The Anti-Tourist

I like to beat new paths for myself.

How Racial Fear and Prejudice are ruining YOUR travels

By 15:34:00 , ,

Around a month ago, I announced to my friends and family that I was flying off to Turkey. Besides the usual eye-roll at my non-stop travel addiction, I received endless concerned lectures, most of them to the tone of:

"You can't go to Turkey, they're all terrorists, they'll kidnap you!"
"It's a dangerous country, especially since you're a woman!"
"You can't go off wandering alone in Turkey, you'll get killed!"

..and so on. As my departure date got closer, the remarks reached such a high that I began worrying myself, even though I had already been to Turkey and I have Turkish friends. I became so paranoid that I wore a fake wedding band and in every street I walked through I could almost hear someone following me. By the time the sun set on my first day in Istanbul, I was still alive and incredibly angry.

Not only had nothing bad happened, but the few people I forced myself to speak to (for directions, tickets, etc) were incredibly friendly and helpful! Sure, their English was very shaky, but with some sign language on my part and pointing on theirs, I eventually figured it out. I spent almost all day wandering alone in Istanbul, and no one harassed me in any way. I enjoyed the sights, ate a lovely meal and walked back to my hostel, exhausted but completely safe.

The truth is, unless you're an idiot, you're as safe as in your own home town. All you have to do is apply the usual precautions that huge cosmopolitan cities like Istanbul or London require - don't flash around your money or brand new iPhone, keep your eyes open as to your surroundings, don't wander in dark alleyways in the middle of the night, don't follow strangers anywhere you don't know. Would you do any of that at home and feel safe? No? Then don't do it anywhere else either.

What made me so angry, I later realised, is that I only got those warnings because it was the Middle East. I've travelled solo before, but never did I get so many concerned messages. Some people still consider anything that's different or alien to what they know and are comfortable with to be dangerous, and therefore, to be avoided. To these people, I say travel. Go see for yourself how the other side lives, and you'll see that while the differences are there, we share more similarities than you'd like to think. You'll realise that not all Muslims will blow up in your face, just how not every Christian priest is the angel he preaches to be.

It's not being different that's bad. It's refusing to learn about those differences before you judge that's wrong, and that creates so much fear and prejudice. Don't be that person.

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