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Shane Dallas is an advocate for experiencing roads less traveled. He believes that the world is not as dangerous as it appears from afar, and that those destinations with some of the worst safety reputations usually provide the most memorable and enjoyable travel experiences.

His travel resume is impressive, and his fascinating website “The Travel Camel” boasts unbelievable photography from lands where others will not tread, including Ethiopia, Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and North Korea.

While he distances himself from obviously perilous places infested by actively armed insurgents, he is constantly traveling to the world’s less appreciated countries in an attempt to explore what they have to offer.

Happy Ethiopian Girls. Somaliland.

Happy Ethiopian Girls. Somaliland.

If you wish to discover a destination that is on the road less travelled, then read on.

My mind is blown by your travel resume! What inspired you to start travelling to some of the most dangerous countries in the world?

The first place I travelled to a destination that was considered risky was Turkey. People do not consider Turkey a problem to travel through now, but when I travelled there back in 1992 it was different.

It was overwhelming at first, but I soon fell in love with the place.

Give us an overview of your travels to date.

My first overseas holiday was to New Zealand for two weeks in 1986 – a nice introduction to overseas travel for an Australian. My first long journey was to drive around Australia in 1989 of 21,000 kilometres. It was a superb experience and it gave me an enormous appreciation of the rugged beauty of the continent.

In 1991 I embarked on nearly a year of travel through Europe – it was pre Schengen visa days, so an Australian passport holder was not restricted to only spending three months there.

After returning to Australia, I did not leave the country for a decade, undertaking local travel only, but once I was able to do so again in 2002, my travels have been regular and long – including more of Europe, almost the entire Middle East and Asia, and large parts of Eastern Africa.

Schwedagon

Shwedagon Paya – Myanmar.

Travel over the last few years has included places such as Afghanistan, Yemen, Syria, Iraq, Ethiopia, Vietnam and Myanmar.

Are these countries truly dangerous, or has the media instilled too much fear in people?

I do not travel to dangerous destinations. I often travel to countries which have a poor safety reputation but that danger is usually restricted to an isolated section, and I ensure that my travels never take me to such areas.

The reason for this dangerous perception is twofold. First, the media only focuses on dramatic incidents, which is almost always negative – you will almost never hear a good news or peaceful story about places such as Iraq and Yemen.

The second reason is that viewers and readers of such stories incorrectly extrapolate that incident and apply it to the entire nation or even region.

Where are you now?

I’m currently in the town of Livingstone in Zambia where only a few hours ago I saw an incredible sight. The full moon (and a “super moon” too) produced a luminous lunar rainbow over Victoria Falls.

Victoria Falls, Zambia

Victoria Falls, Zambia

It’s not widely known that the full moon and high water produces this natural wonder. An incredible, ethereal sight – strongly recommended.

Where is your home?

The world is my home. I’m always moving, but for approximately three months of the year I’m in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. That is my base when not travelling, but I do not have a home there or anywhere else.

The closest thing I have to a home is my storage shed in Dubai, but I cannot sleep there!

Have you ever found yourself in a life threatening situation?

The only time I felt genuinely threatened was on a ferry in the Solomon Islands where extremely rough seas threatened to capsize our vessel. There were people screaming, crying, vomiting – it was not a pretty scene, and it’s an experience I never want to repeat.

Have you ever come into contact with weapons in your travels?

Many times in the Middle East and Africa, but I’ve never felt threatened by them.

Ethiopia

Mursi Warriors – Omo Valley, Ethiopia.

Even when an argument between two men in Eribl in the Kurdish region of Iraq lead to one brandishing his pistol ready to shoot his opponent, I felt no danger.

Had he not been restrained and managed to fire the pistol it could have been pandemonium, and I might be saying something different.

What kind of safety precautions do you take when travelling through “less appreciated” countries?

The same as for any destination; I read reports from other travellers and local people.

I do not rely on the media nor people who have not travelled to a destination (or don’t know anyone personally who has) for travel advice.

 Government travel advisories are overly cautious and often too generalised so their usefulness does vary.

What is your most memorable international experience?

Do I have to name just one? Believe it or not one of the most defining moments in travel for me was attending the 1992 Barcelona Summer Olympic Games.

I was very fortunate to obtain the last unsold ticket to the Opening Ceremony only two hours before it commenced (the intended ticket holder missed their flight from the UK). The archer lighting the Olympic Cauldron by shooting a flaming arrow will never be surpassed.

What the Olympic Games exposed me to was seeing people from different nations, languages and cultures all together in the one place for the one purpose. It demonstrated that the similarities which unite us as humans are far more significant than the differences which can divide us.

Though I didn’t realise the importance of this experience at the time, it was reinforced by my later extensive travels and attending two more Summer Olympic Games (Sydney and Beijing – that included two more Opening Ceremonies).

Which country have you been most fascinated by?

India continues to fascinate me. I’ve travelled through there for approximately three months over two visits and it is an incredible country.

It is chaotic and colourful, intense and interesting – it feels like the whole world has been crammed into this nation of one billion people.

India has been described as a concentrated assault on the senses, and this is an extremely accurate description – and anything that is provides such a visceral experience is going to be fascinating.

What kind of people have you met along the way?

Depends on the destination, but the most interesting are certainly those who I meet on less travelled destinations such as Tajikistan and Syria.

Family home in

Visiting a family home in Tajikistan.

The people on these routes tend to possess a deeper understanding of the places they visit, and are prepared to immerse themselves in such destinations.

What is your stance on group tours?

Overall, I’m not a fan of group tours, but do understand why people take them.

If someone does wish to travel with a group tour, anything more than 12 people is going to be too many. The main reason for my aversion to group tours is the difficulty they usually provide people to immerse themselves in a destination – and immersing in a destination is the difference between seeing and experiencing a place.

A carefully constructed tour will be able to provide a degree of immersion, but this is the exception rather than the norm.

Some people don’t want to immerse in a destination, and that is their choice, and I don’t always do it either – but immersion provides the fullest travel experience for me.

How do you practice ethical tourism while abroad?

There are two things to consider. First, how is my travel benefiting the local people? It is not enough to leave nothing but footprints – one must provide a benefit.

Thus, as much as possible I stay in locally owned accommodation, eat at locally owned establishments, and use locally owned transport options. Sometimes, I do stay in an international hotel or resort, but that is the exception.

Another important facet of ethical tourism is the issue of respect. Respect the modes of dress, behaviour, and the culture.

Just because a culture is different from your own doesn’t make it any better or any worse – it is just different. Even if there is something you don’t like about a culture, you should strive to respect it even if you don’t agree.

Try to embrace the differences and shun the familiar, you might be surprised how much more you enjoy the travel experience.

Tell us about travelling to North Korea.

In a word – surreal. I visited in 2009 and from someone growing up in Australia, it felt and looked like an altered version of reality.

Juche Tower - North Korea.

Juche Tower – North Korea.

Imagine a city with no outdoor advertising – not on the streets, nor on public transport. Imagine being a tourist where every movement is controlled – one must walk everywhere with a guide and/or party official, and one only photograph with prior permission. The scrutiny you are placed under as a tourist is comparable to nothing else in the world.

A traveller to North Korea must be extremely respectful of the regime and its ideals, even if you do not agree – your comments are noted – and if inappropriate you are likely to be deported.

Remember that any poor behaviour by you results in even worse consequences for your guide. If you don’t think you can temporarily suspend reality in order to accept, for example, that South Korea and the US started the Korean War, then don’t go.

If you want to gain a greater appreciation of the freedom of thought and speech we possess, travel to North Korea. I would love to return, definitely one of the highlights of my travels.

Who should travellers listen to regarding the safety of a destination?

The best source of advice for destinations is either travellers who have visited or people who live there. Government advisories take an overly cautious view of the world, so they can be relied on for general information only.

I never rely on the media nor people who have no direct experience of a destination. If a friend has a friend who has travelled to a place and has directly heard their account, I will listen, but any further separation than that (i.e. a friend of a friend of friend) is ignored.

Do you only visit countries “off the beaten path”, or are you open to enjoying mainstream tourist destinations as well?

I like to balance my destinations. Travelling to less tourism developed and appreciated destinations can be tiring, and sometimes I like my travel to be easier.

A rural setting, North Korea.

A rural setting, North Korea.

For example I loved my visit to Ireland last year, and earlier this year I spent a wonderful week in Berlin. Also a few months ago I took a two week Transatlantic cruise where I delivered a series of eight speeches about my adventures on the road less travelled.

I loved the experience, not just the speaking aspect, but being on the open water, having all meals provided, being able to see different destinations without having to pack and unpack my backpack.

Presently the balance is very nice. I travel to mainstream destinations to speak at conferences or to be taken on media trips, but then organise my own travel to places that are less frequently visited.

You have some phenomenal photography – can you share 3 of your favourite shots from the last few years?

Axum, Ethiopia

 

I was the only foreigner to attend the pre-dawn service and procession through the streets in honour of St Mary.  An incredibly spiritual experience to be surrounded by the gorgeous and reverential singing of thousands of parishioners associated with Ethiopian Orthodox Church.

Axum

Axum, Ethiopia

Borobudur, Indonesia

 

An early start to witness the sun rise over Mt Merapi where steam clouds issued from this active volcano that only a few years earlier covered Borobudur in ash after a major eruption. Sunrise and very early morning are definitely the best time to visit Borobudur.

Indonesia

Indonesia.

Qala-e-Panja, Afghanistan

 

My choice for the world’s most beautiful country. Though I visited in the last week of May in 2014, I was the first tourist of the year to travel along the Wakhan Corridor.

Afghanistan.

Afghanistan.

This journey provided a strong insight into the difficulties and complexities of life there – not just from violent conflict but mostly due to the harsh environment. It was an unforgettable and life-changing experience.

Why should people travel to less appreciated countries?

One should travel to less appreciated countries because they are generally safer and more hospitable than popular tourist destinations.

However, of most importance is that by travelling to these places (and often against the advice of most people) you will realise that the world is not as dangerous as it appears from afar.

You are also likely to commence thinking and viewing these destinations with more independent thought than if you decided not to travel there.

Otherwise, you are likely to cede your opinions on such destinations to media news sources, political leaders and others who have little exposure to the wonderful experiences that these places have to offer.

Where next?

I’m currently in Zambia on my sixth visit to Africa.

In a few weeks time I’ll be returning to Dubai and from there I’ll be embarking on a media trip and a series of speaking engagements through Europe and North America.

Shane Dallas is the name and face behind “The Travel Camel” – a website which presents travel experiences from roads less traveled.

He believes that the world is not as dangerous as it appears from afar, and that those destinations with some of the worst safety reputations usually provide the most memorable and enjoyable travel experiences.

    57 Comments

  1. Shane’s travels are so inspiring. He definitely lives the saying, “It’s better to see something (or a place) once, than hear about it a hundred times”

    • He really is an inspiring guy – and I totally agree with experiencing a place rather than settling for just hearing about it. I always have to see a destination for myself!

      Thanks Jean!

    • Thanks Jean! Definitely better to see a destinations for yourself as different people will perceive the same place in different ways.

  2. Wow. Seriously Wow. I loved this advice: “Try to embrace the differences and shun the familiar, you might be surprised how much more you enjoy the travel experience.”

    • Shane is definitely inspiring! Now if we could only convince the rest of the world to think like that!

    • Thanks for the comment Megan, glad you liked the interview! Hope you can continue to travel and embrace the differences!

  3. I enjoyed the interview. Certainly less visited destinations make better stories. There’s only so many stories you can tell about visiting the Colusseum or other top tourist destinations. Now that we have a baby, the destinations I choose tend to be less adventurous. However, I’m dreaming of a lot of the places you mention, like Yemen and North Korea.

    • Thanks Kalli! So glad you enjoyed the interview :)

      It’s definitely true – the less explored destinations do always make for a better story, and they’re the stories people actually want to hear when you get home!

      Iceland would be a fantastic location to explore with a baby – it doesnt necessarily have a bad safety reputation, though it’s still very unexplored and very exotic. We’ve just returned and had a fab roadtrip, so highly recommend!

    • Thanks for the comment, Kalli! I agree with Megan, there are still less travelled destinations (such as Iceland) that have plenty of facilities for a young family on the road. I know people who have taken young children travelling and they find that having children with them immediately breaks down language barriers – people of all nations gravitate towards young children and babies.

    • I love Shane’s photography – he continually manages to inspire extreme wanderlust!! So glad you enjoyed the interview Miriam :)

    • Thanks for your comments on my photos Miriam! I should point out that I do very little post-processing on my images – usually limited to exposure, colour balance and cropping. With the exception of the watermark, all the images featured here look almost the same as when I took and first viewed them on my camera’s LCD screen.

  4. Such a fascinating piece – loved reading about N Korea in particular.

    • So glad you enjoyed it! North Korea fascinates me as well – I would love to get there to experience it for myself one day!

  5. Perhaps this question is one posed by the cautious traveller, but how do you get insurance visiting places like this?

    Afghanistan looks beautiful, it’s definitely somewhere I want to visit.

    • Sammi, you ask a very good question. Some places I cannot obtain insurance (Afghanistan, Iraq, Somaliland) because they were on the Australian Government’s “Do Not Travel” list at the time of travel. Thus, one takes a risk by travelling without insurance in such places (or any place for that matter). It was something I had to consider when heading to Afghanistan, for example. My biggest concern there was the lack of medical aid due to an accident or illness, but thankfully no such event occurred.

  6. Now that’s what I call off-the-beaten-path travel. I’m glad to see that someone’s not letting the world set them back despite the political standings from place to place. I can’t wait to see where else Shane treads to. :-)

    • Hello Ron, thanks for the comment! One cannot judge a people by its government, so even though I may not agree with the way the country is being run, I always view the people differently. As to where my next travel lead me – I look forward to it with interest too as I don’t know either!

  7. Shane and his travels fascinate me! I do think it helps to be a man doing what he does – a woman could potentially be in a lot more danger in some countries. But I’m sure he’s true that most places aren’t as dangerous as we’re led to think. The one thing I never understand is why people think Afghanistan is beautiful. To me it always looks like dirt and rocks and no water and very little greenery. What is it’s beauty? I have to be missing something!

    • Thanks for your comment Kay, I do think that the precautions that a male and female take are much the same on the road. For some destinations, it is harder to travel as a solo female, but mostly due to cultural differences of seeing a woman on her own without a man accompanying her. In terms of safety, I believe that destinations on the road less travelled are generally safer for women. I’ve met solo females travellers who have visited Iran and Yemen without any dramas. Yet, solo females in popular tourist holiday areas can face more hassle and troubles. My rule is this – the more alcohol and/or drugs in a place you visit, the more problematic it is for solo travellers – especially female.

      As for the mountains of Afghanistan, yes it is dusty (very) and barren, but those towering mountains impose themselves on you like no other. Incredible and dramatic scenery.

    • Antonette, thank you for reading the interview and for your kind comment! I might see you on the road one day!

  8. Wow what an impressive travel profile. He’s had some amazing experiences most people in this world would never dream of!

    • Thanks for your comment Samantha! I consider myself extremely fortunate to have travelled so extensively, and I never take any of my travels for granted. I’m still in awe of the world and everything it has to offer.

  9. Wow, amazing interview! I love that he debunks the idea that the less traveled countries are dangerous and not worth visiting. Fascinating!

    • So pleased you liked the interview Mary! I would strongly recommend that people travel to a less travelled destination at least once to see what it is like for themselves. Most people will be pleasantly surprised and it may even take them on a whole different path of travel.

  10. I’m a big fan of Shane. I liked how knowledgeable and unpretentious he is. Two characteristics that are uncommonly found in travel writers. Not to mention he’s an inspiring individual and a great photographer. Great interview Meg!

    • The world would be a lot better if it were full of more people like Shane! Totally agree! Thanks Margherita – so glad you enjoyed the interview!

    • Sincere thanks for your very kind words Margherita. Travel has taught me to humbly appreciate the privilege I’ve been given to explore the world.

  11. Very interesting! Love seeing people travel to areas that aren’t visited very often. It goes to show that you can’t trust everything you hear!

    • Hello Jenna, thanks for reading! When it comes to media reports on destinations and places, I’d recommend to question everything you see or read. It can be difficult to separate facts from opinion with news reports.

  12. How incredibly inspirational Shane is! Thank you for telling us all about your stories! Great interview!

    • Thanks Lauren! So glad you enjoyed the interview!

  13. Great interview! We can totally relate to Shane and completely agree with everything he said. The biggest thing I think people misunderstand is that even though there may be riots or some form of political unrest/fighting/war going on, these things are usually happening in one part of one city, not the entire country! Imagine if people didn’t travel to Canada because there were some issues in Vancouver, and it was deemed “unsafe” for travel!

    Great questions, fabulous answers :) Thanks for sharing.

    Cheers from Grenada,
    Dariece

    • Thanks Dariece, glad that you could relate to the answers. We’ve both had experience travelling through Central Asia and for most people it is perceived as dangerous largely because its unknown, But once you’ve been there, then one understands that this dangerous perception is incorrect. Thanks for the Canada example re a troubled area vs a troubled nation – it conveys the point perfectly.

  14. Such a great interview–thanks for sharing. I really enjoy reading Shane’s posts and insights as he seems so very humble about his experiences; and his experiences are truly incredible.

    • Heather, thanks for the comment. I never used to be humble, but travelling has given me humility. Travel changes people for the better.

    • Despite their looks, they were really relaxed guys, Raphael. After taking the photo, I showed them the image and they all laughed. I had a few more light moments with them afterwards as well. Thanks for reading!

  15. Hi Shane and Megan,

    I dig the fact that despite all the places he’s been, his most dangerous encounter was a crazy ferry ride in the Solomon Islands, not too too far from us here in Fiji. Crazy, because so many assumptions are made about countries, and when you think of it, although I’d never visit such countries – the few travel nutzos who visit in and around war zones leave unscathed.

    So few people actually get killed or injured, or suffer through some crazy negative experience, relative to the number of tourists who travel to supposedly dangerous countries. This is why: most people on earth are kind, decent, and even if they don’t care for you, they have no interest in harming you. Most people actually are nice, and would rather help than hurt, and that most number is like, MOST people.

    I’ve only been in Myanmar for a minute, but the people there were kind. I was in Thailand during the coup, and of course, other than a small pocket in Bangkok, nothing of note happened in the nation, save a 10PM curfew in Phuket, and of course, throughout the country. Totally different picture than that painted on CNN and other world news media outlets, which goes to show you again, the perception is almost always different from the reality, in virtually all cases save horrific war zones.

    Love this message. As for India, I did get sick there but overall the place was a blast. Assault on your senses, but I met so many kind folks, and also, some of my blogging buddies which was so cool.

    Thanks guys! Tweeting for my travel blogging buddies.

    Signing off from Savusavu, Fiji.

    Ryan

    • Ryan, hello to you in Fiji! That is such a comprehensive answer that it is almost an interview in itself! I 100% agree with everything you have said and yes I too believe that less travelled destinations are safer than well travelled tourists paths. The reason? In most places, petty crime is attracted to areas with many tourists.

      I too was in Bangkok was during one of the protests, and except for a barricaded street, Bangkok continued to operate as normal.

      The vast majority of people in the world are good – and the more you travel the more you realise that the similarities we share as human beings are far more significant than any differences. The world is filled with people who wish to assist and provide good deeds. It’s just a pity that the media focus on the very small minority who bear ill toward others.

  16. Very envious of that picture in front of Victoria Falls! It is one of my aspirations to visit a variety of leading waterfalls around the world, both those that are famous along with some of the lesser known. It’s always intriguing to hear about stories of travels to the lesser known parts of the world, rather than just the mainstream travels that many of us pursue! I don’t think there is anything wrong with either approach, it’s just nice to follow someone who is so diverse like yourself Shane!

    • I’m so glad you enjoyed the interview Chris – I completely agree – starting to become more and more intrigued by stories and tales from lesser known parts of the world as it seems mainstream has all but been covered by now!

      Good luck with your waterfall bucket list! I hope you can get to Victoria Falls soon!

    • Chris, I do hope you get to visit Victoria Falls one day. To see the lunar rainbow you must be at the falls either on the full moon or a day either side. The water level needs to be high – but not too high otherwise all you see is mist and spray. I was there in early August and was informed that late June to late August were two of the better months.

  17. This was such an interesting read. Thank you for this. I learnt a lot.

    • Thanks Amy – so glad you enjoyed the interview!

  18. Yes, to some extent, the media plays well into our fears and perceptions of certain places. If travelling to a destination that is reputed as unsafe, preparation, research, and common sense are key. This was a great read! We love to see that people are willing to explore and learn new things!

    • Completely agree re common sense – I’ve long since been an advocate that common sense is the biggest safety precaution you’ll ever have when traveling anywhere abroad.

      So glad you enjoyed the interview :)

    • Yes, I hope more and more people are willing to explore the world and not just the well trodden paths. We need more culturally curious people on this planet. Do the research, use common sense, and then step into the unknown.

  19. Shane is, along with Nate from ‘Yomadic’, one of my two favourite, off the beaten track travelers.

    Do yourself a favour and read as much of their work to help break down pre and misconceptions of countries all over the world!

    • Thanks so much for your kind comment, Chris. I’ve not seen Nate from Yomadic until you mentioned it, and he has excellent material. It’s an honour to be mentioned in the same sentence with him.

  20. Fascinating interview. I’ve been following Shane for a while now, but had no idea quite how extensively he’s travelled. My boyfriend went to Syria just before the war and says it’s his favourite country he’s ever been to. I hope one day it will calm down there for the people’s sake. I don’t think I would like North Korea very much, though it is an amazing aspect of the world to see, I imagine it would give you an entirely different perspective of your own country. Thanks!

    • Thanks for reading and for your comment Katie. Interesting you should mention Syria – it is my second favourite country behind India and my favourite country in the Middle East. I was there in 2008, and was considerig returning for a longer and more immerse stay, but the current conflict put those plans on hold. What has been occuring in the past few years Syria is a tragedy of almost unimaginable proportions.

  21. Really an amazing and fascinating interview … Thanks Shane for sharing such a great experience. I’m totally agree to not rely on media. I’d visited Iraq Afghanistan and Libya but hasn’t bad experience as media screening. Yeah there are few security restrictions in Iran, Turkmenistan, Armenia and North Korea due to the bad policies of US otherwise nothing..

    May you be happy.. Have a great journey

    • Thanks for the comment Hussain. Lucky you were able to see Libya before the current issues, I’ve heard it was a great country to visit. Agree with you on the media, I’m now in Kenya, staying near Nairobi, and I’m loving it – comfortable and secure. The only time you tend to see stories about places like Kenya are negative stories (Obama’s visit being an exception). Very uncommon (dare I say rare) to see a positive news story in international media on any destination in Africa and Middle East.

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