Is It Safe To Travel?
Tuesday 22nd April 2016. The morning news breaks the story of explosions at Brussels International airport. Early reports are light on details but we already know the score. This is Europe in 2016, a continent still trailing in the wake of the Bataclan massacre, a fragile union collapsing and fragmenting into shards of panic and paranoia.
We cast our minds back. Last year it was explosions in Istanbul and before that a gunman in the sea in Tunisia. Flights were grounded for weeks on end at Sharm El Sheikh and Munich train station was evacuated. The pattern seems clear, tourists and the infrastructure of tourism are being targeted by terrorists and this, of course, begs the question; Is it still safe to travel anymore?
The natural, human-animal reaction to any shock is to either run away frightened back to some kind or familiarity or to simply freeze like a rabbit between two headlights hoping that inertia alone will be enough. Basically, any kind of forward, progressive motion seems unthinkable at these junctures; “we best stay put for now”.
I sit in an office, a coffee shop, a bar in Manchester and all around me different voices say the same thing; “It’s absolutely terrible, a person isn’t safe anywhere these days” .“These days?” I think to myself. Between 1344 – 53 an estimated 200 million people across Europe died of the plague (up to 50% of the population). Between 5AD and 1945 European nations were more or less perpetually at war with another with an un-quantifiable loss of life. Less than 100 years ago a mere scratch could prove fatal if it became infected and between 1980 and 2005 a half a million people died from AIDS. Clearly, peril has always been with us and now, ever since Starbucks and Google proved that Tax can, in fact, be avoided, we are left with death as the one and only certainty in life.
Nevertheless, despite the Reaper’s relentless stalking of human-kind, I still say that here in the West we are as safe and sound as babes in the cradle. We live in an unparalleled era of relative peace, we have inoculations and health care, we have foam-insulated crash safety helmets, extra thick, durable, longer lasting, ribbed condoms and dense volumes of health and safety legislation regulating the correct way to life boxes in the workplace. We have CCTV camera’s capturing our every pirouette, twirl and curtsy and security agencies listening in to our every phone call to make sure we don’t speak to loudly into our handsets. We have never been safer.
When the Tunisia beach massacre happened thousands of concerned holidaymakers canceled their vacations demanding refunds and Thomas Cook share prices plummeted not for the last time. “Let’s not go to Tunisia, it’s dangerous” the consensus seemed to be and travel agents were overwhelmed with demand for bookings at resorts in countries where nobody had ever died. Then it happened in Paris, a major European tourist city ”Lets avoid major European cities for now”.
But now it’s even happening in the airport before the holiday has even bloody well began; “We best stay within our own country then”. Except that then you cast your mind back 10 years and remember it happened right here in central, rush hour London so you realise that actually, the only way to stay safe is to bolt your doors and windows firmly shut and lock yourself in the house. But then you realise that 6,000 fatal accidents occur each in the home and nobody wants to be killed by their own toaster after all.
56 people lost their lives in London on 7/7 out of an estimated 10 million people in the city on that day. Each one of those 56 lives was important, each one had a lifetime of experiences in them and a universe of infinite possibility before them and each one of them had a network of friends and family who loved them dearly. I have been bereaved so I know just how devastating and seemingly world ending the loss of just one single human life can be. 56 deaths by murder is completely unacceptable but the fact is that statistically speaking, you are not going to be killed by a terrorist and it is, therefore, a completely irrational fear. Like arachnophobia which by the way is an irrational fear I admit to having.
I am currently preparing for a trip to India and central Asia. India has been a flashpoint for racial, ethnic and particularly religious tensions ever since the British partitioned it, you may recall that in 2008 166 people were killed by extremists when the Taj Mahal hotel in Delhi was attacked (once again, tourists were the target). Considering this, maybe I should be afraid but I am not, I am only excited. In fact I have on my desk before me a visa application for Pakistan, a country I would dearly love to visit despite its dubious (and largely unqualified) reputation as an “incubator of extremism”. Rather, the only thing that scares me about visiting Pakistan is the price of entry, £100 for a letter of invitation and a further £50 for the VISA with no guarantee that it will even be approved.
Travel-a-holic vs Travel-a-phobe
I don’t consider myself to be a brave person, I have fears like everybody else although granted maybe my fears are different from everybody elses. My fears are, to offer a few examples, approaching attractive girls whilst sober, spiders (illogical though it may be), dark, confined spaces & snakes. But I am not afraid of terrorism and I am not afraid to travel. If I do end up captive somewhere in the Middle East with my imminent beheading being beamed live to the world then have no doubt I will howl and scream and cry for my Mother and prayer to whatever God I may be accused of offending by my infidelity. I would love to say “I do not fear death, I ready for it” but I am not ready for it, I still feel incomplete and unfulfilled; I mean I’ve never even slept with one Miss World winner. I am simply making a rational decision not to let fear limit my life. Or maybe it’s just that my biggest fear of all is the fear of regrets.
I will not let bullying and intimidation stop me from living the life I love. I will not let an irrational fear force me to spend another summer in rainy old Blighty watching the seasons change from the sanitised, smothering, stifling, safety of a workstation. Rather I will take my chances (which are statistically pretty good) and step out into this big, dangerous, chaotic world because if indeed we are headed to World War III and impending Armageddon then I say that rather than running home scared and battening down the hatches let’s all go out and see the world whilst there is still a world to see.
Update For 2019
The situation does not appear to have changed too much since I first published this post way back in 2016. There are semi-regular incidents of terrorism across the world (Manchester, Paris & Philipines are seeing notable atrocities) but the level of hysteria traveler does appear to have abated a bit.
Egypt & Tunisia remain of limtis for many tourists and most package tour operators but the destinations are hopeful that this will change in the next year.
Europe is currently seeing all manner of civil unrest which looks set to increase following Brexit and the rise of the far right. On one level, we do seem to be straying into dangerous times.
Since writing this I have been to Israel, Lebanon, Pakistan and Iran. I had no issues at any destination – only great times.
Keep on traveling.
Staying Safe Whilst Traveling
If you are going traveling, either for a family holiday or an epic backpacking expedition then take care. You do not need to be overly concerned but there are some simple, standard safety pointers you should always follow.