Thinking Big: Alex Reynolds

May 6, 2019

We recently interviewed U.S. born travel blogger Alex Reynolds of Lost with Purpose. Alex is a solo backpacker who has traveled to over 60 countries since quitting her desk job. She is currently in Pakistan. In a recent video, she called Pakistan “an incredible country.” While praising Pakistan’s hospitality, history, and scenery, she also pointed out that Pakistan is “not an easy country to travel in.” In this exclusive interview, we ask Alex about her travel experience in Pakistan, and get her point of view on what Pakistan can do better to promote tourism.

Interview

1) When did you decide that you wanted to visit Pakistan, and why?

When I began my life of full-time travel in 2016, I was traveling strictly overland. Iran was a certainty, but after Iran I wasn’t sure where to go next. Turkmenistan? Difficult to travel independently. Afghanistan? Uh. Pakistan? Maybe. The internet wasn’t very positive about the possibility, but I found a few forum posts from people who said Pakistan was amazing to travel in. That was all the motivation I needed; I figured I’d find out for myself!

2) What’s your funniest travel story in Pakistan?

Well there’s the time I jumped into Swaik Lake in salwar kameez (because, you know, modesty), but then my very cheap salwar ripped all the way down from crotch to ankle! All the men selling snacks and chai by the lake were already staring at the weird swimming girl, and then I had to take my salwar off…Luckily the water was very muddy and opaque that day, and a male friend of mine had swimming shorts he wasn’t using. I had to pull on the shorts while treading water. The men were still very delighted to see me climb out in shorts, but better that than emerging pants-less!

3) What’s your most unnerving travel experience in Pakistan?

There have been a few contenders, but most would take too long to explain. An easy one: a friend and I were left at a “bus station” by our novice escort in Chilas, a notable area of unrest along the Karakoram Highway. After waiting for an hour or two for a bus we weren’t sure was coming, a group of men come into the room where we’re waiting and demand that we give them our IDs and get into their unmarked pickup truck. They refused to tell us who they were, and were very forceful. Forgive me for stereotyping, but when a bunch of aggressive bearded men try to force you into a truck in a dangerous part of Pakistan, you get a little nervous, ya know?

I was stubborn and forceful in return, and refused to put more than one leg in the truck until they gave me THEIR ID cards. After a while, they coughed them up: turns out they were plainclothes policemen. Why wouldn’t they just say so from the start? Sigh.

4) You’ve travelled through numerous countries by now. What keeps bringing you back to Pakistan?

Every time I come to Pakistan, I learn of more places, people, events I’d never heard of but would love to see, meet, visit. It’s a country that never ceases to amaze, and at this point I feel very at home here, I have friends here. There’s always more reasons to come back… so I do!

5) While exploring Pakistan, did you come across any underdeveloped locations or landmarks that have the potential to become huge tourist attractions?

Of course. The Sufi shrines of interior Sindh. Jain temples in Tharparkar. Buddhist monuments throughout Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. I haven’t been to the mountains of what was once FATA or the beaches and canyons of Balochistan, but from what I’ve seen of them in photos ,they absolutely have potential. But I must say, I’m hesitant to talk about specific places as huge tourist attractions in Pakistan are usually depressing and to be avoided because they’re poorly managed, overcrowded, and always filthy with trash.

6) As a solo female backpacker, what advice do you have for other females exploring Pakistan on their own?

Be bold, but trust your instincts. Not all men are evil, but many of them do want something more than just a friendly chat. Don't be afraid to walk away if someone is making you uncomfortable—you owe them nothing, especially if they’re harassing you—and don’t be afraid to hit people who touch you. They deserve it. For more advice, you can check out my post on female travel in Pakistan.

7) What are your thoughts on Pakistan’s current tourism strategy? Please give us two examples of what Pakistan is doing right, and where it’s falling short.

Pakistan’s current strategy is to attract more tourists to Pakistan from overseas and build up new tourist locations, but the issue I have is that they’re not fixing existing locations and infrastructure. The tourism industry is already overtaxed by the vast number of local tourists in the country, and more tourists will only exacerbate things. The country needs to figure out where these tourists will sleep, how they will reach their destinations. These future tourists need to be better educated about both culture and the sights they’re visiting, about the hard and soft requirements of traveling to Pakistan. Most importantly, someone has to figure out what the heck will be done with all the waste tourists generate.

On the up side, I do think the country is doing well in regards to relaxing visa policies and making efforts to reduce travel restrictions within the country. eVisas and visas on arrival exist now (at least, you can now apply for a visa on arrival, though I’m not sure if the system actually works), and NOC requirements have been relaxed in Gilgit Baltistan I know. Times, they are a-changin’, and at least the government has shown it’s willing to get something done.

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