Up next in my Bossy Travelers series: an interview with Matin, a tour leader and female travel blogger from Iran. She gives us a look into the harsh reality of traveling with one of the world’s weakest passports.
There’s no denying it: travel media makes exploring the world look like a piece of cake. All you have to do is buy a ticket, pack your bags, and jet off to far away lands… right?
Not quite the case for just everyone. While some people and nationalities enjoy such privileges, others have to deal with endless bureaucratic hoops, sickening exchange rates, and cultural restrictions. To name a few.
Matin is one such traveler. Hailing from Tehran and toting one of the world’s weakest passports, exploring the world is easier said than done for her.
After she approached me on my Instagram, I knew I had to share some of her story. People need to understand the difficulties that many aspiring travelers from non-Western countries face. So, without further ado…
Hey Matin. Can you introduce yourself to everyone?
My name is Matin, and I’m 28 years old.
I was born in Tehran, Iran, and raised in several countries. I studied graphic design in Tehran University of Fine Arts, then later transferred to the University of Lisbon. I speak a few languages, travel as much as I can, and run a company called Persian Food Tours which offers culinary experiences to tourists in Iran.
How did you get hooked on travel? What are some of your favorite places you’ve visited?
I’ve been lucky to be able to see the world and travel quite a bit as a child. It’s definitely not something a regular Iranian kid would experience, but my parents granted us the privilege of moving around.
Travel wasn’t anything unfamiliar, but I got more into it when I started university. It began with occasional school trips, then developed into more independent travels with friends. Later, I moved to Portugal and had the chance to travel around Europe.
So far, Kurdistan province, Hormoz island, and Gilan province of Iran—along with southern Spain and India—have been some of my favorite destinations.
Tell me a bit about your travel style.
I don’t really follow a specific style of travel.
Normally I travel with my friends, sometimes with family, and very rarely on my own. Now, I mostly travel with my husband, often together with our friends.
I like a bit of everything myself. I enjoy walking around the streets of Paris and Barcelona, savor off the beaten track road trips in rural Iran, and appreciate people and cultures very different to my own.
Can you tell me a bit about what it’s like to travel on an Iranian passport?
It’s exhausting, to say the least.
We own one of the weakest passports in the world, which means we require a visa for almost every country.
For most countries, it takes months for us to go through the whole process. It costs a fortune considering how expensive visas are, and the fact that our currency is the Iranian rial, one of the weakest currencies in the world.
But it doesn’t end there.
The process can sometimes be humiliating, both during the visa process, then getting double checked at the airport. There’s also the chance of being rejected, which is not uncommon—especially for European visas—so you’re basically wasting one month of your salary for absolutely nothing. Application fees are not refundable.
Apart from that, there are several countries we can never visit. For example, I dream of visiting Morocco, but I know it will never happen since our government has cut off all ties with the country.
I’m curious—what do your family and friends think about all of your travels?
Iranians are not big travelers.
Most of it could be due to our financial situation and the way we travel. Most people like to go back and forth to their holiday homes. There is little exploration, and less adventure.
That is very quickly changing in the younger generation. We can all feel a new travel vibe, but it still has a long way to go, and the economic crisis is definitely not helping.
I had a lot of people and family who couldn’t understand my reasons for traveling so much. Many thought it was a waste of time and money, or my way of dealing with the fact that I’m not married. Some jokingly commented that I should enjoy it while I can, as it was all going to end when I got married.
I eventually did find the right one, but it didn’t have to come with the price of putting my passion for travel aside!
Have you encountered any difficulties traveling as a woman? How did you overcome them?
I’ve never felt any difficulty traveling as a woman. I haven’t been to a lot of risky destinations, but to many, Iran happens to one of them. Apart from a few countries where there might be a risk for women, I find the world to be very much ok with this.
Recently there’s a been a big trend of Iranian female travelers talking about their experiences in Iran. I sometimes find it absurd that people come and talk about their solo female travels to places like Europe or Turkey, where traveling on your own is not a big deal at all.
Apart from overcoming the cultural restrictions of female travel for Iranian women, there’s nothing else I find heroic in such trips. I feel like the more we talk normally about it and not make a big deal, the better it is to get more women traveling.
Despite difficulties, you seem to be succeeding in living out your dream of travel. I know there are loads of other women from backgrounds like yours that dream of traveling as you have. What advice do you have for them?
To be honest, I’m not really living my dream of travel.
My dream is far bigger than occasional foreign trips and road trips in Iran, but that’s what I can afford right now in terms of time and money.
I once started my travel blog and eventually thought I could become a full-time traveller, but it never happened. It obviously didn’t stop me from trying.
I learned to make a business out of it and started Persian Food Tours. The fact that I, as an Iranian, don’t own a credit card and live in a country under sanctions with a weak passport makes things very very difficult.
The whole working online concept is far more difficult for someone like me. In fact, I’ve lost some very good opportunities just because I am Iranian. I’m not done fighting yet, but I’ve accepted that life isn’t fair, learned to not compare myself with others, and to accept the fact that my road to my dream life will be longer than usual.
Until then, I will continue saving up for travel and dealing with visa applications.
If you had to recommend a first destination for a solo female traveler with a “weak” passport, what would it be?
It would really depend on your passport, but it’s usually the bordering countries with the most flexible visa processes.
For Iranian women, I’d recommend starting from Turkey or Armenia. Neither require a visa, and both are easy to travel.
Last question! If you had endless time and money—and no responsibilities—where would you go?
I love islands, so somewhere like Fiji or Bora Bora would be nice. But I’d also love to spend months traveling all around South America!