(CNN) – They have their own governments, passports, citizens and even currency in some cases.
But for a variety of complex reasons, a number of countries around the world do not officially exist – some are even left over from maps.
The final hurdle is gaining recognition as a United Nations country, which has a number of advantages, such as greater access to economic networks.
Those that are not recognized by the UN are not officially recognized as countries, even if they are recognized by other nations and as a result may face many struggles.
He has always been fascinated by contested countries after visiting Somaliland, an ambitious Horn of Africa country that has been striving for independence from Somalia since 1991.
“I traveled through Africa by land in 2009 and eventually went to Somaliland,” he told CNN Travel. “I was shocked to learn that I could not use Somali money there. Then I began to understand that this is a nation with its own institutions, laws and currency.
“But this was not recognized by any other country. I felt like I was in a parallel universe.”
Despite the unilateral declaration of independence from Somalia in 1991, Somaliland has never been recognized as a sovereign state by any other state.
Struggle for recognition
Somaliland is not recognized as a sovereign state by any other state.
This has made things difficult, especially for the area, which has faced serious economic problems over the years.
“Somaliland is really on its own,” Kauner said. “They are fighting for survival because they have no allies.”
Unemployment here is high, as is the illiteracy rate, but he was extremely impressed by the resilience of the locals.
“They talked about their struggles,” Kauner added. “Many of them are dependent on the money sent to them by people working abroad.
“Because they are not recognized [as a country,] it is very difficult to make exchanges with other countries.
“It’s very difficult for them to sell anything. So many people take the opportunity to work in other countries.
“A very difficult situation. But I see that they are improving a lot.”
In the years following his trip to Somaliland, Kawain began exploring other destinations with similar problems.
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 controversial countries on his hit list was Kosovo, located in the Balkan region of Europe.
While Somaliland suffers from a lack of allies, Kosovo is benefiting from its many supporters.
Since officially declaring independence from Serbia in 2008, with Russia’s support, it has been recognized as an independent state by more than 100 countries, as well as by the International Olympic Committee, but UN membership has fled the territory.
Unlike some of the other disputed countries, Kosovo attracts a large number of tourists, with most foreign visitors coming from Albania, Turkey and Germany.
“Kosovo has the support of many wealthy countries and many tourists come here,” Kauner said.
“You can see it’s evolving, but there are a lot of small issues that still need to be addressed before they can become completely independent,” he added.
Pain from separation
Northern Cyprus is not recognized as an independent state by any country other than Turkey.
“One of the things I liked most about traveling to them [unrecognized] countries, the interactions with the locals are very unique, ”he says.
“It doesn’t feel like they’re offering a service to a tourist. The tourist really becomes part of the community.
“They open their houses for you and allow you to participate in activities with them.”
He believes that this is due to a combination of true friendliness and curiosity.
“If this is a place that not many tourists go to, sometimes they are curious and want to know how the rest of the world sees them.
“Most of these countries are very proud. Some of the people believe they are better than those in the outside world.”
During my trip to Cyprus, which was divided after the Turkish military invasion in 1974, backed by the Greek government, whenever I witnessed firsthand the level of pain that this bitter separation caused.
While Turkey recognizes the area, which includes the northeastern part of the island, as the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, in the rest of the world it is the Turkish-occupied territory of the Republic of Cyprus.
“As soon as you cross the border, you can see the difference,” Kavain said of his trip to Northern Cyprus.
“I was left with a man who told me that his father was born in Turkey and his mother was Turkish Cypriot.
“He could not cross to the south of the island because he considered himself 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 area known as the “roof of the world.”
Abkhazia and South Ossetia, the two disputed territories in the Caucasus, were also on its route.
The former, remote region of Georgia, which has strong ties to Russia, made a particularly strong impression on Kaneuer.
“Abkhazia is a beautiful place,” he said of the region, which borders more than 200km of the Black Sea coastline. “There are many beautiful monasteries.
“It’s not what you would expect from a country that doesn’t exist. Many Russians go there in the summer on the beaches.
“They have a pretty big travel industry. You can buy souvenirs like fridge magnets and T-shirts there.”
However, the process of entering the self-proclaimed sovereign state was far from simple.
“You have to contact them by email [for an entry permit ] and give you a specific day about when you can log in [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 Kauner, the people of Abkhazia did not seem particularly concerned about being recognized internationally.
“They were very, very nationalistic,” he explains. “They became very emotional [when they talked about the country]They would say that because Russia supported them, they did not need the recognition of Europe or the United States. “
In the South Caucasus is Nagorno-Karabakh – also known as the Artsakh Republic. Like various other disputed states, Nagorno-Karabakh is at the center of a long-running conflict between two nations. In this case we are talking about Armenia and Azerbaijan.
“Stepanakert [the capital of Nagorno-Karabakh] it’s easy to go from Armenia, “Kavain says.” It is very peaceful. There are many squares surrounded by flowers where people sit and drink.
“But the line of conflict is only a few kilometers away. Sometimes there is still an exchange of gunfire, so there is a lot of tension.”
The area is home to a number of beautiful churches and monasteries, such as the Gandzasar Monastery.
“There are also beautiful mountains and many places you can visit safely,” adds Cavein.
South Ossetia, a mountainous area between Georgia and Russia that is officially part of the former, appears to be less touristy.
“Not many people go there,” he says.
He always visits Transnistria, based between Moldova and Ukraine, which declared independence in 1990, a year before the fall of the Soviet Union.
Formal recognition attracts?
Western Sahara – a non-self-governing territory.
But despite its own currency and border controls, the territory is yet to be recognized by the UN. Whenever he had access to the country through Moldova.
“To travel there, you have to transfer your money to the Transnistrian ruble,” he said, explaining that he was initially skeptical of how efficient it would be here.
“Almost all of its 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 it worked.
“It was quite interesting to see that some of these places have complete control over their territory.”
Although he certainly does not claim to be an expert on border disputes, he always says that his experience and extensive research done at the time of writing the book show him that creating new border lines and countries is not necessarily the best way. to solve problems in the lands,
“Most of these countries started as minorities who had problems and wanted to be independent,” he explained.
“But as soon as they gain their independence, they become a majority and there are still minorities in their lands that need to be protected.
“Drawing lines and creating new borders doesn’t help if you don’t have full democracy in a region.”