When many of us think of traveling, we likely picture ourselves sunbathing on a tropical beach and sipping colorful drinks with tiny umbrellas.
Yet, traveling isn't just about taking a break or being a tourist, it's also meant to be an enlightening experience.
You'll learn more from exploring the world than you ever could in a classroom. This isn't to say there isn't any value in going on a traditional vacation. We all need rest and relaxation from time to time.
We gain true perspective, however, when we're daring enough to step outside of our comfort zones. In the words of Kurt Vonnegut:
Bizarre travel plans are dancing lessons from God.
There are certain places we all dream of going to one day, and others we likely haven't heard of or given much consideration to.
It's clear many people have closed their minds to certain parts of the world. The reasons behind this are complex, but they often boil down to history, lies and misperceptions.
We've created a world in which we often view borders as impenetrable barriers, but this is an illusion. We'll never create a more free and open world if we consciously segregate ourselves from one another.
Wherever you are, remember that people are not synonymous with their governments. Don't be hesitant to visit a place because of its history, culture or political system. Humans are too complex to be summed up in these categories.
Visit unexpected and controversial places. Break down these artificial boundaries, and come to the realization that all people, regardless of where they are, want to live free and happy lives.
As Aldous Huxley once stated:
To travel is to discover that everyone is wrong about other countries.
Travel to the forbidden places and breed solidarity.
Disclaimer: This article is not suggesting that people should deliberately travel to dangerous areas. Regardless of where you are in the world, travel with caution, go prepared and visit the State Department's website for travel warnings and alerts.
Here are 10 controversial places you should consider traveling to:
After more than 50 years, the United States and Cuba are beginning to resume normal relations. On Friday, January 16, new trade and travel rules went into effect.
Ordinary tourism still remains banned by law, so don't go packing your bags just yet.
You can now travel to Cuba for: family visits, educational and religious activities, journalistic activities, humanitarian projects and "support for the Cuban people," among other reasons.
Not everyone is happy about these changes, particularly Cuban exiles living in Miami. In their view, these new regulations do nothing to change the fact that the oppressive Castro regime is still in power.
In fairness, they have a point. We can't forget his regime is guilty of numerous human rights' violations and has maintained power through various forms of repression.
Yet, over the past half century or so, the United States has attempted to weaken this regime by isolating it both economically and diplomatically. These policies have been a complete and utter failure. This is precisely why it's time for a new approach.
You can't repair a relationship without communication, and you can't empower a people by keeping them isolated and voiceless.
2. North Korea
North Korea is the most isolated country in the world. It also has one of the most notoriously eccentric and repressive governments on the planet.
Yet, believe it or not, you can visit North Korea. It's difficult, but possible.
It's true money spent there will go directly into the hands of the oppressive government. Yet, it's important to break down the barriers between the maltreated North Korean people and the rest of the world. They're constantly told the outside world, particularly the United States, is inherently evil.
Visiting North Korea and exposing its people to this lie helps diminish the legitimacy of the North Korean government.
Russia has a very tense relationship with the United States and much of Europe. It also has some pretty anachronistic social policies. Don't let this deter you from visiting, though.
It's also full of history and culture and has some of the most beautiful nature in the world. And you can't blame the Russian people for their government.
Remember, even recently, many of them have been out in the streets, protesting against it.
Iran and the United States have had a very difficult relationship over the past several decades and many Americans believe all Iranians despise them vehemently. This couldn't be further from the truth.
Iranians are incredibly hospitable people, and they come from a historic country with a rich culture and delicious food.
Don't listen to everything that the US government says, explore the world on your own terms.
If you plan to visit Israel, also visit Palestine -- and vice versa. This may require multiple trips, and it could be quite complicated, but it's important we don't take sides in this seemingly unending conflict.
By visiting both places, we can see both sides of the story. The world is not black and white; there are shades of grey. If you are going to choose a side, choose peace.
The past several years have been quite tumultuous for Egypt, but it's still possible to visit.
Cairo is one of the most amazing cities you could ever travel to; don't pass it up.
Mexico has seen a great deal of violence due to the War on Drugs, a corrupt government and powerful drug cartels. Don't let this scare you away because there are still many safe areas, and Mexico City is absolutely magnificent.
China and the United States have a complicated relationship, primarily due to conflicting ideologies. Don't let this stop you from visiting a country that arguably has had more influence on the world's history and culture than any other.
With some of the globe's largest urban centers and numerous natural parks, there's so much to see and do.
Colombia has an extremely violent reputation, primarily due to the notoriety of the drugs cartels and infamous individuals like Pablo Escobar. Conditions within the country aren't perfect, but they have improved dramatically over the years.
You won't regret a visit to Cartagena, Medellín or Bogotá, among other places.
10. The United States of America
It's important for Americans to realize that while it might be controversial for them to visit certain places, it goes both ways. In many parts of the world, America is a contentious topic.
The United States is far from perfect. It's done many questionable and shameful things throughout its short but storied history. This includes diving into imprudent and devastating violent conflicts, as well as offering support to dictatorial regimes around the world. Much of this occurred during the Cold War, but it certainly hasn't stopped in recent times.
Look back at the War on Terror, Guantanamo Bay, drone strikes and the recent CIA torture report to realize this.
If people from countries negatively impacted by these activities don't want to visit the United States, it should come as no surprise.
Yet, many Americans are aware of this history and their country's persistent engagement in dubious activities across the globe. They hold their country to a high standard, and hope to see it change for the better. This doesn't excuse the past, but does inspire hope for a brighter future.
Americans are friendly and optimistic people. We're curious about the world and enjoy visitors. Not to mention, the United States is one of the most demographically and geographically diverse places you could ever visit.
As Maya Angelou once aptly stated:
Perhaps travel cannot prevent bigotry, but by demonstrating that all peoples cry, laugh, eat, worry, and die, it can introduce the idea that if we try and understand each other, we may even become friends.
Don't confine yourself to certain parts of the globe; explore it all.
Citations: It just got easier to go to Cuba (Vox), Prior Approval No Longer Required as of Friday for 12 Types of Travel to Cuba (Slate), Miamis Cuban Americans At the end of the day Cuba is still not free This is a sad day (The Guardian), How to travel to North Korea (CNN), Livestream of Russian anti government protests swelling in Moscow (Vox)