Terrorism. Top of the current affairs list and a subject that is slowly becoming part of our everyday vernacular. There are headlines, articles and full page spreads in our broadsheet and red top newspapers on an ever increasing basis; the News channel’s streaming banners all contain constant updates on the current situation. This is particularly prevalent in the UK at the moment what with the recent atrocities in London, Manchester and then London again. These feats of terror are not just UK based and we have seen much of western Europe also suffer its (un)fair share of extremism over the past few years. The Middle East, Asia, Africa, and even as far afield as Australia are also fighting their own wars on these fronts. The fears of being caught up in the next, entirely unpredictable, attack can often play on our minds when considering our next holiday destination and make us overly cautious when picking new locations to stay or explore.
With the summer season rapidly approaching I thought now might be a good time to gently approach the subject of Terrorism and Tourism as well as sharing my experiences in foreign lands during their trying times.
Do we stay at home in fear? Do we assume all strangers have a deadly agenda? Do we avoid crowded places? No. No. And…. Mostly no.
“Only in the darkness can you see the stars”
– Martin Luther King Junior
Travel is an Education
Through my travels I have learned so much about the wonders of human nature. It is amazing how genuinely caring people are; you can just see it in their faces when you travel. All people. All races. Across the globe. No matter where in the world you are, you will struggle to find a person who would not offer you a shelter, food or water if they find you in a difficult circumstance. Language barrier or not.
“No one is born hating another person because of the colour of his skin, his background or his religion”
Believe it or not right around the globe all people have compassion in their hearts; they are born with it. After the incidents in London, Manchester and indeed Paris last year you will find countless accounts of strangers offering free car rides, homes for the evening or food for the families. In atrocities we find ourselves closer than ever. In struggle we become one.
There is no need for a tough, xenophobic stance of other communities or cultures, as we are all one humankind. Of course there are different beliefs or cultural customs that may on the face of it seems strange (not strange, just different) to us – but all people are born kind hearted and well intentioned. It is only the smallest of small minorities that want to cause this distraction we see reoccurring so often on the news channels.
In regards to personal safety in public places, I recommend that you just keep your wits about you. There is no need to alter plans but as a precaution you should try to be a bit more aware of your surroundings. In crowded areas make sure there is an easy escape route (perhaps skirt around the edges of the masses) and if you feel uncomfortable then calmly and cautiously double back. The advice in the UK is to always RUN, HIDE and TELL.
“If you judge people, you have no time to love them”
– Mother Teresa
Where actually is safe anyways?
I must admit, despite not giving in to these modern day cowboys I do apply some caution regarding picking my destination. Always take advice from the FCO. If they do not recommend travelling then simply do not travel; it is amazing how informed these agencies are and how quickly they will raise or drop travel announcements based on intelligence (such as this inteligence led warning by Israel warning in March). From a personal standpoint, I would largely avoid the beachey and crowded tourist areas of Northern Africa/Arabian countries for a while longer. After the incident in Tunisia some years ago I don’t think I would feel comfortable laying on a beach where others may have been felled. Remember though, the locals offered shelter, kept the tourists well informed and a group of builders even began throwing bricks and masonry at the criminal in an effort to preserve lives. Solid work by the local community against a cowardly lone wolf; a classic example of human nature.
That being said, I would have no issues travelling to Marrakech, for example, and staying somewhere slightly out of the centre. All inclusive resorts and less crowded areas seem a pretty safe bet and the security in these places is both for your own benefit and theirs. I will always remember a trip we took to Sharm el Sheikh, Egypt in 2013 soon after their civil problems. We actually abandoned our first hotel as it was soo quiet, such was the effect of the fall in tourism. On our return from an excursion we had a tour guide that was nearly in tears, thanking us for still travelling to his home country. Our tourism keeps him employed and keeps food on the table for his family and friends. At this point it was only the UK and Germany flying to Sharm. Unfortunately, it seems the city has been suffering ever since. I feel for the families affected.
“I truly believe the only way we can create global peace is through not only educating our minds but our hearts and souls”
– Malala Yousafzai
Working and travelling in central London I am no safer here than anywhere else.
Civil wars, military coups and good old fashioned jihadism. We’ve traveled to many countries that have been in the midst of attempted uprisings on several occasions. We don’t cause the unsettlement, we swear… although I’m sure the FCO would get a bit suspicious if they checked some of the stamps in my passport… Sometimes these trips have been prebooked and in other circumstances we have booked them despite knowing about ‘the threat’.
Our recent trip to Paris had me watching the news on the run up to our March vacation. I had, in fact, initially planned to visit for Valentine’s weekend (being that it is the Wife’s birthday that weekend) however I decided that the ‘city of love’ on the ‘most romantic day of the year’ may be a bit of a target in itself. We pushed the date back slightly, but still watched the news articles being pumped out just a few weeks before hand that in which a machete wielding man was shot dead outside of the Louvre. We took a train from the airport to the city and it was a touching, somber experience passing my the Stad de France and remembering the atrocities and panic that must have occurred here not so long a go. Without listing all these attacks (there was another one just this week) we felt as safe as anywhere else whilst in Paris. We cannot let these people ruin our lives. We met some outstanding people of all races and really felt the community spirit buzzing around this metropolitan city.
“I am not afraid. I was born to do this”
– Joan of arc
Looking back to Egypt and our visit in 2013. We were relaxing in a Jacuzzi pool, all on our own inside our empty hotel complex. Bang bang bang. The unmistakable sound of gunshots rung out and echoed off of the empty buildings around us. Shit. Has something hit the fan? I stood up, unsure whether to run, hide or laugh it off. A worried tourist appeared on a balcony window and shouted down at us “did you hear that?!”, “erm….. yeah…. what the fuck….” was my likely response as the water around me began to tinge a funny brown colour. A passing gardener told us to have no fear- they did this to ‘celebrate the first day of the month’. Fantastic. That’s one way to get the heart pumping in the morning. Other than that, security was super tight and we felt super protected. The resorts very much have a ‘ring of steel’ to protect them in the Sinai peninsular.
Sticking with Africa, our visit to Marrakesh was largely uneventful however we were aware that the main square, Jemaa El-Fnaa has been the target of several strikes in the past. Its quite hard to keep an eye on the situation here as you’re surrounded by a circus of smells and sights; be it the outdoor food market, the snakes, the caged monkeys, the music, the dancing, the smells, the colours, the camel traffic. It really is otherworldly. This is a perfect example where it is best to scoot around the edges whilst still enjoying the eclectic vibes.
Thailand in 2014. Military coups and uprisings seems to be a common thing around this time in Thailand. Curfews were reported on the news and protests were often large and unruly. It doesn’t have to be Jihadi John blowing up the cities – it happens everywhere and for every reason. You can’t let these things hold you back from some amazing experiences.
“Let your smile change the world, but don’t let the world change your smile”
– Yeah… i found this one on a meme. Sorry…
We sure do pick our holiday destinations…
I feel like I’ve gone off track, but then I’m not even sure I ever was on one. I think a good summary would be:
Be vigilant, not fearful
Be open minded, not scared
Don’t let the scaremongering put you off of your adventures. You do you and don’t let anybody stop you. Don’t let stranger’s prejudices hold you back from exploring the world and opening up your own mind. Don’t be narrow and closed minded like they are, that’s exactly what they want. Don’t let them win. Explore more.