Preparing for Pakistan and the

Greatest Adventures of My Life

(and How You Can Do It Too!)

Lassi Stand in Lahore, Pakistan       Photo by Samantha Shea

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I remember when I first learned that travel to Pakistan was possible. My boyfriend and I had recently returned home from India, and we happened upon a documentary detailing Pakistan’s famous mountains. I was in awe. It was truly like no other place I’d ever seen.

After a bit of googling, I soon came across numerous videos, blogs, and forums that proved that while numbers were still low, many travelers were in fact heading to Pakistan.

Considering we were both already into offbeat travel, Pakistan sounded like the perfect addition to a trip we were planning for the following year. In the months that followed, I spent hours upon hours researching, reading, watching, and planning for our Pakistani backpacking adventure. 

Though the country might be touted as a difficult place to explore as a foreigner, with enough preparation and some prior travel experience, virtually anyone can enjoy Pakistan. Which, trust me– will not be hard to do!

Lake in Swat Valley, Pakistan
Lake in Swat Valley, Pakistan. Photo by Samantha Shea

The four months (thus far) that I’ve spent in Pakistan have given me the greatest adventures of my life. This frequently ignored nation has delicious food, epic historical sites, some of the most incredible views I could ever hope to see, and most notably, a welcoming citizenry that was more hospitable than any other group of people I’ve come across.

Nevertheless, it’s certainly not a country that I recommend showing up to completely unprepared. The seemingly endless amount of content I consumed prior to arriving not only psyched me up for the trip, but also gave me background knowledge about everything from religious norms to must-visit places to holidays I shouldn’t miss. The pre-trip research I did on travel in Pakistan helped me get as local an experience as possible, which is something I strive for whilst backpacking.

So without further ado, here are all the resources I used to plan my trip to Pakistan, with each one making a notably positive impact on my travels!

Backpacking Pakistan Facebook Group

This Backpacking Pakistan Facebook group was absolutely essential in planning my trip. As there isn’t much general information about traveling Pakistan on the internet, this group was quite a godsend! While the group is private, anyone can join. There are now over 5,000 members and it serves as a perfect place where past, present, and future Pakistan travelers can share tips, information, and of course, ask questions.  

I asked tons of questions in the months preceding my trip and while traveling. Recommendations from fellow travelers led me to numerous stand-out guesthouses and to places like Upper Chitral, a beautiful and remote region of the country that I would never have known about otherwise. The group is also great for finding other travelers to go TO Pakistan with or to meet up with while you’re there.

A great benefit of Facebook groups is that posts are in real time. While the majority of Pakistan is open for foreigners to travel in, there are certain areas (such as most of Balochistan and the former FATA region of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa) that are off-limits. I was able to keep up on recent updates, and members of the group steered me in the right direction about areas where I could and could not travel.

Central Asia and the Old Silk Road

Lake in Swat Valley, Pakistan
Lake in Swat Valley, Pakistan. Photo by Samantha Shea

The Caravanistan website is famous in the travel community for the copious amount of information they have on traveling through Central Asia and the Old Silk Road. They also have a section on Pakistan, which provided me with great facts and tips when I was applying for my visa.

At the time, Pakistan had recently started an online visa portal. Caravanistan’s Pakistan forum had consistent updates on this new system, as well as recent reports of visa experiences at various embassies. Caravanistan also has updates on border crossings, including reports from obscure borders such as the Pakistan-Afghanistan Torkham Border.

Local Pakistani Restaurant

Biryani, Islamabad, Pakistan Photo by Kashif Afridi
Photo by Kashif Afridi

I highly recommend visiting your local Pakistani restaurant or food store prior to your trip. Pakistani hospitality is not limited to the inside of the country. I’ve met so many nice Pakistani ex-pats at various restaurants that I’ve visited around my hometown.

Visiting a restaurant allowed me to try the food before arriving (it’s delicious and distinct from Indian cuisine), as well as get to talk to and receive advice from someone about their home. As I am also learning Urdu (Pakistan’s national language) this was also a great place to brush up on my language skills! 

Urdu Daily News

While I found the BBC Urdu Daily News particularly interesting for learning Urdu, it’s also useful for keeping up on current events in Pakistan. I’ve found out about new places or communities to visit through the daily broadcast (also available on YouTube BBCUrdu), and have become more aware of what’s happening on the ground.

Though BBC tends to be the least biased as far as Pakistani news goes, Dawn.com is a local English newspaper that I also read periodically. Of course, the fact that it’s in English makes it accessible to travelers as well. 

Lonely Planet Thorn Tree Forum

The Lonely Planet Thorn Tree Forum might be the best travel resource on the internet, especially for offbeat places like Pakistan. While it has unfortunately been archived (so no new questions can be asked), there’s a wealth of information on travel in Pakistan.

It is easy to get lost on this forum, but a quick search through it will undoubtedly teach you about new places (especially treks) that you may never have heard of.  

Urdu Seekhiye Podcast

The Urdu Seekhiye Podcast is the best out there for learning Urdu. While English is incredibly widely spoken in Pakistan, connecting with people in their mother tongue not only leads to deeper relationships but can also allow you to communicate with more people. While a high percentage of Pakistanis do speak English, many do not, especially in more rural areas. 

This podcast is hosted by Shireen, and is very well done. I highly recommend it to any Pakistan travelers, as it’s free and covers useful language basics and cultural essentials. 

Online Urdu Language Course

While every resource I’ve used has been helpful, none has made such a difference in my life as Naveed. He’s a professional Urdu teacher with decades of experience. I discovered him through the Backpacking Pakistan Facebook group that I mentioned above. He’s a skilled teacher, and in only 21 hours of lessons (thus far) I’ve gone from knowing virtually no Urdu to now being able to have some conversations and understanding tons of grammar!

Naveed’s teaching methods are second to none, and he’s friendly and encouraging. I highly, HIGHLY encourage anyone who is serious about travel to Pakistan to learn some Urdu, and Naveed is the best way to do so. While podcasts and free YouTube resources are great supplements, nothing compares to face-to-face (virtual) instruction with someone who actually lives in Pakistan. 

See You in Pakistan Facebook Group

While Backpacking Pakistan is mostly foreigners, the See You in Pakistan Facebook group is primarily Pakistanis who love to travel. The group is a great place to find travel inspiration. I’ve already added multiple places to my bucket list directly from this group, including Mastij Lake and Kooh Lake, both of which are in Swat Valley. It’s a great place to get inspired by travel photography from Pakistan’s most epic places.

See You in Pakistan is also a great way to connect with locals and is especially helpful if you want to find people to travel with to places that are more difficult to access, like Hingol National Park. 

Migrationology- Lahore Food Tour

This Migrationology-Lahore Food Tour Youtube channel is one of the most popular as far as food vlogging goes, and it certainly helped me have some great foodie experiences while I was in the city of Lahore. While I certainly encourage wandering around and trying whatever food you find, I personally didn’t want to miss any hidden gems in a city as big as Lahore. This video is a must-watch to get a sense for what awaits in this incredible locale.

Pakistan Traveller by Tim Blight

Despite all the useful online resources, it’s helpful to have something on hand in times of no internet. The Pakistan Traveler guidebook is one of a kind, and it’s recently updated. It led me to new historical places that I had never heard of and is chock-full of useful information that can only be gathered through years of exploration, as the author has done!

Plan your Trip to Pakistan

Yarkhun Valley, Pakistan
Author and Friend in Yarkhun Valley, Pakistan

I hope you end up finding these resources as useful as I did as you plan your trip to Pakistan. The country has absolutely stolen my heart and I am currently planning a return trip back! Don’t hesitate to reach out to me with any questions, I’d be happy to help.  Email: samantha@intentionaldetours.com 

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This guest post was contributed by Samantha Shea of Intentional Detours

We love to learn from our guest writers and appreciate their expertise! Visit her website by clicking on the image or name below. Or, use the button to check out her profile on our site.

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