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A column on the art of traveling well
NOTE: The following piece expresses the personal opinions of the author. It does not represent the official position of Hostels.com or its staff.
I'll say it as plainly as I can:
"Now is one of the best, safest, most amazing times to travel, period."
Here's how I see it:
A group of terrorists carefully planned and executed a coordinated suicide attack on major U.S. targets over a period of hours, murdering thousands. An established terrorist organization like that of Osama Bin Laden certainly masterminded, led, and funded the attack. A cadre of governmental leaders certainly gave at least tacit support to the terrorist organization, and thus to the attackperhaps the Taliban in Afghanistan. The leadership in a tiny handful of other nations are secretly or not-so-secretly pleased with the attack, and may have supported it in direct or indirect ways. Hundreds of thousands of people spread among several nations are gleeful about the attack; millions more are not unhappy it occurred.
But was this attack the opening shot in a much larger war on the U.S., the West, Capitalism, Christianity & Judaism, or even civilization? I don't think soit may have been an opening shot, but this war can't be "much larger" given the suspected participants. Maybe a plan was afoot to use cropdusters or hazardous materials trucks to poison or infect U.S. populations, but that plot has been found out and made much more difficult. Maybe world computer networks were bombarded with viruses by terrorists or sympathizers in the last couple of weeks, but the effort has been largely ineffective. Maybe other terrorist attacks will soon be launched against as yet unknown targets, but how many and how often?
I would also observe that the vast majority of the world's six billion peoplethe vast majoritydisapprove of or abhor the attack, worry about or dread the resulting economic disruption, and don't want to see increasing conflict and war around the globe. While millions lose no sleep over America's pain, hundreds of millions feel otherwise, empathizing with Americans and sharing that pain to some degree.
Don't see the world through the eyes of a news editor! The media may show us the good, but it lives by the badwe can't expect to see the real balance of global sentiment reflected in a day of CNN programming.
TRAVELER, BE REAL
At certain times in certain locations within certain nations, travelers are at risk of being victimized. That has always been true, and it's true today. The danger zones and times vary depending on your gender, age, attitudes, behaviors, and, of course, national origin. That, too, has always been true.
It's also true that today, certain places and times are more dangerous than before September 11. Right now, for example, I might avoid more extreme adventure travel destinations like Iran and some Central Asian nationsbut only because information sources are few, not because the dangers to travelers in these places have necessarily increased all that much. Also, I would do some extra research for certain common travel destinations like Pakistan, Indonesia, and maybe Egypt, seeking details on exactly where and when anti-American sentiments might run to violencebut I would not be necessarily be deterred from traveling to these destinations.
WHY GO NOW?
As for most of the rest of the planet, here's what I observe:
1) During this challenging period, people are going out of their way to express sympathy and offer support to American travelers. Travelers of many origins are discovering a new sense of kinship and shared purpose among peoples. You won't experience it everywhere with everyone, but you'll run into examples of it almost everywhere you go.
2) In areas of moderate risk where certain factions might cause you problems, good people and officials are likely to be more active than usual in helping you avoid trouble.
3) Due to increased vigilance and concern, airplanes, airports, rail stations, public buildings, and other likely targets are more secure than ever. The redoubled emphasis on security exists for a reason, but it does exist!
4) With the sharp reduction in tourism, travelers will have little trouble getting tickets and finding lodgingthe planet is experiencing a giant off-season. Not everything is cheaper, but you can bet there are deals to be had!
5) Most kidnappings and assaults on travelers or citizens abroad target those who offer routine and visibility (and/or money). As an independent traveler of modest means, you do not face the traditional risks that US government employees, business people, group tourists, etc., face. While you'll still be out there, you'll be small.
The biggest thing for me, however, is the heightening of experience. In bitter times like this, the wonder and quality of our species shows forth. The story of our development from hunter gatherer bands toward global society seems more vivid and pressing. History comes alive. Eurail chats have a fresh importance. New hostel friendships feel more special and lasting. The coffee's livelier, the beer, more robust, and the wine glows warmer.
In other words, there's a new edge to that adventure you're planning. The keen bite of experience you seek is that much keener and more biting now. Do you travel for the postcards, or are you looking to reinvent yourself a bitadding depth and breadth to your spirit, earning both confidence and humility, tasting the spice of the world? The vibe is charged out there. Get in on it.
As an independent, budget, adventure travelerone who exercises a modicum of caution and common senseyour statistical odds of being seriously victimized are miniscule. That's the way it's been for years.
Travel light, travel smart, travel well, travel on.