Traveling in the Age of Terrorism
Should the world's potential dangers change how — or even if — we travel?
There’s a lot of negative news going around all over the world today — it’s hard not to notice that. Words like fear, danger, and terrorism get thrown around a lot. With all of this information going around, people are essentially trained to believe that the world is not a safe place. This thought is nailed into our heads nearly every time we open a newspaper or jump on the Internet. If one thing has been made very clear in the past few years, it’s that terrorism is virtually omnipresent — these horrible events can happen anywhere. An airport in Brussels, a concert venue in Paris, Manchester, or Las Vegas, a nightclub in Orlando — these tragedies don’t focus on one country or type of place. In fact, they seem so random that they trigger a sense of panic whenever we hear about the latest attack, because we have no idea what could come next. People who have planned international travel, and even travel within their own country, begin to question if they should go through with their plans. Should they reroute the Paris trip they’ve dreamed of for so long to New York or Australia? Should they reschedule that trip to the UK until the panic subsides and security increases? Or should they nix that dream trip altogether, since it’s just not worth the risk?
I don’t know the answer to these questions, but I do know this: we shouldn’t let these all-too-common tragedies control our lives, as travelers and as people. If we lived our lives focused solely on avoiding risk, we’d never leave our homes. Nowhere in the world is void of potential danger. In my experience as a traveler, I’ve learned to take just about everything I hear about other places with a grain of salt. I remember how much I was warned about the dangers of going to South Africa, how many people said I was so brave, being a twenty-something year old white American girl traveling there alone. Here’s a little story I have about one evening in Cape Town. I was sitting at a bar at a restaurant on the gorgeous V&A Waterfront, looking out at the beautiful city lights reflected on the water, enjoying the moment, when someone sat down next to me and struck up a conversation. I noticed his thick South African accent as soon as he opened his mouth, and we talked about where I was from, what I was doing in South Africa, and life in general. He ordered us a couple of beers, and when I offered to pay, he gently pushed my money away. When I started to thank him, he said something I’ll always remember. “No need to thank me. The way we look at it here, you have traveled all this way just to meet us, and that is a huge honor.”
That is just one of my many experiences seeing the kindness and generosity of strangers, people that I’ve been told are dangerous and untrustworthy. While there are people in this world that commit terrible acts of violence, my travels have solidified my belief that most people would rather help you than hurt you. And, because of moments like that, we should never stop traveling. We should never stop smiling at strangers, and never stop striking up a conversation with them over a coffee or beer. I think this has always been important, but it is now more than ever. Travel tears down prejudices, eliminates fear and hatred, and turns strangers into friends.
I’m not telling anyone to be careless. Do your research when picking a place to travel. Look up travel advisories and listen to their advice. Be cautious, and make informed decisions about where to go. But DO go. Book that plane ticket. Pack some bravery and hope, and go out into the world. It’s okay to be afraid, but don’t let that fear stop you from traveling. In this age of constant panic and terror, it will undoubtedly be a life-changing decision.