“You shouldn’t visit Istanbul right now.”
“Bosnia? Is it safe to travel there?”
I’ve heard endless variations of these statements again and again over the years.
And I’ve always maintained that, yes it is safe to visit [insert country], and no, I’m not crazy for wanting to travel there – despite the threat of a terror attack, despite the fact that it’s the setting of one of the most heartbreaking wars in recent history, despite what the current headlines portray.
I don’t mind addressing these types of questions and concerns, and I try to empathize with friends and family members who fear for my safety whenever I leave the country. But I have little patience for these statements when they’re rooted in complete lack of understanding and sheer ignorance – which seems to be happening more frequently given the current state of the world.
I wouldn’t label any country I’ve travelled to as “dangerous,” but I can understand why the average person would beg to differ. Mainstream media does a brilliant job of instilling fear and panic with sensationalized news stories, continually portraying the world as a horrible, unsafe place.
That’s the unfortunate reality today – not that the world is actually filled with terrorists – but that the fear-mongering media blatantly uses propaganda to influence people’s beliefs and opinions. (Don’t get me started on this – that’s a topic for a blog post of its own.)
As major media outlets continue to spread fear and misinformation, I will continue to take everything they say with a grain of salt. I will continue to travel to so-called unsafe countries.
In fact, my current travel wish list is comprised of these types of destinations almost exclusively: Iran, Kyrgyzstan, Ukraine, Israel, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (seriously – read this post and this post and then tell me you don’t want to visit the Congo).
Apparently the “exercise with a high degree of caution” travel advisory from the Canadian government is something I look for in a travel destination these days.
Truthfully, I choose to visit “dangerous” countries because I am innately curious and inherently drawn to them. I also feel compelled to spread truth and positivity about misunderstood destinations and the people who live there. There’s nothing I love more than returning from a country that everyone warns against visiting, only to proclaim it’s one of the best places I’ve ever been.
India, for example, is one of my all-time favourite countries. It’s the only place I’ve experienced genuine culture shock, a place that made me utter the phrase “what in the actual f&#$” every single day. And I loved it. It’s the most beautifully chaotic, eye-opening country I’ve visited thus far.
That’s part of the problem, isn’t it? The most rewarding destinations are often the most misunderstood.
And in a time when terror, hatred, racism, and violence dominate the headlines, understanding is necessary. Compassion is necessary. Tolerance is necessary.
Travel is a catalyst for knowledge; it facilitates understanding, empathy, and awareness. It helps to diminish ignorance and prejudice. Travel reminds us just how similar we are; despite cultural, racial, and religious differences, we are all more alike than we realize – or perhaps care to admit.
Ignorance, fear, and intolerance are far more dangerous than the potential risk associated with travel to any of the countries I’ve mentioned.
So I will continue to travel as I always have, I’ll continue to visit “unsafe” destinations, and I’ll continue to depict them in a positive light.
And if I happen to aid in changing the perception of even a single person, better yet.
I wanted to include a quote from this HuffPost article – which I love – and which I think speaks poignantly to this topic:
“Don’t cancel your trip to Berlin or Paris or Zurich or Turkey. Or Cleveland or Calgary for that matter. Keep travelling. In an increasingly insane world, it’s a small way of standing up for what’s right.”
Have you been to any “dangerous” countries? How do you deal with ignorant questions and statements when you travel?