I woke up yesterday to the news that Brussels just suffered a massive terrorist attack, leaving upwards of 30 people dead and 200 people injured. I felt a piercing sadness, I was horrified, and yet I wasn't shocked.
I wasn't shocked because this devastating news comes just over three months after the world was rocked by ghastly ISIS terrorist attacks in Paris, Beirut and Baghdad last November, followed by another attack in San Bernardino, California in December, a suicide bombing in Jakarta in January, and fatal attacks in Nigeria, Yemen, Turkey, and the Ivory Coast just this month. The world is in a state of turmoil and tragedy, and people are living -- understandably so -- in a perpetual state of fear.
If anything is clear, it's that terrorism can happen anywhere -- in a Paris concert venue, at a marathon in Boston, at a train station in Madrid, in the London tube, at a company holiday party in California, at a funeral in Baghdad, at a hotel in Mumbai, in a suburb in Beirut.
Every time we hear of another attack, we feel a crushing sense of loss and concern for the victims' families and loved ones. But after the immediate sadness subsides, we begin to consider ourselves and our own safety -- and we panic.
In the Facebook travel groups I'm part of, messages about travel plans and safety are flooding the community pages. People are frantically posting asking for advice on what to do about their upcoming travel plans to Europe. Should they reroute their trip to Italy and Switzerland instead of Greece and France? Should they skip Europe altogether and book new flights to central America or Australia instead? Or should they scrap the whole trip and wait it out at home, wherever home may be?
I don't have the answers to these questions. I'm not qualified to counsel anyone on which countries are currently safe and for long they'll stay that way.
But I do know this: we cannot allow fear to dictate our travels. If we took into account every moment of violence that's ever taken place in any given destination, we'd never leave our bedrooms. The world is unsafe, this we know. Widespread police violence and mass shootings occur on a regular basis throughout the United States, yet people are still booking flights to San Francisco and road tripping to New Orleans. There are tourists and locals alike getting mugged and robbed throughout the world, yet people are still walking Dubrovnik's city walls and touring Rome's coliseum.
But for all the danger and senseless violence that occurs around the globe, there is ten times as much love and generosity present. There are kind strangers in every corner of the world ready to share their homes and cities with us, ready to dispense advice about the best breakfast joints in town or the prettiest viewpoints, ready to offer directions to a lost tourist, ready to lend a hand in a crisis, ready to prove -- with their thoughtful gestures and their encouraging words and their kind hearts -- that humanity is inherently good.
This is why we cannot stop traveling and exploring. As citizens of the world it is our duty to meet the people who will teach us more about their culture and lifestyle, and who will act as ambassadors for their countries.
We have a responsibility now more than ever to know the world intimately and to break down the racial, cultural and stereotype-based obstacles that stand to divide us. We can only do this through travel.
We can only truly understand another culture by having the willingness to immerse ourselves in it, to ask questions, and to patiently observe without judgment. We can only build relationships with other communities by approaching them with an open mind, determined to cast out our own presumptions and opinions along the way. We can only join hands with other people and move forward as a united force if we have compassion for one another, and if we trust one another.
To trust someone you have to know that person. To know that person you have to understand that person. To understand that person you have to develop a connection with that person. The most fulfilling and most certain way to develop connections with people from other parts of the world is to visit those other parts of the world.
Travel is essential in eliminating the hatred and fear that permeate our planet. The more we learn about one another's plights and triumphs, the more we can learn how to better help and empower one another. The more we seek to understand rather than blame, the more we play a part in dissipating fear and breaking down walls, in creating communities instead of tearing them apart.
So be smart and be cautious. Stow away your naiveté and your carelessness. Do your research and heed global travel advisories. Make practical, informed decisions about where you go.
But go, nevertheless. Get on that plane or bus or train, know that you are living not without -- but in spite of -- your fear, and show up to your destination with an open mind and a little bit of hope tucked in your back pocket. Actively seek out examples of kindness, empathy and love wherever you go. Be these things yourself. Give freely, be compassionate and limit your judgment.
Just go. Now, in this time of ever-present panic and fear and desperation, it may be the most important thing you do.