When my partner mentioned recently that he was due to spend a few days in Paris for work, I of course jumped at the chance to join. Heading out on the Eurostar on Friday afternoon and then back again on Sunday evening, makes it one of the most routine and hassle free trips that you can do, if you are based in the UK. No transfer taxis or airline security to kill your buzz, just two beautiful train stations book-ending a two hour journey through the English Channel and over the French countryside. It’s forever been a smug luxury that most ex-pat’s living in London will use to lure friends to the city, exclaiming passionately, “… and you can just pop over for the weekend!” Despite the fact that many of us rarely actually do it.
I always make a point of letting my family know when I am travelling abroad. It is as much me trying to involve them in the excitement, as it is me keeping them up to speed on where I am at any given time. Being hippie backpackers of yesteryear, they generally tend to share in my excitement. But this time I noticed a somewhat more somber tone to their reactions. I saw their smiles drop over a grainy Skype call when I said I was off to France. They didn’t ask about where I was staying or what I planned to do, but rather how long I was going to be there and precisely when I intended on coming home. There were questions of cancellations and refunds but no question of things I planned to see, and then finally just a sullen silence and a polite nod.
Then the text messages started.
Friends started checking in with, “Just cancel,” “…are you sure you still wanna go?” and “… I wouldn’t if I were you…” It was the morning after the massacre in Nice and we were due to leave that evening. We didn’t cancel. We stuck to the plans and headed off as we had intended. The scene we arrived at could not have been any different from the image we had been forced to consider on the journey; a bustling station with people flooding in and out of trains from various other European locations, bars heaving with locals, museums heaving with tourists and the city glowing with its usual, sensual warmth. We had been told security was at the highest level possible and to expect a heavy police/military presence, but saw nothing. We spent the days wandering the streets, eating, drinking, ducking in and out of galleries and then the evenings sitting on the sidewalks watching people come and go from the clubs. Here is a country, more specifically a city, that has seen unspeakable horror only in the past 18 months, and yet its citizens were still simply going about their business still being beautifully French. I am certain that people had mourned for what had happened only the night before, but it had not consumed them. Despite its obvious wounds, the country seemed to be breathing as normal.
The most powerful defense against ‘terrorism’ will always be to carry on living as we did before. When we start to second guess doing something, going somewhere or saying something due to the perceived threat of an attack, we have very much succumbed to the objective of what ‘terrorism’ is ultimately all about. One bomb on a subway or one knife attack in a cinema will not unhinge the very fabric of a society. An attack is simply one isolated incident among the larger cannon of terrorism. But the narrative of the attacks all stitched together creates this frightening vision that is supposed force us into seclusion, caution and suspicion. People committing the acts attempt to lump themselves together under a banner of religion so it appears there is some cohesion across the globe; some universal fight of them versus us, when most of these attacks are carried out by deranged individuals with tenuous religious convictions anyway.
A desire and willingness to travel is without a doubt one of the greatest weapons that we can arm ourselves with in this day in age. Fear and terror are born almost solely out of misunderstanding and ignorance. If we throw ourselves into the world and make the effort to see what lays beyond our own comfort zone then we will learn to develop our own perception of life based on actual experience, not information spewed from the internet.
Inquisitiveness about the world is not simply about being young and reckless, tearing around Thailand on stag parties. It’s about peeling yourself away from the media and going and seeing for yourself exactly what is happening around you. It’s about not being afraid to get lost, not being afraid to be alone and not being afraid to be foreign. It may seem like every country on the planet at the moment is surrounded by barbed wire fences with anti-aircraft machinery titled to the sky and a finger on the trigger. But it’s not. It’s still surprisingly wonderful. So although travel may seem like a pain on your bank account, your waistline or liver, don’t ever discount what it has done for your mind and your soul. Don’t discount what it has allowed you to bring back with you for the people who have either not been as fortunate or less willing. Because saying “I saw once…” will always trump, “I read once…” A single terrorist may cause irreparable damage to a family, someone’s life or a particular site, but something it cannot damage is our curiosity. Do not be afraid of the world. It’s still beautiful I promise.