(CNN) – They have their governments, passports, citizens, and even currency in some cases.
But for a variety of complex reasons, many countries around the world do not officially exist – some are even other maps.
The final hurdle is becoming a state recognized by the United Nations, which brings a number of benefits, such as increased access to economic networks.
Those not recognized by the UN are not officially recognized as countries, even if they are recognized by other nations, and may face many struggles.
Whenever he became fascinated by the disputed countries after visiting Somaliland, an ambitious country in the Horn of Africa that has sought Somalia’s independence since 1991.
“I traveled to Africa by land in 2009 and ended up in Somaliland,” he told CNN Travel. “I was shocked to realize that I could not use Somali money there. It was then that I began to realize that it was a nation with its own institutions, laws and currency.
“But no other state recognized that. I felt like I was in a parallel universe.”
Despite the unilateral declaration of independence from Somalia in 1991, no other state of Somaliland has ever been recognized as a sovereign nation.
The struggle for recognition
Somaliland was not recognized by any other state as a sovereign nation.
This made the matter much more difficult in the territory, which had faced serious economic problems over the years.
“Somaliland is really on its own,” explains Canever. “They fought to survive because they had no allies.”
Unemployment is high here, as are illiteracy rates, but it is extremely impressed by the resilience of its locals.
“They talked about their struggles,” Canever adds. “Many are dependent on money sent to them by people working abroad.
“Because they were not recognized [as a country,] it is very difficult to exchange with other countries.
“It’s very difficult for them to sell anything. A lot of people use the opportunity to work in other countries.
“It’s a very difficult situation. But I see a lot of improvement.”
In the years that followed his trip to Somaliland, Canever began exploring other places with similar questions.
After narrowing it down to 10 independent territories with limited international recognition and six autonomous regions that were previously independent or would like to be, he began planning his extensive trip.
One of the most famous disputed countries on his list of hits was Kosovo, which is located in the Balkan area of Europe.
While Somaliland suffered from a lack of allies, Kosovo benefited from its many supporters.
Since it formally declared independence from Serbia in 2008, with Russia’s support, more than 100 countries, as well as the International Olympic Committee, have recognized it as an independent state, but UN membership has eluded the territory.
Unlike some other disputed countries, Kosovo attracts large numbers of tourists, with most foreign visitors coming from Albania, Turkey and Germany.
“Kosovo has the support of many rich countries and many tourists come here,” says Canever.
“You can see it evolving, but there are a lot of small issues that still need to be addressed before they become completely independent,” he adds.
The pain of division
Northern Cyprus no country other than Turkey is recognized as an independent state.
“One of the things I liked most about traveling on these [unrecognized] countries ’interactions with local people are very unique,” he says.
“They don’t seem to be providing a service to the tourist. The tourist is really becoming part of the community.
“They open their houses to you and allow you to participate in activities with them.”
He believes this is due to a combination of true kindness and curiosity.
“If it’s a place that a lot of tourists don’t go to, sometimes they’re curious and want to know how the rest of the world sees them.
“Most of these countries are very proud. Some people believe they are better off than those in the outside world.”
During my trip to Cyprus, which was separated from the Turkish military invasion in 1974 with the support of the Greek government, Whenever I witnessed first hand the level of pain caused by this bitter separation.
While Turkey recognizes the area encompassing the northeastern part of the island, the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, in the rest of the world it is the territory of the Republic of Cyprus under Turkish occupation.
“As soon as you cross the border, you can spot the difference,” Canever says of his trip to Northern Cyprus.
“I stayed with a man who told me that his father was born in Turkey and his mother is from Cyprus.
“He could not cross to the southern part of the island because he is considered a Turk and not a Turkish Cypriot. It was really difficult for him.
“It’s very difficult for the younger generation.”
He also always spent time in Tibet, a remote territory known as the “roof of the world”.
Abkhazia and South Ossetia, two disputed territories in the Caucasus, were also on his way.
The former, separable region of Georgia with strong ties to Russia left a particularly strong impression on Canever.
“Abkhazia is a beautiful place,” he says of the region, which is bordered by over 200 kilometers of Black Sea coast. “There are a lot of beautiful monasteries.
“It’s not what you would expect from a country that doesn’t exist. A lot of Russians go there during the summer to the beaches.
“They have a big tourism industry. You can buy souvenirs like fridge magnets and T-shirts there.”
However, the process of entering a self-proclaimed sovereign state was far from simple.
“You must contact them by email [for an entry permit ] and give you a specific day when you can enter [to get authorization]”, he explains.
“Then, as soon as you enter the country, you have to go to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to get an official visa.”
According to Canever, the people of Abkhazia were not particularly concerned about being internationally recognized.
“They were very, very nationalistic,” he explains. “They became very emotional [when they talked about the country], They would say that, as Russia supports them, they do not need recognition from Europe or the United States. “
In the South Caucasus is Nagorno-Karabakh – also known as the Artsakh Republic. Like various other disputed countries, Nagorno-Karabakh is at the center of a long-running conflict between the two countries. In this case, it is Armenia and Azerbaijan.
“Stepanakert [the capital of Nagorno-Karabakh] from Armenia it’s easy to go, “Canever says.” It is very quiet. There are beautiful squares surrounded by flowers where people sit and drink.
“But the line of conflict is only a few miles away. Sometimes there are still exchanges of gunfire, so there is a lot of tension.”
There are many beautiful churches and monasteries in the area, such as the Gandzasar Monastery.
“There are also beautiful mountains and a lot of places you can visit for sure,” adds Canever.
South Ossetia, a mountainous territory between Georgia and Russia, which is officially part of the former, is seemingly unattractive for tourism.
“Few people go there,” he says.
Whenever he also visited Transnistria, based between Moldova and Ukraine, which declared its independence in 1990, a year before the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Official recognition of the call?
Western Sahara – a territory without self-government.
But despite control of its own currency and borders, the UN still has to recognize the territory. Whenever he was able to access the country via Moldova.
“To travel there, you have to turn your money into Transnistrian rubles,” he says, explaining that he was initially skeptical of how effective things would be here.
“Pretty much all of her institutions are working. I even tried to check how well they were doing by buying a postcard and sending it home to see if it would arrive, and if so.
“It was very interesting to see that some of these places have complete control over their territory.”
While he certainly does not claim to be an expert in border disputes, Whenever he says that his experience and extensive research undertaken during the writing of the book showed that creating new border lines and countries is not necessarily the best way to solve problems in the country,
“Most of these countries started out as a minority that had problems and wanted to be independent,” he explains.
“But as soon as they gain independence, they become the majority and there are still minorities in their country that need to be protected.
“Drawing lines and creating new borders doesn’t help if you don’t have full democracy in the region.”
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