No, I’m Not Canceling My Trip Due To Terrorist Attacks

Filed Under: Travel

Note: I wrote this post on Sunday afternoon, as family members were sending me news stories from Jordan. On Monday, of course, we saw incidents in Ankara, Berlin, Zurich, and Brussels, amongst others. My intent is not to minimize the experiences or concerns of those other cities by focusing on Jordan, and I think some of these thoughts are more broadly applicable anyway.

I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned it here or not yet, but my husband and I are heading to Jordan next week. We’ve had the trip outlined for almost a year, but only told our parents about it recently. They tend to worry about anywhere they perceive to be a non-conventional destination, or anywhere they think “has a bad reputation.”

They were surprisingly fine with my trip to Azerbaijan though — possibly because they don’t know anything about the country.

So it wasn’t surprising that throughout the day on Sunday, we received numerous texts about the events in Karak, Jordan. Karak is between Amman and Petra, and thus is off the “known” radar for many people who haven’t been to Jordan. There’s a fantastically preserved Crusader-era castle there though, so it does draw a fair amount of tourists, and it’s a city we’re definitely planning on stopping in.

Nor was it surprising that they were asking if this recent news meant we would be canceling our trip. But I think they were shocked at how adamant we are about going.

The whole exchange made me think more about how and why we travel, and why continuing to travel is so important to me, despite the potential safety concerns.

We are more at risk when we travel

Sometimes I’m tempted to respond to parental concerns about somewhere I’m headed with the “violence can happen anywhere” argument. After all, we have a not-insignificant number of gun deaths in the U.S., and on occasions other countries have warned their citizens to be cautious when traveling here too.

But the reality is that all of us are more vulnerable when we travel.

Not necessarily for something as extreme as being targets for terrorism, though that can of course be a factor, but there are things we have an automatic understanding of in our home towns that are less intrinsic in foreign environments. Where to go (or not go), how to use (or not use) public transit, what behaviors are acceptable and which are dangerous, etc.

Subway platform — safe or unsafe?

It’s harder to be “aware of your surroundings” or to “avoid dangerous circumstances” when you don’t have a baseline for normal.

And if something does go awry, we’re less prepared to deal with it in a foreign environment.

Think of the last place you visited, or the next place you’re going. Which are the “bad” parts of town? Do you know how to contact emergency services? What do you do if you hear sirens? Can the police be trusted? Does that answer change based on your gender/ethnicity/class/native language? What are the protocols during extreme weather events or earthquakes? What happens during an extended power outage?

Very few of us are prepared to handle any type of unpleasantness abroad at the same level of proficiency as we would at home. I tend to think being aware of this disadvantage and adjusting behavior accordingly is more useful than not traveling at all.

Research versus conventional wisdom

I can’t even estimate how many trips to Europe we helped cancel this July after the attacks in Nice and Istanbul. And while I would never encourage anyone to go anywhere that made them feel uncomfortable, the flip side of that is that some people assume that if a destination isn’t making the news, it must be safe.

In many cases though, the opposite is closer to the truth.

I’m leery of visiting much of Turkey right now, for example (though I’ll be happily connecting in Istanbul this trip). Not because it’s necessarily “less safe,” but because the censorship happening in the country makes it difficult to know what is actually going on. And I’m not saying that you shouldn’t go to Turkey — I just don’t feel as comfortable traveling someplace when I can’t make informed decisions regarding safety.

Watching the news isn’t a replacement for performing due diligence on a destination, ultimately. And doing that research may challenge preconceptions of a country or city.

As we explained to our family that there are State Department warnings for basically all of Europe, yet none for Jordan, along with the general precautions we would be taking, they became more comfortable.

I still don’t think they’re thrilled about it, but it’s a starting point.

I have other reasons for wanting to go to Jordan in particular

I mean, I have a lot of reasons. I love the diversity of cultures and cuisine in the Middle East, and I’m looking forward to exploring the natural landscapes and historical sites in Jordan. We’re also staying in some really cool places (a guesthouse! an ecolodge! a tent!), and I’m really excited about having a few days with no internet.

Dana Reserve in Jordan, image courtesy Feynan Ecolodge

But I also want to go to spend money.

There are over 726,000 registered refugees living in Jordan, mostly from Syria. 93% of Syrian refugees in Jordan live on less than $96 per month. Syrians are estimated to comprise ~13% of the overall population in Jordan — a significant percentage anywhere, but especially in a country of fewer than 10 million people.

Jordan is not a particularly wealthy country (Jordan ranks 89th in terms of GDP factoring in purchasing power parity), and this influx of people naturally puts a strain on housing, access to water, and other resources. Competition over resources can lead to increased conflict even in otherwise peaceable communities, and as small countries like Jordan and Lebanon shoulder more and more of the economic burden of regional conflicts, the risks of societal schisms increase.

To add to that, tourism revenues have been declining in Jordan, which isn’t that surprising when you look at a map of the region. But encouraging a peaceful and prosperous Jordan is beneficial to everyone right now.

So going to Jordan and spending money is a small thing, but it’s a thing I can do. And while I prefer to keep my charitable giving private, I think it’s important to make a slight exception in this case — we’ll be combining our tourism dollars with a significant (for us) donation to organizations working on infrastructure and humanitarian projects in Jordan.

I think travel is increasingly important

It’s fun too, of course, but I believe strongly that the cultural exchanges inherent in traveling have a positive contribution to our society.

And I’m not even talking about Big Important Things — experiencing even the mundane differences in everyday life can change perceptions. You simply cannot spend a winter in a village where no one speaks English and the only produce readily available is squash or tomatoes and look at a Costco in the same way.

That understanding of “the other” is so so so important, and should be encouraged.

Yes, visiting some parts of the world is more complicated right now. We will probably experience increased security and longer lines throughout our time in Jordan. Everyone will probably be a bit more aware.

So I’ll keep traveling. I’ll try to make smart decisions about where I go, and when. But I won’t make them based on fear.

Have recent events made you reconsider your travel plans? Why or why not?

  1. No one should stop traveling! It’ll be like saying due to the fact MH370 is gone, it’ll happen to you. Or to everyone!

    You let the terrorists win by you becoming scared of travel.

  2. We went to Jordan earlier this year and it was absolutely spectacular, you’ll love it! The people are insanely nice too.

  3. I just went to Jordan during the Thanksgiving holiday and I felt no danger. I’m Asian as no one could have cared. People were friendly. Have fun and hire the mules when you’re in Petra so you can see more. I flew nonstop on Royal Jordanian, are you? Get the bulkhead business class seats cause the cubby hole where your feet fits in is larger. The champagne bottle is half sized so it shouldn’t be difficult to finish it on your own 😉

  4. Thanks for this post Tiffany. I went to Jordan a couple of years ago and couldn’t recommend it enough. I remember that tourism was already down and there was hardly anyone at Petra, Dead Sea or any of the other tourist sites or hotels. I also went to Karak castle – which was completely empty. Feel so sorry for the security guards. Hope they are all ok.

  5. We went to that castle is Jordan, and commiserate with the people dealing with the aftermath. Terrorism has a long reach beyond the initial event. That’s its purpose.

    I look at my upcoming trip to Turkey with an eye on the odds. There are over 78 million people in that country (14 million just in Istanbul). How many died from terrorism? I’ll play that lottery.

    Also, brushes with death make for good stories. I’d rather live a little before I die.

  6. I’m reminded of my childhood by this post Tiffany.

    When I was a kid, I traveled to Europe frequently with my parents. Now, my dad, he was (and is) always looking for a deal. He’d book us on British package tour to the continent to save money, book us in suburban hotels next to subway or train stations to save on accommodation, etc.

    When there was a large terrorist attack, that’s when he’d really kick into action. Wherever it was, that’s where we were going that summer. His logic was twofold and, in retrospect, sound. First, that location was suddenly off most people’s vacation list, making it a more pleasant place to visit, and, two, that sudden decrease meant there were deals to be had. More critically, most of the time, places are safer after an attack, since security is usually ramped up considerably.

    And, truthfully, the only time I ever wound up close to actual terrorism was on a trip where we hadn’t picked using that criteria. It was in London, where an IRA bomb went off in a place I’d been just hours earlier.

    So, travel.

  7. Such a great post. I was very adventurous in my 20s and 30s but suddenly I became very risk averse in my 40’s. A few years ago, some friends suggested a week in a rental house in El Salvador on the beach. I almost said no because I thought the entire country was too unsafe. I had a blast, but it also reignited the travel bug. I don’t do anything I think that is too stupid or crazy, but I am now traveling solo to places I would not have dreamed of doing in my 40s. Travel is an important way to shake off complacency. I admire people like Tiffany who do their homework and then just go. They inspire me to keep going to new places. Cannot wait to read about Jordan!

  8. Thank you for writing this, Tiffany. I always enjoy reading your thoughtful and informed posts. I started reading OMAAT because of the points and miles game but over the years I truly enjoyed watching the blog and you guys grow. Keep up the good work!

  9. Great post. I went to Jordan (including Karak) and loved it! Glad to hear you are staying at Feynan – it was the highlight of my trip, even more so than Petra). I highly recommend the hike from Dana to Feynan and a cooking class at Feynan! I was reluctant to stay at Dana Guest House as it seemed to rustic to me (only one room with a private bathroom which we couldn’t get), but I am so glad I did. Make sure to stock up on some duty free wine at the airport and bring some to Dana and Wadi Rum ( we were reluctant to do it but a guide in Petra strongly suggested it… No one is bothered if you are having a glass or two in the privacy of your own balcony, or some feet away from the camp, under the stars at Wadi Rum)

  10. I went to Jordan in March with wife and son. I never once felt unsafe and the Jordanian people are truly wonderful. All our family and friends thought we were nuts. I would do it again in a heartbeat and likely will once some other items on my bucket list are done. It is a great time to go because tourism is down on unfounded fears so prices are reasonable and even in March Petra was not terribly crowded.

  11. Great post, Tiffany.

    I’ve been to Jordan three times and loved it. A close friend is there at this very moment. It’s a very safe place – as you say, bad things can happen anywhere. I hope you and your husband have a wonderful time.

    PS I hope you’re staying at Hawa Guest House in Amman.

  12. I’m going to Prague next week to enjoy the Christmas Market. Terrorists will not decide how I live my life!

  13. Tiffany,

    Look up how many homicides there were in the city you live in America to get a perspective.

    Americans are just ridiculous. I think this is where all the “isms” come from. minimize faults in what’s familiar and similar and blow up faults in what’s different.

  14. Nice post! My mom will worry about me, whether I go to Montreal or Mogadishu. I always dread telling her about my travel plans…and sometimes I don’t, because I don’t want her to worry unnecessarily. And then I feel guilty for keeping it secret.

  15. Tiffany asks: “What do you do if you see sirens?”

    My answer: The same the I do when I hear flashing lights…

    OTOH, nice post. Terrorists will not inhibit my travels.

  16. I just came back from Lebanon this Monday. Just few days before the trip I did take a look at where I was actually going to (Booked the holiday just based on a cheap airfare, no visa requirement, and few things to do listed in Wikitravel) and if there was something that I was supposed to be aware of. I checked travel advisories from multiple governments and most of them warned about high risk of car bombs, *shelling*, missile strikes, kidnapping etc. and especially the Bekaa Valley and Syria border were we were planning to go. This made me worried for a while as I did dig more using twitter, youtube etc. to see if the place looked more like Aleppo than a normal city.
    As only thing that I was able to find was travel advisories (which also voided my travel insurance as it was recommended to leave the area) I still decided to go.

    And I’m glad I did. Sure it was quiet as we were able to see only 3 other tourists during the whole trip. Many villages at Syria Border were pretty much empty except military checkpoints. But everyone was so helpful and nice to us, including people at checkpoints who gave us driving directions or even send some one to show us the way. No one asked what we were doing there. There was no lack of food or other supplies except electricity as Lebanon used to import most of it from Syria.

  17. Good post. I agree that we shouldn’t allow terrorist or new-hype to control our travel goals. For example the gun issue you mention. Many people would be afraid to visit the USA based on news hype about guns but wouldn’t hesitate to visit say Jamaica or Mexico where the homicides involving guns is MUCH MUCH higher.
    I wish is was easier to rent a car and travel between Jordan and Israel. Seems like such a pain. I’m sure you’ll enjoy. We are set for a trip to Israel in the Spring via overnights in Turkey. While I did change my schedule around to avoid changing airports there I’m not overly concerned but I will be cautious. As a risk management professional I look at issues that others don’t.
    My short list for being aware:
    1.Know where the stairwells are at your hotel or hostel
    2.Count how many rows of seats you are from the two nearest emergency exits on planes
    3. Read the safety card or door instructions if you are seated on an exit row (know sorta how it works)

  18. A few years ago when we were getting ready to travel to a Muslim country, my American friends kept trying to tell me that Muslim countries were so dangerous and we shouldn’t go. So, I pulled up the statistics of homicides by country and the top 25 highest homicide rates were in countries with majority Christian populations (#25 was Nigeria, which is 50/50 Christian/Muslim).

    So, Americans, shut your mouth and do some research before saying stupid stuff. Muslims aren’t the problem, us Christians are.

  19. Forgot to notice but all the while I was thinking this was Ben. I should have known better. So glad to finally see a political post. Do continue to stay on the right side of history! Keep up the good morals.

  20. Thanks for this, Tiffany. Couldn’t be more relevant for me, as my wife and I are scheduled to fly to Berlin on 12/27. We’ll be there for a few days and then on to Prague for the New Year. I’m getting the same nervous texts from loved ones, and my wife is quite edgy as well. While I am vigilant and not naive, I feel as if we can/should still go. Do you agree?

    Side note, we’re flying with BA via LHR on flights with AA Ticket stock (got a great deal ticketing it this way) and while I don’t often fly BA, I do use Ultimate Rewards and my CSR for everyday spend. Do you think it makes sense to credit these to BA and not AA?

    Happy Holidays and thanks again for the great article.

  21. Same as you I get asked whether there is concern when my wife and I travel to far away places. I try to select countries that don’t have any conflicts but as you pointed out, hard to guess where an incident may pop up. We do our best to stay alert and

    Jordan is really high on my to do list. My wife has zero interest in going. I also want to visit Israel again for an extended period of time. Will probably route through HKG on the A350 once that route starts operating.

    Hope to see lots of pics from your Jordan trip report.

  22. @ Richard — Not a direct attack in Brussels, but a police raid that shut down portions of the city while authorities searched for weapons and explosives. There wasn’t a lot of information as it was happening, just images coming out of blockades, lights, and a large police presence. Not necessarily dangerous, but potentially unsettling, and could have of course escalated.

  23. Fabulous post, Tiffany! Have a great trip and please share as many of us would love to read/see about it.

    I went to Jordan by myself (female) in 2004 when tourism was low and americans were even rarer. In fact, no one ever guessed I was american. The people were lovely and the sites breathtaking. Have fun!

  24. I just spent a week in Jordan earlier this month. You should absolutely go. It was fantastic. Most young Jordanians speak some English, and even those who don’t will be helpful. Crime is low enough that lots of people hitchhike—I myself picked up an old Bedouin man and drove him a couple of miles.

    If you’re comfortable with it, I recommend driving yourself around, so that you control your own schedule. All the road signs are in English as well as Arabic, and those plus Google Maps meant that I never got lost or had any real difficulty, except when I got stuck in Amman rush-hour traffic (which was as unpleasant as it would be anywhere else in the world). Jordanian drivers do tend to see lane markings as suggestions, but drivers are worse in Central America.

    I spent a day snorkeling in the Red Sea at Aqaba, a day in Wadi Rum, a day in Petra, a day in Dana Reserve and at Shobak Castle, a day at the Marriott Dead Sea resort where I also went to Jesus’ baptism site and Mt. Nebo, and a day at Jerash and Ajloun Castle. I enjoyed every bit of it, though trying to see Petra in a day was a mistake—it’s so amazing that I spent 11 hours walking around the site and didn’t see all that I wanted to, and my legs were sore the next day. After Petra, I would say that Jerash was the next highlight for me. I didn’t make it to Kerak, which is the best preserved of the Crusader-era forts, though I did go to Shobak and Ajloun castles.

    I stayed at the Doubletree in Aqaba and liked it. The Marriott in Petra is out of town, in a beautiful place, but not close to the site—I’d probably choose the Crowne Plaza if I went back, just for easier access. The Marriott Dead Sea resort is really fine (I would call it a destination resort).

    The new Rough Guide to Jordan just came out last month, and I found it very helpful.

  25. @ Steve — I would go. Security in Berlin is likely to be over the top, so just be prepared for that. Prague should be fine, I’d be more concerned about pickpockets and stuff there, but pay attention in crowds, have an escape plan, etc. Make sure you have international data set up on your phone — you’ll be much more at ease if you know you can contact people if something happens.

    Also, if you like meat, make sure to stop at Naše maso in Prague. It’s basically a butcher shop that cooks things to order, and is delicious.

    Where to credit miles depends a bit on the fare class, I’d check this:

  26. It looks like I am going to Jordan myself in about 6 weeks on a bit of a last minute offer that popped up. I am working on a friend to come with me and had the discussion about “is it going to be safe enough”. There are not many places I wouldn’t considering going these days. The Yomadic tours to Iran fascinate me. I can’t wait to hear about your trip!

  27. Great post, Tiffany! And I’m on your side! Avoid countries like most recently, Germany is a bad idea! I’m pretty sure there is today no city in the world more secure than Berlin, just like Paris, Nice, Brussels, etc after the attacks.

  28. @Tiffany: Just out of curiosity, do you have other passport than the American one? I share the same thoughts you wrote on the post but wonder if you use a non US passport when traveling to places where Americans may become a target.

  29. I have little to add, as my thoughts & feelings have already been expressed in the comments section.

    Brilliant post. It was so desperately needed. All due respect to Tiffany’s family; but, I tend to scoff and roll my eyes when anyone tells me that travel to such-and-such destination is dangerous. I would never sacrifice my joy for travel because of some perception of danger, whether real or imagined. I frankly would have far more concerns for my mental health in Branson than for my physical safety in Cairo. Jeez, I have a far greater risk of death crossing the intersection of Maryland Avenue & 5th in Washington!

    Jordan is such a wonderful country! I am so very envious. Tiffany, have you considered a trip to Iran? My visit there was easily the most spectacular trip of my lifetime to date. I presently have trips booked for Siem Reap, Prague and then Bamako for an art fair. I am so excited about the trip to Mali! Not so much the jaunt to Siem Reap.

  30. Good for you.. Keep traveling. I took a trip to Istanbul and I loved it, about 3 months ago. I am so happy I went and did not listen to everyone. I felt perfectly safe there, but I knew the risks were and are there…

  31. I was in Nice ten days before the attack earlier this year. It was my first visit there in nearly twenty years and I loved it! It was a business trip but I decided to return this coming May for a small vacation following a work assignment but I opted to postpone for now not because I was worried about my personal safety but rather in deference to my family who have expressed their concerns. I’ll probably go back in a year or so.

    I went to Paris last Christmas following the attack at the Nightclub in November. One place I won’t go in light of recent events is anywhere on Egypt Air or transit any airport in Egypt given the security breaches that led to the downing of two flights.

  32. Excellent post. I hope you get to visit Wadi Rum where The Martian was filmed.
    Applying the mud and floating in the Dead Sea is an experience not to be missed.
    We enjoyed RJ direct flight in Crown class on their 787 Dreamliner.
    I also hope you can visit the roman city of Jerash and the baptismal site on the river Jordan.
    The people are kind, generous and genuine.
    Needless to say we felt very safe and thoroughly enjoyed our visit to Jordan. We would not hesitate to go back.

  33. Great article!
    Jordan sounds like a great place to visit!
    Do you guys think it’s safe to visit Jordan alone?

  34. Yes it is safe to go alone. I would not recommend renting a car as the drivers there make their own rules.
    Most of the sights can be seen by taking day trips from the capital Amman with tour companies. I would recommend an overnight stay at the Dead Sea, Wadi Rum. Aqaba on the Red Sea and 1-2 nights at Petra.
    Doing what Tiffany is doing is also great by staying at the ecological zone and doing hikes.
    We hired a driver/guide including an AC car for 5 days that cost less than $1000 for 2 people through one of the trip adviser recommended tour companies.

  35. Tiffany, you have expressed perfectly my thoughts and feelings about travel! We are in Jordan right now. We arrived on Sunday, the day of the attack at Karak. Jordan is an amazing country and we feel completely safe. And I am happy to spend our money freely here.

    On the other hand, we cancelled the Egypt portion of our trip after the attack at the Copt Church in Cairo the week before. I did so not because we feared another attack, but because I had one day to decide and rashly cancelled. I regret it!

    Being able to travel and see the world and experience other cultures is a privilege!

  36. Traveling is about to get way way more dangerous as our new “President” takes office and completely destabilizes the whole friggin planet.

    What a joke, what a disgrace that a fool with no foreign policy knowledge, no poise, no grace, no diplomacy, just racism, religious intolerance, ignorance, agresssion and bigotry.

    Good luck America with the backlash, and those that voted for him deserve it all.

    My family and I (US citizens) … we’ve already left, and living in hotels worldwide (inspired in part by a young man known as Lucky!)

    I saw DT’s uprising and started to sell everything I own in the summer. Nov 8th sealed the plan and we were gone by Nov30. I will not be part of Trump’s America. And if you think Americans are disliked worldwide now… just wait and see as the real Trump effect takes hold.

    Bring on the redneck conservative comments… yeah worry not the door didn’t hit me the ass, your ignorance and superiority did though.

  37. Tiffany, since you cited the state dept not having any travel warnings for Jordan as part of the reason for feeling comfortable going I’m curious if the travel warning for Jordan that just came out is affecting your thinking?

    I’m headed to Jordan in a few weeks myself. When I saw the travel warning come out, my first thought was “oh crap” but after additional reflection and continuing to read reports from people who are there or who have been recently, decided that I should still go. Especially after I read a statistic that more Americans were killed worldwide by lightning in 2011 than in terrorist attacks.

  38. I loved reading and reflecting on this post,especially after coming back from holiday in Israel, Jordan and Turkey. Of course, safety and security was on our minds 100% of the trip (like you, family members were concerned after the Ankara and Arak incidents).

    I’m happy to say I felt very safe in Jordan, they acknowledge their relatively calm environment is precious in a region afflicted by conflict, and they work to keep it that way. In Turkey, my perception was that people were more on edge and tense. I believe it will only be worse after the sad events of new year’s eve. Which is so unfortunate for such an interesting, beautiful and vibrant country!

    Needless to say, researching and taking precautions is a necessity anywhere you go. Not travelling simply can’t be an option!

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