Tourism and Terrorism

I recently came back from a 6 day trip to Turkey. A week before our departure, yet another terrorist attack took place – this time it was a suicide bombing in a central shopping street killing at least five people. This attack was the fourth bombing in Turkey in 2016 alone. Suffice to say, the idea of maybe cancelling the trip definitely came up, but it also quickly went away. I think for the most part, I didn’t want to let the terrorists win and have them rule and ruin my travel plans. So we went, and I am very glad we did.

The Cappadocia hot air balloon ride has been on my bucket list for many years now and I still remember that one late night while working late in the office, my colleague and I googled images for Cappadocia and we both went ”wow“ (we were trying to make ourselves feel better about the long night of work ahead of us). That image has been stuck in my head ever since. So finally the time has come, I wasn’t going to let anything get in my way. On the day of our  hot air balloon ride, the weather god gave us his blessing and up we went (the 2 days before both had strong wind so all rides were cancelled). It was every bit as beautiful as I had imagined in my head.

While the hot air balloon ride was the most memorable part of the trip, another thought stuck with me and it was something that became more and more apparent as our trip went on – Turkey’s tourism industry and more importantly all of those everyday people whose livelihood depended on it have been severely affected. We saw empty hotels and restaurants everywhere we went and I couldn’t help but feel heavy-hearted.

In a recent Wall Street Journal article, it has been reported that bookings for this summer are down 40% from last year and hotel occupancy rates have plunged more than half. Hundreds of hotels, bed-and-breakfasts, and boutique resorts have been put up for sale. The string of attacks were followed by a number of countries issuing travel warnings to their citizens, understandably so of course. But for a country where tourism accounts for more than 4% of the national GDP and employs more than one million people, seeing a middle-aged restaurant owner lining up tables in his empty restaurant has reminded me that these everyday hard working people are also victims of terrorism.

I am also seen dozens of questions being posted on Quora asking if it would be safe to go to Turkey (or Europe), I wanted to share my own feeling on this:

I would be lying if I said I had no hesitation, but it was only for a brief moment. In reality, I felt perfectly safe when I was there, and of course we still paid attention to our surroundings but one should do that no matter where you go. Terrible things can happen anywhere, anytime – accidents, shootings, attacks, natural disasters, diseases; while we should definitely practice all the right precautions and be safe we should not let those things rule or ruin our lives.

I also want to quote some of my favorite comments from the various Quora responses on this question:

“While a terrorist attack attracts total media coverage, the 34 deaths in Brussels, as terrible and tragic as they certainly are, are hardly a blip. Chicago, a city that I visit often, had 43 murders and 160 shootings in February 2016. In my sedate little state of Minnesota, the daily newspapers are filled with stories of automobile deaths and random shootings. I have made plans to spend some time in Europe as I do every year. I plan to fly into one of the major airports and leave from another and I know that the most dangerous thing in the whole trip will be the taxi ride to the airport. Here’s what I think. CNN, Fox, MSNBC, with their wall-to-wall coverage of every terror incident in any OECD country have contributed to a feeling of dread. I will visit Paris this year as I did last year and will not be expecting a random act of terrorism.” ��� Thomas Johnson

“No place on Earth is 100% safe. Also, media tends to blow risks way, way out of proportion. Yes, there were recent terror attacks. Yes, some people died or were injured. AND, YES, something bad could happen. It could also happen in your hometown. You cannot live your life in fear, or you truly will miss out. In most of western Europe you are far safer than in most US cities. In excess of 40 million tourists visit France every year, and the vast, vast majority of them have nothing bad happen.” – John Miele

Lastly, to end this blog on a happier note – here are more photos from my trip.

Barefoot walking in Pamukkale

 

Beautiful colour combo in Cappadocia

 

About to ascend!

 

Hot air balloon continues.
Sunset ATV ride in Cappadocia

 

Pumped for our ATV ride!

 

What should you know if you want to quit your job and travel for a year?

I took almost a year off work several years ago. I was laid off during the GFC so I decided it was the perfect time for me to pack up and travel. So I did. I packed everything and just left (Melbourne was home for me at the time) and started a journey that changed my life and me as a person.

For all of you who have thought about it but have yet to pull the trigger, I understand your reservations (almost everyone feels that way) but I think most people who have done it will tell you if you are worried about getting a job again, you shouldn’t. If you are employable now, 12 months is not going to make any difference. If anything, the personal growth you will go through during that 12 months, will probably make you more employable!

In terms of what to do after you return, why decide that now? You have a whole year to decide that, and honestly there is no better way to figure that out than travelling on your own for an extended period of time.

Now, next and the more important question —  where to go?

Short answer is everywhere. Long answer is you need to consider the following factors (I will also weave in some of my most memorable places):

1. When is the best time to go to for the different parts of the world?

Since you have a year to explore the world, then i would plan it around the best time to go for each region. You may need to research the details but the key things to watch out for is summer vs winter destinations, wet vs dry seasons. I can offer some suggestions here:

Scandinavia is good for both summer and winter (i did a very similar trip in summer than winter again and i was amazed both times).

You can see the Northern Light in winter and there is nowhere like Iceland.

 

Driving in Iceland was one of the most memorable experiences of my life.

Winter is almost all dark in Scandinavia, quite a unique experience

There are also a number of ice hotels you can try! I did one night in Ice Hotel in Sweden, quite a cool experience.

 

OR

Go in summer and go hiking in Norway! This photo was taken at Trolltunga (a 22km hike), totally worth it! I recommend you go in early summer before the snow is fully melted because mountains are always prettier when it is capped by a thin layer of snow. Also it will make it easier to hike when the snow has melted a bit.

Trolltunga in Norway

Seljalandsfoss in Iceland (winter vs summer — you can go behind the waterfall in summer!)

 

 

Australia and New Zealand — I would suggest you go in summer. Australia (I grew up in Australia) is definitely a summer destination. New Zealand is best for hiking and adrenalin sports so I would recommend it as a summer destination. I just went there for Christmas and did some amazing hikes there. Focus your time on Queenstown and the nearby towns (Milford Sound, Wanaka etc). Should try to allocate ~2 week per country.

Misty Mountain Heli Hike in Wanaka

 

South America — Best to go during the dry season. South America is huge and i have only been to a few of the countries with Chile being on the top of my bucket list. If you haven’t done so already, definitely do the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, do the 4 day / 3 night one not the day trip since you have time. It is not that physically demanding so don’t worry about that if you are. You can spend 2 days in Cusco (the starting point before the hike) to acclimatize and also well worth your time!

Machu Picchu

 

Asia — Asia is big and I am going to say each country is very unique so very hard to give a generalised recommendation. I have lived in Asia for the last 6 years and travelled to almost every country in the region. I am going to mention one in particular — Japan is a must go, the food, culture and scenary, it is probably the most unique place to visit in Asia and you will taste some of the best tasting and meticulously presented food in the world. I would probably spend 3-4 months in Asia. Myanmar, Cambodia, Korea, China, Bhutan and Vietnam are also very interesting and definitely worth going. In terms of season, North Asia has clear 4 seasons and I would try to avoid the summer months as it gets really really hot here. South East Asia is generally warm throughout the year. It has wet and dry seasons and can get really hot so just bear that in mind. Countries like Bhutan, Sri Lanka and Myanmar are less known travel destinations but they are absolutely stunning. They do get really hot in summer so I would recommend to go in the cooler months.

Tiger’s Nest in Bhutan

Western Europe — probably one of the, if not the, most popular travel destinations. Spain, Greece, France and Italy are all beautiful, and each would need a good few weeks if you want to do them properly. Personally I see Western Europe as more a summer destination and if you want to avoid the crowd and go in winter months, then please remember to check opening times as many small tourist towns (sights and restaurants) are closed during the off season. Switzerland (technically Central Europe), is beautiful in both summer and winter.

Sunset in Oia, Greece
Moorish Castle in Sintra, Portugal

Eastern Europe — my favourite part of Europe actually. Underrated compared to Western Europe, but IMO it is even better — it is just as beautiful and rich in history, people are nicer (based on my personal experience) and so much cheaper! Poland, Bosnia, Germany, Prague, Budapest are good for both summer and winter. Croatia and Montenegro i think are better for summer (at least starting April / May).

Budapest

A cool thing to do in Croatia was going into the water with restaurant boat (Bota — Sare is the restaurant) and eating freshly harvested oysters (picture below).

Going more east, Turkey is amazing too (my Turkey trip is coming up in 2 weeks, so excited!)

North America-I have only been to a few cities in US and Canada but i think both countries are summer and winter travel-friendly. Lake Louise was very memorable for me

Lake Louise

Now for the practical aspects of your trip planning…

2. Visas

Most things you can find or sort out on the road but getting visa can get tricky once you leave your home country. So, I would recommend once you have a vague idea of where you want to go, try to get visas sorted beforehand, especially with some of the Asian countries. It will save you a lot of hassle to get them done before you go then when you are on the road and trying to find a consulate, though bear in mind most visa has an expiry date.

3. Vaccinations

Most people don’t think about this but it’s more important than you think! lol. Some country’s visa application may even require certain vaccination, eg yellow fever vaccination is a common one for some parts of South America and Africa. Most people get sick after it too (only for a day) so probably best to get it done before you leave for your trip. Go to your local doctor and they can help you to find out which region needs which vaccination (some are mandatory some are just recommendation so entirely up to you)

4. Buy a good camera!

Doesn’t have to be a hardcore top of the line DSLR, but get a nice camera (there are a lot of smaller size but high tech cameras) so you can take photos of your journey. I still go through my photos from my past trips and they bring back great memories.

5. Do your pre-trip research

Looping back to my first point, do some high level planning and city research, but leave plenty of flexibility too because you will meet people along the way and you will learn about new places which may not have been on our original list. Also since you have a year, special flight and hotel deals may come up, so leave some flexibility in your plan and keep an eye out for the special deals.

Pre-trip planning will also help you to have a vague idea on how much money you need for the trip. Most places I have been to can be done on budget or super lux so I would recommend do a high level budget based on what you can afford and how you like to travel (the two are not always correlated).

How has it changed my life?

The time I took off and travelled made me realise how much I love travel. Now 7 years and 60+ countries later, I have started my own travel startup focusing on making trip planning easier. In the age where we have driverless cars and drones, we are still using spreadsheets and word docs to plan our trips?! Come on! We can do better and we have.

So, if you are looking for a web-based trip planning tool to save your pre-trip research notes and have everything integrated with Google map, then give pebblar a try (http://www.pebblar.com). I use it for all my trips now and wish i had it when i was backpacking! Our read-only app also lets you access your e-tickets and booking confirmations even when you don’t have internet access (we are the only travel planner that does this).

My final comment — JUST DO IT! You will love it and wonder why you ever waited!