As a mother, blogger and avid world traveler who annually travels alone, I followed the story on Sarai Sierra, the missing New York mother of two, with interest and fear. I first heard the story from my parents who sent me an email with the link and told me that it concerned them. You see, in some ways I'm like this woman. I'm a mother, a solo traveler to what some would call dangerous places and share my life with thousands of strangers through my blog and other social media outlets like Twitter, Pinterest, Google + and Instagram.
Yet, in other ways I'm different. I have been out of the country many times and whenever I do travel solo, I'm not truly alone. I am always going through a volunteer organization based in the U.S. that organizes the entire trip for me, including contacts to meet and greet me at the airport, deliver me safely to a trusted and approved host family where I stay and keep in regular contact with me throughout my stay.
According to ABC News, Sarai had never been out of the country before on her own and went to Turkey alone (after her friend canceled) to practice her photography skills. She had over 3,000 followers on Instagram, many of whom she communicated with on the site.
Her disappearance shook me up a little. It all seemed so odd. Here is this mother of two, going to Istanbul alone and staying at a hostel. She was in regular contact with her family via Skype until the day before her departure and then never showed up. It all sounded really strange.
A few weeks ago when I saw the news, I let out a gasp. "Sarai Sierra found dead." Clearly, I was shocked and saddened. As police are investigating the story, I have read some of the comments made on the Internet about this woman and have been even more saddened and angered. Comments by complete strangers calling this women "stupid," "selfish," "naive" and "just plain dumb for going to such a dangerous county who hates westerners." Comments wondering why a single woman would ever travel outside of the U.S. alone. Comments saying she was "asking for it." Also, there were so many comments about Turkey and being incredibly "dangerous as a Muslim country." These comments angered me and reminded me that unfortunately some people are very ignorant about the world. Many of these people have never even left the United States before.
At the same time I read the news about Sarai's death, I also saw a blurb saying that a missing 13-year-old girl was found dead in a California park. Yes, this is here in the United States. In fact, death, murder and extreme violence happen here every day. Just remember Sandy Hook, the movie theater shootings in Colorado or even a late-night stabbing two blocks away from my house along the Minnehaha Creek.
Of course, Sarai's loss is a wake-up call in some way that I should be more careful and that all solo travelers, men and women, should be prudent. However, it doesn't mean I'm stupid for traveling alone and should stay locked up inside my house all the time. It just means when you go anywhere alone, you must take certain precaution. This could happen in New York City or even Minneapolis.
I look at all the wonderful experiences I've had traveling solo and never once will regret it or stop taking these trips. I have traveled to Muslim countries alone and have always been welcomed. I will continue to take the necessary precautions that I always do and use common sense. But I'm not going to let one bad story keep me from volunteering every year. I'm just going to continue to use the same common sense I'd use anywhere when I'm alone.
As for how much of my life should I share on the Internet via my blog and other social media, it is hard to say. It is concerning. Yet, in an ever-changing world in which social media is continually growing and becoming more important, I don't think I can simply stop my passion for writing. Social media is here to stay, as is blogging. Unfortunately, there will always be evil people out there trying to prey on you. But as with anything in life, you just got to be careful. If you were afraid and fearful of everything bad that happens in the world, you would never leave the house. What a waste of a life that would be.
Follow Nicole Melancon on Twitter: www.twitter.com/@thirdeyemom