JustFly’s cautionary tale: Traveling in hostile countries

Lexa Pennington's picture

During the early days of March 2016, it was announced that the North Korean government sentenced a 21-year old student from West Virginia to 15 years of hard labor. His crime: attempting to steal a propaganda poster for a friend back home. What has happened to this young man is emotionally devastating, and while this event seems uniquely singular, JustFly reviews how important it is to respect local customs and traditions when traveling, especially in areas known to be hostile to foreigners.

In recent years, countries such as North Korea, Saudi Arabia, and Iran have begun issuing travel visas for a limited number of visitors each year into their country. Though the visas are provided, obtaining one is incredibly difficult, or at times impossible depending on a number of factors. In almost every case, travellers wishing to enter these countries must be chaperoned throughout the duration of their trip through an accredited association or group that has been pre-approved by the governments in these countries.

What does this mean for regular tourists? Simply put, visiting these countries without a professional guide is highly inadvisable, according to JustFly. Tour companies that understand the nuances of the foreign countries you’re wishing to visit are better equipped in handling your tour, can brief you on customs, properly apply for visas in your behalf, and all for a single fee. Depending on your profession (for example, journalists are typically denied entry into these countries), or what stamps you have in your passport, you may be prohibited you from entering either of these countries. But should you meet the necessary requirements, visiting these almost untouched places can be a worthwhile experience.

Expect that life will be different. As you follow your designated tour guide, remember that you’re visiting a country not your own. Lots of tourism sites play on the whole “act like a local” mantra as a way to soak up an experience, but in this case, this is not only a mantra but one way to guarantee your safety while abroad. If you’re a woman traveling in a country where women must be covered, then cover. Blending in lets you get lost in the crowd without drawing negative attention to yourself. If you’re a journalist seeking entry into one of the countries (miraculously, your visa went through), should they request your mobile phone, give it to them. Don’t bring contraband into a country, especially because it’s banned for a reason. Though these seem like reasonable, almost common sense facts, most people often forget or assume that their actions do not have consequences as they’re ‘tourists’.

When deciding to travel in areas typically considered hostile or on advisory boards with your government, it’s critical that those who are traveling adhere to the rules, customs, and nuances upheld in the visiting countries. Oftentimes tourists and travellers create a false sense of security when they’re abroad; in most western countries morals, values, and laws are similar, which means that tourists don’t really need to think twice about the consequences of their actions. This isn’t to say that traveling to areas deemed ‘hostile’ is inadvisable, only that should you choose to go, you must be held responsible for your own actions and act in culturally appropriate ways.