6 tips for Europeans travelling to Pakistan

As the theme is close-up and I have a blue eyeliner on, let me take this opportunity to talk about tourism in Pakistan and Alex of Lost With Purpose’s video response to her exclusion from the Tourism Summit.

Just last year, I wanted to become Pakistan’s Tourism Minister (there was no such position, as I later found out, until PM Imran Khan reintroduced it). I was handling press relations in Germany for tourism boards from the MiddleEast, and loved how they were so invested in promoting tourism from Europe to their respective countries. Most of them had challenges, and bouts of negative press every now and then. The worst hit were those who buried their heads in sand and painted a rosy (and misleading) picture of what awaits an average tourist. In internet era, information flows faster than you can say ‘what the what?!’, and any attempt to disguise prevailing issues only results in an even worse backlash (and PR nightmares). Most people are way smarter than you think, and that is why we should listen to what Alex has to say. She has raised some valid points, including lack of infrastructure and need for awareness to cultural sensitivities, and silencing her could result in lopsided coverage and consequent misadventures. So, Department of Tourism, not cool.

Having said that, I do believe that Pakistan has a lot to offer to a traveller, and needs to be explored more by global travel community. From food to landscapes, historical gems to metropolitan skyline, depth of Arabian sea to heights of K2 and vastness of Thar desert, cultural experience to high life Karachi, there is just so much on offer that a traveller can’t be disappointed.

Being aware and prepared is mandatory for every destination, and Pakistan is no different. And if you are a traveller from Europe on your way to Pakistan, here are a few tips from a local, Pakistani born expat (that’s me).

1. Pakistan is known for hospitality and we love our guests (even the annoying ones). Practice caution but don’t be afraid to reach out to people on streets if you need assistance.

2. Pack culture and weather appropriate clothes. It’s almost always warm, so cotton is your best bet. Even better, shop local. There are ready to wear kurtis and trousers available in abundance, and you won’t find similar fashion back home anyway.

3. Do not drink tap water, and try to keep water away from your mouth when showering.

4. Befriend a local. There is a massive Facebook group, The Travel Diary, with over 50,000 people. That could be a good way to start exploring the region and reaching out to locals.

5. Inter city commute is getting better (loving Jinnah Express coverage) but there is still a long way for us to go. Renting cars with drivers is a good option, or download Careem and Uber apps on your phone for intracity travel. Oh, and get a local phone connection with a data package. We are rather advanced with our online services, as you will find out quickly.

6. Certain topics are reserved for private conversations, and should not be indulged in with mass audiences. It is unfortunate but a reality that needs to be kept in mind at all times. Such taboos include religion, sexuality, LGBT, political debate and nationalist sentiment. Please don’t be scared, and we are not from stone age. But practising caution should be a priority.

Pakistan is love, and you will agree when you give it a chance 

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