Hispaniola, an Island Divided

In March of 2018, I took part in a study visit to the Dominican Republic. The visit was part of a larger project looking at global migration patterns and the impacts they have on their host countries. The Dominican Republic is located in the western Caribbean on the island of Hispaniola, which is divided between two countries, the Dominican Republic and Haiti. Overwhelmingly the migration is from Haiti to the Dominican Republic. To understand the context of this migration we met with various organisations, the ministry for Education, the Movement of Dominican-Haitian Women (MUDHA) and UNAPEC University. As a result of our meetings and observations below is a reflection of our understanding of the situation. This blog is not looking at the touristic elements of the country, it is more a political and historical analysis.

Meeting with MUDHA. A Dominican based organisation that support Black natives and Haitian Migrants.

A major writer in the area of prejudice was the American social psychologist Gordon Allport who in 1954 wrote a book called the nature of prejudice. In his book, Allport concluded that contact between groups was the best method for reducing prejudice. So on the Caribbean island of Hispaniola where only two countries exist, contact between both groups who share a colonial history should be simple. However, this is not the case, not only are they not united, the discrimination, mistrust and intolerance towards each other is deeply ingrained in both populations and the political tensions are high.     

The Dominican Republic is the richer of the two nations with the average annual income being $8,200, compared to that of $1,300 in Haiti. This economical contrast is vast and the greatest in the Western hemisphere. As a result, many Haitians migrate to the Dominican side in search of work and a better quality of life.  

Currently 800,000 (approximately 10% of the population) Haitians are thought to be living in the Dominican Republic, however this figure is hard to quantify as many migrants are undocumented and cross the boarder illegally. The migration trends are not a new phenomena as Haitians have been migrating over the border for hundreds of years with many generations of Haitians now having been born in the Dominican Republic. In spite of this, many Haitians do not have any legal status in the country. In 1929, Haiti and the Dominican Republic formalized the border. That same year, the Dominican Republic wrote their constitution stating that anyone born in the country was considered to be a citizen of the Dominican Republic irrespective to the legal status of his or her parents. However, in 2010 the Dominican Republic rewrote their constitution amending this act, stating that in order for children born in the country to gain automatic Dominican citizenship status their parents must also be legal citizens in the country. Additionally, in 2013 a further act was implemented enforcing this act retrospectively all they way back to 1929, meaning that anyone who was given citizenship after 1929 to illegal or undocumented parents would now have their citizenship revoked. This act resulted in thousands of ethnic Haitians being deported to Haiti. Although despite this population being ethnic Haitians, Haiti does not recognise this population as citizens of Haiti, consequently leaving them as stateless. Currently, as a result of mass Haitian deportations, these stateless populations now live in makeshift refugee camps along the border.

This picture was in an office that support Black people in the country. It says “I also have the right to exist”.

Moreover, it appears that the divides have also been drawn across racial lines. In many countries in the world, if you are mixed race, i.e. black with white, you are more likely to be labelled as someone who is considered black in the eyes of society opposed to white. However, in the Dominican Republic, this is not the case. Almost all would not self identify as black but rather as mestizo or mulatto, meaning to be of mix heritage, and over 70% of the population would self identify as mestizo or mulatto. Those that are darker in complexion and not mixed are often labelled as Haitians. Whereas some of the black population may hold Haitian ancestry this is not the case for all. Both Haiti and the Dominican Republic brought black slaves to the island; the difference was that in the Dominican Republic more intermixing occurred than in Haiti. Being black in the Dominican Republic has a negative connotation and a number will self identify as indios meaning indigenous, but in fact, this is a whole different group altogether. Blacks who make up around 11% of the population whether they are from Haitian heritage or not, if they are unable to prove they are legal Dominican Citizens born to legal parents are more at risk of being deported. The situation is very complicated with both countries seeming reluctant to face the situation, and those individuals and organisations that are working to manage the situation are open to criticism and possible political isolation. Internationally, the Dominican Republic has been criticised for its changes to the constitution and policy updates, they also stands accused of abusing basic human rights in the process. 

Some Historical Context

To gain a better understanding to how we arrived here, we first need to explore the historical backdrop and experiences of both peoples. Prior to European colonisation, Hispaniola (like other islands in the region) was inhabited by a native group known as the Taíno Amerindians. Christopher Columbus was the first European to arrive to the island and after his first voyage he returned to create the first European colony in the Americas. The Spanish first enslaved the native Taíno to work the agricultural plantations, but over time their numbers dropped due to very harsh slave conditions, a redirection of the food supply to benefit the European colonists and later diseases like small pox. However, as many of the first voyages only sent men to colonise the territory a significant mixed race population began to emerge and are still evident today. By the early 1500’s the colonists began to import African slaves believing them to be stronger and more capable of labour. In 1574 Hispaniola was reported to have 1,000 Spanish residence and 12,000 African slaves.

Agricultural exports such as sugar and coffee became very lucrative and conflicts broke out with other European powers looking to get in on the action. By the early 1600’s the Spanish were worried about the increase of pirates in the region so moved their inhabitance to settlements to the south of the island, this resulted in opening the north of the island for British, Dutch and French settlements. In 1665 King Louis XIV of France officially recognised the colony and named it Saint-Domingue, two years later the treaty of Ryswick parted the island, allocating two-thirds of the island to Spain and the rest to France. The Europeans were becoming rich off the trades of products from the colonies and as a result began to compete with each other. Sugarcane was one of the biggest cash crops and France maximised its profits but at their own demise. France imported and worked to death thousands of slaves to work the lands and reduce the labour costs. They over harvested sugarcane stripping the soil of its nutrients. Additionally they began to cut down the forests for the wood, all of which slowly but surely destroyed the land.

The effects of

As the French worked the slave population so hard, killing thousands in the process, the result was the Haitian Revolution, a slave revolt which turned Haiti into the first independent free slave nation on earth. However, Haiti’s independence from France in 1804 was not without further consequence. France later billed the new independent Haiti 150 million Francs for loss of earnings, subsequently swapping them from a slave colony to being an independent nation in debt. In contrast, the Dominican Republic gained their independence from Spain in 1821 without charge. With the Dominican Republic being the more fertile of the two countries and Haiti’s high debt, Haiti later decided to invade and take over the Dominican Republic to improve their chances of growing cash crops for export, they also imposed French as the national language and associated Roman Catholicism with slave mastery, so tried to ban the religion too.

The rest of the trading world saw an independent free slave republic as a threat, as many nations under the European powers (and a recently independent United States) were still utilising slaves to boost their economies with free labour. So a free slave colony was a direct threat to their political system and they all feared slave revolts in their own territories. As a result the trading power nations isolated Haiti and refused to trade with them.       

In 1930, the Dominican Republic was ruled by Rafael Trujillo, who held a great hatred for Haitians.  He is also held responsible for the Parsley massacre, which was known to have massacred thousands of Haitians. Trujillo was known for being very prejudice to those with black skin and wanting to distinguish Dominican as lighter and Haitian as darker. Today this is evident with those that identify as being black in the Dominican Republic at 11% compared to 95% in Haiti. 

Dominican Republic Independence Day parade.

1838 Dominican Nationalists founded a resistance movement against Haitian rule called La Trinitaria, which led to the Dominican war of independence. The Dominican Republic was successful in fighting off the Haitians and gained a second independence in 1844.  Now when the Dominican Republic celebrates its independence it looks not to the three hundred plus years it was colonised by Spain, but to the twenty plus years it was colonised by Haiti. 

All of these factors have lead to Haiti and the Dominican Republic having different experiences despite being on one island. Where as the Dominican Republic eventually saw more positive race relations due to working more equally together, interbreeding and cross marriages, Haiti’s reality was different. Black slaves in Haiti almost never held an equal status with white Europeans. As a result Haiti’s revolution was a race war redirecting power to a very discriminated black population. Today the Haitian revolution is an important event in Black history and can be seen as one of the first turning points in ending global slavery and civil rights for black people around the world.

It is said that the border region now operates as a de-facto third country between Haiti and the Dominican Republic with currencies being interchangeable, goods and services being exchanged and with a number of free trade market zones being established along the border. Additionally, Haitian’s are crossing the border on a daily bases to work, sell goods and even come to school. Despite all of the issues between the countries, the border de-facto country is having some positive examples of cross cooperation. Moreover, another good example of cross country collaboration was when Haiti faced a disastrous earthquake in 2010, the Dominican Republic was the first to come to their aid sending medical aid and much-needed supplies.

Today the Dominican Republic is facing a new wave of migrants from Venezuela due to the hostility and instability of the Venezuelan regime, which will also cause them challenges. However, despite the Dominican Republic being a desired location for many of the poorest countries in the region to flock too, Dominicans themselves make up almost 1 million in total in the USA and also experience their own racial discrimination along with other Latino communities.

Conclusion

Although Allport said contact reduces prejudice he stipulated four conditions, Equal status, Common goals, Intergroup cooperation and the Support of authorities, law or customs, all of which are not present between the two nations. Like many longstanding historical conflicts around the world, whatever solutions are proposed will be difficult and not accepted by all, but what all will agree is that a solution is needed and the current situation is not sustainable in the long-term.

Our experience of prejudice combined with negative media messages and a common mistrust in the society make it even more challenging for us to see the other in a positive light, but change starts within us and if we want to live in a kinder and fairer world we can start by seeing the individual for more than just their political, cultural and ethnic identity that is different to ours, but as individuals that share a common sense of humanity and have the same needs and wants as us all.

As the social psychologist Paulo Freire once said, the oppressed become the oppressor. Dominicans are treated as second-class citizens in the USA and are often discriminated against. Back in the Dominican Republic Dominicans are very aware of the struggles their people face in the US. Instead of empathising with the plight of Haitians in a similar situation they manifest the very same discrimination they experience in the US and impose this on the Haitians. Of course the political situation and solutions are complex to resolve, but a place to start might be reflecting on our own situation, identity and sense of empathy to others that are not so different to us.

Why there are 207 Countries

When we ask the question how many countries there are in the world that answer is generally vague, unclear or politically motivated.  Follow here to read my blog on this.  Generally when people need to default to a decision the easiest answer to give is 193, as this is how many UN members there are. Overall UN member countries are recognized by all the other member states, and it is recognition that counts. However, there are UN member states that are not recognised by other UN member states, such as Armenia. Pakistan does not officially recognise Armenia as a country as they have politically allied themselves with Azerbaijan in support to Azerbaijan’s claim that Armenia (or Armenians) have unlawfully inhabited a part of their territory to create the de facto state Nagorno-Karabakh. Cyprus is also not recognised by Turkey, North Korea is not recognised by 3 UN member states and Israel is not recognised by 31 UN member states. Despite this, the above mentions nations are all UN member states and recognised as countries.

So does this mean if a country is not a UN member state that it is not a country? Of course not.  There are a number of theories that define what is statehood although international law leans on the Declarative theory that came out of the 1933 Montevideo convention on the rights and duties of a state. The convention concluded that in order to be recognised as a state the state must meet for criteria, which are:

  • (a) A permanent population;
  • (b) A defined territory;
  • (c) A system of government; and
  • (d) Capacity to enter into relations with the other states.

All UN member states meet these criteria and have wide recognitions from other UN member states. However in this blog I am arguing that there are 207 countries with 14 countries additional to the UN members that meet these criteria and have international recognitions. A third element that I think is important (but not mandatory) for us to recognise if a states or territory is a country has recognitions from the wider state it is a part of. I will discuss this further bellow in the area on Constituent Countries.

Non UN Member Observer State

194th The Holy See (Vatican City)    

Map of the current territory of the Holy See, all located inside the city of Rome, Italy

The Holy See (Vatican City) has not applied for UN member status but holds observer status since 1964. No one disputes that the Holy See is not a country and was recognised by the state of Italy during the leadership of Benito Mussolini.

In short, the Vatican was part of a kingdom called the Paple States and existed for the best part of 1,000 years. The bordering kingdom of Italy conquered all of the lands of the Paple States except for the area where the Vatican City stands today. During the period of the Paple states, the largest church in the world was constructed and a wall was built around the Vatican Hill. When the kingdom of Italy overtook the Paple States the Pope secured himself behind the walls of the Vatican and the Kingdom of Italy basically held out for their surrender. This went on for 60 years with both states not recognising each other until The Lateran Treaty of 1929.

So the Holy See is not disputed by any country and holds observer status. We can therefore say that the Holy See is our 194th country.

195 The Palestinian Territories

There are many maps on the Palestinian Territories with various disputes of settlements and historical points. This is the most common agreed map.

How and why the Palestinian Territories is a state is a massively complex discussion that plenty of books and articles have been written on.  Why this territory is in our list of countries is that in 2018 137 UN members voted in favour of giving Palestine non-member observer status, which puts them in the same category as the Holy See.

Non-UN Member or Observer states

196 Taiwan

Chiang Kai Shek (ROC) and Mao Zedong (PRC). These were the two leaders during the Chinese civil war.

The current official name of China is called The People’s Republic of China (PRC), whereas the official name of Taiwan is the Republic of China (ROC) and was initially a member of the UN until 1971. China’s civil war between the nationalists (ROC) and the communists (PRC) resulted in the government representing ROC being exiled from Mainland China, now inhabiting just the island of Taiwan.

The PRC took control of the mainland of China from 1949 and still do to this date. None of the UN members accepted PRC as the legitimate government over Mainland China initially, but slowly more and more states changed their relationship and recognition from ROC to the PRC. Then in 1971, the UN passed resolution 2758, transferring the ROC membership to the PRC. Although only 16 countries in the world officially recognise ROC as a sovereign nation, 47 have non-diplomatic, unofficial governmental relations (as well as the EU), maintaining economic, cultural and trade relationships with a number also hosting embassies in their country and having an embassy in Taiwan. Other than official recognition they fulfil all the criteria to be a country and have unofficial recognition, they even participate independently in the Olympics. 

197 Kosovo

Kosovo has not been voted as a UN member state, but is recognised by 103 UN member states and is recognised by the EU as a potential candidate for accession. Currently Kosovo is under UN administration under resolution 1244.

Kosovo also fulfil all the other criteria of the Montevideo convention. Despite Kosovo governing its own territory, Serbia still hold their claim to the land and territory of Kosovo.

198 Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (Western Sahara) (SADR):

To date 84 UN members have recognised SADR as the legitimate government of the territory of Western Sahara. However, 40 of these countries have since suspended, frozen or withdrawn recognition. The UN considers the Polisario Front (the government of SADR) to be the legitimate representative of the Sahrawi people and maintains that the Sahrawi people have a right to self-determination. SADR was also accepted as a member of the African Union, which resulted in Morocco withdrawing its membership in protest until it rejoined in 2017. Most of the territory of Western Sahara is occupied and claimed by the government of Morocco with SADR controlling a small part of the land on the border with Mauritania.

Freedom of Association

199-200 Niue & The Cook Islands

The Cook Islands & Niue (CI&N) are countries that have freely associated themselves with New Zealand who represents them at the UN. The CI&N have taken this choice freely and New Zealand does not claim territorial sovereignty over these nations. 

The countries of Palau, FS of Micronesia and the Marshall Islands also have a freedom of association pact with the United States, but unlike CI&N have decided to also become UN members. The United States also has a number of other overseas territories like Puerto Rico, American Samoa and Guam, but all or not countries or even US States, they are unincorporated territories.

Constituent Countries

201-202 Scotland & Wales

Wales and Scotland (W&S) culturally and historically have been considered as countries and are not disputed to be countries by the UK and the English government. Therefore, despite these countries not being UN members and being recognised as countries by the UK government, I see no issue in why these would not be counted as countries.

I currently do not count Northern Ireland as a country. At the 2007 UN conference on the standardisation of geographical names, the UK made a submission which resulted in Northen Ireland being defined as a province. Despite Northern Ireland enjoying the same administrative freedoms as Wales and Scotland, its classification as a country is not the same. Should Northen Ireland wish to claim independence or gain recognition as another constituent country I will then be happy to add it to my list.

203-204 Greenland & The Faroe Islands

Like the United Kingdom, Denmark is also a Constituent Country, meaning a union of countries. Additional to Denmark’s mainland and surrounding islands it is united with Greenland and the Faroe Islands who are both self-governing. Again like the UK, the government of Denmark also recognises Greenland and the Faroe Islands as countries.

205-206-207 Aruba, Curaçao and Sint Maarten

Similar to the UK and Denmark the Netherlands also considers 3 of their overseas territories to be countries with a semi-autonomous rule. Like the other Constituent Countries, the Netherlands has no issue with these islands being categorised as countries. The Netherlands has 6 territories in the Caribbean, but only 3 of the 6 are considered to be constituent countries. Previously all 6 of the islands where considered to be one Constituent Country but during discussions in the early 2000s Bonaire, St Eustatius and Saba opted for special municipalities with closer ties to the government of the Netherlands.

Conclusion

I’m sure you are thinking there are other countries missing from this list. What about Somaliland, Abkhazia, Catalonia, Transnistria and Northern Cyprus to name a few? Well to go back to the start it is about recognition of the state from the country they are claiming to be independent of.  With the UK, Denmark and the Netherlands, they are all constituent countries and have recognition from the governing body that is the UN member state that they are considered to be countries. If we compare this to Catalonia and the Basque Region, Spain does not recognise them in the same way.

With SADR, Taiwan and Kosovo this is not the case and the countries they are looking to secede from does not recognize their Legitimacy to self-determination, however, they do have fairly wide recognition and relationships with other UN member states.  With Niue and the Cook Islands, this is a freedom of association with New Zealand, and New Zealand does not claim sovereignty over their territory, they just accept to represent them at the UN, provide citizenship and support them in military affairs, which is similar to constituent countries.

Generally what we can call a country is debated and as we have seen even UN member countries are not universally recognised. So if recognition is the key, then it is up to us to decide and justify what we consider a country or not. If you want to count any rock that sticks out of the ocean a country, that is up to you but based on what grounds and how valid is that recognition. Here I have outlined my own list, and of course, there will be people and governments that disagree with my list and I would guess mostly out of their political position on the countries I have mentioned. There will be people that are adamant that countries like Northern Cyprus, Somaliland etc should be on this list, and I agree with them. Many of these places are fully operating as countries and if you visit them they will feel totally like a country. The tragic issue for them all is a lack of recognition. Personally, I feel like it is a real tragedy that Somaliland has no international recognition which they would really benefit from. Hong Kong and Macau could also be very good candidates for country status due to how they operate and how they engage with other countries and the autonomy from PRC. But they are currently due to be absorbed into mainland China in the next few years.

I guess my conclusion here is that what we consider to be countries is more than just UN member states, it is not our opinion the determines if a country is a country, it’s recognition from others. Which places we count as countries are going to be open to political debate. I would say that if counting countries is important to you, then make your decision, justify it and stand by it. Be open to changing your opinion in light of new information and remember that countries always will and always have come and gone.

What are your thoughts on this? Do you agree with my list? Do you think there are other countries that should be added? Let us know your thoughts.

Romantic Destinations

With Valentines Day just passed you might be thinking how could I have planned a romantic get away. Well I don’t want to tell you the normal places we always here about, Paris, Venice, the Maldives etc. I want to share some lets well know or thought about locations. 

Tallinn, Estonia

Tallinn’s old town is as romantic as it gets, with its medieval architecture, cobbled streets, castle walls and sweet little squares makes Tallinn an stunning location suitable of a long weekend.

Palau

So what about a paradise beach destination? Ok, we all know about the Maldives, Seychelles, Bali and Thailand, but how many have you have even heard about Palau. A quick Google image search will show you why Palau is one of the most stunning beach locations in the world. Also, one of the time dive locations in the world Palau is surrounded with turquoise blue water and lush green vegetation. It is a really in tapped paradise, but a little challenging to get to.

Fez, Morocco

Fez was my favourite place in Morocco and the old city is a maze of little alleyway is a great place to get lost. You can really feel like you have gone back in time and it is a great place to get lost. The Riads (traditional homes) are incredible and a real experience to stay in.

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Safari Lodges

Africa of course is the place to go on Safari, just check that the place you are going to is ethical and they are not enclosing the animals. One of my favourite trips was to The Ark Lodge in Aberdare National Park, Kenya. The ledge looks like Noah’s Ark and is in the middle of the national part. From the comfort of your ledge you can see the animals in their wild habitat come to graze. When you are not watching the animals you can enjoy the experience of being in the ledge.  

Glamping

So for those that don’t know this stands for glamorous camping. Campsites can be made in all finds of fancy ways with Tipi style tents, Bedouin tent or a Yurt. These glamping sites have all the facilities for a glamorous and romantic experience.  

Lake Bled

This place for me is just a picture postcard, and in fact the whole country of Slovenia is just stunning. One of the most romantic places I have ever been, I fondly remember enjoying dinner in the castle on the hill over looking the lake. Also when the country name have Love in the middle, it has to be a romantic place right?

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Harbin, China

Not looking for the beach, Ok what about snow? Every year Harbin hosts an Ice festival and in true Chinese fashion it is bigger and grander than anywhere else. Constriction crews are brought in to build this ice city every year, and when it is lit up at night, it’s like another world.

What do you think? Did you agree with this list? Have some better places you know about? Let us know in the comments.

Is it possible to travel to every country in the world?

With around 200 countries in the world, it is physically possible to get to all of the countries in the world, not easy, but possible. Many people have already taken on the challenge and achieved it. What people count as countries vary based on where they are from, their politics and I guess experience. In this blog, we are looking at some of the people you can follow through social media that are currently making their way to all of them.

Recently I have become a little obsessed following people online who are taking on just this challenge and watching their adventures unfold. Now with social media, we can virtually be with these people as they are experiencing their travels. Following some of them, I found my self getting excited and nervous as they were taking on different parts of the challenge, and many seem to be very happy to engage in discussions which only adds to feeling more connected and being invested in their journey and success.

So I wanted to share some of the people I am following and give you their links to their stories and social media. Of course, there are more people taking on this challenge than who I have mentioned, but these are the people I like to follow.

Drew Binsky

Going around Southern India

One of the most ‘famous’ people taking on this challenge is someone called Drew Binsky. He is the most famous as he has almost half a million followers on YouTube, over One-Hundred and Fifty Thousand followers on Instagram, and 1.6 Million followers on Facebook. Additional to his mission to visit every country in the world he is making daily videos that tell small little stories about the places he goes and visits. He is very interesting to follow as he is going to so many places and manages to capture so many stories. He also has daily Insta stories to update you where he is.

On the downside he is just flying in and out of places trying to make a story out of whatever, so as a result some content can be really interesting and others are just quite random or sometimes feel a little forced. He seems to be well sponsored and now has a cameraperson that he hired to follow him around, so his content looks very professional, but making daily content becomes hard to stay interesting. I feel that lately, his content has gone a little downhill making random videos about whoever he bumps into, so it becomes less about the travel and adventure and more about some dude selling peanuts on the street for example. We could argue that travel is about the connections we make, but again because he is seeking daily stories to tell it starts to feel a bit forced for me. How many of us get to really know the peanut seller on the street? Maybe we should. He is now travelling around the Pacific island nations, so I am hoping the content will get more interesting. If not I am sure he will make some nice videos showcasing the great scenery there.

Alvaro Rojas – Wanderreds

Just dipping his feet in the ocean in the Maldive

Alvaro is a Spanish Photographer who goes under the name Wanderreds, and he is also on a mission to go to every country in the world. Initially, he was doing this while still working a 9 – 5 job, but in the last year, he is now traveling full time making this mission his full-time project. He has so far been to just over 150 countries and just finished a trip around the Caribbean and is off next to Central America and the northern part of South America. Once he completes this challenge he should become the first Spaniard to do so.  

Being a photographer, of course, Alvaro’s pictures are amazing. His trips are mostly self-funded (like most people taking on this challenge), but he occasionally works with hotel chains to make content for them. Check out some of his Instastories on hotels, some are seriously breathtaking. He is also creating daily stories on Instagram and has a nice Facebook group too. Alvaro is very open about sharing advice on how to do the type of work he does and clearly works hard to engage with his audience, responding to many questions and comments.

Malaysia Airlines

Christofer Olofsson – Christravel100

Chris finding some new friends in Belize

Chris seems to be very much a hobby traveller that works hard through the summer in his native land of Sweden and then escapes the winter to travel the world. He told me that he is not in a rush to go to all the countries, but he will finish them eventually, however long it takes.

Chris is only using Instagram to showcase his travels, but his stories and adventures are really fun to follow, and he is very happy to engage with people. Just hitting 140, Chris is well on his way to meeting his goal.

Brian Asher – The World Travel Hiker

Brian out in the Desert of Saudi Arabia

Brian is a Spanish language teacher from the United States who makes videos on YouTube, has a blog and a nice Instagram account. At the time of this blog, he is making his way through Africa and just passed through South Sudan.

I came across Brian looking at trips going to the Pacific island nations. He comes across as really humble and really shows the countries he visits in a positive light. I really enjoyed is backpacking adventure in Afghanistan through the Wakan Corridor where he was just showcasing the everyday life there.

To date, Brian has been to just under 150 countries and seems to be making his way through the African nations. He seems to have a small following on Instagram and his videos seem to get very little views, which is terrible because he is making some really nice content in very unknown places.  In the last few months, his content and pictures are getting really good. Give him a follow and check out his stuff.

Ravi – Soaring Eagle trots

Ravi reaching his 170th country on the Pacific Island of Tonga

Ravi is an Indian/American citizen who has almost completed his journey to every country in the world with about 20 countries to go. He is only using Instagram as a platform to share his journey, but his following and engagement are massive with 111K followers, hundreds of comments on each picture and thousands of likes on each of his images. He has really nice Instagram stories where he recently showcased some of his trips to the Pacific Island nations.

From all the people I can see online making this journey, Ravi is the only non-white person taking on this challenge. As he is also now an American citizen it does sadly highlight how challenging this is to achieve if you don’t have a strong passport, and as Sal Lavallo (someone who achieved this challenge by 27) discusses the privilege that comes with being a white male with a strong passport. So well done Ravi for helping to tip this balance and I am sure all of India must be super proud. Do share in the comments if you know any more people of colour taking on this challenge.

Sixt Car Rental

Rach and Marty – Very Hungry Nomads

Sightseeing around Jeddah, Saudi Arabia

These are two women who are giving all of the guys a run for their money. Currently making their way through central Africa on a mission to prove that the world is safer than we believe it to be, while successfully being positive role models to women everywhere, showing that everything is possible and your gender is not, and should not be a limiting factor.  

They have daily Insta stories and a great blog where they share their adventures. They have not shied away from the more troubled regions either and seem to always showcase what is great about the country in a natural and organic way. For example, where Drew Binsky stories highlighted how dangerous Cameroon currently is with the civil conflict, Rach and Marty were showing how life is still going on, it is still possible to visit and locals are still going to the beach for vacations.

I think of all their blogs I love their story about going to Saudi Arabia. There were wandering around wearing a full Abaya, which is a cloak that women wear in public. Through a friend of a friend, they were invited to a local home. When there they were told they could take off their Abaya’s. Not knowing that in Saudi women use this like an overcoat, underneath they were wearing only underwear, so were stuck inside wearing these robes.  They share so many great stories and adventures, and as stressful as it is, their stories on how to get visas and the bureaucracy they need to deal with makes you really feel their situation and realise just how hard it is.

What I love about Rach and Marty is they are just so relaxed and easy going with the trip, or at least that is what we see. They take their time going from one place to the next and give you a good feel for what it would be like to experience travelling the places they go to. But why they are called hungry nomads I have no idea, they are always eating and showing their meals. They must be hungry for travel.

Katelyn Jarvis – Journey with Jarv

Katelyn hanging out with some locals in Mogadishu, Somalia

If you thought Rach and Marty were hardcore then Katelyn takes this to another level. She is a young blonde American girl who is travelling alone to some of the most dangerous countries in the world. She seems not to think twice about getting on a boat with several heavenly armed men in Mogadishu, backpacking around Libya, or having a day trip to Yemen. As insane as this woman’s travels are, her journey is very compelling to watch.

My only frustration with Katelyn is not having enough content to follow, she seems to be working on her blog, and her Instagram stories only seem to be when she is making a trip. But then, at least this is more natural and she is not forcing stories for the sake of them. I can’t wait for her to upload the blogs about Somalia.

Torbjørn C. Pedersen (AKA Thor) – Once Upon a Saga

So if this challenge was not hard enough, imagine taking on this challenge travelling overland on one continuous journey, not returning home until it is over, and never flying. Well, this is exactly what Thor is doing on his adventure he calls Once Upon A Saga. Starting in October 2013 Thor took off from his native land Denmark to embark in a truly staggering adventure. Just over 5 years later he has completed all of the Americas, Europe and Africa, and is now halfway through the Asian continent. Thor is taking his time with this travel, not because he wants to travel slow, but because the method requires him to.

His Instagram pics and stories are not as professional as the other people I have mentioned, but his blog is fantastic. I would say that Thor is not a photographer or vlogger, but he is as tough as the Viking god himself and comes across as a hardcore old school adventurer, who can just battle through any situation. He has already travelled to most of the most dangerous places in the world, such as South Sudan, Libya, Syria and Yemen. He is also brave enough to share is vulnerabilities and struggles with his story, which only pulls you more into wanting to find out how it will go. When I was following him getting into Mongolia and planning to make his way to Pakistan through China, only to not get the visa and have to travel to Pakistan back through Russia, Ukraine, Georgia, Armenia and Iran, I was feeling his frustration but was really motivated by his drive an persistence. He keeps on keeping on as he would say.

Thor is not the first to take on this challenge, that title goes to Graham Hughes, a British Man who completed this challenge in 2012. I did enjoy watching Graham Hughes when he took his challenge to go to every country in the world, but for me although he might have been the first to go to every country without flying he did it as fast as he could, and sometimes would just put his foot over the border, capture the GPS coordinates and he was done. The reason for this was that most of the visas are hard and expensive to get, or the countries were closed to foreigners. With Thor he is taking his time, going through the processes to get each visa and spending more time in the places. Also, Graham came across as very chaotic in his adventure, not looking very well planned, and thinking he could just rock up to any country. Thor seems like a logistics master and well researched. With travel, he knows exactly what he is doing and the processes to follow, they don’t always work out, but not because of his planning. If I needed to plan a trip, especially to somewhere a little crazy, I would want to have Thor on the logistics. I sure he will make a fortune later as a consultant on this.

Thor does not appear to be trying to break any records, he seems to be doing it more because this is a challenge to himself and an experience he wants to have, this for me makes his story interesting too follow. I am looking forward to seeing how he will rock up to the border in North Korea, and how he will get to all these Pacific nations without flying.

Thor with Graham Hughes

Looking at all these adventures we could get into debates about what it means to travel and see a place. When you are going to every country in the world, for sure it is hard to spend a significant period of time in any place and really get to know and understand it. In some places because of security reasons all you can really do is step over the border briefly, so what do you really see and know? But then what does it mean to understand a place? I, for example, have been living in Bali for 7 years and still question how much I know this place, and how subjective my understanding is compared to local people. Whatever our experience is, it is our experience and we can only take it as that. This challenge is not to know and understand every country in the world but to reach them, and I would argue every experience is valid to us in one way or another. For a deeper reflection on this read my post does travel broaden the mind.

All of these guys have their own motivations and reasons to want to take on this challenge, and to be sure this is not and cheap or easy one to take on. These guys are not the first, the fastest, the youngest or any of these titles, but they are the current ones to take on this challenge, and because of this it is now interesting to follow there journeys.

What are your thoughts? Have you followed these guys? Are there any of their stories you have enjoyed? Do you recommend someone else we should follow? Let us know in the comments.

Thank you, Alvaro, Chris, Brian, Ravi, Thor, Katelyn, Rach and Marty for sharing your pictures with me. Good luck on completing your quest, I’ll be following you adventure.

Which country has the strongest passport?

Being able to travel is a great luxury and privilege, and if you are lucky enough to have the citizenship of a country with a strong passport, then your ability to travel the world is only improved.

This blog looks at which countries hold the strongest passports of 2018.

In my rainy capital of London, UK

Seven countries share fifth place with their passport granting access to 186 countries either visa free, or with visa on arrival. This countries are Austria, Luxemburg, Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, United Kingdom and United States of America.

Celebrating New Years Eve in Gothenburg, Sweden

Five countries share the forth place, Denmark, Finland, Italy, Sweden and Spain. Holding one of these passports grants you access to 187 countries worldwide.

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Enjoying a tea ceremony in South Korea’s Capital Seoul.

Third place goes to France, Germany and South Korea with 188 countries opening their doors to these passport holders.

An old pic from back in 2005. Riding around the city in Singapore.

The city state of Singapore holds the second place, which grants their citizens access to an amazing 189 countries.

The only country I have not been to on this list. This is my good friend Jerry who recently took a trip to Japan.

But, the grand prize of most powerful passport of 2018 goes too………Japan. Japanese passport holders have the privilege to visit 190 countries worldwide. So if you are from Japan, make the most of this.

But things will and always do change. So let’s see later who holds the most powerful passport in 2020.  

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Getting Started in Bali

This blog is for people who are thinking to move to Bali for a while as either a short-term nomad or someone looking to settle longer-term. This blog post is 10 tips to make that first week or two a little easier. I know that when I first arrived here I had no idea, so these are some of the things that I think would have been helpful to know, and have proven to have been resourceful for people I helped get started here.

1: Start comfortably

Book a hotel or air BnB for 3 to 7 nights to get yourself settled and adjusted to the environment. From there, you can start looking at the options in person. Photos of places always look great, but when you arrive you see the place for how it is, what’s not working, where there is mould and all the little dramas. It is better to see a place before you commit, so a place for the first week makes that a little less stressful.

2: Arrive with less stress

If possible pre-arrange transport to take you from the airport to the place you are staying. The taxis in the airport are a bit of a nightmare and they are really ripping you on the price. Unless you like the haggle, or don’t care about the price, sort this in advance, then you know you have somewhere to stay, and transport arranged.

3: Get yourself connected

Now the internet on phones in Indonesia is pretty good and as a consequence being connected will allow you to access a whole bunch of things that will make life easier. Get yourself a sim card for your phone. It really depends on the area you live who has the best connections, but the big companies like Telkomsel and XL are very reliable, and you will be able to get a great package. You can find people selling them in the airport, but in my experience just going to the telcomcel or XL store is easy enough and you will get the plan that suits you.

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4: Get moving

Renting a scooter is one of the easiest ways to get around in Bali and will give you the most freedom. You can rent a scooter very easily, but if you know you are going to stay here awhile you can buy a second hand one and try to sell it later. If you rent a scooter make sure you are legal. You need to have an international licence and the registration document for the vehicle called Surat Tanda Nomor Kendaraan Bermotor (STNK). You need to have these with you at all times if you don’t you’re going to pay a fine or in the worst-case scenario be taken to jail. Also, where a helmet, you might see locals not doing that, but you will be the one being pulled up for sure.

5: The app of all apps

If you are not comfortable riding make sure you download the app Go Jek. This is mostly a ride-hailing app, but also has a ton of other services like Go Food and Go Shop where food or something from a shop can be brought for you. Go Clean, where you can get someone to clean your place, great after a party. You can even order someone to come and do makeup for you at home. Another app that is going to be essential is a curency converter. The money here is in a high denomination, so this will just make it a little easier until you are use to it.

6: Don’t get lost

Download Google maps to your phone so you can access it offline. Once you get brave and start travelling around the island, you’ll want to be sure you can get back. It’s also smart to have a power bank to keep your phone going.

7: Stay dry

The wet season can really bring the rains, so make sure you have some waterproofs in your bike. When the rains start coming down you will appreciate it.

This is my wet season look.

8: Stay comfortable

Start thinking about the type of accommodation you want to stay in. In Bali like anywhere you can stay in an Airbnb, but for longer-term this will be expensive. The local options are staying in a Kost (1 room studio), or you can rent a house. For a house you usually rent for 12 months at a time and have to pay this up front. You can negotiate deals if you plan to stay for more years, and for a Kost, you can just pay it in days, weeks or months. Give yourself the time to see if this is the right choice for you and it is where you will be comfortable.

9: Stay healthy

Make sure you have health insurance. If your international travel insurance does not cover you for a long stay, then you can look at taking local plans with companies like prudential who will make sure you are covered should you need it. For small things the costs can be quite cheap compared to some western countries, but if you need to stay for a while, or need bigger treatment the costs start adding up fast. I learned this the hard way.

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10: Learn the lingo

Yes, a lot of people speak English in Bali, but not all, and knowing how to ask for what you need, or getting directions will be useful stuff to know. Also learning the language will help you understand the culture better too. I suggest learn the numbers first and some basic greetings. Even using a bit of language where you can shows to locals that you are trying to adapt.

Well I hope this helps you get a good start so you can enjoy living here faster and feel lest frustrated.

Have any other tips, or some specific questions? Hit us up in the comments.

Much love.  

Does travel broaden the mind?

So this is what people say, but is it true? And if so how does this happen? I think first we have to explore what do we mean by broaden, is this increasing our knowledge? Getting us to reflect and question our own values? Contemplating our own culture? Or working on developing cultural competencies? Well I guess it should be all of these right?

I have been independently travelling for over 20 years, and when I first started travelling I just wanted to go everywhere and immerse myself into those cultures. I grew up with maps all over my bedroom walls, and I was always watching documentaries about different places in the world, so I thought by the time I was able to travel I would be ready and competent to go anywhere. I wasn’t. Then once I had a bit of experience I could easily transfer this, wrong again. My experience in India did not prepare me for Ecuador, and my experience in both also did not prepare me for The Gambia. Each time these places kicked my ass and challenge me in so many ways. I was not sure if these experiences were broadening me or giving me a more narrow perspective on cultural difference. I remember especially during my 3 months in The Gambia I really struggled with the difference, but over time I have been able to reflect upon these experiences, break them down and understand what the challenges were and why they were such a challenge for me. 

Me working in the Gambia in 2005 on a military camp

Don’t get me wrong, all these early experiences were great too, I had a lot of fun, and when I reflect on if this broadened my perspectives I know it did. However, other than saying I have been there and experienced some things I could not express how this broadened me. I also know that it narrowed my perspectives at that time, because I did not really understand these places.

Can travel narrow our perspective?

When we travel what do we really experience? On one trip I took I spent just under a week staying in a nice hotel in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt. I had a great time; I went diving, climbed a mountain, ate in fancy places and sat around on the beach. It was fantastic, but did this broaden me? Well for me no, I did have a lovely time, and I saw some nice places, but this did not build me in any way. I did not gain any cultural skills; the environment was set up to cater to my wants. But for some people maybe the experience would be very broadening, but I would question in what way. This very touristic area is the culture in that place, but like in many tourist places, the people that work there and create that environment for us go home to a different reality which we are not exposed too, so our understanding of the local culture and country is very narrow indeed.

Having a deeper appreciation of the culture is understanding the contexts of both the situation and the communication. In cultures that are referred to as high context often the communication has a lot of references to things that we would also need to know and understand. Think about some sayings or expressions from your country where the meaning is rooted in some historical events, or in reference to some famous pop culture from your country, or maybe it is rooted in a religious practice. Without reflection and sometimes explanation this context is missed, or worse still misinterpreted.

This is often due to a misunderstanding of a situation. Another example I experienced is here in Bali if someone did something wrong a common reaction is to smile at you. So when someone almost knocked me off my bike and their reaction to me was smiling while saying sorry, from my perspective they were not only not sorry, they were making fun of me. I learned to understand that this smile can be of embarrassment for the wrong they have done, but I could have easily interpreted this in another way and then gone on to tell people how rude and nasty the people of Bali are. My wife, who is from Indonesia, experienced something similar in the UK. She was alone doing some shopping in Birmingham (A city in central England) and someone came up to her and said “Alright Duck”. When she came home she felt that someone had come up and insulted her. She thought it was the same as if you call someone a dog, cow or any animal that is considered to be rude if you are called it in your country. The reality is that calling someone Duck in Birmingham is not bad; in fact it can be a friendly or affectionate way to greet someone. Explaining this to her of course changed her perspective and how she viewed people in Birmingham. I have to admit when I lived in Devon I was not sure how to react when people called me their lover, despite knowing it is also just a normal greeting. 

Handing out with the Bridesmaids at a Balinese wedding.

Sometimes we are confronted with simple things, but it is hard for us to understand. When I first came to Indonesia I met a number of people who only had one name. I was really perplexed, how could people only have one name? How does this work? Is it like Madonna? But it’s true, this is how it is. And having worked a lot with Indonesians and arranging flights for people who only have one name I can tell you is a nightmare. But this is the local reality and although this is still very strange to me I except and understand it, at least at some level.

We don’t even have to go far to be challenged by cultural difference. I mostly grew up on the south coast of England, but when I went to University it was in the centre of the country, only 3 hours away from my hometown with the same language, but I still felt like I was living in a different culture, which it was. It required me to develop a bunch of skills to understand the local way of life, but again it was a challenge and hard for me to contextualise at the time. I remember there was another guy from my hometown at my university who just did not like it there and left to go back home. Ironically he now works on cruise ships and travels the world. But this is also about the time in our lives too. In my late teens my hometown was the world.

When we travel we see and experience things, but without a greater understanding of what we are seeing and experiencing and how this is perceived in the local context, we are at risk of narrowing our perspective rather than broadening. To broaden our perspective we have to develop our intercultural competency.

Developing our Cultural Competency:

As an educationalist and trainer I often speak about the difference between informal learning and non-formal education. Informal being that it just happens, so for example I travelled to Morocco and there I learned how to bargain. This was not planned, it was not structured in anyway, it just happened. Whereas if this was a non-formal education experience there would have been some planning to prepare me how to bargain, and then their would have been a reflection on what I learned, deconstructing what the challenges were for me. We could argue that in the informal learning way we would also do such a reflection, but this is not guaranteed and it is not facilitated by anyone to help us contextualise the situation against what are our own cultural norms. This is not to say that we could not achieve this on our own, but would require some effort to learn about cultural difference and a deep process of self-reflection, which I would argue is a challenge if we are unclear on how to do this. It is the balance of theory and practice. I can read everything there is to know about driving a car, but doing it for real is a different challenge.

One educationalist Milton J Bennett speaks about us engaging in different cultural competencies and building our empathy and sensitivity of cultural situations. Bennett’s model takes us through examples that ask us to reflect upon our values and sense of what is normal.

Milton J Bennett model on cultural sensitivity

At the first stage of the model Bennett states that we are in a state of denial about cultural difference, and that we are only about ourselves and our own cultural experience. An example we could use is the holidaymaker that books into a resort and is just there to rest, relax and enjoy the weather, like me in Egypt. They are not focused on the culture of the environment, and not really interested to engage in this. It could be that they just want time to relax and just don’t have the energy to engage in the cultural sides of their environment, or on the other end that they are not interested at all and could have a feeling of cultural superiority.

The next stage is defence. This is where people can feel defensive about the other culture and that any differences are trivialised and viewed as inferior. For example I see and hear some tourists in Bali mocking some of the local traditions saying things like, “why do they do that? It is ridiculous”. When we come across cultural practices we do not understand, or agree with this can put us in a state of defence. But it is worth reminding ourselves that this is a normal thing to experience, we are bound to experience cultural challenges somewhere, it then becomes about how we manage these challenges.

When I was younger and I went to volunteer in Southern India there were so many things I did not understand, and that I was being challenged in so many ways. I remember that when I went into the city with the local guys on the project I was on that the guys would hold hands, and someone would always hold my hand too. I felt very uncomfortable with this. I did not show any negative reactions, but inside I was telling myself that this was not right, this was not normal and that I just hated it. I had to really reflect on myself and why I was feeling this way. I know that if a girl was holding my hand I would not have an issue. So did this mean that I had homophobic feelings? Is it my norm that holding hands means an intimate relationship? Is this culturally the same everywhere? Of course not.

When we are in a foreign environment we have to test what Alan Molinsky (2013) calls Global dexterity, which is how far we can stretch from our own culture to the other. I imagine two chairs in a room, one is my culture and the other is the foreign culture. How far can I reach towards the other culture while still holding onto my own chair? And if I really stretch could I let go of my own chair? And if I do what would be the consequents of that? Would I become someone totally different? Is that ok? Difficult things to ask ourselves right, and the reality is that these kind of philosophical questions are not easy, but necessary in intercultural learning.  

Next Bennett speaks about minimalisation, here in Bali I call it the Eat, Love, Pray effect. We romanticise or trivialize the local culture; we might often hear statements like, “isn’t it wonderful how these people do xxx….” As a human species we of course self identify with certain groups, and it is hard to speak about difference without comparing them and us. But how are we speaking about them? Imagine the reverse, that the population we are speaking of describe our actions in some romantic or trivialize way. ‘Look at how they sit in the coffee shop and engage with each other”, sounds weird right? And this does happen, of course we all compare and analyse each other to some degree, and it is only normal, the difference is how we express or vocalise this.

Tihar celebration Nepal 2017

Next we are stepping into Bennett’s areas of what he calls ethnorelative, there is no such word as ethnorelative, it is just to draw a contrast to ethnocentric. He starts this area with acceptance, that we accept others difference, we view with curiosity and respect but we do not agree. I know that when I travel to some places that might hold conservative values about the separation of men and women for example, I am then in this category. I am respectful to the local tradition and culture; I understand that this is the norm and that my own values are external to this. So I have to consider my actions and what I say in that environment. I don’t agree with this way of seeing the world and believe that people should be free to be where they want when they want. But in this context I have chosen to be in this environment and to engage with the culture.

This then takes me into adaptation, that I know and understand the local norms of the culture, and I am making intentional changes and actions to how I do things to fit into the ‘normal’ worldview of the local culture. Here I am making the effort to stretch, but I still have a very firm hand on my own cultural values and norms. I would say that generally, it takes time to get to this place, and if we are in a new culture for a short period of time it is hard for us to achieve this without some significant research into the local culture. We are also at risk of making incorrect comparisons, I know that I have done this a few times thinking that when I went to Thailand that the culture would be the same as Indonesia, and again going from Chile and comparing this to Ecuador. There were of course similarities, but a lot of other complexities that make the culture very different indeed.

Finally there is integration, if I go back to Molinsky’s idea of Global Dexterity I can easily reach out to the other chairs; in fact I have the James Bond skills to jump from chair to chair. I speak the language, I know and understand the complexities of the culture and I am highly empathetic to all the different ways of seeing the world. Is this achievable?, well maybe, but with a lot of effort, research and time within the different cultural environments?         

To ensure we are broadening we need to take time to go deeper into the culture, explore models like Bennett’s, and reflect on how these interactions are challenging our values and norms, and then learn how to communicate in culturally sensitive and appropriate ways. But this sounds like a lot of effort right! And it can take years to develop and refine, even just comparing one culture to another. In the 7 years I have spent here in Bali I still wonder how competent I am in this culture.    

Does broadening mean loosing the culture you are from?

20 years of travel and living in different places has also had an impact on what my culture is and how I see the world. So I would say that this has made me broader, but has also resulted in confusion, for example when people ask me where I am from I don’t find the answer to be that easy. When people ask you this question it is about trying to build a picture to the type of person you are. If someone says they are from France what comes to mind for you or Russian, Italian, Australian etc? When we meet people who come from somewhere we know nothing about it is confusing to us because we have nothing to associate to that, we have no idea if that person is from a friendly culture or a threat to us. Making such associations on someone based on where they are from is, of course, crazy, but we do it all the time and it takes some reflection for us to break this habit. So when people are asking me this question I am conscious of this but also concerned that my values and world view now have been shaped by different cultural perspectives and experiences outside of the country I grew up, so I think that the answer will not, in my view give the person a true indication into the type of person I am.

However, I would say this is more about us as an individual and how important our culture, heritage and nationality is to us. I am a product of a mixed marriage with an English mum and Portuguese father and when I married it was to an Indonesian woman, so this state of cultural confusion for me was already there. In the places I have been I have met people who have lived outside their country for years and still hold their homeland as core to their identity and values. But I think it is hard to not be affected and changed in some way by our environment. Embracing this broadening can be a wonderful thing, but it might take some re-imagining of our identities if we incorporate this into our lives, but like a pie chart there are lots of things that make up our identity additional to our culture and national identity.   

Conclusion

In conclusion, any experience will widen our perspectives and what we know and understand about the world, but only deep reflection on Intercultural competencies and challenging our own values and world view will truly broaden us. They say that culture is the glasses in how we view the world, but as we look through the different glasses what we are looking at is the same, but how we perceive it changes. Imaging describing to someone the taste of something, we are all eating the same thing, but our experience of the taste is different. What we find bitter might be sweet to someone else and although we cannot understand how and why that is the case for him or her, we can only listen and appreciate that this is his or her experience, it is not wrong, just different to our own. If we leave thinking what we tasted was how it is, well it was for us, just not for everyone else.

Additionally, where we stand on this cultural competency scale will change, some cultures will be easier for us to adapt to than others, and for some cultures we will just not feel a connection and maybe even a desire to learn more about them, and this is ok, I would say the main point is to be honest with ourselves in our expectations of the travel, and that we do our best to understand. We also need to question ourselves to if our understanding is the same as the people we are engaged with.

Finally, I think we have to draw this comparison between was is travelling and what is a holiday. When we travel we aim to go in search of something, to dive deep into the places we want to explore and do the best we can to immerse ourselves, whereas a holiday is just a short time to relax or do the things we like to do. We may gain some good cultural exposure on holiday, and a chance to develop our cultural competency, but it is limited and I would say the opportunities of broadening are restricted. When we travel, ideally we are taking our time, trying to understand and challenging ourselves, and for me, this is broadening.  

Thank you to my good friends and colleagues Andreea and Alenka who shared and taught me so much on this topic.

Well this is how I see it. Have some other ideas on this topic? Why not share them in the comments. 

How to travel the world for free

When I was young all I wanted to do was travel, but I had no money and little idea how to make it happen. As I have travelled around the world and met many travellers along the way, I have learned a few tips about how to get your travel paid. Here are my 10 tips for travelling for free.

1: Teaching English: This is by far one of the easiest ways to work abroad; it is a great way to see the world and live in a new and interesting culture. Often the schools hiring you will pay your flight, accommodation and arrange all the visas for you. If you are emailed by a school saying they want to hire you, but you need to pay something up front this is a scam. If in doubt contact the school directly to confirm.

In order to work as an English Teacher you will need some type of English Teaching qualification like ESOL, CELTA, TEFL or TESOL. Some schools will allow you to teach without any qualifications or experience, but you are in a better position if you have some type of qualification. Get yourself an English teaching certificate and the world is yours, some places even do an accelerated course in as little as a month.  Check out this school in Bali where you can do just that. https://www.ialf.edu/teachertraining.html

2: Work as an au pair: An au pair is someone who works with a family and supports them with looking after their children and some light house-chores.

There are a number of companies that will connect you with a family and give you the chance to work as an au pair. See this link for one of them. https://www.aupairworld.com/en

3: Working as a tour guide: On my travels a lot of the guides I have met tended to be from another country, especially in Europe. So if you have a passion for history and feel like you can tell some good stories this is worth looking into. You can also look into doing free tours and working for tips. Just be sure that in the country you want to do this it is legal for you to do so. In a number of countries if you are not on the right type of visa you could be fined, deported or even jailed.  

4: Work on a cruise ship: When my father was a young man this is what he did and it took him to some incredible destinations.  Work can vary from taking care of the rooms, working in the restaurant, being a photographer or even supporting the entertainment. You will receive training and good performance can be rewarded with promotion opportunities. Getting into this work you can apply directly, or often gain an opportunity through the cruise companies recruitment centres. Cruise companies tend to employ a lot of Indonesians and Filipino staff, so it is a great opportunity for people from these countries. Do look out for fake recruitment companies and companies that ask you to pay something in advance. It is a great way to see a lot of places, your accommodation is taken care of, and it is hard to spend the money you are earning on a boat.      

5: Become a digital nomad: Here in Bali where I am based this is all the rage. If you like working online this could be a career for you. Just think about what type of online work you want to do, such as programming, website development, online marketing, there are a number of options. Get some training, build up your experience and then get some clients. You can start by searching some online tutorial classes on YouTube for free to get you started, then sites like Udamy and Skillshare should have a more detailed training on these topics.  Although with Udamy and Skillshare it is hard to determine their quality, as anyone can put their courses online. Whereas lynda.com tend to monitor the quality and production of their training, so it is a matter of seeing what works for you.   

This type of work gives you the freedom to work from anywhere you want. I would recommend starting by building this as a side income while your working your normal job, or make sure you have some savings to live on while you are building this up as it can take time to generate a livable income. Once you build up a client base you might want to think about places that have a low cost of living, but with good enough Internet to be productive as you build the business. Check out www.nomadlist.com for some inspiration for places.

6: Work as a flight attendant: Pushing that trolley up and down the aisle could be your ticket around the world. Selections can be hard with some companies but do some research into what is required and before you know it, you could be jet set around the world. Or if you are very ambitious why not train to become a pilot. Working with the smaller low-cost airlines might be an easier way into building up your career.      

7: Study abroad: If you like studying there could be a bunch of chances to apply to do your studies in another country, and if you are able to get a scholarship even greater. But there are also other types of study programmes that are not academic.

Erasmus + is also a great mobility programme for non-formal education and will allow you to attend youth exchanges, training courses etc. Check out this link to find out about some training courses you could attend for free, they also cover your travel costs and accommodation. Or look for an organisation in your country working on such projects and see if they have some international activities you can attend. Organisations are always looking for participants. Follow this link to find organisations.

Many countries will have a programme that will give you a chance to study in their country such as Fulbright in the USA. Another example is here in Indonesia the government has a programme called Darmasiswa that covers your accommodation and study for a semester.

8: Become a volunteer: There are lots of programmes that will charge you to volunteer abroad, but there are also a number of programmes that are free and will even give you a living allowance. One of the best programmes is for American citizens and this is the Peace Corps. The Peace Corps will put you in a placement abroad, give you training, help you to learn the local language and pay you a living allowance.

The European Union also has a volunteer programme called EVS (European Volunteer Service) that has programmes anywhere from 2 weeks to 12 months. The programme covers your travel to and from the country; accommodation, placement and you will have a living allowance. EVS is a great opportunity, but the quality of the placement can vary significantly as most placement providers are small organisations that generally had no training to create such programmes. So it is worth doing as much research about the organisation as possible before you go. But most people report the experience as being very positive.

Another large international volunteer placement organisation is called VSO. They place and host volunteers around the world. Again they will pay your travel, give you accommodation and you will also have a living allowance. VSO also provide training for their volunteers before departure and often while in country. They also have a youth programme called ICS available for British citizens.

9: Work in International Development: Training to work in international development can not only be rewarding but bring you to some of the really off the beaten track locations, giving you a chance to have some great interactions with people and cultures that you might not have been able to access. Within international development, people are mostly looking for specialists in their field. A number of people will study international development, but don’t also have a specialism they can bring to the country they want to support. This specialism could be in education, health and livelihoods for example. You need to think about where you want to go, what the issues are in that place, and what skills you need to train in to support that. Often to break into such a career you will need some experience, this is where joining a volunteer programme can help you a, to get some overseas experience, and b, develop some skills in that area and understand the reality on the ground.    

10: Become a travel social influencer: Not the easiest to get into, but if you are a social media guru, know how to attract a large following and can make content that will be interesting to an audience, then maybe you can start to build sponsorship and get some content out their. Again like being a digital nomad you want to look at building this up over time as it does take a lot of time and effort to create content, build a brand and get sponsorship and affiliates supporting you.

Well I hope this was helpful and gave you some ideas on how to travel for free and build a career abroad.

Much Love.

Top 10 Tips for Travelling in 2019

My phone and vlog set up

1. Using your phone. Bring with you an unlocked phone and get a local Sim card. If you are staying a few days, it might not be worth getting a Sim Card, but just use WiFi in the local places. Try to do some research before about what travel companies are where you are, but otherwise, you can just ask around in some of the phone stores, but chances are they will try to sell you the company they are allied too. I use a dual sim card phone so I can use my UK and Indonesian sim card. I try now to use my phone now for all my filming and photos as this is small and compact. I use the VIVO V9 as this is mad in Indonesia and seems like a copy paste of the iPhone 10 at a 1/5 of the price. I also use the Manfrotto PIXI Mini Tripod with hand grip because it is small and light, and the Manfrotto twistgrip for attaching my smartphone, again super light, practical and easy to use. Also, the microphone I use is the Rode videomic compact, beware that the cable it comes with is not compatible with your phone, so you need an accessory cable for this. Before I was bringing big cameras, tripods etc, but now the cameras on phones are getting really good, and the best camera is the easiest to access.

2. Ride Hailing Apps. Depending on where you are the app for taxies and ride-hailing might vary. To date, Uber has dominated globally, and they are still strong in many parts of the world. However, new apps are now on the market and because they are backed by global mega-company SoftBank, Uber finds itself getting blocked in a number of international markets. Asia seems to be the main markets where Uber is getting blocked. These are the main apps in Asia. Grab in South East Asia, Careem in the middle east, Ola in India, Didi in China. In Europe, Cabify and BlaBlaCar is Ubers biggest competitor, and Lyft is growing in the USA.

3. Read and Research. I know this is obvious, but you need to keep yourself safe. Also, news articles will give the harshest stories, but you should look at how frequent they are. If people are getting shot in a certain area every week, or kidnappings are common, then stay away. If you know you are going to a particularly dangerous environment just follow the advice and guidance and take measures to keep yourself safe.

4. Keeping Stuff Safe. If you feel that you are in an area where you are at risk of having your pockets picked then this is my advice. If you are bringing cash, then have something small in your pockets which you can afford to lose. For important stuff use a money belt. I use this to keep my cards, phone and cash safe. Recently I got a new anti-theft backpack, which I love. Not only do I now feel very safe, especially in the streets and on subways, but it has a port to support charging your phone on the go. I am very happy with this bag.

My ultra safe backpack

5. Stay Charged. Nowadays we need our phones for everything, so maintaining a charged battery is important. Don’t get me wrong, it is wonderful to be unplugged and disconnected for a period of time, but this is also a balance between having your phone with power when you need it to get things done, and for an emergency situation. I use my larger power pack in my anti-theft backpack, or a smaller charger, which I keep in the smaller pocket of my trousers with a cable run around my waist. Also, you need to have a good plug adapter. I like the T3MCO as it allows me to plug in any type of plug while also having 4 USB outlets. So this works very well for me.  

6. Financial Options. Have more than one bank card and check that that card can be used in the country you are going too. Also, inform your bank where you are going, nothing blows more than the bank blocking your card and you not having access to money. From my experience, Visa and Master Card are quite universal.

7. Sun Protection. In my experience sun cream you can get everywhere and the prices tend to be reasonable, but after sun in some places can be extortionate, so this might be worth bringing with you. Some kind of scarf or light long-sleeved top can be great to get you covered when that sun is really burning you. Also, these items can work well as a makeshift pillow in transport, used as a towel when you have nothing else, a blanket, or as an eye mask

8. Computer Back Up. If you are bringing your computer with you then do a back up before you leave. Worst-case scenario your computer is stolen, you need to buy a new one and you have lost none of your information. Also where possible store files in the cloud and make notes somewhere of all your passwords. For my home back-up, I use the G-RAID with 6TB of storage, which works well as a time machine and for storing my big video files.

9. Bring a bottle. You want to have water or some fluid with you and you don’t want to keep buying plastic bottles. If you can also bring a straw this is great too. I use the WaterWell ultrafiltration travel bottle as it allows me to even take tap water in places where this is undrinkable and filter this. It is also not a bad idea to filter water in general if you are not sure about the conditions in the country.

10. Chill out. Travel can be stressful from trying to catch your plane, making sure your luggage is the right weight, cancellations, cultural misunderstandings and just arriving somewhere that is much more chaotic than what you are used to. Just surrender to the situation, observe the locals and take this as a chance to build upon your cultural competencies. After all, if you wanted things to be the same as they are back home you would not have left?

So these are my tips, what are yours? Share down in the comments tips that have made your travel better.

Happy travels and Much Love.

10. Finally, chill out. Things don’t always go to plan and life is to short to be stressed, especially when you should be enjoying this time. Stop, take a big breath and take stock of the situation. As a good friend of mine always told me, how can I improvise, adapt and overcome? Who knows, it might even turn into a greater adventure.

How many countries are there in the world?

I am someone who loves to travel and add countries I have visited to a list, but I am sometimes in a debate to what I should and should not count as a country. So what makes a country a country and how many are there? Personally, I have concluded that there are 207, follow this link to find out why.

On all the searches I have done of what is a country, the definition I get is a nation with its own government, occupying a particular territory. Ok simple, so how many of these are there? Well, unfortunately, the answer is not as simple as you would think. Why? Because of politics. Whether or not a country is a country depends on other countries accepting them and treating their territory as a country. Let’s take for a minute the example of Sweden, no one would debate that Sweden is a country, Sweden has generally positive relations with all the countries in the world, they are a member of the UN and EU and no country in the world disputes that Sweden is a country. In contrast, let’s look at Kosovo. In recent decades Kosovo was a part of Yugoslavia, and when this country broke up into all the countries we see today Kosovo wanted to follow suit. For all intensive purposes Kosovo acts and has all the characteristics of a country, it has a government, a flag, a constitution, all the things you would expect a country to have, but yet it is still not fully recognised. Why? Because Serbia still considers Kosovo to be an integral part of Serbia and that rebels have broken away and have stolen this land from them. There was a very heavy war that incurred where Serbia attempted to hold onto the territory, but as Kosovo had the international support they were victorious in their quest to physically gain their own country. Now, this blog is not going to go into the history of the territories and all the debates that come with if Kosovo is or is not a country, it is just stating the situation. Currently, over 100 internationally recognised countries accept Kosovo sovereignty as a country and engage in diplomatic relations. So with more than half of the internationally recognised countries in the world accepting Kosovo’s independence should we accepted as a country? Again this is not so simple. If the tiny nation of Palau accepts Kosovo their vote does not have much influence, but if the USA and UK do, their vote carries more weight purely because how large and rich these countries affect their ability to influence global politics.

So we spoke before about the UN and EU. In Europe, not every country on the continent is in the EU, and just because they are not in the EU this does not mean they are not in Europe. Let’s take the case of Moldova, it is not in the EU but is 100% in Europe. The UN like the EU is a club and like any club, there are rules to its membership, one of those rules is that other members must accept you first. To have EU membership all other EU nations must accept your membership if one debates your membership you cannot enter. This is the case for Northern Macedonia. However, Macedonia is a member of the UN. So why? Unlike the EU to enter the UN you must have the support of the 5 permanent members of the UN Security Council who are France, China, UK, USA and Russia, and the 5 rolling members. The UN Security Council has what is called the power of veto, i.e. the power to have the final vote. In the context of North Macedonia, none of the UN Security Council members had an issue with North Macedonia’s entry as long as the country was officially recognised by the name of FYROM. North Macedonia, of course, hated this as they wanted to be recognised by the name of the Republic of Macedonia, but accepted it to gain membership. As of June 2018, Greece signed an agreement to end the name dispute and on the 11th of January  2019, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia became the Republic of North Macedonia. But with Kosovo, it is more complicated. France, the UK and USA all accept Kosovo as a nation, but China and Russia do not. Why China does not want to set an example for international recognition of breakaway territories as they have their own issues with Taiwan (and other territories). And in a nutshell, Russia has Serbia’s back. Russia and Serbia have a long political history together and Russia has almost always been there to back up Serbia. Additionally just think about how powerful China and Russia are in the economy, military and trade, many countries depend on such countries and will need to keep a positive relationship.

UN voting to make Palestine an official observer state.

Ok, so how many countries are in the UN? Well, this is an easy question to answer, 193 full members + 2 observer states (Vatican City and as of 2012 Palestine), and many bloggers that are trying to say they have been to every country go with UN members because it is the easiest, but normally forget the 2 observers. So problem solved right! If we want to say how many countries there are in the world we can just say 193 because this is what is internationally recognized right? Well…. that would be simple if it was not for the Vatican City. Every country recognizes the Vatican City as a nation, it just chooses not to be in the UN. Ok fine, so the answer is 194? Well again not that simple, what about Palestine, Taiwan, Western Sahara, Catalonia, Scotland, Wales, Niue, Kosovo? And the list can go on and on.

The UN is only one list of what is and is not considered a country and who have applied for membership, the Olympics, for example, has 206 members and Fifa 211. The largest list to my knowledge is the ISO 3166-1 list which is a list set by the International Organisation for Standardisation who publish codes for all the countries, dependent territories and special areas of geographical interest such as Antarctica. In total, they have codes for 249 parts of the world.

Where do we draw the line on recognition?

So is their a limit to who we can an cannot accept as countries? Well, I guess this depends on us. A questionable example is in the English Channel where there is an oil platform that was bought by an individual who decided to declare this platform as a country called Sealand. Sealand is self-declared as a principality and is internationally recognised by no sovereign state in the world and has no international relations. However, they have a constitution, a government and even issue passports that are accepted by no one.

Map of Liberland

Liberland is another example. Capitalising on the border dispute between Croatia and Serbia. The border between the two territories has been the Danube River, but like all rivers, over time their direction and flow can change. One country argued that the international border is on the historic route of the river and the other states it is where the river lied during the time of independence. This means that on some parts of the border both countries were fighting over the same territories. This dispute was even more important as the diasporas of ethnic Croats and Serbs in the region would be displaced from their homeland. Nevertheless, in the middle of this dispute, their resulted to be one small 7 km piece of land that was not claimed by either one nation or another but was proclaimed by a Czech national who named the territory Liberland and declared it as a country. Both Serbia and Croatia have not accepted his claim and nor has all the internationally recognised sovereign states, however apparently Somaliland has relations with the territory.

Or finally what about the Conch Republic? Located in the Florida Keys of USA, the Conch Republic was established in 1982 after residents protested a roadblock set up by US border guards. Although residence felt their protest and intention for independence was serious at the time, now the events are more as a marketing promotion to attract tourism in the area.    

Ok so it sounds like these are not countries with a lot of recognition or maybe not so serious in their intentions, and there are plenty of others with similar stories, but this should not take away from those de facto sovereign states that have serious claims to a country status with a working government like Nagorno-Karabakh, Somaliland and Kosovo to name a few.

So what does this mean for you as an individual? If you go to Kosovo for example, would it feel like a country? Well I went there and it certainly felt like a country, I passed immigration, I got a stamp in my passport, I visited the local tourist information centre and got recommendations for where to go in the country, and everyone I spoke to (except in northern Mitrovica) felt that they had a country there were proud of. The feeling among Kosovars is that under Serbia they felt oppressed and not represented, and I can only imagine that the feeling for ethnic Serbs who were born and raised in the region now feel like they have lost the place they called home. The reality is that it is complicated and almost all nations will not have a 100% homogenous country with one ethnic group, in fact, if we take the example of Qatar around 85% of its population are migrant workers with little legal status in the country.

So is it up to me how many countries and territories you recognise based on your understand and feeling towards an area and people? Well I guess, you can draw a line around your bedroom if you like and call it a country, but chances are no one will recognise it. So recognition becomes important and we have to consider where some self-claimed countries like Sealand and Conch Republic materialised under peaceful and sometimes funny circumstances, but others like the Islamic State were definitely not, and many of these de facto states looking for recognition have come into existence as a result of a recent or ongoing war. Where ISIS might be losing its territory and chance of becoming a country, the Donetsk People’s Republic and the Lugansk People’s Republic born out of the 2015 conflict between Russia and Ukraine don’t appear to be going anywhere.

The complicated structure of the UK

It then becomes a very difficult and political balance deciding between who are an oppressed people trying to gain status and recognition for the land they believe to be their cultural home, and those states created to bring instability and/or promote a radical ideology. The UN list is certainly the safest to go by, and I have no debate with any of their members, but for me, I would consider a few others based on my knowledge and understanding of the places. Personally, I recognised Wales and Scotland as countries despite them not being in the EU or UN, but I do not recognise Northern Ireland at this stage. This is not to dismiss the awful fighting that has taken place here, but the fighting was not to be an independent state, it was whether or not it is a part of Ireland or the UK. To the best of my knowledge Northern Ireland has never been a country and has only ever been a part of Ireland or the UK and I do not see that it has any aspirations to be a country despite being on FIFA’s list of countries, but so is Gibraltar. However, should Northern Ireland wish to be a country I would fully accept it and add it to my list. Whereas Scotland and Wales have a long history of being a country. Moreover, I am from the UK and I have always grown up with the idea that the UK is a country of countries. The fact is that Wales and Scotland are categorised into what are known as constituent countries, i.e. countries within a country. The UK is not the only nation to have constituents within its country, other examples include Denmark and the Netherlands, and in fact, the Netherlands is a constituent country inside the kingdom of the Netherlands with the other constituent countries being Aruba, Curaço and Sint Maarten. To make it (even more) complicated, the country of the Netherlands is made up of 12 provinces in Europe with 3 special municipalities (Bonaire, Sint Eustatius and Saba) all of which are in the Caribbean. France has the widest geographical reach with its overseas territories and what it does and does not consider to be constituent countries. Most of these constituents are quite small territories with small populations until we consider Greenland, which is around 50 times larger than its parent country Denmark. As I become aware of people struggle and mission for independence I try to find my position, but I am not always sure on all of them, for example, although I recognised Scotland and Wales, I am not sure where I stand with Catalonia and the Basque Country because I still don’t understand enough about their history and the system in Spain, but I do understand the system in the UK and having lived in Wales for some years I feel more connected to it. However, at this stage I see that the difference with Wales and Catalonia is that despite both seeing themselves as different cultural nations to their parent country, Wales is not looking for international recognition of independence and sovereignty, and freely associates itself as part of the UK, which is a different status to freely associated states with international recognition.

Freedom of Association

Under the territory of New Zealand, there are two nations who hold freedom of association, which are Niue and the Cook Islands. This means that these territories choose to be associated with New Zealand, they are recognised by the UN but have allocated authority to New Zealand to represent them on international issues at the UN. Both Niue and the Cook Islands have their own constitutions, which is respected by New Zealand and New Zealand consults with the nations on all issues related to them. Additionally, New Zealand has administration over the islands of Tokelau. Tokelau was looking to have a similar arrangement to Niue and the Cook Islands with freedom of association and having an autonomous government. However, the people of Tokelau have so far failed to reach the two-thirds majority needed to attain a self-system of governance. However, people from all these nations and territories hold New Zealand passports and large numbers of people from both Niue and the Cook Islands live in New Zealand as citizens.

There are also 3 other countries in the world that hold freedom of association status, which are Palau, the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM) and the Marshall Islands, who have chosen to be associated as a part of the USA. What this means for Palau, FSM and the Marshall Islands is that their populations have access to US government grants and US social services, they also have the option to live in the USA and become citizens, quite handy as these nations could be underwater within a century. The biggest difference between the countries associated with the USA and those with New Zealand is that Palau, FSM and the Marshall Islands are all full UN members and manage their own affairs in international politics, whereas Niue and the Cook Islands have chosen not to join.

In 2012 the UN voted to recognise the state of Palestine as a sovereign but non-UN member state with observer status. So this would mean that Palestine could be counted as a country, but again this would depend on your political point of view, 136 UN member states voted on Palestine’s recognition, but there were clearly those that voted against or just abstained.

The Latest UN Member

One good example comes from the last country that became an internationally recognised country with full UN member status, South Sudan. South Sudan became an independent country in 2011 and a member of the UN. So how did it achieve this? Well in order to become a UN member you have to meet the following criteria.

  1. A clear culture and region.
  2. A history of being marginalised.
  3. An organised government.
  4. A stable Economy that can sustain a government and not bankrupt the state it is seceding from.
  5. No alternate options for peace.
  6. Full support from your group and the group you are leaving.
  7. An endorsement from the international community.

South Sudan achieved all these criteria and was unanimously accepted as the 193 UN member state, there are no disputes to their claim and the succession from Sudan was accepted.

South Sudan Celebrating Independence

So let’s check in where we are. There are recognised countries that belong to the UN. So all countries in the UN are independent countries and recognised by everyone, right? Well not quite, for example, Israel is a full member of the UN, but over 30 countries still do not officially recognise Israel as a country, additionally, Pakistan does not recognise Armenia. This is due to the conflict that took place between Armenia and Azerbaijan over the territory of Nagorno-Karabakh. Additionally Nagorno-Karabakh, which is located inside the territory of Azerbaijan and home to mostly ethnic Armenians, since the war has declared itself as an independent state, which is recognised by Abkhazia, South Ossetia and Transnistria, all territories that have declared independence from the territories they were a part of, are ruling themselves and have mostly little to no other international recognition. Then we get into even messier scenarios where the countries seem to be running totally normally (more or less) but have little to no recognition such as Somaliland, TaiwanSahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (AKA Western Sahara) and Northern Cyprus all of which are operating like any other fully functioning country. Then what about Hong Kong and Macau? For all intensive purposes surely you could compare them to other functioning city-states like Singapore. They have their own economies, currency, immigration so why are they not a country?

When we think about a country is it the land or the people we think about? For instance, Dharamshala is home to the Tibetan government in Exile and has been nicknamed little Lhasa due to the amount of Tibetans living in the area and who maintain their traditions and culture within India. We can also think about all the other Diasporas of people who live around the world and who have created large and vibrant communities. I know that even within my own family my aunty and uncle in Canada to some degree still live with a community who speak Portuguese, cook Portuguese and live their lives with Portugal very much as a focus and I am sure very different to other Canadians. Toronto also has an area of the city which is called little Portugal, but do not get confused, this is not like when you enter an embassy you are legally in the territory of that country.

On the other hand, if some island in the middle of the Pacific ocean self-identify as being British or French despite being ethnically Polynesian and geographically miles away from the land they associate themselves with, do we accept their association, or see them as totally different? When I travelled to Gibraltar, I understood it to be a part of the UK, but off the southern coast of Spain. There were many elements that felt like the UK, but many that felt totally different too. It left me in a state of debate with my self-arguing if this place can really call itself the UK, as it was not like any place I had seen, and walking in the streets more people seemed to be speaking Spanish than English. Then the other side of me was saying this is just another part that adds to the mosaic and diversity which makes up the UK and I should view it differently like I see Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

So the definition of a country is simple but recognition is complicated and political. The reality is countries come and countries go. In the last one hundred years, the number of countries on the planet have almost doubled and places that were considered territories of another’s have seceded and became their own independent sovereign states. When counting countries at the personal level I guess it is up to us to decide which places we do and do not count, but we should know our own reasons for that and be able to justify them. So we could choose to recognise Sealand and any dude who draws a line around his house and starts printing his own passports and money but few people would. Then there are the cases of places like Western Sahara, Taiwan, Somaliland etc. We can decide how we feel about their status and make a choice if they make it to our list, but know this is political and that people might not agree with you. At the political level, this is more sensitive. As a Brit and having some knowledge of the history of Somaliland and understanding how they are self-governing quite successfully in comparison to Somalia, I feel somewhat compelled to accept their status. Also due to Somaliland not having any status and being a part of a larger state in chaos, Somaliland is unable to gain much-needed aid and support. However politically recognition is more complicated, as we saw from how South Sudan gained their independence and recognition. My only hope is that whether or not the people of a territory self-rule or not, that they have access to the basic necessities of life and are able to live with dignity. Sometimes the history and politics of what land belongs to who seem to prioritise the actual needs of the people in day-to-day living.

I think like most things in the world we have to take it on a case-by-case status and decide what we feel about it, then if we express our feelings like anything we make public they will be open to a response. For example, if I decide I don’t recognise Finland as a country, from all the Finns I know I really don’t think they will care, because my opinion has no relevance or consequence in their lives. However if I said I don’t recognise the country of Macedonia (FYROM), this might make all my Greek friends love me more, but might put me on a death list with some of my friends from there. Being a country and having a status means different things to different people based on so many factors. I’m half British, half Portuguese but I would not say that my national identity is the biggest part of my identity, but none of my living family has fought for the right for a country, for a right to speak my language or for the right to exist as a people and this is why we have to take the case by case scenarios and decide our view.