Too beautiful to let them win: dealing with terrorism as a traveller

On July 12th 2016, I left Nice, France complaining about how sunburnt I got while sitting on the beach, enjoying a beautiful day with my new Contiki friends. Two days later someone drove a cargo truck into innocent crowds celebrating Bastille Day. Talk about a wake up call to real world issues.

As a part of a young generation who grew up with a sense of entitlement and undeniable indestructibility in our sheltered and evolved little worlds, being in proximity to a terrorist attack was a eye opening experience.

On the 14th of July, 2016, I had arrived in Bordeaux, France after a long bus ride that was at least eight hours from Barcelona. I was really sick, I had a high temperature, a throbbing headache, no appetite, and was extremely dehydrated. Upon our arrival I decided to stay in that night, while the rest of my tour group went to dinner and then into the beautiful town square to watch the Bastille Day celebrations.

 

At around midnight, my friend came and woke me. She was really stressed and she told me that there had been a terrorist attack in Nice. At the time we didn’t know too much about what had happened, but I think we were all shocked because two days earlier, we had been walking down that exact promenade, and never would we have expected something like that to happen in such a tranquil place.

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As horrible as the devastation of the attack was, it caused some trouble for us, too. The morning of the 15th we were leaving Bordeaux to head into Paris, the last stop of our Contiki tour. Tension was high and everyone I spoke to was nervous, my friend in particular was very scared, and was close to refusing to go into Paris.

That’s when I realised the affect that terror has on you. Personally, I wasn’t afraid, instead I was angry and devastated that innocent people and their families are suffering for a selfish and political cause.

Everyone spoke to their families, and in our case, my friend’s family suggested that we leave our tour group and get out of France. After speaking to my family, I came to the decision that for me, I wasn’t going to let that be an option.

It may seem conceded considering the situation, but Paris was the one city that I had been looking forward to most. We had two days with our tour group and had planned to stay an extra three days to roam free and do some shopping, then visit Versailles and Disneyland. Paris had always been a dream, especially because my mum had told me how much she loved Paris when she went, so just the thought of not being allowed to go infuriated me.

To me, this trip signified so much; it was physical results of a year of working hard, it showed me that I can achieve my goals if I put my mind to it, and more so, it represented my freedom; Not in a rebellious “I can do what I like without asking my parents” type of way, but more of a “I have no strings” sort of way, and that was a big thing for my personal growth.

So when fear and terror threatened my freedom, I wasn’t okay with that. I refused to let fear dictate what I could or could not do. Call me naive, but how are you expected to make smart decisions if you’re acting on terror?

The definition of terrorism is the use of violence and intimidation in the pursuit of political aim.  It’s a despicable means of getting what you want, and I wasn’t going to give into it. Luckily once the stress died down, and we had a chat with our tour manager, everyone made more rational decisions and stuck to their original plans.

When you’re travelling, the most important thing is to keep a level head in a moment of crisis. If an important decision needs to be made, you need to make sure that you’ve got all of the information necessary to come to a decision. You need to be realistic and rational, which is a lot easier said than done. As basic as it sounds, trust your instincts. I always said that things happen for a reason, and I for one refuse to miss out on something amazing when I know I can make an informed decision about my safety and my plans.

Seeing the beauty of a city like Paris literally made me cry (in the Louis Vuitton store on the Champs Elysee, but that’s a story for another day) and I was devastated at the thought of changing my plans, especially when I had worked so hard to get there in the first place, all because of an uncontrollable evil that targeted innocent civilians on a national holiday.

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