HAVE you ever felt uneasy about travelling somewhere?

I don’t mean walking through South central LA at night or downtown Mogadishu. I’m talking about places whose regimes are less then savoury.

The list of countries which have been off-limits to tourists used to be a long one.

Headed by apartheid-era South Africa, but including such places as Chile and the old Soviet Union, many would avoid countries with dubious politics, or which were behaving brutally to their own populations.

This would often depend on how bothered people were about dodgy political regimes.

Spain’s emergence as a tourist hotspot was barely affected by General Franco’s dictatorship any more than Greece’s military regime put off many tourists.

Perhaps these were places where politics came way down the list after sun, sand and sea.

There seems to be a greater readiness to explore places of all political stripes now.

When I went to Syria four years ago, the same brutal regime was in power then as is now – it just hadn’t brutalised people quite so much for 25 years.

But to me it seemed the right thing to explore the place and engage with the people rather than increase its isolation.

There was optimism then that tourism was helping to open the country up and help smooth the way to a more liberal place.

There was hope that Bashr al-Assad would steer the country away from its authoritarian past under his father Hafez al-Assad.

So much for that.

One of the most notable targets of a boycott in recent years is Burma. In an attempt to starve the military regime there of tourism dollars and international credibility, many refused to travel there.

Democracy activists inside the country later welcomed travellers as long as they came independently and not as part of package tours, which would be managed by the state.

As the country makes moves towards democracy, more tourists will feel happy to travel there.

I used to firmly support the idea of tourism boycott, but now, for me, the purpose of a boycott should be to put pressure on a regime, not to isolate a country.

If the chance came to go to North Korea tomorrow, I'd jump at it.

It’s a bizarre, often horrifying place, but the chance to see somewhere so utterly different would trump those concerns.

And ever the optimist, I’d still think that small contacts like these must, in the end, bring countries like this in from the cold.