An interview with Benie of Bee Travelista, a female Pakistani travel blogger now living and writing from Germany, and the difficulties she’s faced as a Pakistani girl dreaming of travel.
The English-language travel industry is incredibly white washed and westernized. Though there are plenty of notable exceptions, there’s no denying many of the people filling your heads with wanderlust are from Western countries with powerful passports.
Traveling with a difficult passport is a challenge many of us can’t understand, and something some of you can’t fathom… yet.
I recently caught up with Benie of Bee Travelista, a bossy female Pakistani travel blogger now living in Germany. During our interview, she shined some light on the world of travel for people with tricky passports, and proved that it can be done, despite what some may think.
Bossy travelers: an interview with Benie of Bee Travelista
Hi there, salam. I’m Beenish (you can call me Benie), 29ish (+1), originally from Pakistan, now living in Germany for the last 7 years. Married to a Bavarian-German guy. I work in a software company in marketing and relationship management. You can find more about me on my blog, Bee Travelista.
How did you get started with traveling? Where did you travel to first?
I’d say there are two parts to this answer:
Within Pakistan, I’ve been traveling as long as I can remember. My dad always moved for work, so I’ve lived in every state of Pakistan. (Ok, ok, there aren’t so many, but still!) I was always fascinated with the world outside Pakistan, and I wanted to experience it on my own, not through TV and films.
As a kid, I always said I wanted to be an air hostess when I grew up, because I’d have a chance to travel the world. My family laughed, but they were definitely not entertained by the idea. In Pakistan, especially back then, everyone wanted their kids to be doctors or engineers.
It was not easy to go outside the country for family holidays. There were always visa issues, which are quite costly if you’re from Pakistan.
My first travel outside the country was at the age of 20, when I travelled to India for two weeks as part of a delegation from my university and Pakistan’s Youth Association. I consider myself pretty lucky with that — it’s not the classic first trip you do when you leave Pakistan! As a Pakistani, it’s virtually impossible to get a tourist visa for India. It was possible only because I was part of a formal/official youth delegation. Even then, I only got a visa for three cities. I still feel sad about missing the Taj Mahal despite being so close; Agra was not one of those three cities on my visa.
My mom was worried about my trip, since the two countries have a lot of political disputes, but my father encouraged me to go. To be honest, even I was worried. We always hear mixed comments about India in Pakistan, and how it isn’t safe for Pakistanis to travel there. I cried the night before the trip, and almost called the group leader to cancel my attendance.
Now, if I look back, it was one of my best trips! I made friendships still very dear to me. I found India very similar to Pakistan in its food, languages, cultures, and overall look of the cities (at least, the ones I visited). I had a fabulous time and felt very welcomed by locals. Upon my return, my friends and family back home couldn’t believe the great experiences I had, and how nice people were to me. I wish more people would travel between these two countries, because otherwise, all we know is what we see on television, and that is not the truest picture.
What was it like to be a Pakistani girl dreaming of travel?
I already mentioned how I dreamed of being an air hostess as a kid, so there was some kind of travel bug in me from the very beginning! On the other hand, it seemed quite impossible growing up, as I did not see many people around me—especially girls—traveling abroad.
I was always told travel costs soooo much, how will you ever manage, and then there were all the visa problems. Still, I kept hoping. Oh, how cool would it be to visit 40 countries before turning 40? I don’t know where that came from, but the thought always made my eyes sparkle.
Some people were encouraging, and some would just laugh it off, but I never encountered very harsh reactions. My father was always very encouraging. Though my mom sometimes still says larkiyan gher ke ander achi lagti hai, girls look nicer inside the house, she never really enforced the idea, and is very understanding.
I guess most of my friends and family now find it cool that I take the time and effort to make my trips happen, though I agree that living in Europe makes it a bit easier for me. This was a very big factor in my decision to take an internship in Europe after university.
You said you’ve moved to Germany, and you’ve learned quite a lot since the move! What was your perception of the West before moving, and how have your perceptions changed?
I cannot speak for everyone, but a lot of people in Pakistan base their views of Europe— and the West in general—from what they see on TV and films. Internet has made it slightly better, but you can’t trust everything online, either.
I’d say it’s similar to how most people outside Asia know very little about Pakistan. I’m sometimes shocked at the questions I have to answer, even within Asia.
Some typical misconceptions/generalizations found in Pakistan about Europe and the West are that there are no real family values, people are always drunk and misbehaving, there’s nudity everywhere, friendships are fake, they eat weird things, dark skinned people aren’t treated well, and so on. Though I never really believed these stereotypes, I didn’t really know the other perspective, either.
I was certainly concerned before moving to Europe. My parents even more so; my father made sure I had a flexible return ticket, as I might have run away the day after my arrival in Europe!
In the past 7 years, I met people from many backgrounds within Munich, lived with many nationalities, and traveled to around 40 countries—and not only in Europe. It’s been one of my biggest learning experiences so far. I enhanced not only my knowledge, but my personality and views as well.
Most of the misconceptions I mentioned were proven wrong… for good. Traveling makes you more considerate about this world and its people. You stop generalizing, and begin seeing how similar people are, no matter where they’re from. When you see more, you care more, as you feel connected to people and places. There are good and bad people everywhere, but I believe there are more good people than bad in the world.
You travel with a Pakistani passport, which is a challenge many Westerners don’t understand. For the benefit of my Western readers, can you explain what it’s like to travel with such a passport?
I’m glad that you asked. Yes, so far, I have travelled everywhere with a Pakistani passport. It was indeed difficult, and cost me a lot of time and money in visa formalities.
Once I began living in Germany, I could visit all of the Schengen area without any additional visas. That was a relief! The freedom to travel was the reason I travelled so much during my first year in Germany. I couldn’t get over that feeling! Most of my European friends can’t understand how difficult it is for some people to go and explore, even if they can afford it and have time for it.
I did need visas for many of the 40 countries I travelled to. For some, it wasn’t a problem: just a bit more work than the rest of my friends with other passports. Other travels were tough to plan with a Pakistani passport, despite living in Germany. I told myself I wouldn’t give up if I really wanted to go somewhere.
Some visas that really cost me a lot of money, time, and extra planning were Russia and Indonesia. I booked everything in advance, but was nervous about getting the visa on time. If I didn’t, I’d lose all my money spent on flights and bookings. For the Indonesian visa, I had to buy a last-minute flight from Germany to Pakistan to apply from my home country. Canceling the trip entirely would’ve cost more money since everything was booked! I’m glad I made it—Bali was worth it.
When I was planning to go to Argentina from Brazil with some European friends, the Argentinian embassy in Germany wouldn’t give me a tourist visa. No reason was given. Despite having everything booked, I couldn’t go. I also couldn’t go to Uruguay, despite having a visa for it, because the trip was planned from Argentina. I was very sad, but I ended up enjoying the extra time in Brazil. As I met others with similar problems, I now know an Argentinian visit visa is not easy to get for certain countries, especially when you aren’t applying from your home country.
Other visas weren’t difficult to get, and didn’t need much time. But with a Pakistani passport, you’re usually required to go to a country’s main embassy or consulate. For me, that means trips to Berlin (6 hours by car) as most embassies are located there.
In the end, I’m still happy and thankful I can travel this much, and hope to keep on going.
Are there any misconceptions about travel you’d like to clear up?
Most of the time, if you have a will, the way follows. A lot of people think traveling is expensive, yet they still spend money on fancy clothing, cars, and houses. If you can do that, you can save a little for travel.
It depends on what’s more important. I know people who don’t like traveling; that’s also okay. You shouldn’t do something you don’t enjoy.
Regarding my budget, I was an intern when I moved to Germany. Managing my travels wasn’t easy. I looked around for less comfortable—but still safe and fun—ways of traveling. I stayed for free in many cities using Couchsurfing. I used car sharing to save on my travel costs. I always looked for “travel-light” cheap airline tickets.
For sure there’s a big safety concern, especially if you’re a girl telling this to Pakistani parents. I found it very safe—as long as friends joined—when Couchsurfing or car sharing. You just need to do a bit of research.
Unfortunately, I’d say as a woman you have to be extra careful when planning your travels. But, there are more places you can safely go as a woman than cannot. I avoided taking any risks, as my decision to move to Germany as a girl on her own was risky enough in my family’s opinion.
Traveling as a Pakistani, apart from the visa issues I explained, people in those cities did not treat me any differently than others. But everyone has different experiences, Pakistani or not. Just go, and decide for yourself. That’s the best way, in my opinion.
What destinations would you recommend to Pakistanis interested in traveling abroad? Why?
Hmmmm… everywhere possible!
Honestly, I think everyone, not just Pakistanis, should try visit places with different religions, cultures, and practices so people become more tolerant and open minded. Maybe then we could have a world free of borders.
What advice do you have for people with difficult passports wanting to travel?
Plan well, look up all the requirements in advance, and surely try. You might not be able to go everywhere, but you’ll definitely be able to go somewhere you’ll like. In the end, there are limitations for everyone and everything in life. No one meets people who have been “everywhere” every day.
If you can’t travel to a certain place for one reason or another, the internet has made things easy in the modern world. For those places, find a local travel blogger who you can connect with, and see the place through their lens 😉
Final question! If you had all the money (and time) in the world, where would you go?
Oh, now you’re making it tough. If I had the money and time (and my husband buying in on my idea), I’d go on a world trip. My husband is the best travel mate I could wish for on this trip. If there was still some money left, we’d add the Moon and Mars to our itinerary. SpaceX needs to speed up!
If you want to follow Bee Travelista’s journey to 40+ countries, you can connect via social or her blog, beetravelista.com.