“Perhaps travel cannot prevent bigotry, but by demonstrating that all peoples cry, laugh, eat, worry, and die, it can introduce the idea that if we try and understand each other, we may even become friends.”
– Maya Angelou
In light of the past year of terrifying events in Brussels, Paris and most recently in this week in Orlando, it seems every day the world becomes a scarier place to exist. Being a baby of the 90s with the privilege to be born and raised in rural Idaho, I haven’t experienced the struggle of a war torn country, or the life of a refugee seeking safe haven. I have been blessed to experience fear of the “bad guys” of the world from the other side of a tv screen. Even the attacks of 9/11 occurred 3000 miles from my hometown and before I was even on the bus to the second grade.
I realized when I was old enough to see it objectively, these attacks and the media circulation of photographs of Bin Laden instilled fear in me. Because the photos the media publicized, the ones I can still see in my mind to this day, was what I associated with terrorism, I feared an entire religion and culture people who resembled the photos. A fear of what I did not know or understand was born. I wasn’t taught discrimination, but in our determination to fight terrorism, I was taught fear.
I am not sure if it is because I have gotten older so I pay more attention or if the world is really getting more evil with each passing day. Perhaps it’s a bit of both, but either way terror is coloring the world. Fear is a powerful thing. Fear is making the evil seem bigger and the good seem smaller, it is distorting our views on the world. From a traveler’s point of view, I believe it is what holds us back the most. I remember clear as if it was yesterday, talking with someone very close to me about my solo trip, the fact that I want to do my Master’s in Italy, and that I want to live in different places around the world for the next portion of my life. He asked me point blank, “why would you want to do that when ISIS is bombing Europe?”
I remember my first thought was, “oh my gosh, he is right. This is really dangerous.” But as quickly as that thought appeared, it passed. Terror exists everywhere in the world because fear can take hold anywhere. From a child watching a scary movie, to sleeping in a home alone for the first time to watching horrible senseless attacks play out on the news to being afraid of who you are because the world doesn’t understand you. The saddest part? There will always be bad guys in the world. There will always be people who rather than encourage civil discourse, enact violence. Right now it is ISIS and other extremists, before it was communism and the Iron Curtain, before that Hitler, it goes on and on throughout history.
As a traveler, reading news articles about commands being given to carry out attacks throughout the United States and Europe can be paralyzing. But paralysis from fear is the goal and we mustn’t give in. We can’t think that since Paris and Brussels had bombs go off that we shouldn’t travel to these countries and experience the amazingly resilient cultures for ourselves. We can’t deny the understanding of an entire region in the Middle East simply because of extremist holds in certain parts. Just as much as we can’t deny experiencing life in a third world country in Africa for fear of disease or lack of modern luxuries.
Bad things can and will happen anywhere and everywhere in the world. This may force travelers to exercise extra security measures and self-awareness. Most of all it requires the determination to watch the backs of our fellow travelers and human beings, but not let the fear win. The greatest shame of these terror-filled acts would be the isolation of world cultures. A few evil people does not make an evil country, culture, or religion. Sure there are places that at this time are unsafe to travel to, and warnings are meant to be heeded. However, I cannot say that I will never travel to the Middle East because the first thing I associated with the words Iraq, Iran and Afghanistan was the fear I felt from the 9/11 attacks as a child.
I do not use this post as a political stance or a soapbox to voice my opinions on current policies and diplomatic choices. Truthfully, writing helps me process. As a young, female, solo, American traveler, the media makes me nervous to travel, makes me check over my shoulder every 6 seconds, and makes me fear for an attack in every city I am visiting. But we mustn’t let fear run our lives. If we are to perish from evil, let us live a life now denying that evil the allowance to take hold in our world. We cannot allow evil to let culture turn against culture. The beauty of travel is the education and allowance to understand an environment and way of life that is different from your own. We fear things we do not understand. Let us not let fear build on fear by keeping us from taking the steps to engage in conversation and understand the world around us. We cannot let fear keep us from living our lives, but teach us to be aware of our surroundings and show us the importance of understanding one another, especially those most different from us or our way of thinking. How boring would the world be if we were all the same?
-The Very Hungry Traveler