I remember waking up and hopping on Facebook. A few posts by friends caught my attention:
“My heart is with those in Paris”.
Scrolling further, oblivious and confused, some references to France’s national motto, “liberté, égalité, fraternité”.
Something was wrong. The next few minutes was spent reading news article after news article, clambering for any information I could find. I remember feeling sick, completely devastated.
I could feel pain in my chest, wishing I could do something for the people in Paris. But I couldn’t.
My trip with my partner was scheduled to commence two weeks after the attacks occurred. We were to land in Brussels, and make our way around Central and Western Europe. For me, it was the trip of a lifetime. Should we bypass Paris? Was it safe? Should we go at all?
I’m not going to deny it – we were pretty scared and we did seriously consider replanning, and, for a moment (just a split second!) almost considered cancelling. It seemed crazy to us, and to our friends and family that we would be willingly walking into such an unstable political environment. But, nervously, and somewhat hesitantly at the time, we decided to keep our plans as they were.
As it happens, the day we flew into Brussels, we did have to change our plans.
That day, the whole city went into lockdown. It was very scary, being told to stay away from airports and train stations, when they were precisely the two places that we needed to be. And it was truly frightening to arrive in a foreign country, seeing only military men with huge guns inhabiting the train stations, not another soul in sight. But we continued on our trip, rearranged our plans as necessary, and ended up visiting what later became one of our favourite towns in Europe instead.
And when we later reached Paris, the mood was completely inexplicable. Words can’t really describe the atmosphere that had engulfed the city. What I can say for it though, was that revisiting one of my favourite cities in the world at such a hard time for them only helped me understand the French way of unity, and of “liberté, égalité, fraternité” even more. The reaction to the events weeks prior was only one of unity and inclusion. It showed me how strong France was, as a country. And it showed me how powerful unity and togetherness after such horrific tragedies can be.
A large part of the fear surrounding the threat of terrorism is the fear-mongering that goes on in the media. My answer to this is not to travel less, but in fact, to travel more.
By travelling, we break down stereotypes and understand things as they are instead of as they are reported to be. We see things for ourselves, make our own judgements, our own opinions. We interact with locals, we see the beauty in their lives, in their cultures, and in their smiles.
In the current political climate, it is much more damaging to stay at home. By doing so, you absorb all the terrible news of the world that is being broadcast straight to your living room.
Hatred is far less likely to breed if we’re all out there experiencing different cultures and interacting with locals. We realise each other’s similarities, and we interact with other cultures, seeing how exquisite each and every culture can be. We learn to identify the dramatization and fear-mongering that goes on in the media as false.
It is so important to keep travelling, even when disaster strikes, for this reason. Travel opens people’s minds and ultimately promotes tolerance and an increased understanding of differences. If you scrap your plans and stop travelling, you’re stopping yourself from seeing and experiencing this for yourself.
Terrorism is shocking: the entire point of it is to provoke fear. Stepping into a foreign country can be terrifying enough without the added stress of current political events. I understand. It’s really scary! But that shouldn’t stop you from travelling.
To put it blatantly, in the western world, we are all far more likely to die from a variety of different reasons back at home than we are from terrorism.
Need more convincing? Take an everyday action such as driving, for example. It’s a totally normal and regular thing for us all, but if you think about it, thousands of people die on the roads each year. And while we certainly take time to remember these wonderful people that are tragically lost, we continue about our days, and it doesn’t stop us from driving.
No, they’re not the same thing, but the fact is, we can’t let fear stop us from living our lives. And we can’t let terrorism stop us from travelling, because if we do, we’re letting the fear control us. Fear should never control your actions and your dreams.
My trip to Europe in 2015 did turn out to be the trip of a lifetime.
I made lifelong memories and experienced different cultures for myself. I ate Czech foods and drank German beer. I visited tiny Dutch towns, and got lost in the winding Parisian streets. I explored medieval castles and relished in the history of each country we visited. If we’d let our fear consume us (and yep, we were scared), these are all experiences I might never have had.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s so important to look out for yourself when you’re travelling, regardless of the current events. Travelling can be dangerous at times, but if you take a few minor precautions you can minimise the risks.
Always stay informed and update yourself with current events. Do a bit of research on the countries you’re visiting before you arrive. Find out what vaccinations you might need, check the laws, get informed on what kinds of tourist scams you might run into on your travels. And very importantly: always buy travel insurance.
My heart really does go out to all the people of Berlin, of Germany, of Europe and around the world. The tragedies in Aleppo, the terrible events in Turkey, in Jordan, in Pakistan, and everywhere else in the world affected by the current threat of terrorism, my thoughts are truly with you at this hard time.