Meet The Blogger Who Has Been To Pakistan 5 Times And Is Now Running Tours Across The Country


Alex Reynolds doesn’t have a trust fund. Yet she left the United States in 2013 to travel the world. She used her blog and freelance gigs to make money on the road. Some three years later, this American Filipino changed gear. She decided to deep dive into “forgotten” places – those in the news (if at all) for the wrong reasons. She has been to Afghanistan, Armenia, Kyrgyzstan, Bangladesh, Iran and many other offbeat destinations since then.

But the place that won Alex over is Pakistan, so much so that she’s been there five times since 2016. Now she has partnered with a friend to start women-only travel tours across the stunning country.

We spoke to Alex about her time in Pakistan – a country that’s shrouded in mystery and rarely talked about for its landscape and appetite for travellers.

Our readers in India would love to know – why did you pick Pakistan?

Why not? I like to travel to “off the beaten track” places – places that haven’t yet been consumed by mass tourism. There’s no denying Pakistan qualifies! I first ended up there in 2016. I was travelling overland only – no flights – and from Iran my only options were Afghanistan (difficult), Turkmenistan (no independent travel), and Pakistan. The internet told me I was probably going to die if I did, but I’d read a forum post by someone who said they had a lovely time in Pakistan. That’s all the motivation I needed.

Wow, and you didn’t die of course. What is the ground reality on security in Pakistan – is it as bad as it is made out to be?

Not at all. That’s not to say the country is totally safe – there are still semi-regular attacks in certain areas, and the military is very, very present. But the vast majority of the places a first-time tourist would end up in are certainly safe enough to travel. Pakistan’s security situation has improved immensely over the last few years.

What was your experience with the Pakistani people? What is their opinion on India?

My overall experience with the Pakistanis has been immensely positive. Pakistanis are by far some of the most hospitable people I’ve met in my travels. It’s not uncommon to be invited to a meal by a complete stranger, or asked to stay in someone’s home after talking for just a few minutes! Very much like in India, there are many people willing to stop what they’re doing to help a traveller, even one they’ve just met.

As for people’s perceptions of India… you’d be surprised! Of course there are people who parrot the news media and think all Indians are out to destroy Pakistan (vice versa exists in India, as we all know). But I’ve met many people who are very curious about their big next-door neighbour, and I’ve spoken with Indian travellers who said they were welcomed with excitement and warmth when they visited Pakistan.

Plenty of Pakistanis have ancestral homes or relatives in India. Many Pakistani travellers dream of seeing the Taj Mahal, trying street food in Delhi (and comparing it to Lahore or Karachi’s food) and reenacting 3 Idiots in Ladakh. Though India is demonized in the news, not all Pakistanis believe everything the news tells them.

Tell us about some of your favourite places that are must-haves on a Pakistan itinerary.

Oh, that’s difficult – it really depends on what your interests are!

Mountains are what draw most travellers to Pakistan. The Hunza region is the most iconic of Pakistan’s mountainous destinations, but personally, I’m in love with a district called Ghizer to the west of Hunza. While Hunza takes your breath away, I find Ghizer to be like a warm embrace. The mountains are more gentle, the waters are more blue, and the people are the most open-minded and hospitable in Northern Pakistan. In my opinion, anyway.

But I’m also a sucker for Sufi shrines – I’m entranced by their energy, the feeling of calm contrasted against the buzz of activity that you find within their tiled walls. The shrine of Lal Shahbaz Qalandar in southern Sehwan Sharif is one of the biggest and most well-known in the country, but personally, my favourite is the shrine of Shah Abdul Latif Bhittai in the town of Bhit Shah. It’s just as beautiful, but feels more intimate, and there’s always music playing at any time of day.

Credit: Lost with Purpose

Photo of Meet The Blogger Who Has Been To Pakistan 5 Times And Is Now Running Tours Across The Country by Himani Khatreja

Credit: Lost with Purpose

Photo of Meet The Blogger Who Has Been To Pakistan 5 Times And Is Now Running Tours Across The Country by Himani Khatreja

Credit: Lost with Purpose

Photo of Meet The Blogger Who Has Been To Pakistan 5 Times And Is Now Running Tours Across The Country by Himani Khatreja

Credit: Lost with Purpose

Photo of Meet The Blogger Who Has Been To Pakistan 5 Times And Is Now Running Tours Across The Country by Himani Khatreja

We've heard a lot about the food and seen many videos – what were your favourite Pakistani dishes?

Drooool… I’m not sure I’ve had a dish I didn’t like. I’m certifiably addicted to kulfi falooda. The Pakistani version is quite simple compared to the faloodas across India; often just noodles, rabri, and kulfi. As for savory options, chapli kebabs from the predominantly Pashtun Peshawar area are absolutely to die for. I don’t eat red meat often, and still I don’t think twice about eating a good chapli kebab (… or two) when I find one. Karachi’s biryani is also good at literally any time of day – I totally eat biryani leftovers for breakfast; but you can find similar biryani in Indian Hyderabad. Shh, don’t tell the Karachiites I said that.

Oh, and finally… the chai! I find Pakistani chai to usually be a bit thicker and richer than Indian chai, though it’s just as sweet. I have yet to encounter decent masala chai in Pakistan – they try, but nothing comes close to what you can find in India – but I do slightly prefer the stronger, richer chai in Pakistan.

It sounds like you’ve done it all in Pakistan! But was it all smooth sailing or did you face any challenges while you were travelling, especially as a woman?

But of course! Travelling alone as a woman in Pakistan is very uncommon, even for foreign women. Some men view it as a sexual invitation – eve teasing is quite common in my experience – while others take it upon themselves to protect me from harm, which sometimes leads to them trying to prevent me from going anywhere. There are also many spaces that are traditionally or culturally men-only, which means I either stick out like a sore thumb or have to stay away. For the most part, though, I find the challenges of travelling as a woman in Pakistan similar to travelling as a woman in other parts of South Asia: often frustrating, but still manageable.

Credit: Lost with Purpose

Photo of Meet The Blogger Who Has Been To Pakistan 5 Times And Is Now Running Tours Across The Country by Himani Khatreja

And now you organise tours to Pakistan! That's astounding. How did that happen?

Sometimes things just fall into place! Loads of people in Pakistan asked me to work with them on tours, but I didn’t necessarily see a need. Why put effort into copying others?

Over time, I noticed that an increasing number of women were interested in visiting Pakistan, but were a bit apprehensive given its reputation and patriarchal society. I began pondering women-only tours… but I didn’t want to do it without a suitable local partner. Problem was, only men were approaching me to work together – Pakistan’s tourism industry is very much a man’s world—and I needed a business partner I knew I could trust. Not easy to find in Pakistan, let alone as a foreign woman.

But then I got in touch with my now friend and business partner Aneeqa: a Punjabi female traveller who runs her own tour company, The Mad Hatters. She’d traveled Pakistan both solo and with friends; we both understood the difficulties female travellers face. We hatched the idea of running women-only tours, went on an epic recce trip to the mountains where we traveled by public transport, hitchhiking, and motorbike (to the great surprise of locals), and planned out the kind of Pakistan women's tour we wanted but hadn’t yet seen: local homestays, women-run businesses, and offbeat locations.

Credit: Lost with Purpose

Photo of Meet The Blogger Who Has Been To Pakistan 5 Times And Is Now Running Tours Across The Country by Himani Khatreja

Since you've been to India as well – did you find anything in common between the two countries?

Where to even begin? Both countries are home to people who love to chat, are always late, and are a bit too nosy a bit too quickly. (No offense meant to either country – I love both.) The spice addiction is real on both sides of the border, as is a well-deserved passion for food. The average teenager knows a few Bollywood dances and songs no matter which country you’re in. Families are everything in India and Pakistan, in both a supportive way and a don’t-you-dare-what-will-people-think?! kind of way. Immense poverty grips both countries’ rural areas, vast wealth is flashed in both sides’ cities. Neither country is particularly kind to women when push comes to shove. Both India and Pakistan are blessed with mountains, oceans, forests, and hills, and both have far too many languages for a clueless American like me to stay on top of.

Did you have any trouble getting visas to other countries post Pakistan?

I’ve not had any serious problems, only raised eyebrows and a healthy dose of suspicion at the Pakistan-India border. I am privileged to hold US and UK passports – I am not under as much scrutiny as others.

Blogging about politically-conflicted destinations comes with a lot of responsibility. Do you agree?

Bloggers and vloggers have a responsibility to do their research before creating, and be cautious with their words and advice. Blogging and journalism aren’t the same, but bloggers can certainly draw inspiration from journos. Especially with sensitive destinations, it’s important to present an accurate image of what it’s like to be a traveller there, not some polished marketing spiel or shallow Follow Me representation. You don’t have to write a thesis on a country’s complexities, but you don’t want to reduce them so much that travellers are ignorant of them.

Influencers do exactly that: influence. When we do our jobs correctly, the words we write and the imagery we create ultimately influence where tourists go, how they view a place, and how they act once there. Tourism has immense potential to benefit local communities, but it can also destroy environments, cover up crises, and maintain power imbalances… especially in politically conflicted countries. The influence bloggers have comes with serious responsibility, one that I don’t think enough bloggers take seriously. We should aim to educate people, not stroke our own egos.

Credit: Lost with Purpose

Photo of Meet The Blogger Who Has Been To Pakistan 5 Times And Is Now Running Tours Across The Country by Himani Khatreja

Do you think authenticity in content is compromised when your travel is sponsored?

I don’t believe it has to. Not everyone travels independently. Plenty of tourists hire guides or go on tours, so a sponsored trip is not necessarily so different from some “normal” travellers’ experiences.

The problem lies in when bloggers sacrifice authenticity for money or to appease their sponsors. Too many bloggers jump at the chance to promote experiences even if they’re off-brand. Some promote things that are inaccessible to the average tourist… but pretend that it’s not. And others cover up bad experiences, even when pressed – it’s important to either make it expressly clear that you maintain freedom of expression over your content, or find a way to make it implicitly clear that something went wrong.

The solution lies in being honest. If you’re a content creator, be open with your followers. If you’re a consumer, be critical of the people you follow. Nothing is perfect all the time; be wary of people who say otherwise.

Thanks for your perspective, Alex. Finally, how are you keeping your wanderlust alive in these times of lockdown and quarantine? Have you chalked out a rough plan for the future?

Oof, it’s difficult – who knows when we’ll be able to travel again? Right now, I’m teaching myself video editing, and I’m slowly going through the bajillion gigabytes of video that I’ve been filming throughout my four years of travel but never got around to making into vlogs… until now! Though I’m often depressed when watching the footage, it’s nice to bring new life to old travel experiences.

I’ve also been exploring and photographing the local area. I’m staying with my parents in a Belgian village, and it’s permitted to go out for walks and runs. I think I’ve explored every square centimetre of field and forest in a 10-kilometre radius!

As for the future… who knows. I have more women’s tours lined up for September and October, though it’s not certain if I’ll be able to run those. I think we’re all in the same boat right now: we just have to sit, be patient, and wait until it’s safe for everyone to start travelling again.

Read all about Alex’s travels on her blog, Lost with Purpose. You can also keep up with her adventures on her Instagram account.