International travel: weighing the risks

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People have been traveling the world for ages. I love reading about people in London who packed up their belongings including porcelain tea sets and took off to explore Africa. They didn’t have news coverage, email, cellphones or even maps in some cases. They just went without knowing what they might find

My father chose a career that took him overseas. We lived in six different countries on five continents. By the time I was one year old, I had been all the way around the world. When I was five, the plane we were in crashed in Denver, Colorado. Two weeks later we were on another plane headed for Asia.

When we returned from Asia, I was six and we lived on the American continent until I was 15. From six to twelve, I never got on an airplane. It wasn’t until I was in my 20’s that I heard why. I had been so traumatized by the plane crash, I would go into hysterics when it was time to board a plane. It became easier to take a train or drive. But it didn’t mean we stopped traveling. When we lived in Mexico we drove all over Mexico and often drove all the way to Wisconsin.

When I was twelve, I took my first plane trip in six years. It was kind of a test flight to see how I would manage. I managed fine which made it easier for everybody. Our next move was to South America and then on to Africa and Europe. It would have been a challenge for us to avoid plane travel.

Pura-Taman-Ayun_templeSomebody recently asked me why people travel. With planes getting shot down and shot at and all the terrorism going on, why do it? Why even think about going to areas of the world where there is conflict?

I obviously have travel in my blood. It is a part of who I am. Even though I don’t particularly like to fly, I put up with it because I want to get to where I’m going. In this case it is not so much about enjoying the journey but the destination. I love seeing places I have read about and imagined. I love the smells, the weather, the people, the food. . One of my favorite things to do is wander around a new city with no particular destination in mind and soak it all up. I find anything different exciting. Even if it is a challenge in the moment, it is a positive memory. Rain in Scotland is not wonderful but expected and part of the whole experience.

Of course getting shot at and kidnapped is probably not going to be a good memory. I have friends who lived in countries where war broke out and they had to be evacuated, sometimes right through the war zone. That is not something you would probably do as a tourist unless you were very unlucky.

The fact is people travel because the world is generally a safe place. If you do your homework and plan your trip, you will have positive experiences. People are the same the world over. They love their family, they want to be happy and have friends, they want to be able to feed and care for the people they love. This is universal. They also are proud of their country and want other people to love it as much as they do. I have been in sticky situations in foreign lands where complete strangers reached out and helped me with no hope of personal gain.

One thing I have done all my life is make sure I am aware of my surroundings. I have walked down streets and felt uncomfortable and reversed direction or found a quick way to get out of the area. However, that happens in the US as much as anyplace else.

In this day and age we have so much information coming at us so quickly, it is sometimes difficult to filter it. In 2002 and 2005 there were terrorist bombings in Bali, Indonesia where over 200 people where killed. Yet in 2013, 3.27 million people visited Bali. I’ve never been there but I know it is a beautiful place and is someplace I would like to visit one day. Could it have more problems? Indonesia is home to one of the largest Muslim populations in the world and extremists did bomb tourist sites. Yes, they could do it again. But given the opportunity, I would probably take my chances. Sometimes you just have to believe in fate. There are no other explanations.

At any given time, there are about 7 or 8 wars going on in the world that we never hear about. The press sometimes leans toward sensationalism and can be skewed to favor one group or another. Also, it helps to know your geography. For example, Dubai, largest city in the UAE, is in the Middle East. It is a Muslim country. Expats make up 91% of the population with over 9,000 Americans living in Dubai. In 2011, 9 million people visited Dubai. I would not hesitate to go there. It is nowhere near Syria.

Petra, Jordan
Petra, Jordan

Jordan, on the other hand borders Israel, Lebanon, Syria and Iraq. Petra, one of the Seven Wonders of the World, is in Jordan along with many important historical and cultural sites. In 2005, three hotels were bombed by suicide bombers resulting in 60 dead. In 2010 there were 8 million visitors to Jordan. I might be a bit nervous about flying into Jordan but I would still love to go there.

No travel is 100% safe. Even getting in your car to go to the grocery store is a potential risk. You have to weigh your desire to broaden your mind and learn new things and see amazing places with your desire to be safe and secure. Yes, planes blow up or get shot down, or crash on their own. Yes, there are extremist bombers who could target a tourist area. But if you are smart and do your homework, the odds are against it happening to you. For me it is worth taking the chance.