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How to Deal With Terrorism: Just Keep Traveling
April 15, 1996 -- The bombs that ripped through London, Jerusalem, and Tel Aviv recently have done more than slaughter innocent people and derail peace initiatives.
They also shattered our hope that the world might, finally, be a safe and secure place to explore.
The televised images of world leaders traveling to an Egyptian resort to condemn the terror probably did little to alter our own initial reaction: stay home, stay safe, and venture no farther than our figurative and literal backyards.
Unfortunately, your staying at home does not make you safe. It can actually make the world a more dangerous place.
Think about it: The goal of all terrorists is to inspire fear and immobilize people. If you stay home because of some real or imagined threat, the terrorists win a crucial victory. Encouraged by travelers' cancellations, terrorists strike again, inevitably making our globe even less secure than before.
Regardless of whether terrorism is aimed directly at travelers or at the local population, it necessitates a stark and simple decision: Travel and expose yourself to a certain amount of danger, or stay at home and guarantee that the terrorists win the war.
That said, however, you must take certain precautions, many of them admirably detailed in The Safe Travel Book ($12.95, plus $3.95 shipping, from Magellan's; 800-962-4943). You'll also have to make several crucial adjustments in your outlook and attitude. Here are some important ones.
BE CAUTIOUS IN BIG CITIES
Terrorists target big cities because that's where the most people live. But there are other reasons. Big cities are also magnets for tourists and the worldwide media.
Terrorists thrive on publicity; bombings in world-class cities generate more television coverage--and more terror--than atrocities perpetrated elsewhere. The presence of travelers in big cities is another bonus: the loss of income from tourists scared away can be devastating to the local economy.
Unless you are prepared to forgo the glories of some of the world's biggest cities, your best defense is in increased vigilance. If possible, avoid public transportation and try to Visit the most popular tourist attractions during off-peak hours. The smaller, off-peak crowds are less tempting targets for publicity-hungry terrorists.
BE ALERT IN THE MIDDLE EAST
Recent suicide bombings have put Israel back on the "hot list" for travelers, but remember that all the Middle East is a danger zone. The entire region remains embroiled in a Byzantine series of deadly skirmishes and religious wars. Visiting any Middle Eastern country carries some risk.
In Egypt, for example, a conflict between the Egyptian government and Islamic militants has led terrorists to target travelers and major tourism attractions specifically. Morocco is squabbling with Algeria over responsibility for the murders of two tourists in Marrakech. Internal terrorism has made Algeria so dangerous that the Department of State warns travelers that "armed protection is not a guarantee of safety." Even once-placid Bahrain is engulfed in violence. Dissidents there recently bombed two hotels in the capital, Manama. And no American should contemplate a visit to Lebanon, Libya, Syria, Iraq or Iran.
DON'T ASSUME NO NEWS IS GOOD NEWS
US media have many collective blind spotsóand that's not good news for travelers. Just because you haven't heard of trouble somewhere doesn't mean the destination is safe. It may mean only that the American media have ignored or underreported problems there.
This media blindness is especially dangerous for travelers headed to Latin America. In Costa Rica, for example, two visitors endured a 10óweekólong kidnapping earlier this year, yet few Americans are aware of the incident. The US media have also ignored the dangers of traveling in Colombia and in Peru, where guerrilla activity has claimed about 2,500 lives in recent years.
To plug the information gap, read the State Department's Consular Information Sheet for every destination you expect to visit.
BE WARY OF UNFAMILIAR DESTINATIONS
As Americans become more intrepid, they seek out unfamiliar destinations off the tourist track. Unfortunately, there is no equation between remote and peaceful.
Consider Albania, the erstwhile Stalinist enclave on the Adriatic Sea. At least two major tour operators--Travcoa, a luxury travel company, and Go Ahead Vacations, which caters to mature travelers--recently began promoting trips to the now democratic country. Several weeks later, a car bomb exploded in the capital, Tirana, killed four people, and hurled chunks of debris into the rooms of a nearby hotel. The suspected terrorists? Communists unhappy with Albania's new government.
KNOW YOUR GEOGRAPHY
Geography plays a part in the terrorism equation and enlightened travelers understand that not all regions of a generally secure country are safe for visitors. India and Turkey are prime examples.
Most of the vast Indian subcontinent is safe for travelers, but the endless struggle in Kashmir has taken an ugly turn. Partisans there have captured and killed visitors. And while Turkey is regarded as a charming "bargain" destination, the eastern provinces are plagued by Kurdish separatists. They targeted tourists, and the situation is so serious that US officials travel to eastern Turkey only on essential business.
How do you know where it's safe? Check the Consular Information Sheet for a section called "Areas of Instability."
PAY ATTENTION TO CRIME
Terrorism shouldn't be ignored, but don't let it divert your attention from another important danger: crime against tourists.
Around the same time terrorists were bombing England and Israel, the following occurred: a Dutch tourist was murdered in Miami; two travelers were killed in Guatemala; two American expatriates in St. Thomas were slain; a gang of robbers who preyed on Florida tourists was arrested; and a tourism official in South Africa admitted that crime was now so pervasive that he couldn't guarantee the safety of travelers.
Assume nothing when you travel. Take the same precautions against crime as you do at home or at work. In fact, be even more vigilant because you, not the criminal, are the one on unfamiliar territory.
This column originally appeared in Travel Holiday magazine.
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