There are few things worse than that single word when you're travelling. "No" represents the crushing of your dreams, the dashing of your hopes for visiting a certain place or having a certain experience.
It's the word from the bouncer at the door to the club. It's the customs official who won't let you across the border. It's the security guard who won't let you take photos. It's the guy manning the locked gate on part of the museum.
It happens, of course. Every day. There are places and experiences that many travellers will never be able to see or enjoy, for a variety of reasons. These are some of the most disappointing.
Seeing the Haj in Saudi Arabia
This would surely be one of the world's most amazing sights, a mass of humanity, literally millions of white-robed pilgrims, making their yearly journey to Mecca in Saudi Arabia. I would love to see it for the pure spectacle – but many of us never will, unless we have a significant shift in faith, because only Muslims can attend. Non-Muslims, in fact, will struggle to gain entry into Saudi Arabia at any time of year.
Dining at a Basque txoko
If you love food, and you have any interest in the evolution of modern dining, then you'll know all about the Basques, and you'll probably have heard of "txokos". These are exclusive clubs where members take turns cooking for each other, experimenting with new recipes and reviving traditional Basque dishes. It would be amazing to visit one. Only thing is you have to be a member, or a member's guest, and be able to speak Basque. (In some clubs, too, you have to be male.)
Taking a photo in the Van Gogh Museum
"Pssht!" That's the sound of one of the museum staff telling you to put down your damn camera and just stare at the paintings like everyone else. For a while the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam lifted its ban on photography of the incredible works of art on display, but that has now been reinstated. Same in the Sistine Chapel. All records of your visit must be kept in your head.
Bathing at a Japanese onsen
Yes, many tourists will be able to visit a Japanese onsen – a traditional hot-spring bath – with no problems at all. However, for the increasing number of people with tattoos, you'll find yourself barred at the door, thanks to the association of tough-stickers with organised crime in Japan. Some onsen, particularly those in ski resorts, are more relaxed on this policy. However, inked-up types will still be denied entry to plenty of great countryside baths.
See also: Australia - the land of the idiot
Touring the Vatican Secret Archives
The mere name makes you want to go in there and have a poke around. "Secret archives"? Yes please. However, while qualified researchers are occasionally allowed access (with special permission) to the more than 85 kilometres of shelving holding Vatican documents, letters and records dating back more than 1000 years, your average tourist has absolutely no chance.
Seeing the Jiangsu National Security Education Museum
In a nutshell, this is a Chinese spy museum that's as secretive as its subject matter – foreigners aren't allowed in. Set in the city of Nanjing, the Jiangsu National Security Education Museum contains Bond-esque spy gadgets like lipstick-case guns, poison pens, listening bugs, and hollow coins used to smuggle documents. At least I think that's what it contains. I can't go in to check.
Seeing most of North Korea
While a small number of foreign visitors are allowed to enter North Korea each year on organised tours, the country they get to see is a highly curated version of North Korean reality. There are still many parts of Kim Jong-un's dictatorial wonderland that remain off limits to all tourists, which really just makes them more attractive in my book.
Visiting the Granite Mountain Records Vault
This is much like the Vatican Secret Archives, only with the added craziness that comes with an American religion whose set of beliefs stems from some gold plates that were buried in the US by people from Israel in 600BC. Ahem. Hi, Mormons. Anyway, this vast vault in Little Cottonwood Canyon, Utah, contains about 35 billion images on microfilm documenting family genealogy, as well as key Morman scriptures. Sounds pretty interesting. Unfortunately, visitors are not permitted.
Travelling to parts of Burma
While Burma has officially opened up to tourism after years of seclusion, there are still parts of the country where no tourist is allowed to go. The gem-rich town of Mogoke, north of Mandalay, is off-limits, as is jade-rich Hpakant, as well as military stronghold Pyinmana, and the townships of Lewe and Takone. Some parts of the Shan and Kachin states, meanwhile, are only accessible with prior permission from the government. Check out the full list here .
Visiting Mount Athos in Greece and Mount Omine in Japan
There's good news, and there's bad news. For 49 per cent of the world's population, the holy sites of Mount Athos in Greece and Mount Omine in Japan are open for business. For everyone else – women, that is – they're strictly closed. At both mountains, male devotees of the applicable religion (Eastern Orthodox Christian, and Shinto) believe that the admission of women would spoil their concentration, or something like that. Nice one, guys.
What are the travel experiences that you've been banned from?
See also: Holiday destinations where you can't drink