Photo Credit: TN
Knowing When To Rely On Gut Instincts While Traveling Abroad
One week after booking my flight to Istanbul, Turkey, the unthinkable happened. Suicide bombers armed with assault rifles led an attack that would end in 42 lives being taken in a myriad of gunfire and explosions. As I watched the events unfold on CNN, my heart dropped. I was due to go to Istanbul in less than three weeks, one of my closest friends was already in Istanbul, and my ticket was non-refundable.
With many people across the world, I watched the aftermath in awe and in utter shock and despair, finding out later that my friend had barely escaped the airport an hour before the first blast. Thank God for parents with a sense of discernment, because it was only a text from her Dad to come to his office instead of waiting for the arrival of another friend that was the reason she had not still been at the airport.
While terror attacks are becoming all too frequent and increasingly bold, this one hit to close to home. If it had not been for my standing 4th of July trip to New Orleans for the Essence Festival pushing my Turkey excursion back to mid-July, I could have been a casualty in that war as well.
Amidst the devastation of one of the world’s most secure airports being victim to an atrocity of this magnitude, within 24 hours, with blood stains and shattered glass remaining as remnants of an incident that the world would not soon forget, the airport was back up and running. Eventually, the frantic text from close friends and family bearing warnings about my safety begin to fade, and for a brief moment in time, life returned to normal.
And then, it happened. On July 15th, 2016 (one day after the terror attack in Nice, France), news stations around the world began to broadcast the coup d’etat in Istanbul that would end in the deaths of an estimated 194 people, with over 1100 reported injuries. Again, my heart sank into my stomach, as I once again checked on the safety of my friend and her family, and begin to try and scramble to make alternate travel arrangements.
With a flight scheduled to depart in less than 48 hours, a ticket office closed for the weekend, and a bank that couldn’t issue a refund on a non-refundable ticket due to policy regulations, I was left with the decision: Do I still travel to Istanbul in light of all of the travel warnings, flight detours and cancellations, in the midst of an impending war?
On Sunday, July 17th, I boarded Lufthansa Flight LH 1300 headed to Frankfurt, Germany, without a clear destination in mind. I said my prayers, told my family I loved them and made peace with my decision to proceed with my travels. This trip had been planned as my last hurrah before summer vacation came to an end and my celebration trip for a job promotion that had been years in the making. In order to protect my sanity and calm, I decided to tune into the real news coverage, Twitter. Whereas the media continued to run coverage of a nation in peril and airports absent of security, I was able to read numerous tweets of those that were flying safely from Istanbul to their desired destinations. As I stood in line, waiting to board my flight, inquiries about my final destination were met with blank stares and eyes filled with compassion.
With the exception of the great food and even better wine, my flight to Frankfurt was nothing more than the norm on the surface. But internally, I was torn, not because I was afraid, but because I knew that back in the States my family and friends were awake and waiting on word of either my decision to stay in Germany or my “safe” arrival in Istanbul. Being a woman of faith, my prayer for the 48 hours leading to my departure had been the same, “Lord, in the midst of chaos, allow my sense of discernment to prevail against all evil. Guide my footsteps and please don’t allow the battle between my mind and heart to lead me astray.”
After 3-hour layover in Frankfurt, I boarded my flight to Istanbul. When I think about the day that I spent soaking up the rays of the sun on my friend’s family yacht while enjoying sporadic plunges in the warm waters of the Poyrazköy Plajı, the overnight trip to Cappadocia where I was able to cross Hot Air Balloon ride off my bucket list, right next to a private ATV ride through valleys and fairy chimneys and an overnight stay in a cave hotel, nights of fine dining and Turkish tea, unforgettable conversations with beautifully, diverse people, all in the midst of the the inexplicable feeling of fear that permeated the air, I walked away a renewed woman, a woman with a sense of purpose, a woman with a newfound understanding of the word “free.”
While the common consensus amongst my family and friends was for my trip to be relocated to Germany, while on my vacation in Istanbul, Germany too fell victim to 2 terror attacks of their own, both ending in mass casualties. And I realized, the only guarantee in life is that tomorrow isn’t promised. You have to “make the decision” to not live in fear, to really believe that the same God you pray to protect you in the States will not turn his back on you in another country.
I made the decision to LIVE without any regrets.
For me, travel has been and will always be a fixture of my life. Travel often tests your tenacity, your endurance, your character, and your views about life. It teaches you to take nothing for granted. Don’t be afraid to LIVE, just proceed with caution, as you do most other things in life.
Tips for Traveling in Times in Terror
-Rely on more than one news source to find the most up to date information on your travel destination, including but not limited to, state and government websites, social media, airline customer service, etc. I’m sure that I called Lufthansa 45 times in 48 hours scared that I would end up stuck in some third world country without an alternate route back to the States if I decided to proceed with my travel, thanks to the fear instilled by local and national media.
-Purchase tickets that are refundable or invest in travel insurance for pricier tickets. I had to choose between taking an $1100 loss or travelling into the unknown. It helped that I had a friend in Istanbul that was able to give up to date information and that there were several Tweets contradicting media coverage, but I would have liked to have had the option of a refund in case I opted to not go.
-Be a smart traveller and not a gullible tourist. Even though Turkish flags and photos bearing Eragon’s face were available on every corner for protesters, I knew to stay out of certain areas and far away from the late night madness and mayhem. It was advised for tourists and residents to stay out of high traffic, popular areas, so I did. I’m all for authentic travelling, but it would have been hard to explain to my family that I got caught up in a gunfight while participating at a protest. There were some areas that I was unable to see on this trip, but every city has their hidden jewels that can be just as enjoyable.
-Know your rights and/or lack thereof. From the anti-Eragon journalist I met that couldn’t sleep at night for fear of being arrested and jailed without trial to the Iranian girl that I met in Cappadocia that couldn’t attend college in her home country because she was not Muslim, even though she had one of the highest averages in her school, I learned what it truly meant to have limited rights. While I was in Turkey, a State of Emergency was declared, giving military officials the lawful right to search ANYONE without cause outside of this person is non-Muslim and looks like one of the intellectuals that would challenge government law. A search and seize that usually began and ended with a scroll of the “suspects” Facebook feed for anti-government sentiments and could end in their arrest. When in another country, abide by their rules and customs. Extradition is a privilege, regardless of how small your crime may seem, and there’s not a guarantee you will be able to get off with a slap on the wrist. Ask DJ Esco.
-Listen to your gut. There’s a reason that we have a sense of discernment.
This post was written by Tonia Osborne
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