The Opportunistic Traveler



The world is a scary place.  Nightly news anchors open with reports of danger and mayhem in far flung countries.  Amid this hodgepodge of man made and natural disasters, it’s no wonder people elect to stay home.  Home is the safe bet.  Then without warning, the stories shift: houses lay wasted, torn apart like twigs by an Oklahoma twister; a gas line erupts torching a neighborhood; a man dies reading the paper, crushed by a tree crashing through his roof.  And you realize, there are no safe bets, just their illusions.

I considered starting a blog called The Opportunistic Traveler, which would highlight bargain travel locations; victims of bad press and country unrest.  My friend Igor said, “That’s great Julie.  You can start a travel business which exploits the hardships of others.”  A crass idea? Perhaps… (It’s on the back burner, not abandoned).  Consider the flip side.  Maybe I can demystify some of the hyped dangers; return balance to our travel destination selections; restore much needed revenue to struggling countries.

My daughter, Taylor, is in her final year of college and yearned for one last and exciting fling.  “Mom, this is my senior year, let’s go someplace cool.  Who knows what I’ll be doing next year?”  We considered South Africa (too far), Portugal, Greece, France, Spain (too Europe), Morocco (too me) before we settled on Jordan and Istanbul.  As an after thought, Taylor questioned, “But mom, are they safe?”

“Definitely, Sure, Yes, Probably, Maybe, Just don’t mention this to your dad yet, OK?

Of course, I would never put Taylor at risk.  We didn’t consider Syria, Iraq, or the South Sudan.  Yet I don’t want her decisions to be dictated solely by fear.  I read the State Department warnings: Do not frequent places where Americans gather or hang around public demonstrations.  No problem.  We booked a hostel type hotel that proved American-free.  We made a pact not to linger at demonstrations, unless they look really interesting, and then, only for a moment.  We planned reasonable precautions and purchased our flights.

Years ago, we vacationed in London shortly after the Gulf War commenced.  The nightly news commentator sensationalized the situation in his deep and scary “bad news” voice: “Tanks Roll into Heathrow”.   But our airline tickets were non-refundable, and it was London for goodness sakes.  Friends and colleagues expressed dismay that we planned to go forward with our trip.  As we landed in Heathrow, no tanks greeted us, no police in riot gear.  Frankly, the peacefulness was a bit disappointing as the passport control agent slapped down his stamp and chirped “Welcome to London.”

I realized the power of the media and the misguidance of a compensation model which incents ratings over reality.  Perhaps a tank or two had moved into Heathrow, though I didn’t see any.  But London was no emerging police state.  We spent a peaceful, long weekend in London  and learned to temper viewer grabbing headlines with other sources of safety information.

So with mindfulness, we set off for ten days in Jordan and Turkey.  We ventured into northern Jordan and wandered a two thousand year old village settled by the Greeks.  Later, our taxi driver mentioned “You are very lucky to see Umm Qais.  The US Embassy warns Americans it isn’t safe.”  It wasn’t my intention to embrace risk.  Yet as we wandered through the ruins, alone but for our guide and a police officer who tagged along, I felt safe, awed, humbled and satisfied with our decision.

Perhaps we were just lucky.  That’s fine.  I tend to believe in fate – an acceptance that I am as likely to be crushed by a tree in my living room as annihilated by an off course drone.  But after all, isn’t that life?  A whole lot of planning, contemplation and worry ultimately reliant on the whims of faith and hope and luck.

Categories: Places we've been

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