It probably feels like every time you turn on the news or open up your Facebook Feed that you are staring at yet another gut wrenching story about a mass shooting, a public bombing or some other disgusting act of terror. It is so easy to spiral into a thought process that nothing and nowhere is safe because it feels like something heinous is happening in every corner of the world right now and .
Know Your Facts
While any amount of violence or terrorist act is simply not ok, it is important that we keep our facts straight for our own sanity as well as for an optimistic view point for our selves and the world. In fact, there are some pretty big misconceptions about travel and terrorism.
Did you know: There Were More Terror Attacks and Deaths Due to Terror in the 80’s and 90’s than Today
Currently living in Germany, I am heartbroken with the string of recent events happening in this country, from the ax attack on the train, to the mall shooting, the bombing at a music festival and the machete attack to a pregnant mother. Almost all of these situations were extremely close to where I live, occurring in locations that I have frequented often. It is easy to think, “Oh My God! I can’t even leave my house because something might happen today!!”
However, let’s look back in history. I found this post extremely enlightening, showing that there were both more terror attacks and more deaths due to terror attacks in the 1990s in Europe than what is currently happening today. What IS changing is that the source of terror (ISIS and extremists) has shifted. The “novelty” of a different type threat is psychologically appealing to humans. We are are more drawn to something that is new to us and we are naturally more scared of grim events causing death, compared to something like heart disease (the number one killer in the world). Looking at the data, we can see that what is causing the terror attacks is changing and even the methods they are using but that does NOT mean that we are more likely to actually be involved in one ourselves, even if we are traveling.
In fact, did you know that you are more likely to be killed in a car accident from your daily driving or even from diabetes and even some cancers than you are to die from a terrorist attack while traveling or going about your daily life? Or let’s look at something that is 100% realistic for a traveler: the sun. How many times have you gotten burnt while relaxing on the beach or because you forgot to reapply after a long morning of site seeing? Did you know that you are more likely to get skin cancer than you are to be involved in a terror attack?
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Can you continue to travel despite fears of terror attacks? I’ve already written about how I won’t let groups like ISIS win by living in fear. If I stop traveling or living my life because I am scared, isn’t that the sort of the thing they want???
Especially now with Lil B in the mix, I am more aware of risks and concerns for safety now, more than ever before. While I have not stopped traveling, I have started to readjust HOW I travel.
Be A Vigilant Traveler
In today’s day and age, it seems that no matter what you are doing in life, you must remain vigilant. Even around the comfort of your own town, it’s easy to be distracted. However, we can still have safe travels. But if there was ever a time to be vigilant, it would be while traveling.
Prior To Traveling:
Check for Travel Warnings and Restricted Travel
You can check to see what countries have warnings and alerts out on the official US Department of State Site in order to help plan a safe trip. If you are US personnel stationed abroad, you can check the current restrictions here.
For US Citizens, enroll in the US Department of State’s STEP Program. You’ll get alerts and travel warnings for wherever you live as well as where you register where you’ll be traveling to. If you need to be contacted, they will know how to do so as well.
Don’t Post to Social Media
It is so easy to not even think twice about posting a quick status update of “Last minute packing for Rome…here we come!” But there are several reasons to stay away from social media while away. First, no matter where you live, once someone knows you are away from your home, it makes your house that much more vulnerable to robbery. Alternatively, you never know who sees your posts. If you are worried about standing out as an American (or any other nationality) in a foreign city, then don’t publicize it before leaving!
Wait until you get home to post all your favorite pictures and status updates instead.
Keep Digital Copies of Important Documents
It is easy to scan in your Passport photo page, any required visas and other important documents that you might need while traveling. I don’t carry my actual documents around with me because if in the event that they would get lost or stolen, I’d then be screwed! However, I do keep the copies in my backpack, that way if a serious incident were to occur, I would have proof on me of my identity, which should be enough to get you into a consulate, embassy or safe house during a crisis.
Walk With Your Hand On Your Pocket
Even if you think your wallet is safe, while walking in busy and touristy areas or while riding public transportation, keep your hand directly on your wallet. If you are carrying a bag, keep valuables in a section that isn’t easy to just reach in and grab. Pick-pocketers are EXTREMELY good at what they do, but if you have your eye on what they want or have made it hard for them to get, they will often stay away.
When we are carrying a backpack with us, one of us will always walk half a step behind the other. This way, we can keep an eye on our belongings, no matter what kind of crowd we are in.
Take Notice of Who is Around You
No need to be paranoid, but do look around. Does anyone look like they are particularly interested in you or your conversation? Does anything look “suspicious?” It’s ok to trust your gut and move away from anything that doesn’t feel right to you.
Don’t Be Distracted
While walking around or even on public transportation, don’t be distracted by smartphones or headphones. Look into people’s eyes as you walk and give an air of confidence that you know where you are going (even when you don’t!)
Try Not to Look Lost
Nothing shouts “TOURIST!” like someone with their head stuck in a map or glued to your googlemap app! Try your best to plan a walking route beforehand or stop at a café or shop if you need to take a long look at your map instead of standing out on a streetcorner.
Staying Safe in a World Full of Terror
Even though you now know how to be a vigilant traveler no matter where you go, you may still be buying into the fear mongering that social media has done such an amazing job of creating in regards to terror in today’s world. But I still urge you to not let those fears stop you from traveling and even simply living your daily lives. Yes, the world we live in is changing, so with that, you may need to change some of your habits as well, including what you do for and while traveling but that doesn’t mean to completely stop.
Travel insurance, Agencies and Tours
Did you know that you can actually get travel insurance that covers terrorist attacks and even war? If you are that concerned about something happening, consider finding a plan that includes these in your travel insurance.
Some people find comfort in booking with an agency or going with a tour as well. While nobody can say if or when an incident may occur, organizations are not going to take you to areas or neighborhoods that are known to have increased risks.
Avoid Public Transportation
I will fully admit that this is something that I would not heed my own advice on. Why? Because public transportation is often the cheapest and easiest way of getting around a city. I love watching the locals on a subway or bus and again, I won’t let my fears keep me from living my daily life. However, some people may take comfort in avoiding something like the public transportation in a city. Therefore, if you want to take yet another mode of precaution, you could choose to find a driver or taxi to help you get around if that would make you rest easier.
Avoid Large Gatherings
Again, take this as far as what will make you feel comfortable. You might be traveling for the sole purpose of seeing a concert or attending a certain service so there may simply be no way of avoiding hundreds of people. I myself was just at a German Wine Fest just a few weeks ago because I wasn’t going to let the fear of a crowd stop me from enjoying a beautiful afternoon experiencing the local culture. But if avoiding large groups is what will make you feel more willing and comfortable to travel, then I still think it’s better to go this route than not to travel at all!
Constantly Be Scanning Your Surroundings
Remember, no matter where you choose to go or what you decide to see, be a vigilant traveler! Don’t become so obsessive that you forget to enjoy your vacation, but remember to always be looking around. Do you know where the nearest door is? Are you aware that someone is standing directly behind you? Could you choose a train car that has less people? Always be thinking about what is going on around you.
Have the Address of the Nearest Consulate or Embassy and your Hotel
In your pocket, bag or purse, have the address and even phone number of the nearest consulate, embassy and your hotel. Chances are high that you’ll never need this, but it is always best to be a prepared traveler for whatever situation could arise.
In the Rare Event That Something Does Happen
Not to be a broken record and certainly not to downplay recent events, but I can’t stress enough the rare possibility of something happening while you are traveling. In the unfortunate event that something does, think about the even more slim chance of you actually being in the exact same location and the exact same time. Despite this logical reasoning, I can still understand one’s hesitancy. Instead of staying inside for the rest of your life out of fear, simply prepare yourself.
Have a Pre-Determined Meeting Location
If you are traveling with a group or your family, decide each morning where a good meeting place would be if you were to get separated for any sort of reason, even if you just get lost. Maybe you decide on it being your hotel, or a shop or restaurant where you’ll be near all day or even just that big tree over across the street. It is good to get in the habit of communicating with your whole group because even without acts of violence, it can be easy to get separated from your pack and everyone should know what to do if that does happen. Even when we are skiing, we always say something like “If we get separated for more than 30 minutes, meet at the “XYZ Lodge.” Rarely do we need to use this, but we feel better knowing we have a course of action.
Have an Exit Strategy
Now with Lil B around, I am always thinking about his safety, so this is something I have been doing more and more often as we continue to travel. When I walk into a room, I take note of the nearest door, any places of possible hiding, where the windows are etc. If I am out and about walking, I am scanning my surroundings for cars to hide under, shops that I could duck into or nooks to slide into. I don’t become obsessive about it, but I have trained myself to do this as second nature. It doesn’t intrude on my experience and it isn’t always putting a seed of fear into my mind, but I do know what is going on around me. If nothing else, that makes me “feel” safer.
Ok, maybe way easier said than done, right? But in the very rare instance that something should occur while you are traveling, or even just going about your daily business, stop and immediately scan your surroundings and think. Quickly formulate a plan in your mind, especially if with a family. While the most important thing at that moment is your life and the lives of your loved ones, panic and disorder is not going to help you.
I can’t imagine a life where I am too afraid to live. After all, bad things happen. There are horrible people out there in the world. But where does that fear stop? What if I let that fear keep me from walking out my front door? Do I let it prevent me from grocery shopping (in a public place, potentially with a large gathering of people)? Do I let it stop me from taking my family out to dinner or stopping at a sidewalk cafe for a cappucino? Do I let it paralyze me and convince myself that travel is a sure fire way of coming across a terrorist situation?
Have I changed the way I act in public places and when traveling?
YES. I am sad to say that this is just the world we live in today. But I am vigilant now even in my local town and village all the way to when I am out and about in the world. But I still walk out the door everyday and live my life. I travel without fear.
I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again. I don’t want Lil B growing up afraid and scared. I’d rather teach him the skills to be an independent thinker and a person who can logically and rationally think through things. Travel and terrorism don’t need to be simultaneous. I want him growing up experiencing a world that is beautiful, amazing and has so much to offer him. I want him to know that while there are always going to be bad apples, that there are also always going to be amazing and kind humans all over the world that we can learn from. Yes, he will know that there are dangers and yes he will be aware that bad people exist, but I want him to grow up knowing that by living in fear is letting them win.
And I hate losing.
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