The world has been a tumultuous place recently. Uprisings, protests, earthquakes and nuclear meltdowns have all made the headlines lately. Then, just yesterday, a bomb exploded near the Central Bus Station in downtown Jerusalem; the first such bombing in more than seven years. It’s not easy for the traveler to keep track and understand what all of these events mean.
I took a city bus, like the one near the bombing, to the Jerusalem bus station just a few months ago. I was honestly nervous at first, remembering all of the past bus bombings that would parade across the nightly news. Then I reminded myself that nothing like that had happened in the Holy City for several years, that a corner had been turned and the new Israeli security measures were working. That’s why the events of yesterday are both so sad and disappointing.
Tunisia was the first, then Egypt, with protests cascading across the Middle East like a tsunami of free speech. While the safety and well being of the citizens are absolutely the primary concern, one can’t help but think what this means for tourists. Many people have canceled their plans to visit Egypt and neighboring countries, putting these nations’ economies at considerable risk. Their concern is a valid one, it’s hard to watch scenes of violence in a place you were planning to spend your vacation.
I recently wrote about making travel decisions based on moral and social responsibility. The post was prompted by a speech given by Peter Greenberg, who strongly advises that now is the best time to visit Egypt, not just for the bargains but for the aid it provides to the country. I mostly agreed with this and decided that morality should be a factor, although not the only one, in travel decision making.
But I have also cautioned against putting oneself in harms way without need. There are certain vagabonders who feel the need to push the travel envelope and visit war torn or other dangerous areas for the cache associated with the trip. This type of behavior is reckless and puts lives in danger, and not just the life of the traveler.
But there is currently a hazy area, somewhere in between these examples. Most of the Middle East now falls into this bleary travel category. With new protests popping up every day in the region, is it really smart to plan a trip, with the future so uncertain.
Earlier this week I accepted an invitation to visit Jordan, a country that has long been on my travel list. I have to admit, after watching some of the scenes streaming in from the Middle East, I experienced some trepidation about my visit. But I know that so far Jordan has not had significant protests and I’m comfortable in my security, for the moment. I can’t say the same about the rest of the region. Would I travel to Bahrain or Tunisia right now? No, probably not. But I would go to Egypt, Israel and Jordan.
The answer to this travelers dilemma isn’t an easy one, nor is there one answer that is applicable for every person. When we decide to push our travel envelope, we have to make sure that we are secure in that decision. Personally, a trip to France would not be a new adventure for me. However, for someone who has never left the country such a trip would be a defining travel moment and would probably be at the limit of their travel threshold, for the moment. While it seems that so many tourist paths are well trodden, each trip is necessarily a very personal experience. Regardless of what each of us decides is or is not safe, what makes us feel secure and what doesn’t, it is important that we all at least try to push that envelope a little bit, helping us grow in the process.
What do you think? Is the Middle East currently safe for travelers? How have you pushed your own travel envelope?