The problem with travel… by Barbara Nadel

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Over the years I have had the pleasure of being asked to write various travel articles for newspapers and magazines. Usually based in Turkey these articles have allowed me to explore topics as diverse as Greek Orthodox shrines, nargile (water pipe) café’s and the snake goddess cult of the Sharmeran. Only last week I was asked to consult on a new İstanbul guide scheduled for publication in 2012. Terrific! Then of course we had the bomb blast in the centre of İstanbul last weekend.

Tragic and appalling as that event was, I nevertheless have no reason to believe that the city will in any way ‘close for business’. Great melting-pot metropolis’s don’t. The dead are buried, the injured treated and life goes on. Books are published. What I find disturbing, quite apart from this latest atrocity itself, is how routinely fearful individual people seem to have become.

For every kid out there doing the gap year thing, there are ten back here in the UK who are either too poor to do it, have no interest in travel or are too busy working, pubbing and clubbing. Of those, there are also a few who are too fearful to go anywhere. This applies to adults too. I hear a lot of people say ‘Oh God, I wouldn’t want to go there!’ these days. When asked why, the reason/s they give are generally to do with personal safety and/or levels of comfort.

Sometimes I can understand it. Going to Afghanistan at the moment, unless one is working out there in some capacity, is probably not a good idea. That said, Afghanistan is somewhere that is definitely on my list of ‘must do’s’ for sometime in the future. Things change, countries move on and off in different, sometimes very surprising directions. But what about Australia? A bit hot at times admittedly, but very familiar, sanitary and safe, you’d think, for Europeans. And yet… And yet a lot of people won’t even contemplate Australia because of the wild life. ‘Everything wants to either bite or sting you!’ a young friend of mine said recently. ‘Couldn’t possibly go there!’ Admittedly the idea of Australia’s truly bizarre sea creatures lying in wait to induce rapid septicaemia is worrying and I, I admit, may well have to walk Australia’s beaches in Wellington boots, but I would still go.

Early next year I am off to Detroit, Michigan which, I am told is one of America’s most violent cities. I have to go in order to do research for my next book but I am also, to be perfectly honest, really curious about the city too. Drive by shootings happen in Detroit, gangs peddle drugs and junkies beg on street corners. It’s a place that has been in economic difficulty for years. Things like this happen when people have no jobs and few prospects. London in the early 1980s was depressed, shabby, crime ridden and, at the time, was the most violent city in Europe. I was there, I saw it, I used to get hassled by beggars and I knew of shootings, violent robberies and muggings. None of those things happened to me, I was lucky. But I was also not involved. I wasn’t in a gang, I didn’t walk in deserted places on my own at night and I didn’t piss anyone with a gun off – not that I know of. In other words I took reasonable precautions. What I didn’t do was cower indoors.

There is an old saying about ‘shit’ happening. Yes, shit does happen. Innocent people, in the wrong place at the wrong time, get shot, mugged, knifed, whatever. You jump into the ocean and swim about, minding your own business, when something horrible and bitey comes up and takes your foot off. It happens. It just doesn’t happen very often and if it does occur you are just very, very unfortunate. The very slim chance of the bitey thing coming to get you is no reason to not ever enjoy swimming in the ocean. What you do is a risk, but it is a small and calculated one.

I think that maybe sometimes we know too much. Almost every country you can name has problems of some sort, a few of which may turn out to be lethal. That’s no reason, I don’t believe for not going there. Calculated risk is what it’s all about, in my opinion. Obviously one doesn’t go to a location where gun-battles take place on the streets all day long. But places and people change and what was as dangerous as hell this year may not be next year. Places, like people, shouldn’t always be tainted by their past if it is no longer relevant.

To use a bit of psycho-speak, human kind has become a tad risk averse. As well as being a shame this is also not really very healthy, in my opinion. Life is about risk and without a little danger in our lives, things can get rather dull. It’s November now, time to be planning that summer holiday 2011, and my advice to you is to look at where you actually want to go first, then look at the ‘issues’ involved. Don’t just be put off by the ‘issues’ up front. Make your own assessment, make your own mind up about what risks you will and will not accept. Also, take it from a crime writer that if we’re talking ‘orrible murder, then that can take place anywhere – even round your fireside.

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