About Travel

Photo. Ilia Torlin

I often get asked why I choose to travel to the places I do.

Turkmenistan, North Korea, Uzbekistan, Iran, Eritrea, Burma… These are the countries which appear last in most international rankings  (reporters without borders, GDP per capita, freedom index etc.). However, there are a number of reasons why I choose to visit these places. The most important one is (as the Russian saying goes) “to see and to be seen”…

I remember when I was living in the Soviet Union, it was almost impossible to come into contact with a foreigner. What’s more, if you did somehow happen to have a conversation with a person from the ‘west’, you were obliged to report it immediately to the KGB. Many Russians were brainwashed to believe that all foreigners were dangerous or that they were spies. Later, after the fall of the iron curtain, we began to see more people from abroad and some found it very surprising to learn that these people were, in fact, just normal human beings…

Photo. Ilia Torlin

When I travel, I try to communicate with as many people as possible. This way, I learn about their lives, and I hope that they learn a bit about mine too.

When I first started to travel, the choice of countries was obvious. Initially, it was Europe. However, there was no ‘culture shock’ there, whereas what I find most interesting is meeting people whose lifestyle, culture and way of seeing the world are very different from my own. After this, came several ‘exotic’ destinations, including India and Egypt, which were very much like this. However, the downside was that in these places you found yourself constantly surrounded by touts, hawkers, scammers, etc, whose main goal was to separate you from your money. As a by-product, their presence discouraged other local people from talking to you, and it affected your judgement too. It was no longer possible to recognise someone who might be genuinely friendly and simply wanted to help out or chat, since you were always on your guard. It didn’t take long to realise that this is a common problem in countries with many foreign visitors.

As a result, my choice of destinations shrunk considerably to those countries with an un(der)developed tourism industry. Of course, (surprise, surprise) there are always reasons why people do not go to these places… For me though, this is more than compensated by the opportunity to communicate with and get to know people whose lives are very different from my own.