Heya! I’m Alex, a 28-year-old girl backpacking full-time around the world. I live out of a backpack and enjoy wandering hither and thither, and often get lost with purpose (as well as without). My current trajectory is taking me through uncommon destinations such as Pakistan.
I was born and raised in the United States by parents who were determined for their kids to see the world. Neither of my parents were born in the US—my father is from England and my mother from the Philippines—so I had a multicultural upbringing from the start.
We traveled a lot in my youth, both to see family as well as join my father on some of his business trips. He was a professor, and every once in a while he’d get to bring the family along to conferences.
Before I turned 18, I’d already nibbled scorpions in China, seen a midnight rainbow during Swedish summer, and drank fermented mare’s milk in a ger in Mongolia, to name a few. It was an immense privilege to see so much of the world at such a young age, and these experiences are what really sparked my passion for travel.
Then, in late 2015, when I was planning my (what I thought would be a) year of travel, I struggled to find information for the countries I wanted to visit. Georgia, Armenia, Iran, Pakistan—everything about them on the internet was outdated, poorly organized, or wholly unhelpful.
It was frustrating, especially since I was working as a usability designer at the time; I knew I could do better. Through the same research, I learned what a travel blog was… and that some people actually make a living with them. Say what?!
I figured I could kill two birds with one stone: provide travelers with all the useful information I wanted but could never find, as well as find a way to actually make money with my travels. If I succeeded, awesome, and if I didn’t, at least I’d have created something useful with all my spare time.
The Inspiration to Travel to Pakistan for the First Time
Initially, I was only traveling overland. Iran was a given, but after Iran, where to? My options were: Turkmenistan, where visas are difficult to come by and you can only travel with a tour; Afghanistan, which was too intimidating (at the time, heh); and Pakistan, which everyone said is dangerous and a no-go.
But when I did a bit more digging online, I found a few forum posts from people saying they visited Pakistan and the people were absolutely fantastic. A little-visited country with super nice people? Yeah, sounded good to me. Pakistan was officially on the itinerary.
Now, at this point, I’ve spent a total of eight months in Pakistan over five visits—six if you count a weird visa run I did to India on my most recent visit! It’s hard to describe Pakistan’s culture as a whole—there are so many different cultures within its borders, each with its own distinct history and identity.
From the intense but honorable Pashtuns along the Afghan border to the peaceable and relatively progressive Ismailis in the north to the Hindus residing in Sindh’s deserts. So many cultures and not enough words!
People as a whole are easier to describe. Though Pakistan’s people can be immensely frustrating at times, they’re also incredibly warm and welcoming to outsiders. I have not encountered a more hospitable and forward country of people in my travels, and the people keep me coming back time and again.
My Favourite Destinations and Experiences in Pakistan
Picking a favorite place in Pakistan is difficult due to the diversity of what you can find. Can I pick two? Then, I’d say the Sufi shrine of Bhittai in Bhit Shah (Sindh province) is my favorite monument/man-made space. There’s always music playing, the detailed work on the shrine is incredible, and the whole atmosphere is one of peace despite all the bodies moving around.
Yasin Valley in Ghizer District of Gilgit Baltistan is my favorite natural place in the country. Its mountains don’t stand as tall as in other parts of the north, and the valley is more narrow, but because of this it feels more intimate. I also think the people in Yasin are the sweetest and most hospitable people I’ve met in the north thus far.
When it comes to authentic experiences, you won’t find many tourist traps in Pakistan. If it is a trap, it’s aimed at Pakistanis, not foreigners. (Murree and Naran being the exceptions – don’t go there. They’re trash. Literally.) Three experiences I’d recommend to anyone visiting Pakistan are:
- Catch a dhamal or listen to qawwali music at a Sufi shrine on a Thursday night.
- Take a motorbike ride through one of the big cities. You can use Uber or Careem bike (ride sharing apps) to call a motorbike driver. It might seem terrifying, but there’s no better way to experience the madness than swooping through it on bike.
- Have a hot cup of chai at someone’s home anywhere in the mountainous north. Walk around long enough, and you’re bound to be invited in for a cuppa by someone.
Is Pakistan a Safe Country for Solo Female Travel?
I think the country is safe enough for travel. There are parts which can be dangerous, however they’re not easy to access as a foreigner.
As for female travel in Pakistan, that’s a different question. Pakistan is not a good place to be a woman. Society is highly segregated by gender, and women do not travel often (though that’s slowly changing). Female travel stands out in Pakistan, and you’ll have to deal with a lot of social friction that male travelers do not. Men in Pakistan can also be creepy at times.
That’s not to say women shouldn’t go, but rather they should be prepared for what they might encounter. I wouldn’t recommend inexperienced solo females travel to Pakistan. But if you’ve been to severely patriarchal countries before and are okay with figuring your way when there’s not much information available, maybe it’s time to give Pakistan a try!
The Delicious, Glorious Food in Pakistan
Droooool, I love the food in Pakistan! Food outside the home can get too oily after a while (say goodbye to vegetables, people don’t eat them often) but I love how many different dishes and different combinations of spices there are.
Even better, Pakistanis love food, and their passion for their cuisine makes it that much more fun to share meals with them. Beware, you’re going to be fed to the point of exploding. Multiple times. And there are loads of dishes to try: chapli kebab (my favorite kebab, from KP province), paaye (goat hooves), kulfi falooda (my favorite dessert), malai botti, all kinds of dal.
I highly recommend trying biryani, a rice dish, in both Karachi and Lahore to compare… then telling people from each city that you think the other city has better biryani. There’s a rivalry between the two cities over the dish, and it’s fun to watch people’s eyes pop as they try to defend their city’s reputation.
Female Travel in Pakistan: Tours for Women, By Women
I’ve not run tours in Pakistan before, but Aneeqa is one of very few women (if any) to run her own tour company in Pakistan, so it won’t be her first rodeo. We designed the tour together; this year we spent a month traveling around together to craft the perfect itinerary.
The end result is the kind of tour I want to see more of in Pakistan—a small group of women, heavy emphasis on local experiences, responsible tourism, hiring women where possible. We’ll spend three weeks exploring places both on and off the beaten track in the mountainous Gilgit Baltistan and the metropolitan areas of Lahore and Islamabad/Rawalpindi.
We’re super stoked for this tour, as a lot of love and thought went into it. If all goes well, we’ll try designing more tours like it based around the female travel experience in Pakistan for 2020. Who knows what the next year will bring?