I can’t sit here and promise you that it’s going to be safe. There have been three deadly attacks in central areas this year: First Sultanahmet, secondly Istiklal street, and most recently the Beyazit Grand Bazar area. Although the most recent attack targeted police, the reality is that foreign tourists are hot targets. There’s no denying that the threat of a terrorist attack is high. So is Istanbul safe? Or should you cancel your trip?
Well, if you want the official answer, the Australian government says ‘reconsider your need to travel’ and the USA and UK governments have similar warnings.
I’m not telling you to ignore them. Just please don’t immediately dismiss the idea of visiting Turkey.
What about other cities with terrorist threats?
There have been terrorist attacks throughout Europe, where the death numbers were much higher than they have been in Istanbul. Yet other travellers are constantly asking me whether its safe to go to Istanbul, but no one thinks twice about Paris or Brussels.
Be aware of Westerncentricism of the media and government. When I was in Istanbul, there was a massive attack in Ankara at a protest for peace (!!). Classes were cancelled at my university and grief counselling arranged for students. I knew someone who knew someone who was there. I felt the pain and sadness of the people around me and I can tell you that it was no less than that felt by Parisians or Belgians.
Yet my friends in Australia didn’t even know it had happened.
Jump forward to the Paris attacks and, everyone was changing their Facebook profile pictures, the flag was on the goddamn Sydney Opera House for goodnessakes. I found it so confronting that no one cared about the Turkish people who I know and love, but they’re so enthusiastic to stand behind France.
There are 14 million people are going about their daily lives in Istanbul. They don’t have the choice to leave it out of their itineraries. For me, going back to Istanbul after these attacks was a way of standing in solidarity when the rest of the world seems to have forgotten them.
There are so many other things that could kill you
You’re not worried about the thousands of other things that could kill you. That massive steak you had in Florence? Could give you a slow painful death from heart disease. That rickshaw you took in Bangkok? So many die on those roads every year. Went swimming in Hawaii? One tourist drowns every week. Visited the US? Gun violence statistics are through the roof. Walked outside your front door recently?
Here’s a fact: You’re gonna die. You take risks that could kill you every single day. And that’s because it’s the only way to live. It would be ridiculous to live your life in constant fear of all the possible things that could kill you.
You’re statistically most likely to die at the age of about 80 or 90 from a chronic disease.
The chances of it being you as an individual who gets killed in a terrorist attack in such a huge city is virtually zero. Just because the threat of a terrorist attack is high, doesn’t mean that the threat of a particular individual’s death (i.e. yours) is high.
Don’t be afraid
Even though attacks are heartbreaking, terrorism news is consumed as entertainment nowadays. It makes us feel afraid. In some ways, this is healthy, because it puts our lives in perspective and reminds us of our own mortality and insignificance. But in other ways, it’s damaging because it makes us live in fear and prevents us from fully enjoying life.
The terrorists want to make you scared. Don’t let them win. Go to Turkey to enjoy yourself. Eat its amazing food, navigate your way between Europe and Asia, visit the architectural wonders and don’t forget to visit some less popular places too.
As Tom Brosnahan From Turkey Travel Planner writes:
I refuse to be afraid of the horrible,
only the probable.
A quick side note
Some travel insurers don’t cover destinations with a governmental warning. Check this out before you go as travel insurance is super important. I didn’t have any problems with my coverage through Southern Cross Travel Insurance. But I believe World Nomads exclude these areas.
Would you travel to Istanbul now? Have you travelled to other destinations against governmental advice?