The world can be a dangerous place, but I try to keep in mind that travel is the gateway to personal and cultural growth, and grants us access to better understanding the places and people around us. Traveling provides access to experiences (good and bad) that one cannot simply learn about from a textbook or a Google search.
This year I decided I was going to take a big trip for my 25th birthday in April. I didn’t have Turkey listed as my first destination (or even as part of my top 10), but after searching though trips and comparing budgets and scheduling, it turned out that Discover Turkey with G Adventures would be the one.
Sure, my parents and friends were to say the least concerned that I was heading off to Turkey, a country where there had been a bomb attack just before I reserved my trip in February and where there would be two more before my departure date. I had very few people who supported me. My family thought I was being irresponsible and that the risks were too high, encouraging me more than once to cancel my trip. I spent the majority of my phone calls with my parents over the next few weeks defending my trip and even avoided a couple of social gatherings so that I wouldn’t be bombarded with questions requesting justification of my decision to go to Turkey. I took risk management (with a focus on travel destinations) in school and knew that the likelihood of another attack within the same area was extremely low, and I was willing to take my chances. I found it down-right irritating when others shared firm opinions that the entire country was a hazardous, dangerous place because of the recent attack (a huge generalization and completely incorrect). The thought of writing off the entire country as a travel destination due to a small area that had been targeted was (and is) ridiculous to me!
Though, to be honest, I was worried and had taken a cautious mind-set for my pre-departure planning. I had mapped out where the nearest consulates and hospitals where and put relevant emergency numbers in my phone. I purchased a money belt (which was more of a nuisance than it was useful) and bought a theft-proof Travelon bag, which I’m using as my everyday bag presently. I was on caution alert from the moment I entered the Toronto airport, and I was highly skeptical when I arrived at the airport in Turkey and was expected to hitch a ride with someone who had nothing to identify themselves except my name on a piece of paper (I will note that the process of picking me up at the airport could have been much better organized and I provided my feedback to the tour operator following the trip). I’m not sure when it happened, but at some point during my trip I lost that need to be on high-alert all the time – it just dissipated. I realized there was no possibility of taking everything in openly and enjoying myself when my head on a 360° swivel everywhere I went, looking for potential problems. Somewhere, somehow, within those first few days I became more comfortable and entrusted our guide to lead the way; I began to trust the people I was with and I recognized that it was alright to drop my guard a bit and just be there.
To be clear, there were very few instances where I actually felt unsafe in Turkey and at no point did I feel I was in real danger. The first evening, our guide announced that G Adventures had taken Istanbul and its attractions off the itinerary due to a travel advisory from Australia and that we would be flying out first thing in the morning to Kayseri rather than spending the day in Istanbul. Our guide was a local and was with us during the entire trip, even offering to accompany us when we decided we weren’t leaving Istanbul without a quick tour of the area (though I think this was more-so to keep an eye on us newbies). Yes, there was some tenseness about safety in the tourist areas, especially while in Istanbul since the last attack had been only a couple of weeks before our arrival. Our guide strictly warned us to stay away from the grand bazaar and to keep together at all times. Feelings about how the recent attacks had negatively impacted tourism in the area were shared by locals. The area was not bustling with tourists like it had in past years and it was clearly hurting businesses.
As I was with a group during my entire trip and had a responsible, knowledgeable guide who I trusted would not put us at risk, Istanbul was the only region where I felt we had to be extra cautious while out in public (and we weren’t there very long). Everywhere we went local people were friendly, helpful and welcomed our group of outsiders. The help of our guide with translating and just knowing where to go, what to do, where to eat and how to get there really made a huge difference too. Although we were all initially disappointed about the itinerary change, I think overall the trip was just as amazing even without Istanbul’s highlights! And it gives me an excuse to one day return and check those spots out!
Visiting Turkey was a great cultural experience and the country has so much to offer! I would have missed out on all of it had I chickened-out and avoided taking any risks. Again, I’m not suggesting that you pick the most dangerous place on Earth and go there tomorrow. Just be smart about your next destination. Do your research, check advisories and be aware of what’s happening around you (and get travel insurance!). Most importantly, be optimistic and have fun while you’re living in the moment!
I’m working my way through life in Canada and traveling when I can afford to explore beyond the border. Sharing my tips, trips, opinions and rants on life and travel in the meantime.