Why bad places make good destinations

If you spend enough time following the news, you’ll know that North Korea is a Bad Place. Kim Jong-il is a nut. The country is an enemy of democracy and freedom, or whatever it is we’re usually fighting for. We’re told to hate it, or a least tremble in fear.

Iran, too, is a Bad Place. It’s attempting to develop nuclear weapons, giving a big Persian slap in the face to the assumed knowledge that only one country in the world is allowed to do that. Like I said, Bad Place.

In fact, the world is full of Bad Places. Cuba is a Bad Place if you listen to the Americans, with its communist dictatorship and fancy cigars. Burma is a Bad Place. China is a Bad Place, sometimes, and then it’s a Good Place, and then it’s a Bad Place again.

Zimbabwe is definitely a Bad Place. Libya was a Bad Place, and is probably still a Fairly Bad Place. Syria is a Bad Place, I think. So’s Lebanon. Pakistan is definitely a Bad Place.

And you know what? I want to go to all of them. Maybe not right this minute, but there's not a single one of them I'd say no to if someone handed me a plane ticket.

What's so fascinating about supposedly bad countries? Maybe it’s like the bad boy effect with girls – they’re intriguing, dangerous, interesting.

There’s a sense of discovery when you’re travelling through a place you’ve only ever heard about on the nightly news, and for all the wrong reasons. There’s a buzz in going to a country you’ve been told is bad but which turns out to be not that much different to anywhere else.

Face it: bad places make good destinations.

For proper "holiday" people, there’d be little appeal. Bad places don’t often come with sunny relaxation, with cocktails by pools and scented massages. But each to their own.

What bad places do come with is a sense of adventure, and the ability to confound your expectations.

I haven’t been to all of the countries above, but they still fascinate me. I barely know a thing about North Korea, but how interesting would it be to visit a country that’s so cut off from the rest of the world?

No McDonald’s, no Zara, no Irish theme pubs. A completely different experience in a little-known place.

Same goes for Cuba, and Iran. There’s tremendous appeal. I’ve done a lot of the safe, easy destinations in the past – now I’m looking for the bad guys.

It sounds pretty dangerous, planning a holiday with the “enemy”, but the most important thing you realise when you travel to Bad Places is that a country’s people aren’t usually well represented by their war-mongering politicians.

That’s what annoys me about travellers who take a political stand against visiting somewhere. These are the, “I’ll never go to China because of the human rights abuses” brigades. The sort that refuse to go to Burma because of the ruling junta.

They’re denying themselves some incredible experiences, because it’s only once you get to these Bad Places and meet their fundamentally good people that you can separate what you hear on the news from the reality.

And anyway, you’re not supporting a government when you travel there, you’re supporting its people.

Iran is supposedly a major enemy of the West, yet its people are some of the friendliest, most generous a traveller could hope to meet. Zimbabweans are ruled by a cruel dictator, but its citizens want the same things we want: to put food on the table for their families; to live a safe, happy life.

Bad Places aren’t for everyone, and there’s nothing wrong with that. But if you’re after a journey that will change the way you see the world, then you want to be hanging out with the bad boys.

Have you travelled through any “bad places”? Was it enjoyable? Did it surprise you? Is there a bad place you're keen to visit?

Follow Ben Groundwater on Twitter, or email bengroundwater@gmail.com