Scared to Travel? Go Anyway.

In response to terrorist attacks in recent years, I have seen many blog posts and articles address the question, “Is it safe to travel?”  The authors invariably argue that, on balance, we should feel OK venturing forth. They offer arguments such as, “You’re more likely to be hit by a car at home than die in a terrorist attack.”  Or,”The vast majority of tourists will never feel the impact of a terrorist attack.”  All true.

Let’s be honest, though—people are not crazy to be afraid of traveling.  We live in a dangerous world.  Terrorist attacks are, well, terrifying.  That is the point of the attacks–to sow fear, panic, and distress among a civilian population. If you aren’t at least a little apprehensive of travel, then you haven’t been paying attention.

I understand the instinct to stick close to home.  In fact, for those who really never liked to travel anyway, feel free to stay home.  I would give you that advice regardless of terrorism.  You just aren’t very fun to have as a fellow traveler, because you don’t like traveling. That’s OK.

Then there are the rest of us.  The ones who can’t imagine a year, let alone a month, without experiencing a new city, a novel experience, or an unfamiliar culture.  We are the ones who need to square our shoulders and shake off the jitters. Be scared to travel, but go anyway.

I don’t write this lightly.  I have come face-to-face with terrorism, and my determination has come at a price.  I lived two blocks from the Pentagon in a suburb of Washington, D.C., on September 11, 2001.  My apartment was located in a neighborhood called Pentagon City.  The plane that plowed into the Pentagon like a rocket that day left a gigantic, fiery hole that I watched from the roof of my building.  The raging fire at the site of the attack reignited later that night, and I woke up terrified and choking on the thick smoke of burning jet fuel in my bedroom.

Unlike so many others, I was fortunate that day not to lose my life or the life of someone I loved.  I did lose something important, though, in the gaping chasm of grief that terrorism leaves behind.  When 184 people are murdered by terrorists in your neighborhood, then the feeling of safety and security evoked by the word “home” is gone forever. Or, at least, it no longer exists for me.

After 9/11, I was frightened and shaken for a long time.  I experimented with ignoring the world and hiding from danger.  It didn’t work then, and it won’t work now. We can attempt to shun every city that has ever experienced random and sudden violence; forgo visiting towns and countries hit by natural disasters; and avoid all potential mass shooting sites, such as schools, restaurants, shops, and workplaces.  In the end, you will have created a small, suffocating, and dull existence.  The irony is that you won’t be any safer.  As I learned, even “home” cannot protect you from terrible realities.

We need to confront our travel fears armed with a suitcase and passport. Double down on our efforts to engage in a fascinating world that still has new experiences and cultures to share. Cross borders, have conversations with perfect strangers, and marvel at wonders you can only find far, far from home. Is it possible you will face dangers in your journeys?  Yes, but that is the cost of creating a life worth living.