Travelling safely abroad: Don't fret about threats you cannot control, focus on risks you can minimise

The man who pays his way

“Beach resorts, bars and restaurants, hotels, markets, shopping malls, tourist attractions, places of worship, foreign embassies, ferry terminals and airports” – in the course of your next holiday, might you visit any of those locations?

I ask because that is the Foreign Office list of “potential terrorist targets” in Indonesia. It appears in the updated travel advice following Thursday's attack on the capital, Jakarta. Once again, some angry young men took out their hatred of civilisation by taking as many lives as possible in the course of losing theirs.

My typical holiday calibrates very closely with the venues on the FCO list, with the possible exception of those foreign embassies. So, for my next visit to Indonesia, what should I do? 

“Be vigilant and take care at all times,” urges the Foreign Office. “You should regularly review your security arrangements.” 

Now, I appreciate there is little more that the FCO can say. But as a tourist, as opposed to a hot-shot expatriate executive, I don't actually have any security arrangements. And while I shall do my best to “take care at all times”, in truth I can't promise that my vigilance won't dwindle after some Bintang beer at a beachside bar. While I should probably have a three-point plan to minimise risk, in reality it's more likely to be a three-pint plan to maximise fun.

Jakarta's historic core, Kota, is well worth a visit, but the Indonesian capital is never going to rank alongside another urban giant, Istanbul, as a great tourist destination. Turkey's biggest city contains more of interest in a single square, Sultanahmet, than the whole of Jakarta. Which, according to the mad ideology of medieval savagery, made this ancient forum an ideal place to slaughter a dozen tourists on Tuesday this week.

Should we all pack up and go home – or, to be precise, not pack up and stay at home? No, because then hatred is handed a victory. The rational collective response is to flock towards places visited by terrorism – trusting that our luck and the authorities' skill will prevail against the inhuman international lottery of random murder.

No medal for pedalling 

Don't fret about threats you cannot control – just focus on the risks you can minimise. Twenty years ago, the travel association Abta held its annual convention in Istanbul. Unlike 2016, when there are 23 departures a day from the UK to Turkey's largest city, in 1996 my trip involved flying from Heathrow to Stuttgart to Thessaloniki and hitch-hiking onwards across the Greek-Turkish border. The trip was enlivened by my choice of baggage, a folding bicycle. I intended to soak up the ambiance of Istanbul as I commuted from my digs in the Ali Baba Guest House in Sultanahmet to a conference venue three miles north of the Golden Horn. 

For five days I persisted with my cunning time- and taxi-saving plan. But had I spent much longer in the tangle of traffic, it would surely have proved a life-expectancy-limiting measure. Istanbul welcomes almost everyone, but not cyclists, careful or otherwise.

Points, not pints

After the Istanbul attack, Sarah Watts asked: “We're booked to go to Olu Deniz in Turkey, in August this year. We've received conflicting advice as to whether we should travel there. What is your honest opinion?”

My honest opinion is that the overwhelming odds are on Sarah and her family having a happy holiday. But since she went to the trouble of getting in touch, I thought I should devise a proper three-point risk-management plan:

1. Be aware of the dangers of rip tides, and understand how to deal with them. You can find an excellent guide online at bit.ly/RipSafe;

2. Given the traffic-accident rate, which is many times worse than the UK, watch out when you're crossing the road, and don't rent a car;

3. Wear a hat and apply plenty of sunscreen. August can be phenomenally hot in Turkey.

Wherever you go in the Mediterranean this summer, feel free to follow the same rules.

 

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