Stateless Nations: 10 Ethnic Groups That Make For Fascinating Travel Experiences

The world doesn’t just have nations with official passport stamps. There are dozens of stateless nations fighting for independence.

They make for fascinating travel experiences. The locals also keen to meet travelers and spread stoic messages, tourism can actively support their cause, and you’ll discover unique cultures that don’t even make a mark on the world map.

Random Vacay presents 10 stateless nations for your next adventure. Few places can be further off the beaten track.

1) Kurdistan

Best experienced: Travel to Iraqi Kurdistan

Staying with the locals is to be expected in Iraqi Kurdistan.

Staying with the locals is to be expected in Iraqi Kurdistan.

Located in the heart of the volatile Middle-east, the ethnic Kurds are split across Iraq, Syria, Turkey, Iran, and Armenia. They were persecuted hideously by Saddam Hussein and fought with the US during the Iraq war. Travel to quasi-autonomous Iraqi Kurdistan and you’re immediately a hero in their eyes; just coming from one of the allied countries brings dozens of invites into homes for tea, food, and a place to sleep. While the area can be dangerous, you won’t be short of local guides who want to take you around.

2) Tibet

Best experienced: In Tibetan towns outside Tibet (mostly in Chinese Sichuan).

One glimpse at Tibetans confirms their difference from their Chinese rulers.

One glimpse at Tibetans confirms their difference from their Chinese rulers.

The peace promoting Tibetans have rarely ever raised a weapon against their Chinese oppressors. Despite many visible campaigns, the international community has never really stepped in to support the Tibetans. Times are harder than ever and anyone traveling to Tibet must be on an official government tour, completely removing the opportunity to converse with the locals. Just owning a photo of the Dalai Lama will put you in prison. However, to see more authentic Tibet, you can travel to any number of Tibetan towns that have been annexed into the Chinese province of Sichuan. The sky burial at Litang is a particularly impressive example of their unique culture.

3) East Turkistan

Best experienced: The historic Silk Road town of Kashgar (currently Northwestern China).

The Uyghurs also look nothing like their Chinese rulers.

The Uighurs also look nothing like their Chinese rulers.

Tibet is just one of half a dozen territories brutally controlled by the Chinese. In the far Northwest you’ll find the Uyghur people, some 10million of them fighting for independence. The old Silk Road town of Kashgar provides a fascinating insight into their tradition and the Chinese tactics. On one hand it’s adorably unique; locals travel by donkey carts, markets sell thousands of sheep, eyeballs are a local delicacy, and there’s a distinct desert look to the people. However, half the town blazes under fairy lights, shopping centers are replacing wooden stalls, and the ethnic Chinese get paid to go live there.

4) Republic of Abkhazia

Best experienced: A three week hiking trail runs the length of the country with home stays in villages along the way.

Abkhazia even has a train line for when your feet get tired.

Abkhazia even has a train line for when your feet get tired.

Abkhazia recently declared their independence from Georgia. It uses its own currency, language, and customs. However, only Russia and three other countries recognize Abkhazia as a nation. That makes the locals very welcoming to anyone supporting their cause. A stunning three week hiking trail runs through the mountains and the whole length of the nation, allowing you to make a slow rural journey through fascinating villages of homemade schnapps, old women in flowery dresses and a naturally socialist culture. Spend the night at cute home stays to really soak up the local flavors.

5) Yorubaland

Best experienced: Travel to rural villages in Southwestern Nigeria.

Drumming is integral to Yoruba culture.

Drumming is integral to Yoruba culture.

When the colonial conquerers divided Africa they paid no respect to traditional tribal boundaries and history. Rather than use geographical features, the continent was separated using rulers, with straight lines covering the map. Unsurprisingly, this split ethnic groups. There are some 35million Yoruba people across Southwestern Nigeria, Benin, and Togo. Travel here and it’s impossible to miss their distinct culture, including the ridiculously fast drumming and dancing that accompanies almost every evening. The Yoruba are friendlier than most in West Africa and it’s much safer traveling here than the rest of Nigeria.

6) Himba

Best experienced: Visiting remote villages in Damaraland, Northwestern Namibia.

The ochre and butterfat body paint is used as sunscreen, mosquito repellent, and body moisturizer.

The ochre and butterfat body paint is used as sunscreen, mosquito repellent, and body moisturizer.

The scramble to conquer Africa also reduced some 2000 tribes into just over 50 nations. It would be easy to fill this list with examples. One that really stands out is the red-painted Himba bushmen. Only 50,000 of these semi-nomadic herders remain. Their iconic hairstyles and dramatic face paint make them incredibly photogenic, as does dazzling headdresses and smearing the whole body in a mixture of ochre and butterfat. Although their remoteness and ability to survive in the desert has kept them relatively intact, modern developments in Namibia continue to erode their culture.

7) Inuit

Best experienced: Husky led adventures across Greenland

Find yourself some huskies and cross a white wonderland.

Find yourself some huskies and cross a white wonderland.

If it wasn’t for oil and gas then nobody would bother the Inuit too much. Their Arctic homelands are infertile, freezing, and almost impossible to live on. All of which makes it even more essential to preserve their unique lifestyle and culture. Gradually their lands are being overtaken by polluting oil fields and ugly industrial towns, forcing the Inuit into even more remote locations. To really explore a white wonderland with the indigenous landowners, head to Greenland and take a husky ride over endless expanses of snow and ice.

8) Palestine

Best experienced: Anywhere in Palestine

Graffiti adorns the wall separating Israel and Palestine.

Graffiti adorns the wall separating Israel and Palestine.

Regardless of your stance on the heavily media influenced Israel-Palestine conflict, there’s no denying that Palestinians are very different from their Israeli rulers. If you can clear the ridiculously OTT Israeli customs, visiting Palestine is one of the world’s great travel treats. They’re wonderfully open to all sympathizers and you’ll rarely have to find a hotel or restaurant – invites into homes are ubiquitous. It also offers a chance to meet a forgotten majority of the conflict, the down to earth locals wanting to live in peace.

9) Catalonia

Best experienced: Barcelona

Catalans take to the Barcelona streets protesting for independence.

Catalans take to the Barcelona streets protesting for independence.

Among the ethnic groups seeking independence from Spain are the Aragonese, Galician, Basque, Andolusian, Canarian, Leonese, and Asturian. But most prominent are the Catalans, the residents of Barcelona and around. Visit Barcelona and your Spanish won’t be that much use – stoic locals prefer their own language. The experience is fascinating because this is one of the few stateless nations with such a famous and popular capital. If you’ve been wondering why Barcelona is so unique, perhaps you now know.

10) Rohingya

Best experienced: The State of Rakhine, Northern Myanmar

The Rohingya are among the most forgotten of the world's stateless nations.

The Rohingya are among the most forgotten of the world’s stateless nations.

Myanmar is going through dramatic changes at the moment, and it’s finally opening up to foreign visitors. It’s a complex country, with the government recognizing some 130 ethnic groups. However, the 800,000 Rohingya people living in Myanmar aren’t recognized and are listed as stateless Bengali Muslims. Officially, they can’t own land, must get permission to travel, and sign a legal document saying they’ll only have two children. Yet despite all this, they remain one of the most welcoming communities in Asia. At the heart of their culture is a blend of typically Burmese serenity and endearing Islamic hospitality. Getting a permit to travel here is tricky, but you’ll be one of very very few foreigners to ever visit the Rohingya.