“So what’s the plan after Africa?” I ask Peter.
He shrugs nonchalantly. “We’ll see after Africa.”
As ever, I need a game plan. I know we’re planning to head to Africa in the summer but what comes after? Do we settle in London and travel in between things? Do we stay on the road? Do we move to Sri Lanka of which we occasionally and idly dream?
If I could choose, I’d settle somewhere quiet like our beloved tiny French village. The problem is, there’s still so much more I want to see.
In our living room, we have this map and find ourselves staring at it often, dreaming and plotting about the places we want to see: Derweze in Turkmenistan, the Himalaya in Nepal, the deserts of Iran.
It most recently led us to an interesting discussion: which are the countries you least want to see?
My list below isn’t necessarily rational or even justifiable; it’s written from instinct and a dash of ignorance and I’m certainly open to changing my mind. I’d love to know what’s on your list so please share in the comments below.
I’ve been to Dubai and I suspect Bahrain is much of the same but with less conviction: a wealth divide carved from oil, a charmless capital of concrete and dust, and a complete lack of alternative culture.
I know how incredibly judgemental this sounds, so I’ll let the tourist board describe their culture and heritage instead: “Our country has become the region’s leading financial centre since the 1980s. Since then manufacturing, logistics, communications, professional services and real estate have also become important sectors… The country also has an established legal framework and respected regulatory system.”
The Kazakhstan tourist board had a bit of a crisis after the release of Borat, the Sacha Baron Cohen film which mercilessly lampooned the region. In 2005, the Foreign Ministry rejected the film and threatened to sue Baron Cohen. By 2012, however, the Foreign Minister acknowledged that the film had greatly helped increase tourism in Kazakhstan.
Alas, it hasn’t done enough to tempt me. Despite some dramatic landscapes and a claim to fame as the largest landlocked country in the world, Kazakhstan is usurped by its far more interesting neighbours.
I can’t be alone in thinking this. After all, according crowdsourced data on TripAdvisor, the number one attraction in Kazakhstan is a skating rink.
For me, Kuwait suffers from the same image problem as Bahrain. Despite some really interesting history, today it feels like an oil-rich country full of expats living in compound homes.
It does have some beautiful desert landscapes but nearby Iran is far more tempting.
Tellingly, the number one attraction in Kuwait according to crowdsourced data on TripAdvisor, is a big mall.
I know there are tens of countries with sketchy human rights records but, having grown up in a Muslim family, I find Saudi the most grating.
The country is home to the admittedly stunning city of Mecca and preaches a religion of peace and yet is merciless, oppressive and downright cruel to its very own people, particularly its women.
Its officials preach piety and abstinence and then act with hypocrisy. I find it deeply offensive.
With so much incredible history and architecture in Europe, the competition for tourism is stiff. Unfortunately, Moldova sits at the bottom of my European wishlist, losing closely to Lithuania and Liechtenstein.
In the main, it’s because I know absolutely nothing about Moldova other than that its capital is Chișinău (and that I only know because I learnt it for a pub quiz I was determined to win… sadly, we came second).
There is some interesting architecture within its borders but that’s true of the rest of Europe. To me, it seems like a banal stretch of land caught between the more interesting options of Ukraine and Romania.
Perhaps after Africa I’ll plan a trip through these five countries to see if they change my mind. It would be interesting to see how they stack up against my expectations.
I’ll probably have to delete what I said about Saudi though. I don’t want to get arrested.
Additional photography: Dreamstime