What can be considered the best places to travel is somewhat personal. As for me, my top 3 best places to travel so far were Eastern Russia, Uzbekistan and Iran. What are the reasons for this top 3?
My criteria to define the best place to travel are the following:
- It is a place where I generally feel welcome
- It is a place where locals are generally helpful
- It is a place where I don’t need to be constantly watching out for scams and rip-offs
- It is a place where I feel safe as a woman
- It is a place where independent travelling is possible and fun
And of course, there must be interesting things to see, learn and experience, but I doubt any place in the world does not have that if you are curious and open enough!
Thus, the top 3 places that score the best on all 5 criteria in my experience are Eastern Russia, Uzbekistan and Iran!
I travelled 7 times in Russia – the last time I spent the 2013 winter in Siberia and Far East. Why is it in my top 3?
- Remote areas in Russia are not used to receive plenty of travellers and I have always been thrilled to see how much enthusiasm I raised as a traveller, especially when travelling on my own in winter time.
- Since Russia is such a motherly culture, people cannot help but taking care of you in a way or another. In the train, for example, babushkas help me make my bed and watch my belongings; in cities, the people I meet are extremely pleased to have me and want to do all they can to help me make the most of my stay.
- Women are generally safe and respected, and outside of Moscow, I have never been harassed by any men on the street.
- Independent travelling is very easy, the only difficulty is that some visits are organised only for tours. For museums I have always managed to gatecrash and join a group, even if it has to be with schoolkids; for day trips I rather recommend to give up as these are organised by the modern tourism industry and don’t suit the needs of genuine travellers (too big groups, guide speaking on a megaphon, consumerism, etc).
- As a man, you are expected to accept a glass of vodka when offered – this does not mean that people are all alcoholics, it is just a sign of hospitality. As a women, you don’t need to fear being harassed for drinking – most of the time you will be drinking tea with local women – however if you are up for it, drinking vodka can be an easier way to engage with local men as well as women.
For an ultimate experience of Eastern Russia I really recommend to travel outside of the beaten track and off season, certainly knowing a bit of the language and having some experience of Western Russia already; being able to drink vodka is definitely a plus!
I visited Iran for the first time during a short but intense 2-week trip in September 2013. Why is it in my top 3?
- Iran as a country has a bad reputation because of politics, but its inhabitants are lovely people who are honoured by our visit.
- As a woman, I attracted a lot of attention from local women, particularly when I was wearing the real Iranian-style headscarf as opposed to most travelling Westerners who just wear a small scarf; I was travelling with my brother who himself received a lot of attention from local men so with the two of us, we interacted quite a lot with locals.
- People are very curious about visitors and want to get to know them, even if their hospitality can be felt as a bit overwhelming in Western standards. Many of them speak English.
- I felt safe as a women, although that may be partly because I had to wear the hijab like every other woman, and was accompanied by a man.
- Independent travel was no problem at all and at every moment, people were constantly willing to help, offering a ride, a phone number, anything they could to make our stay as pleasant as possible.
For an ultimate experience of Iran I recommend to really play the sartorial game, be a gender-mixed duo or trio to optimise contacts with locals, and have enough time to accept the hospitality offered by locals.
I visited Uzbekistan from top to bottom during a month in September 2012. Why is it in my top 3?
- Visiting Uzbekistan was absolutely brilliant and one of the best experiences of my life.
- Even if most tourists we met were in organized tours, independent travel is not so difficult as long as you speak a little bit of Russian and are a bit flexible and creative with your travel plans.
- Hospitality is important and there as well, people are honoured by the visits from tourists and we receive a lot of smiles showing golden teeth.
- There is a bit of bargaining necessary but it is never tough and you never end up with a feeling of having been ripped off.
- There is a lot of police everywhere, and while I am not sure how this is felt by the local population, it makes you feel very safe as a traveller; the police is very approachable and easy to exchange a few words and even laughs with.
- While the country is Muslim, and many women wear rather modest clothing (very large and long dresses), you are free to dress as you want, and even when pushing a bit the boundaries of the amount of skin I was showing, I never received unwanted attention from anyone.
For an ultimate experience of Uzbekistan, I recommend to have enough time and patience to keep flexible plans, and certainly to speak a bit of Russian (or maybe Turkish); I think it also paid off for me to have prior experience of travelling in Russia!