As I hear the news about yet another terrorist attack my heart sinks. Having spent two weeks in Turkey just last month the suicide bomber incident in the heart of Sultanahmet really hit close to home. My heart goes out to those affected by the violence and to all the Turkish people.
After the initial shock and sadness fear started to creep into my mind: should I reconsider my plans to take the kids to Europe this summer? Should I remove Jordan and Egypt from the top of my wish list for 2016? But slowly and surely I pushed those thoughts out of my mind and I made a decision not to let fear take hold of me and dictate what I do. I have been here before and I know that fear does not let you think clearly and puts you at risk because it does not come from a place of reason. So before you decide to cancel or postpone that trip take the following things in consideration:
The situation in any foreign country is very different than what is portrayed in the news. Just weeks before leaving for Turkey a terrorist attack killed 100 people in Ankara and while I was there Turkey made headlines when they decided to shoot down a Russian plane. Many friends and family members tried to persuade me not to go but I knew that things where being blown out of proportion in the news and as soon as I arrived in Istanbul I fell in love with the city and with the Turkish people. I believe Turks to be some of the friendliest and most caring people I have ever met and they made me feel safe even when traveling by myself in Cappadocia, only a few hours drive from Syria.
Look at the facts: the probability of you being injured or killed in a terrorist attack abroad is very low. Whether you are traveling to New York City, Paris, Madrid, Istanbul or Egypt there is always a possibility that there will be a terrorist attack but the chances of you being a victim of one of these acts of violence is minimal, there is a higher probability of you being in a car crash or slipping in your hotel tub. Before you cancel that trip to Europe this summer or let go of your dream to go to Istanbul take a closer look at the facts regarding the risks in the area you are traveling to and make your decision to travel based on that rather than on fear. If you think you are safer in the US think again: more than 30,000 people are killed by firearms each year in this country and according to a recent article by CNN more than 3,000 people where killed by acts of terrorism in the US from 2001 to 2013 while the number of U.S. citizens killed overseas as a result of acts of terrorism was only 350 in the same period of time. So if you base yourself on the facts you are probably safer traveling than staying home.
Do your research and take the proper precautions. I am not stranger to dangerous places: I was born in Guatemala and lived most of my life in this beautiful yet unstable developing country that was torn by a civil war that raged for over 30 years (since I was born until after I graduated from college). Living in a high-risk country teaches you to stay safe by making decisions based on reliable information and not on fear. When traveling to an area make sure to check the US Department of State’s website where you will find travel alerts and travel warnings and enroll in the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP), so the Embassy can send you security updates and help you in an emergency. Do your research regarding safe areas, talk to hotel staff or to your tour guide to find out where not to go in a city or country you are not familiar with and stay away from public demonstrations as these are situations that can become tense.
Use common sense and make safety a priority. Focus on being safe when you are traveling instead of focusing on terrorist attacks.
- Don’t take unnecessary risks; there is no need to stand on the edge of a cliff in order to take that perfect selfie or to walk alone at night to save a few bucks.
- Use Uber or taxis recommended by your hotel or the restaurant where you are having a meal.
- Chose hotels that are close to where you want to be so that you don’t have hop on a subway or a cab after dinner or a night out on the town and cross a city you are unfamiliar with risking getting lost or mugged.
- Make sure to have the address of your hotel written in the language of the country you are in.
- Have the emergency contact information always on hand.
- Make sure you are connected so you are not caught without cell phone service or Internet in case of an emergency.
Change the way in which you travel to decrease the probabilities of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Because I did have the recent terrorist attacks on my mind when I traveled to Istanbul in November I booked small hotels and B&Bs as there is a lower probability for these to be terrorist targets. Booking small group or private tours is also a good idea for the same reason. When booking hotels and tours I put a lot of time into researching the tour guides to ensure they where reputable and had lots of experience, this not only ensured I had an amazing tour with knowledgeable guides but I also knew that guides who have been doing this for a very long time would know better how to keep me safe in case there was danger. As I plan our family trip to Europe this summer I am considering spending more time in smaller towns and villages and less time in large cities and tourist traps which makes me feel safer as I know it’s less likely for these to be targeted by terrorist and this will also ensure we get a more “real” experience of the countries we will be visiting.
Much like shark attacks terrorist attacks make headlines every time they happen and inject fear into us. It makes sense to be afraid but it’s important to let reasoning make our decisions so that we can travel making the right choices. My best advice is to exercise caution when traveling but stay away from fear as fear paralyzes. Only you can make the decision of how comfortable you feel once you know the risks and ultimately it’s all about having a good time and making wonderful memories when you travel so if you think you will be too worried to enjoy your trip by all means change your plans and go somewhere where you feel safe, but don’t let terrorism prevent you from traveling!
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