On a recent trip one of my fellow travelers asked me if I am afraid to travel to Europe now. At first I drew a blank, not understanding what he was talking about. But after a moment I realized he was referring to terrorist attacks that have taken place in Europe over the last year. And then I wondered to myself: Why is it that I don’t react that way? I hear these tragic stories and of course I feel for the victims of these horrible, senseless acts of violence. But for me, somehow it never leads me to the conclusion that I should stay home.
Certainly such incidents do not lead me to believe that it is unsafe to travel to Europe, which remains one of the most wonderful places of all to visit, with no end of cultural and historical wonders and sensory pleasures to enjoy. I know there is risk in traveling, though I’m not convinced it is much more dangerous than staying home. And I do cherish and enjoy my time at home as well as my time traveling. Both have a place in my life. And both carry some risk. But I just don’t make the connection that some others do between tragic incidents I hear about and travel.
Maybe I just don’t want to recognize it because I enjoy traveling so much and I don’t want to stop no matter what. When I am traveling I am so wrapped up in the fascination of it moment by moment that the last thing I am going to be thinking about is the fear of being attacked.
It could happen to me, of course, just as it could to anyone. But I have looked at statistical analyses of the risks and they do not justify much anxiety. The risk of being the victim of a terrorist attack is almost infinitesimal, and very random. And there’s not a lot I can do to affect it. I can and do take reasonable precautions, but I know I can never totally eliminate risk.
Our own National Counter Terrorism Center has said that more people are killed by falling furniture in their own homes than by terrorist attacks. It is a fact that many times more people die in traffic accidents within a few miles from home than when traveling to foreign countries. That is more or less my perspective on it. I resolved these issues for myself a long time ago. If I had let fear of terrorism stop me from traveling years ago, I would never have had many of the greatest experiences that I have had during all those years. And I would not have the memories that so enrich my life today.
I can’t make any rational connection between the risks of terrorism and the idea of avoiding travel. Danger can emerge at any moment anywhere, I’m not oblivious to that. Or on second thought, maybe I am. When I travel, I am more or less oblivious to it. I am so wrapped up in the euphoria of discovery that it pushes those negative thoughts out of my consciousness.
If I turn on the cable news channels I can hear all the bad news one could ever want to know about and much more. But it doesn’t translate for me into a fear of leaving my home or my country.
Ironically, many of my most enjoyable travel experiences have taken place soon after a terrorist attack has frightened many people away from the destination. I almost feel guilty at those times because that is in many ways the best time to travel. The tourist sites are less crowded. Security operations are at their highest state of vigilance. People at the destination are more welcoming than ever. They are so grateful for your presence they treat you like royalty.
I persist in believing that the greatest force for building peace in the world is for people from different countries to meet each other, get to know each other and interact. So I nurture the belief that I am doing my little part in promoting world peace and harmony when I travel.
It’s a belief I have come to not just because I read it somewhere. I can feel it when I travel. I feel it in the warmth of the people I meet.
I have my fears just like anyone else, and when I am gripped by fear it can be paralyzing. Surely we all sometimes fall victim to fear. No one is immune to it.
But fortunately for me, travel is not something I fear. The times I am most likely to think of terrorism is when I am in front of the television watching reports about it, not when I am traveling. There are too many other things taking my attention when I am traveling for me to worry.
It is impossible to ever completely remove risk from life. But we are in a time when the most exotic and remote destinations more accessible than ever before. What a shame not to take advantage of it because of fear of something that is highly unlikely.
Yes, we are mortal. No one lives forever. That is all the more reason to live life as fully as possible.
This is our time. It may not be perfect, but this is the time we have to live. We must make the most of it. If we wait till there’s no trouble in the world before we go ahead with our lives, we’ll be waiting a long time.
As I close I am reminded of a song by Paul Simon called “Bookends” that ends with a little verse that goes like this:
Time it was
And what a time it was
A time of innocence
A time of confidences
Long ago it must be
I have a photograph
Preserve your memories
They’re all that’s left you
– Paul Simon
Until next time, I bid you fond farewell, and happy travels.
Your Humble Reporter,
A. Colin Treadwell