Pakistan. It’s not exactly on every solo female traveler’s bucket list. But that doesn’t mean that it shouldn’t be. Especially if you ask vlogger and content creator Eva zu Beck, who thinks Pakistan could be the world’s #1 tourism destination.
And she doesn’t say this lightly. Having visited 60 countries and with more than 381,000 followers on Instagram, 421,000 followers on Facebook, and 324,000 YouTube channel subscribers as a result of the incredible travel content she creates – from videos exploring forgotten islands in Yemen to exploring Aleppo, Syria alone – she knows a thing or two about the world’s most under-the-radar destinations.
But it wasn’t just her fearlessness that caught my eye, it was her content on Pakistan that really pulled me in. Because she didn’t just visit for a week or two, she lived there for an extended period of time (10 months to be exact), taking her time to really dig into what Pakistani culture, and it’s people, are truly like, creating videos and telling stories on her experiences there that is unlike anything else I’ve seen out there.
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She heads straight into the “Taliban Territory” to live with a local family. She trekked to the base camp of the world’s second-tallest mountain. She traveled to the world’s highest paved international border crossing. She met with female carpenters to hear their stories. She took on Karachi alone. And she’s appeared on Pakistani TV.
And while she developed her content independently of the government and tourism board, they took notice. Even inviting her to meet Prime Minister Imran Khan at a tourism conference, presenting to him her impressions of Pakistan as a travel destination from a foreign visitor’s perspective (and where she originally shared her thoughts on Pakistan having the potential to be the #1 tourist destination in the world).
So, being curious about what lead Eva to Pakistan originally and for more insight into what it’s really like to travel through the country alone as a solo female traveler, I asked her about these experiences and more. Here’s what she had to say.
Breanna Wilson (BW): What initially attracted you to explore and travel to Pakistan alone? It isn’t your typical travel destination.
Eva zu Beck (EZB): I’ve never been one for “easy” travel. The trips that brought me the most satisfaction were always the ones that were difficult to organize or involved traveling to places you wouldn’t find on a typical bucket list.
So, when I started traveling full-time, I knew that Bali or Thailand would not be part of my itinerary – I wanted to make videos about places that people around me knew very little about.
The opportunity to visit Pakistan came very early on, as soon as I started my travel adventure. A friend whom I hadn’t seen in 14 years got in touch with me, saying she’d been living in Islamabad for a few years, and that I must come to visit her. What started as a bit of a personal gamble and a joke between two old friends, eventually began to develop into a more tangible idea, as my Pakistan Google searches revealed a land of tall peaks, lush valleys, and rich heritage. And when I eventually got my visa, the deal was done. I knew this was the beginning of an incredible adventure.
I could have never predicted, however, that I would spend over 10 months traveling across Pakistan full-time, making films and vlogs about the country, working with local creatives and helping people consider it a very real travel destination.
Nobody had ever asked me to start promoting Pakistan as a travel destination; nor was this part of my plan at all. But while traveling and creating content about everything I saw, I guess this is what ended up happening – unknowingly, unwittingly, unexpectedly, but in a pretty wonderful and life-changing turn of events.
BW: Were you nervous before you went?
EZB: Yes, absolutely. With all my friends and all the media outlets I knew warning me against traveling to Pakistan, the moment I stood in the queue to board my first flight to Islamabad, I admit I wasn’t sure whether I was in the right place. It’s very hard to extract yourself from all the common preconceptions about Pakistan as a person living in the Western world and consuming Western media. After all, the one single image of the country we are given is that of an unsafe, unwelcoming place – which is of course very wrong.
But as I stood in that queue, I had people approach me, asking where I was from and whether this was my first time in Pakistan. Those wrong preconceptions quickly began to wither away before I even landed on Pakistani soil. And from what I know, this seems to be a pretty standard change of sentiment among foreign visitors.
BW: Are there any special planning tips you recommend for travelers, especially solo female travelers, planning a trip to Pakistan?
EZB: I spent such a long time in Pakistan that I ended up traveling in all sorts of constellations: in a group, with friends, with a team, and of course solo. I would say that traveling solo, as a foreign woman, gave me the greatest scope to meet new people and get to know the country’s diverse cultures.
There is this idea that traveling solo as a woman in Pakistan is dangerous – but see, on the contrary, I’ve found that whenever I traveled alone, people really went out of their way to help me, make me feel secure and comfortable, without me ever asking for help. I think there is a cultural force at play here: not many women travel solo in Pakistan, so one that does immediately becomes a kind of “sister,” and people are very conscious about making you feel welcome. There is definitely a sense of protectiveness towards women in general here – and while this isn’t necessarily always a good thing, in the specific context of travel it has meant that I’ve always felt safe.
It’s also important to note that Pakistan hasn’t had much international leisure tourism in recent years, which I think makes people a little bit more curious about why you’re there, what brought you to the country, and… it’s not uncommon for people to give proof of Pakistani hospitality by being exceedingly welcoming to foreign travelers.
However, there are some things you need to keep in mind while traveling here, out of sheer respect.
Pakistan being a pretty conservative country, female travelers should pay attention to what they’re wearing. Officially, there are no laws around clothing, like in Iran for example. But culturally, respecting local customs might mean wearing ankle-length trousers and loose-fitting tops – though no headscarf is necessary for Pakistan unless you are visiting a mosque or a very conservative area.
Of course, I am saying all of this from the perspective of a woman who has traveled solo across much of Asia and the Middle East. For a beginner solo traveler, Pakistan could be overwhelming in its intensity and relative trickiness in getting around and finding access to typical travel infrastructure. While I do recommend it to Western solo female travelers, a smart move would be to travel elsewhere around South Asia or even the Middle East first, before venturing out to Pakistan.
BW: For someone planning a trip to Pakistan, what are some of the must-dos – which cities, sites, and experiences are at the top of your list?
EZB: This is the thing about Pakistan I love the most: there’s something here for every kind of traveler.
My personal list starts with the mountains in the north. After all, this is the country where the mighty peaks of the Karakoram, Hindu Kush, and Himalayan ranges converge! The north is also home to four of the world’s 14 tallest mountains (all above 8,000 meters).
The best way to take in these wild, rugged landscapes is by doing a trek: my favorite has been a two-week expedition to the foot of the mighty K2 (the world’s second tallest mountain), which takes you through glaciers, ice, and the Karakoram wilderness. If you’re strapped for time, you can also trek to the base camps of Rakaposhi or Nanga Parbat (“The Killer Mountain”), which are much more accessible and still offer incredible mountain views.
While you’re in the north, essential stops include the sky-blue Attabad Lake, which was formed after a giant landslide blocked off a valley in the Hunza region; Khunjerab Pass, which is the world’s highest paved international border crossing, between China and Pakistan; and the historic Silk Route, parts of which run along the stunning Karakoram Highway. The fascinating thing about this region is how seamlessly nature and history intertwine here: the landscape shaped the history of this region, and marks of this history can be experienced all across the northern regions.
If history is your thing, I would recommend starting in Pakistan’s cultural capital, Lahore, where you can learn about the history of the Mughals. From there, head to the south of the country. Across the province of Sindh, you can explore the remains of the ancient Indus Valley Civilization (the oldest-known civilization in the world! They had sewers 4,500 years ago!), and then move on to the Sufi trail – a mystical movement in Islam which has produced some stunning shrines and musical traditions, still alive in Sindh today.
BW: What’s one common misconception that you wish people didn’t have about visiting Pakistan and the Pakistani people?
EZB: I feel that over the years, Western media has contributed to building a very one-sided, and one-sidedly negative picture of Pakistan. From news stories on TV to shows like “Homeland,” much of what we hear about the country internationally can lead us to believe that it’s an empty and violent land filled with dangerous people; a no-go zone.
But, see, my personal experience of Pakistan could not be further from this image. And while the landscapes, culture, and food are wonderful, the best thing about Pakistan is the warmth of the people there. Those very people we are told to fear – those same people have been the kindest and most approachable I’ve encountered on all my travels.
And this is what pains me: in the West, we are told to fear Pakistan and Pakistanis. The reality is totally different.
On several occasions in Pakistan, I heard the heart-breaking words: “Just tell your friends and family back home that we are not bad people.” Nobody should ever have to say this to a visitor, and I still recoil when I remember these words.
Of course, Pakistan has gone through some very troubling times in the past, but the security situation has improved enormously over the last few years. Karachi, its largest city, was pretty much a no-go zone less than a decade ago; right now, it’s a blossoming metropolis and key economic hub. Certain areas of the north were under Taliban control up until a few years back; but now, they’re extremely safe, with the government investing heavily in tourism infrastructures like hiking routes, new resorts, and skiing facilities.
BW: That all sounds great for the country and the people. You mention Pakistanis being very approachable – what about when it came to eating out? Were you eating out alone most of the time during your travels or did you receive any interesting invitations to eat with local families?
EZB: I think I had a meal alone only once or twice during my 10-month tenure in Pakistan! As a foreign tourist, even if you are sitting alone in a restaurant, even if you WOULD LIKE to be alone, you’re almost guaranteed to attract guests to your table. People in Pakistan are so friendly to travelers that sometimes entire families will come over and invite you to share their meal.
For one of the largest ethnic groups, the Pashtuns, hospitality is even part of their explicit Code of Honor (the Pashtunwali), which dictates that guests must be respected under all circumstances, even if they are your sworn enemies. Don’t be surprised if people randomly invite you to their house for food or ask if you’d like to join their table – and don’t refuse the honor, either!
On one of my trips, I got a chance to travel as part of a delegation to Waziristan, an area of Pakistan that is still very much off-bounds to tourists. Here, the Pashtunwali truly reigns supreme. Despite the instability in the region and its perception as a conflict zone, it was hard not to see and feel the hospitality of the people there. Everyone we came across invited me to their house to meet their wives and daughters (a privilege granted only to women, of course) and share a meal with them. Trust me: when you’re eating with your hands from a single large dish and sharing that meal with others… it really brings you closer together.
A word of warning to those with sensitive stomachs: Pakistani food is an explosion of flavors and a flurry of ingredients, so while it’s super delicious, it’s not for the faint of heart!
BW: On one of your most immersive experiences in Pakistan you lived with a Wakhi family in Jalalabad for a week. You created an incredible vlog on the experience and the five life lessons they taught you. But my question is, how did you plan this experience? Was it particularly difficult to get to this region and to the family?
EZB: The village of Jalalabad is one of the very last settlements in the country before the Chinese border. Getting there involves a 24-hour drive from the capital Islamabad, or taking a flight to Gilgit, the nearest airport (very prone to cancellation) and a long drive.
But once you reach it, it’s the kind of place you stay in for a while. The village is surrounded by snow-capped peaks in all seasons and explodes with greenery in the summer. The families who live there live quiet and peaceful lives, farming and herding animals. Every morning, a couple of villagers gather all the sheep and goats from all the households and take them all to the pastures to graze – they work in shifts, with a different family performing the shepherding duties every day.
This, remember, is the land the West thinks of as “Taliban territory.”
It’s an idyllic place for a visitor, but very much a real place for the people who live there. I got to stay with one of the families through a friend, who put me in touch with a household that had a French visitor staying with them a few years back. I wanted to get away from the hustle and bustle of my life at the time, and they were happy to welcome a foreign girl traveling alone in those parts. That’s how they became my “Wakhi family.”
I actually ended up spending three weeks living with them: after my initial visit, which led to the vlog you’re talking about, I came back a couple of months later to help organize a family wedding. It’s hard not to feel like you’re part of the family when everyone does their best to welcome you as their daughter.
BW: What was your favorite memory with the family?
EZB: It was the mundane, daily routine that creates a spectrum of happy memories we shared. Those moments spent sitting around the stove (“Bukhari”) in the one room of the house, helping out with lunch and dinner preparations, performing the duties of a chai (tea) maker – or apprentice, I should say. It was those bursts of laughter when the women of the house would rate my kneading skills as subpar when selfie-taking sessions were followed by selfie-approval sessions, when we collected hay from the land and milked the cow in the morning.
Life like this exists in many parts of the world, but not everyone knows that such a peaceful, quaint way of life can also exist high up in the mountains of Pakistan.
BW: With all of these remote regions to explore and travel between, what are the best ways to get around?
EZB: Although it was a popular destination for international tourists in the 1980s and 1990s, the events of recent years meant that the government didn’t invest in tourism infrastructure for many years. Even today, getting around the country can be tricky for the inexperienced traveler – but a fun adventure for those of us who don’t mind leaving our comfort zones once in a while.
Eva zu Beck left everything behind in 2018 when she quit her job and moved away from London in search of the world’s most extraordinary experiences.
A network of public buses – as basic as they may be – run across the country, and a few airlines operate flights between the main cities. Flights to the north, however, are easily disrupted by weather conditions, and the mountain roads can be tough and tiring to navigate. Pakistan may not offer the same level of convenience as some of its neighbors to the east, but that always made my travels there feel all the more accomplished. If you want to fully enjoy the experience of traveling In Pakistan, you just have to come prepared with patience, a solid dose of trust in human beings, and a sprinkling of intrepidity!
BW: How many vlogs have you created around your adventures in Pakistan? I hear you want to develop your own TV show around traveling here…
EZB: I’ve produced more videos than I can count about Pakistan! And even these videos don’t fully reflect the scope of my incredible experiences in the country. Many of them have gone viral, but more importantly, I believe that they contributed – even in small ways – towards a better understanding of Pakistan as a potential travel destination by the international public.
The video that I believe attracted the most attention was my take on “Why I Believe Pakistan Can Be the World’s #1 Travel Destination.” People tend to chuckle when I tell them this, but there’s nothing to laugh about. In this video, I argue that the country has the ultimate potential: it has sweeping beaches lining the edge of the Arabian Sea; it has cities overflowing with culture and energy; it has 4,500 years of history; its Northern regions are blessed with the world’s greatest mountain ranges. There is still a very long way to go until any of this could actually happen, but, in the meantime, this video certainly stirred a heated debate on social media, attracting several million views across various platforms.
In 2018, I worked on a travel show with a local film crew. We traversed the whole country, north to south and east to west, meeting inspiring people, exploring local customs and witnessing incredible sceneries. The project is still in its edit stages, but I hope you will all be able to watch it in the coming months.
BW: And, last but not least, what’s left for you to explore in Pakistan?
EZB: Pakistan is vast, deep and nuanced. Every time I go back to the same places, I find something new to learn, something new to experience. But in the future, I would like to help expand the opportunities for outdoors adventures in the mountains. Every time I see those peaks, I start dreaming of the incredible opportunities for skiers, riders, mountaineers, and trekkers out there. While some facilities do already exist, I would love to take part in the renaissance of Pakistan as a world-class adventure destination, which I know is coming.
On a more personal level, I look forward to returning to Jamalabad to spend time with my Wakhi family. I want to continue learning their local Wakhi language (this is different from the main national language of Pakistan, which is Urdu), which could fuel future trips to places like the nearby Wakhan corridor in Afghanistan. Ultimately, if I ever have a family, I would like my children to spend their summers in the peaceful village of Jamalabad, learn Wakhi and take in the beautiful culture of my favorite place in the world.