It seems like the holiday season has well and truly kicked into gear. Last-minute shoppers are swarming high streets, corporates are cutting loose over boozy lunches, villagers are delighting in their annual light displays, and bright-eyed children are going cray-cray over Santa’s pending arrival. While there’s a tangible aura of merriment in the air, I can’t help but feel it’s accompanied by a whisper of caution.
In light of recent terror attacks, it’s only natural for people, especially city-dwellers and travellers, to be a bit on edge. Thanks to the incessant wave of horror stories flooding the media and fresh batch of terror alerts being issued by governments globally, it’s hard to completely relax into this special time of year.
I’m saddened to hear people have been cancelling their trips abroad and allowing a fear of terrorism stifle their grand holiday plans. It means the extremists are winning – they’re successfully intimidating millions of people around the world to the point paranoia and paralysis.
The impact on tourism has been incredibly damaging, particularly in recently targeted cities like Paris, with mass cancellations crippling businesses and denting the local economy. It’s not terrorism causing these issues; it’s our knee-jerk reaction to a perceived and sensationalised threat.
Many media outlets and governments are perpetuating this sense of panic, which is by and large, unwarranted. The media functions best as a fear machine, designed to keep us tuned in to boost ratings. Government departments are required to highlight worst-case scenarios. But, we can’t let vague warnings and unbalanced news programs frighten us from living our best lives.
“Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. The fearful are caught as often as the bold.” – Helen Keller
It’s not travel that’s dangerous; life in general is loaded with risk. To put things into perspective, the leading causes of preventable death in most western countries are smoking and obesity – by a landslide. The threat of terrorism is so minute, it’s barely statistically relevant.
The same holds true when it comes to unnatural causes of death for travellers (check out this article by the World Health Organisation). You’re more likely to be struck by lightening or squashed by a heavy object than die as a result of a terrorism attack while abroad. Road accidents and gun crime are the real threat.
For many tourists, terrorism is just as likely to happen in their back yard than in a foreign country. So don’t stop travelling, just travel smart. No matter what the main or minor risks of travel are, it’s important to be aware of them and take appropriate (not extreme) precautions. Do your research, talk to people with experience and evaluate the options for yourself. Everyone’s level of risk comfort is different, so figure out what feels right to you.
Just remember, fear closes us off from each other and the incredible world around us. It makes the planet seem big, scary and foreign when it’s actually full of people who are generous, friendly, open-minded and just like you and me. Sure, there are some bad eggs out there. But, they form a minority and don’t deserve the power to inject hate, fear and negativity amongst the broader global community.
Travel is a vital tool for promoting peace. Look at the people who’s hearts were touched by this year’s attacks in Paris, Turkey, Belgium, Kuwait, Tunisia, Yemen, Nigeria and beyond. Whenever I visit a new destination, I’ll find a way to identify with it and its local people. When these same places are harmed, I feel a deep sense of sadness, empathy and helplessness.
“Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.” – Nelson Mandela
One of the most powerful ways to fight terrorism is to keep travelling and living life as usual. I was scheduled to visit Paris a month after the terrorist attacks kicked off. I stuck to my plan and had an incredible time speaking with locals and immersing myself in Parisian culture – a culture of strength, diversity, resilience and passion.
I don’t claim to understand the ins and outs of recent terrorist events. The story of terrorism is way too complex and inhumane for me to possibly comprehend. What I do know is I’m not going to let a cowardly minority of poisonous people dictate my life choices, threaten my aspirations or affect my happiness. I’m too stubborn for that. So, I’ll simply fight back the best way I know how; with optimism in my heart, dreams in my head, and a plane ticket in my hand.