to work as a flight attendant(or any other independent traveling I did besides work) I wouldn’t have gained the experience that I have now. That’s something I’ll always treasure.
In conclusion: Sometimes life takes you to a direction you never saw yourself going in the first place. So never say never, because if you do so, you’ll not only limit your perceptions, but also limit yourself to endless possibilities….
What are the countries you’ve always said you would never ever visit? Let me know your thoughts in the comment section below. xo- Jey.