People are asking these questions again after the terrible terror attack in Paris on November 13th. If you travel long enough, eventually, you will ask yourself this question. Over the years we have been in Australia when Australians were targeted and killed in the 2002 Bali bombings, we have been in Istanbul to witness the start of the refugee tide from Syria, we've left Haiti days before a devastating earth quake, we've been holed up in a hotel room during hurricane in Florida. We know every time we travel, we take a risk that some act of terrorism, weather or other disruptive event can happen. The real threats are statistically low. (See Wendy Perrin's blog post with an excellent assessment of real risk here) Most of the travel providers and magazine editors are using the stats to encourage people not to put off travel. In general we agree, but because we don't have a business interest in selling travel, just a passion for it, we have a slightly different take.
We aren't automatons moving through life only doing things based on risk reward ratios, or we would never get into our cars or eat bacon! We are human beings who have loved ones we take with us or leave behind; they or we, may have anxieties and concerns that might affect our ability to enjoy travel during challenging times. If we will spend the whole trip looking over our shoulders or can't enjoy a hotel where the beach has been wiped out, we may NOT want to travel to that destination right now. Here are the things we consider before embarking on a trip that may include a destination facing a crisis.
To digress a minute- one thing we do is pay for trip insurance. Even if one can afford to take the loss of a last minute cancellation, or the policy doesn't cover some of these surprise events (check the policy) the insurance almost always comes with a toll free number to call for emergency assistance. Even if they can't make us whole financially, trip insurance is probably our best bet for getting straight information and medical evacuation services if we need them in a crisis. If visiting really hot spots, you can even buy insurance that will extract you, at your request, in an emergency.
1-Visiting Political Hot Spots: We have visited a few places where we might not agree with the government or political leaders or government is totalitarian. Right now much of Europe is seeing a tide of refugees from the Middle East. We ask if these places are politically stable. We ask ourselves how they treat guests. Are there real risks to outsiders, or are the risks largely to the populace? Is the government unstable, is it possible a coup or opposition groups could affect our trip? A lot of governments who treat their own people poorly, roll out the red carpet for tourists. Their governments are stable and crime is very low. In those cases, we may go because we believe in the importance of being present to see things for ourselves (understanding that some things may be manipulated for guests) We believe that interaction between regular people can allow both groups to learn something from each other that might help everyone change for the better. We also make sure to use a tour guide or travel provider that has extensive experience in the place. They will know if things start to change in an alarming way, and help ensure our safety. We've also had many good guides discreetly give us a greater understanding of the "official" story we might be given during a visit.
2-Weather or Natural Disaster Events: The river cruise internet message boards regularly field the "should we go" question when flooding affects the European rivers. If we have the opportunity to consider the event before leaving (sometimes it's a surprise!) we check our insurance policy, what is covered if we chose to cancel? Do we have to wait till our travel provider cancels to collect? We stay in contact with the travel provider and ask what changes they plan to make because of weather or natural phenomena. Can we reschedule to another time? If we have a choice, we usually opt not to go immediately after a natural disaster. The reason has less to do with the actual risk to our safety and more about the risk of having components of our trip affected or us becoming an added burden to the local officials trying to deal with the event.
3-Terrorist Acts: We ask ourselves some of the same questions we ask about political hot spots. Usually though, acts of terrorism, by their nature are usually random and happen to civilians in normally "safe" environments. They can't really be predicted, and as Wendy Perrin points out in her blog, they are pretty rare. What we want to do about them politically is another discussion, but as for traveling, I don't let random, rare acts stop me from visiting places after an incident, so long as my visit won't burden a place that is still struggling to deal with the aftermath. Usually the people in stable places that have been affected by terrorism mourn losses, and pull together. There might be meaningful memorials to go see and pay our respects. We always take the good advice of travel pros to be aware of our surroundings. Sadly, this is true in all of our hometowns as well as in our travels. When traveling we often use a good local guide who will be well aware of what is happening locally and can keep us safer while touring.
We ask lots of questions and do lots of research before traveling anywhere, and we might change our choices based on who we are traveling with, for instance we had much lower tolerance for risk when traveling with our children than on our own. Also, while we try not to be overly anxious, if we know we won't be able to relax and enjoy a destination, we know we shouldn't go. But being prepared, working with good professionals and asking good questions has helped us see much of the world safely.