Read Your Indulgence

Huffington Post: The Road Less Traveled To Authenticity

December 7, 2016

“Authenticity.” “Genuine.” “Untouched.” Every last one is a loaded term when it comes to travel, and, like temperature, comes in degrees. International tourism used to be a luxury for the well-monied few; now the sky is the limit, and, even better, modern transportation puts just about everywhere within reach.

The downside is the rise of touristiness. Not surprisingly, some destinations become victims of their own success and become so popular that the very nature of the place begins to change, from something native-born to something hotels and officials feel will be more palatable, acceptable, and culturally easily-accessible to foreign visitors. Pattaya (Thailand), Playa del Carmen (Mexico), Mykonos (Greece), and St. Tropez (France) have become so, ah, “internationalized” that any cultural exploration is a moot point. It is the inevitable price you pay by being among the most traveled destinations on the planet.
But what are the least traveled places?
Recommending destinations that people aren’t going to is always something of a mixed bag; there may be some very good reasons why people aren’t going. There are no countries out there that people are not visiting strictly because they are not visiting. When you hear of pedestrian traffic jams on Mt. Everest, one of the most hostile and deadly mountains on the planet, you know that natural danger is no longer a deterrent. Rather, it’s the man-made stuff that gets in the way: You could have civil wars, a collapse of governmental authority and control, or terrorist activity. Overachievers like Yemen, Somalia, Afghanistan, and Syria have all three.
It took some research, but I found three countries that come in as “least-traveled.” As a gay writer, it is imperative that I say these destinations are not undiscovered gay paradises, but they are free of outside influence; to go to them is to have an experience that is as true to native form as it gets.
In 2014, this eastern European country sandwiched between Romania and Ukraine saw all of 11,000 tourists. This could be because of the fact the country has one of the longest-running frozen conflicts on the continent; when the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991 all its constituent republics became independent nations. This did not sit well with the very large Russian minority in Moldova, which has effectively divided the country in two, with the Moldovans on the larger west side of the Dniester River, and the Russians on the smaller east in the de facto independent, but unrecognised, nation of Transnistria.
But while this is a conflict, it would be hard to call it an active “war.” It’s not like bullets are flying hourly across the Dniester; it’s something of a frosty stalemate. For its part, and in a big “screw you” to the Transnistria conflict that constitutes only a very small slice of territory, Moldova has enthusiastically embraced the least-traveled label as a selling point. When you go to Moldova, you get a Moldovan experience. The country has a lot of pluses, from its delicious wine industry, Roman and Byzantine remains, ornate monasteries, and natural landscapes — all of which are largely unknown to the outside world, and largely untouched (there’s that word again) by pre-fabricated mass-tourism.
The Federated States of Micronesia
It has no wars, no terrorism, and uncontested control over its regions. So if Micronesia has any downside, it is because the place is just so ding-dang remote.
Think of a tropical Pacific paradise and Hawaii, Tahiti, or Bora-Bora come to mind. All three, while very deserving of their 5-star luxury ratings, are also so “discovered” as to be “done.” Much further west, and much more true to its native Polynesian culture, are the far-flung atolls of Micronesia.
Friendly people? Check! Pristine beaches? Check! Serviceable airports? Check! But after that, the bumps begin to appear. While its tourism potential has long be touted, Micronesia, north of the island of New Guinea, has never had the cash to make itself a world-class South Pacific destination, even though all the basic building blocks are there. This long-bemoaned and perennial lack of tourist infrastructure makes the country, for the lack of a better term, “rustic.” However, if that does it for you, and you don’t mind the commuting times, Micronesia just might be the tropical getaway for you. More, from an LGBTQ perspective, the “FSM” is the safest on this list.
Micronesia isn’t the only odd-man out in the South Pacific. Tonga, American Samoa, the Marshall Islands, Kiribati, and Tuvalu, too, are off the touristy radar.
Bad reputations die hard, and this country is known more for natural disasters, political upheaval, and a deplorable human rights record than it is for fabulous temples, archeological sites, dazzling textiles, almost unreal landscapes, and one of the longest unbroken sandy beaches in the world (the 75-mile stretch of sand at Cox’s Bazar). There are actually a lot of strengths to the Bangladeshi tourism industry.
In terms of travelers to natives, Bangladesh is the least traveled-to country on the planet, with one tourist for every 1,272 residents, out of population of 168,958,000. The country, whose economy is fairly solid, has pushed hard to market itself as an international destination with its “Beautiful Bangladesh“ campaign. As with Micronesia, Bangladesh tends to be the playground of the intrepid, but in this conversation, that is the point. Bangladesh is not touristy, so its allures will not be like stepping out of your living room into your living room.

Dhaka, the capital, is an ancient city with fascinating Moghul and British Raj sites, but don’t be too surprised if you find yourself in the previously-mentioned Cox’s Bazar, on the country’s southeastern coast. Long the playground for the natives, that city and its neighbor of Chittagong form the poles of the budding tourist zone.

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