It might possibly be the mother of all overland routes. An epic journey across two entire continents, straight through some of the most dangerous places on Earth. Can the longest distance on land in a straight line be my next challenge?
I did my fair bit of research but never did I come across anyone who ever attempted to travel this route. In fact, anyone who would ever complete this route will instantly end up in the Guinness book of world records. So why is this route so unexplored? Is it because of its planning complexity, is it about travel safety, or is it perhaps geopolitically impossible to travel this route? In this article I will talk about some of the challenges that I have spotted.
First some statistics. The world’s longest straight line overland is located entirely on the Northern Hemisphere, is 13,589 km long (8,443 miles), crosses 9 time zones and 18 countries and territories and connects the Atlantic with the Pacific Ocean. Myself I have visited about 60 countries and territories so far but on this particular route only 2 of them I have ever visited before (China and Iran).
Depending on which end of the line you start, it crosses into the following countries: Liberia, Côte d’Ivoire, Burkina Faso, Ghana, Burkina Faso (again), Niger, Chad, Libya, Egypt, Israel, The West Bank, Jordan, Iraq, Iran, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan, Tajikistan (again) and finally into China.
In Liberia the line touches the ocean on a small beach at a very tiny settlement 10 kilometers from Greenville, in China near an industrial village Shitangzhen (approx. 320 kilometers south of Shanghai). Both locations are completely off-the-beaten-track.
The line in Google Maps looks anything from straight. That’s because of the way Google Maps projects the Earth on a flat surface. When looking up the line in Google Earth, you will find the line truly is straight as it could be.
The first thing to decide when you want to travel along this route, is to decide the direction. It can be a key factor as it will determine your success at the border crossings you need to take. Why? Some borders you cannot cross from one side to the other while vice versa it might be possible. A brief overview of some possible issues:
Tajikistan – China
The border between China and Tajikistan goes over the Qolma Pass and lays at an altitude of 4,362 meters. Due to extreme winter conditions this border is closed for several months each year. Also, for anyone not from China or Tajikistan it is only possible to cross from China into Tajikistan and not the other way around. There have even been reports that the border is entirely closed to foreigners.
Read More: The Easiest Way to Get a Cheap Chinese Visa
Nevertheless, an ultimate solution would be to enter Kyrgyzstan and then from there pass through Tajikistan. Another benefit then is that you can just buy your Chinese visa in Hong Kong. Travelling from China to Kyrgyzstan might be another solution but as we will see, following the straight line will lead to many, much more serious obstacles.
The Stans: Visa Jungle
It is a generally known fact that for travelling the Stans getting all your visas in order is perhaps the biggest challenge of all. In this perspective it is often agreed that starting in Kyrgyzstan on towards the rest would be the best option because Kyrgyzstan is visa free for 60 days for many nationalities. On top, the capital Bishkek is considered an excellent place to apply for the visas for the other Stans, especially Tajikistan.
The Israeli stamp
I have heard from several sources that it’s okay to visit Israel even with an Iranian visa in your passport. But the other way around, if you have an Israeli stamp in your passport you can expect serious problems trying to get into Iran.
The trick is to get the Israeli stamp on a separate piece of paper, or to ask the border officers simply not to give you a stamp at all (more information here). The ultimate solution would be to get two passports. This way you will also avoid problems trying to enter Arab countries, some of which are located on the straight line. I am not an expert but I think there is no real way of telling whether you would be allowed in Afghanistan, Iraq or Libya with an Israeli stamp. But considering the fact there are many solutions to the Israeli stamp phenomena, this should not be a serious obstacle.
Considering the points above a quick first conclusion would be to travel along the straight line from China to Liberia. It will be the wisest decision to avoid some of the challenges that will pop when travelling in the other direction.
2. Conflict & Wars
The imposed line runs straight through some of the hottest points of war and conflict in the world at the moment, two of which are the most apparent: Libya and Iraq. Though not officially a war zone, also the African Sahara I will discuss.
A few years ago Libya assumedly was Africa’s wealthiest nation and less people lived below the poverty line than in The Netherlands. But after Gaddafi’s overthrow, Libya is now a failed state. It’s a state without a functioning government where hundreds of armed militia groups have taken matter into their own hands. Among them are islamist extremists like ISIS, who have been spreading terror in Libya for the past three years. Libya is not a safe place to go to, especially not for Westerners.
Iraq doesn’t need much explanation. The line runs straight through the south of Iraq, territory controlled by the Islamic State and can be considered even more dangerous than Libya. Consider it the last place on Earth where I would go to at the moment.
Vast areas of the African Sahara are a no man’s land of open desert. A perfect environment for fearless (sometimes armed) people smugglers to take advantage of the lawless situation and corruption, for example in getting Africans smuggled into Libya and then onwards to Europe. Pretty much all of the key migrant routes into Europe run through the Sahara because of the lack of control, and many people die along the way.
The conflict areas in the route are serious and by no means should you try to travel through them. That means that once you have entered Iran, you should either skip Iraq or travel to Iraqi Kurdistan (like Erbil) and somehow make it to Jordan. But from there you will soon reach another obstacles: the Egyptian Sinai, Libya and the lawless African desert used by people smugglers and gangs. Safety therefore is a major obstacle and makes it impossible to travel this route overland.
3. Border problems
The only way to be able to pass legally between Egypt and Libya was to use the official border at the Egyptian town Salloum (and Musaid in Libya). But since the spread of violence and the civil war in Libya this border has been closed by Egypt. That makes it that the only way to cross the border overland is to find some people smugglers to travel through the no mans land of open desert in the South. You can then make an illegal crossing somewhere along the 1,200 kilometers of border. It is said that Egypt’s overstretched army, which also has to deal with violence in the troubled Sinai desert, does not have the means to control all of its borders.
Libya – Chad/Niger
One other major obstacle is the fact that there is no legal overland border crossing between Libya and Chad. It is also not possible to make it through Niger because also here there is no legal border crossing.
As crazy as it might sound, I came across a traveller who was considering 8 years ago to cross from Libya into Chad illegally. I’m sure though he was not attempting to complete the longest overland journey in a straight line…
Tajikistan – Afghanistan – Tajikistan
Even though it is possible to enter Afghanistan from Tajikistan in three different ways (more info here), it seems a bit weird to include Afghanistan in the route even though the line runs through it just a tiny bit (see the picture above, click to enlarge).
Reaching the area where the line goes through is very remote and I am not sure if you can even reach it. On top, technically speaking after Afghanistan you would then need to go back into Tajikistan (so you need a multi-entry visa), and then on to Uzbekistan. Or you could go directly from Afghanistan to Uzbekistan. All of it just doesn’t make sense, especially considering the dangers you have to face along the way.
Niger – Burkina Faso – Ghana – Burkina Faso – Côte d’Ivoire
Pretty much all border crossings depicted in the figure above come with some form of a challenge. There are disputed areas you have to cross (between Niger and Burkina Faso), corrupt border officers you have to deal with and survive in countries still ravaged by civil war (Côte d’Ivoire, Liberia). On top, the line runs through Burkina Faso twice, which complicates the whole thing even more: West-Africa is a region where most countries require visas for most Western nationalities.
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Unfortunately I have no experience myself travelling this region of the world but it seems that many of the visas need to be applied for back in your home country. It makes overland travel between all these countries, especially if you have been on the road ever since China, incredibly challenging.
There are many obstacles to travel the longest overland route in a straight line. This articles has summed up just a few of them, many of them which are very serious ones prohibiting you from ever succeeding.
Most likely this is also the reason why there is (yet) no one in the world who has ever attempted to travel this route. Anyone planning to do so in the near future must be completely out of his mind, but it will possibly put you in the Guinness book of world records! Who is up for the challenge?
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