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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.