Most times, you probably don't think twice when you travel. Visas, embassies, tickets - it's all pretty straightforward.

Unless you're going to an 'unrecognized country', that is.

Unrecognized countries are called that because they're not recognized by others. Some have been countries before, some are occupied by larger powers, and others may become countries someday. They're different in a lot of ways: they don't sit as members of the United Nations, they don't have their own embassies, and they may have little voice in their own affairs.

Many of them welcome travelers, while others are off the beaten path or downright dangerous. You may have heard of them often, like Palestine, Chechnya or Tibet, or you may be hearing their names for the first time.

What are some of these unrecognized countries, and what is their story?

Women on the Road NEWS: Contents for Issue #33

Travel to Unrecognized Countries

A small strip in the South Caucasus, it's sandwiched between Russia and Georgia, from whom it's seeking independence. The Russian city of Sochi, just over the border, will host the 2014 Winter Olympics. Travel there is complicated and no one seems to know how to get in - some reports say you can cross the land border from Russia, others say you can only cross over from Georgia, by walking over the Inguri Bridge. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs can provide visa information. Visit Abkhazia's Black Sea resorts (the region is known as the jewel of the 'Russian Riviera'), get to know its ancient religious heritage, and enjoy its unspoilt natural surroundings. You won't exactly be alone, since there are plenty of Russian tourists, but you probably won't run into your next-door neighbor.

Cabinda is a tiny oil-rich exclave of Angola, hedged between the two Congos and physically separated from the rest of the country. Cabinda considers itself culturally and ethnically different and says it negotiated independence with Portugal, the colonial power, in 1933, an independence unrecognized by Angola. It has been fighting a war against integration since Angola's independence in 1975. A ceasefire was signed in 2006 and while the province is relatively stable it's still for the adventurous, as this story will witness, and by no means safe. Just last January, the Togolese national football team was ambushed and several players killed, prompting their withdrawal from the Africa Cup of Nations, as reported then by the BBC and in-depth by The Guardian. Still keen to go? You'll have to fly from the Angolan capital, Luanda, or take a chance crossing one of the land borders - as the Togolese team did.

Under Russian or Ukrainian rule since 1783, Crimea today is an autonomous region of the Ukraine. But Crimea - where my own ancestors are from - was once a proud principality whose native Tatars now only make up 12% of the population (due in large part to forcible expulsions under Stalin during the Soviet era). Travel to Crimea is easy: it's now part of Ukraine, which doesn't require visas for Europeans or North Americans. The capital, Simferopol, is reachable by air from Russian cities, or through Tel Aviv, Istanbul, Frankfurt or Hanover directly. Or, take a flight to Kiev from anywhere in Europe and connect. Crimea is historically a summer holiday destination - the Russian Czars had their summer palace, Livadia there, and Russian tourists crowd the Black Sea's resort beaches. Unfortunately in the West it's probably best-known for the Crimean War and Florence Nightingale.

East Turkestan
It is more commonly known as the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, China's northwesternmost province. Its largest ethnic group, the Uygur, is fast being overrun by Han Chinese migrants and many fear Uygur culture is in peril. A year ago, riots overran the capital of Urumchi as Han and Uygur fought, reflecting the uneasiness of its inhabitants. Many Uygur want to claim their cultural and political rights and push back against assimilation and discrimination (they are Muslims). If you've ever thought of traveling the Karakoram Highway or the Silk Road, you'll pass through Xinjiang - Kashgar, to be precise. And you'll undoubtedly marvel at the area's incredible diversity, from the Taklamakan Desert to Karakul Lake to Kashgar Market.

Part of Albania, Serbia, then part of Yugoslavia and now part of Serbia again, Kosovo has fought Serbia for independence and since 1999 has been administered jointly by the UN and NATO, declaring independence from Serbia in 2008. At the end of July, just a couple of weeks ago, the International Court of Justice at the Hague backed that declaration, but that doesn't mean Kosovo's problems are over. The court's decision is non-binding - even if Kosovo is already recognized by more than half the member states of the United Nations. Getting to Kosovo is relatively simple - read up on the latest at Lonely Planet's Thorn Tree Forum. It's not off the beaten track anymore, although a number of countries advise against travel there - or at least great caution.

Kurdistan as a country doesn't exist politically but Kurds (many of whom would like their own nation) are spread over Turkey (which has tried to suppress the Kurdish identity), Iran (where Kurdistan is a province) and Iraq (an autonomous entity), as well as a few neighboring states like Syria. Travel is possible to these regions but not for the faint-hearted. Travel to Turkish Kurdistan is certainly possible, if not absolutely straightforward. Backpack Iraq and Wikitravel provide information on travel to Iraqi Kurdistan, as does a good fact sheet at the bottom of this page by the Kurdistan Regional Government. For Kurdistan Province in Iran, the Kurdistan Tourism site gives you a few tips on travel and tourism. For more in-depth background information on the Kurds, check out Kurdistan Network and AKIN.

Shan State
The Shan are one of the many ethnic groups in Burma (others include the Karen, Karenni, Chin, Naga and many others) who consider themselves distinct and would like their own state, or at least significant autonomy. The Shan States, as they're sometimes called, are part of what is known as the Golden Triangle, once the heart of the world's opium production. Few visits to Burma are complete without a stop in Taunggyi, the Shan capital, or Inle Lake. Despite ongoing struggle for independence, this region is wide open to tourism and is easy to reach once you're in Burma, although some of the more remote and less secure regions are out of bounds - at least legally, since many travelers can and have gone off the beaten track. You can get a good sense of travel by reading some personal blogs, like Jenni Jen's or many of the blogs on TravelPod. The Shan States were granted autonomy by the British in the early 20th century but invaded by the Burmese in mid-century. The Shan have fought back ever since for some sort of self-determination.

Somaliland's peculiarity is that it isn't recognized by anyone at all, even though it has declared independence from Somalia, which claims the land. Formerly British Somaliland, it was granted independence 50 years ago but barely existed for a few days before merging with Italian Somaliland to become Somalia. It has an official website if you want to know more, including information about visas (which you can obtain in neighboring Ethiopia). Somaliland is marginally safer than the rest of Somalia and according to some travel writers, it could be the next big adventure travel destination, even though it's still catching its breath after recent elections. If you like your travel rugged, pristine and uncrowded, Somali hospitality is famous and however unrecognized, Somaliland is opening up. Aplomb required.

Are you a woman on the road with a travel question?

Are you wondering...
- how safe it is to travel solo?
- the best places to go on your own?
- how much it might cost?
- what to pack?
- how to meet people and ward off loneliness?
- about the most unusual destinations?

Here are the most recent questions from readers:
Where would be the best, cheapest place to stay in Istanbul?
What sources do you have for finding a travel companion?
Do you know any English-speaking Buddhist monasteries?

If you're a woman on the road - or about to hit the road - and have a question which could be of interest to other readers, post it here and I'll answer it online. Please don't ask me for job leads or recommendations for hotels or restaurants - plenty of sites out there do that far better than I ever could!

If you need to get in touch with me personally for any of the following reasons, please either Reply to this email or use this form (and don't forget to include your email!)
- to exchange links
- to approach me with a proposal
- or anything else that might require a personal answer from me.

The Travel Writing Magician Gathers Momentum!

A number of you have already taken my free travel writing course and I'm thrilled to hear you've found it useful.

If you've ever thought of writing to pay for your travels, you may be like thousands of others who love the road, need the money, and would be thrilled to see their name in print.

I've paid for my own travel as a writer so I've learned a trick or two about what kind of writing sells and how to make a living at it. To share some of these travel writing tips with you I've developed a free online course, The Travel Writing Magician, available exclusively to readers of this ezine.

Just sign up and you'll get it in your mailbox in seven easy daily installments. Work the assignments on your own and see how your writing improves after just one week. You'll never know if there's a travel writer lurking inside you until you try!

If you're a first-time solo traveler, don't miss this book!

The Art of Solo Travel: A Girl's Guide, by Stephanie Lee, was just published last month and is an essential companion if you plan to travel solo for the first time.

If you're thinking of traveling solo for the first time, The Art of Solo Travel is a feisty, congenial, pictorial and smart e-book that will tell you everything you need to know to get out the door and on the road. Find out how to save for your trip, break the news to your loved ones, what to do along the way, and how to come home. It's short, light and to the point - no padding like so many other e-books.

It's written by Stephanie Lee, an architect turned travel writer, who traveled solo for six months and took plenty of notes to write about it when she got home. Her advice carries plenty of common sense, from the obvious - don't walk alone in dark alleys - to using iGoogle for everything from location to translation.

Her central premise? "Embrace your individuality and sense of adventure."

What Were Last Month's 10 Most Visited Pages on

1. Travel Packing List
2. Cheap Ways to Travel
3. Teaching English Abroad
4. Women's Travel Clothing
5. Solo Travel
6. How to Avoid Crime Abroad
7. Budget Hostel Accommodation
8. Unusual Travel Destinations
9. Neck Wallet
10.Travel Writing Jobs

Travel News from across the Web

The Pleasures of Solo Travel in Europe
Traveling Down the Silk Road
8 Great Malaysian Adventures
Volunteer Your Way Through Central America
More Women Travel Writers
Travel and Politics - Why It Matters
The Lone Traveler

For food lovers...

Scout Caves and Clarets in Bordeaux
Snack Time in Madrid
In Taiwan, The Sea in a Bowl
How to Read a Japanese Kaiseki Menu
6 Bizarre Eating Rituals Around the World

...and lovers of other arts

An Architectural Marvel in Valencia
Stomp to the Rhythm of Flamenco in Sevilla
A Dialog of Echoes in Uruguay
Charles Dickens: He Was a Travel Writer Too
Street Art in Los Angeles

Destination Travel

Free (or Cheap) in Venice
5 Peaceful Sights to Enjoy in Rome
A Cold and Lonely Path: Into Auschwitz
Kicking it in Kashmir
The 4000 Islands of Laos
Never Again in Nigeria
Biking Through America's Heartland
Alternatives to Hiking the Inca Trail
Beware - You Are Now Entering Zapatista Territory

If you like your travel in moving pictures

Berlin - Festival of Lights
Everest Flight, One Adventurous Ride to Lukla

And finally...

Seduction, Slavery and Sex

Cause of the Month

When the Floodgates Open

It's been a month of floods reported across the world's news headlines:
Worst floods in a decade in China, 30,000 trapped
Floods Wash Away Iowa's Lake Delhi
Heavy Rains Wreak Havoc Across India
150,000 marooned by Bangladesh flood

Floods are natural disasters that occur for many reasons, both natural and human-made:

  • People build homes on fertile floodplains or close to shores so when floods do occur, they stand to lose property and even their lives. In poor areas, people may have no choice...
  • Excessive rainfall, so heavy that rivers can't handle the extra water and overflow. Some believe climate change is causing rainfall to intensify.
  • Run-off from melting snow.
  • Levees and dams can break, sending water into neighborhoods that didn't even know they were at risk.
  • Poor local planning (and even corruption) allows homes to be built in dangerous areas.
  • Deforestation means eroded hills can no longer absorb rainwaters, nor can the canopy catch the rain or break its fall to the ground, which minimizes erosion. Denuded hills can also cause landslides, causing more loss of life.
  • Sewage systems can become overwhelmed by excessive rains, causing overflow and preventing sewers from working properly.
  • Floodplains, which help absorb rain, are often paved over and developed as residential areas or parking lots so rainwater has nowhere to go.

Rising waters may not seem that threatening but a flood can be devastating to both inhabitants and communities. Imagine losing every single photograph of your parents or grandparents. Your home. Your land and livestock, causing food shortages and destroying livelihoods. In far too many cases, your life. Floods can destroy everything in their path. They can also spread water-borne diseases like cholera and contaminate the water supply. Flooding can also disrupt travel plans and travelers have been killed by unexpected floods.

Much can be done to mitigate flooding including planting trees to slow erosion (or not cutting them down in the first place), discouraging people from settling on floodplains or river banks, cleaning up after each event (debris can clog water runoff of future floods), not dumping garbage in rivers, and ensuring dam design and location are considered carefully.

To find out more about flooding visit:
Fragilecologies, for a debate on whether floods are man-made or caused by nature
The Science of Floods
Water Resource Associates, for something a bit more technical

Next Month in Women on the Road NEWS?

The Top 10 Sites for Researching Your Trip

(c) 2007-2010, Leyla Giray. All rights reserved. Women on the Road News is published monthly. Reproduction of any material from this newsletter without written permission is prohibited.