Muammar Gaddafi waves goodbye (photo from PressTV)
2011 was a year of unprecedented change around the world. Grassroots protests topped longstanding dictatorships while others succumbed to natural causes. Time magazine selected The Protester as its person of the year for 2011 and with all the change protesters helped bring about in the world in 2011, 2012 is shaping up to be a year for travelers. In 2008, The World by Road was stopped dead in its tracks; barred entry to Libya because we were Americans. Three years later, the Arab Spring saw the forced resignations of long serving authoritarians in Tunisia and Egypt. Libya’s Col. Muammar Gaddafi didn’t go as willingly and was later captured and killed by rebel forces ending a bloody six month civil war. Protests have also gained momentum in Yemen, Bahrain, Syria, and most recently Russia, and if the events of North Africa are any indication, change is on the horizon in those countries as well.
While the revolutionary dust is still settling in many of these places, a course has been charted on the road to democracy and some of these countries, Libya in particular, are moving forward with the development of long neglected tourism sectors. Previously off-limits historical sites and cultural treasures will slowly become more and more accessible, as will the people themselves, providing numerous opportunities for travel and exploration in places that may have previously been considered no-go destinations.
2011 also saw the death of one of the most enigmatic dictators in modern times, Kim Jong Il. North Korea was and for the time being remains a pariah state; isolated and cut off from the rest of the world. Travel to North Korea is greatly restricted and heavily controlled. There are a few tour operators offering escorted trips inside this mysterious country but for all intensive purposes, there is no tourism. It remains to be seen whether the passing of Kim Jogn Il will usher in a new era in relations between North Korea and the rest of the world, but I am hopeful that the changing or the guard, even if it is to Kim Jong Il’s twenty something year old son Kim Jong Un, will equal a positive for the people of North Korea and those curious to pay them a visit.
Change is a good thing and the volume of change that took place in 2011 is exciting. The world is an interesting place, constantly reinventing itself and presenting new opportunities to learn, explore, witness and embrace the multitude of cultures and people we share this planet with. Traveling never gets old; the Germany of the 60’s isn’t the Germany of today, Libya under Gaddafi is a thing of the past and is currently reinventing itself under a new flag, and North Korea, well lets hope the North Korea of today will evolve into the North Korea of tomorrow. All of this change taking place in the world means that now, more than ever, its a great time to travel. For seasoned travelers, the chances of experiencing something new in an old place is high and for novices, the chance to witness history in the making is real, so get out there and make traveling a resolution in 2012; its easier than quitting smoking and the education you’ll gain is far more permanent than any South Beach diet.
Waving goodbye to North Korea as we know it? (Dmitry Astakhov/AFP/Getty Images)
Hosni steps down after 20 years in Egypt (photo – Reuters)
Tunisia says Bye Bye, Ben Ali (REUTERS/Zoubeir Souissi)
Winds of change blowing Assad’s way next? (Anonymous / SANA)