ow, this is weird. I've received two phone calls in the past week from reporters asking my opinion about tourism in Afghanistan.

Apparently, the vice president of the now-defunct Afghanistan Tourism Organization has been speaking with U.S. reporters in Kabul about reviving the tourist industry in that country.

Holidays in Afghanistan? Who knows? In the long term, it's possible that tours of the caves of Tora Bora will be marketed somewhat like D-Day programs to Normandy are packaged today.

But in the short term, there's that small matter of 10 million land mines. And lack of a working infrastructure.

I confess I'm being a bit disingenuous to be dismissive of Afghanistan's prospects. The fact is that I -- and many people I've met, especially in the travel industry -- enjoy traveling to remote, little-visited destinations (that are at peace). We like to explore countries and cultures that are as dissimilar to the U.S. as a fez is to a 10-gallon Stetson.

Afghanistan has its share of stunning scenery and cultural attractions (the defacing of the giant Buddhas near Bamian notwithstanding). The beauty of the mountains of the Hindu Kush impressed even those invaders who were ultimately defeated, in part, by its foreboding terrain. The haunting Band-I-Amir region offers deep blue lakes set amid desert hills. And the trout fishing is reported to be superb at the Salang Pass, north of Kabul.

Mosques, tombs, monasteries and bazaars are found throughout the land, and the remains of a fort built by Alexander the Great can be toured in Begram. There's also the lure of the Khyber Pass, whose western frontier is in Afghanistan.

Oh, and one more plus for travelers -- Afghanistan has no departure tax. Of course, I'm not recommending that you encourage clients to go to Afghanistan. If you do, be sure your fees include the cost of having a lawyer prepare a disclaimer.

But you should be ready to deal with clients, like me, who like to go off the beaten path -- it can be quite profitable.

I suspect my profile as a traveler is not unique. When I began traveling the world in the early 1980s, I had far more time than money, and traveled for long periods on the cheap.

In those days, the dollar was strong, bucket-shop air tickets were cheap and my standards were simple -- all I desired was a room with a clean bed, which could be had for as little as $5 to $10 a night in countries as varied as Egypt, India and Thailand. Since time wasn't a big concern, I usually got around via local buses, trains and ferries. And the only money my travel agent made was on the airplane ticket that started me on my way.

Today, my time/money equation has reversed. I still like to travel independently, and I generally have the means to go where I want, but I'm a time pauper. That's great news for my travel agent. In my post-backpacker days, I've spent more on a travel agent-arranged two-week trip to southeastern Africa than I did on a previous 18-month around-the-world itinerary.

These days every hour of a trip I take needs to be preplanned and prepaid because I'm on a tight schedule. My current travel agent works harder for me than past agents did, but is rewarded considerably better.

I still enjoy visiting exotic locales, but as for Afghanistan, I'll give it a pass for now. There are other places to go. I hear Somalia has lovely beaches.


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