Over the past 25 years, I have seen many changes in how we travel as well as where we travel: country names have changed; new, independent countries have emerged; danger zones have shifted; and the world has become a more interconnected and, in many ways, fearful place. Peace has been achieved in some places, but in others war and conflict is the established order. And many previously off-the-beaten-path destinations are becoming known to more travelers.
When I began my first travels overseas in Europe in 1990, the world was a very different place. There was no TSA or widespread use of digital photography or the Internet. And the world political situation was very different.
In Western Europe, this was before the Chunnel, the Alamilla Bridge in Sevilla (the iconic landmark constructed for Expo ‘92), and the Eye in London were built.
In Eastern Europe, this was just after the Berlin Wall came down. Yugoslavia was still a country when I took the train through it from Greece to Austria. Czechoslovakia had been the Czech Republic and Slovakia for just 1 year. Romania seemed to me a dark, cold country with a Communist-era feel beginning to find its place in the world just 5 years after the Ceausescu regime. And Russia (although I wasn’t there), was struggling with major political and economic problems just after the collapse of the U.S.S.R.
When I was in Central America, at the beginning of 1995, the Guatemalan Civil War was nearing the end and the Salvadoran Civil War was just over; Honduras was not the danger zone it is now; and Nicaragua was new, unexplored terrain.
In the Middle East, there was no ISIS or bin Laden, the world was not fearful that terrorist attacks could happen anywhere at anytime, and you could visit Syria (and I did).
In Asia, Hong Kong was still British and Macau was still Portuguese; the Petronus Towers—a major landmark in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia—weren’t yet built (in 1995); and Myanmar was Burma, a relatively unknown tourist destination while the Burmese opposition leader and Noble Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi was under house arrest.
In this decade, the Middle East continued to be a region of unrest and change: the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan; the death of Libyan president Muammar Gaddafi in 2011, after 42 years in power; and the Arab Spring uprisings throughout the region in 2011 made this area even more transitional and problematic for a traveler. And likely the most major change in the world came after Sept. 9, 2011, with stricter travel procedures and a new worldview—a pivotal time in world history for everyone, not just travelers.
Now, in 2015
The no-go regions have changed: In Latin America, Northern Mexico is problematic, Chiapas is ok; Honduras is off, Colombia is on; and Cuba is becoming an option for Americans. In the Middle East, Egypt is problematic; Syria is off; and Iran is becoming an option for Americans. And in Africa, new countries exist—Namibia (1990), Eritrea (1993), the Democratic Republic of the Congo (1997), and South Sudan (2011). Rwanda is now a peaceful country popular for gorilla trekking not the racial genocide of 1994, and South Africa is known for Cape Town, not apartheid and an incarcerated Nelson Mandela. And “glamping” provides up-scale accommodation for safari campers throughout Africa for those wanting to experience Africa in a more luxurious way.
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What changes have you noticed since you began traveling? Do you remember the world in the 1990s?
What are your predictions for the next 5, 10, and 25 years—which countries will be more difficult and/or undesirable to visit, and which ones will become viable options for Americans?
Let me know in the comments!