September 2014

Line in the Sand: International Travel- Is it safe?

Author: Barry Kaufman & Courtney Hampson | Photographer: photography by Anne

Barry Kaufman
As I write this column, I do so while wedged into an economy seat currently winging its way over the Mexican border. You may have heard of the Mexican border from the popular television program “Every News Channel in Existence Right Now.”

You may have also heard that my destination itself, Mexico, can be kind of a scary place, between the drug cartels, the imprisoned Marines and the constant threat of being slapped in the face (I watch a lot of telenovelas).

Furthermore, you may have heard that the very means of travel I’ve chosen isn’t always the safest. In fact, when I’m not proving Courtney wrong, I’m an editor for a travel news website, so I may have been the person you heard it from. If planes aren’t vanishing off the radar over international waters, they’re being shot down by missiles. Terrifying stuff, right? Believe me, my job entails knowing that there is so much worse that can happen to you on a plane.

Just this week, I’ve edited stories about how London-Gatwick Airport was partially shut down due to an Ebola scare; the CDC has issued guidelines to quarantine planes; the FAA says that flights are probably okay to fly over Iraq (IRAQ!); a hacker figured out how to use a plane’s onboard Wi-Fi to scramble its navigation; and a drunken flyer caused a flight to be rerouted after beating a fellow passenger with her artificial leg.
That was just this week.

And yet here I am, on this plane. What in the world makes me think that what I’m doing is at all safe?

Because like I said, I’m an editor for a travel website. Each of those pieces I mentioned above were written and published because they are news. The millions of flights that happen every day where no one gets a fatal disease, no one beats anyone with any kind of artificial limb, and everyone arrives safely are not news. And those flights outnumber the flights I edit stories about by a staggering margin. Statistically, I realize that it probably won’t happen to me. That’s just how little I fear the downside. I haven’t even touched on the upside.

If you let the headlines that I and others of my scare-tactic news ilk put out there frighten you out of traveling, you miss out on an entire world. I edit those stories, but I also edit stories about Europe’s stunning historical tours, the Caribbean’s mega-resorts, Africa’s untamed wilderness and the serene mountain journeys of the Far East. If you can get out there into the world and enjoy just one of those things, just one, you create a memory that will stay with you until you draw your last.

Look at it this way; I started writing this on my way to Mexico. I’m finishing it in the comfort of my own home. Between the two, I watched the sun rise over the Caribbean. I tried real authentic rhum (yes, with an h) for the first time. I caught a Flo Rida concert with several thousand screaming Mexican 20-somethings. I saw a baby monkey peek between the tree leaves and stare me down with the same inquisitive wonder I was staring him down with.

I saw how this country was nothing like the Mexico that existed in my head before I got there. I realize that the areas around the Hard Rock resort are no more indicative of “Mexico” than the areas around Hilton Head Island exemplify “America.” But I saw enough to humanize and understand a country that is usually painted pretty unfairly in mass media and even pop culture.

I’m not forgetting any of those things anytime soon.

Yes, it’s scary to get there. And yes, if you listen to the news enough, you might think that an international flight is essentially a game of Russian roulette. I’ll take ownership of that as part of the media. It’s our job to put out the news, and all too often the news isn’t the happiest or the most comforting.

But I’ll also say this. The risk is not what you think it is. The reward is more than you can possibly imagine.

Now go travel.

Courtney Hampson
Last October I had the opportunity to hike the Grand Canyon and the red rocks of Sedona. Stunned by the beauty of these two spots right here in the good ole U.S. of A, I flirted with the idea of tossing my passport, in favor of domestic travel, forever. But, per usual, I was lured by the Caribbean blue seas that suck me in each spring, and for the umpteenth time, plopped my rear on the sandy beaches of a fabulous island, sipped fruity drinks, and bought stupid souvenirs that probably weren’t even made on the island on which I sat. I may have a problem.

Last month, Malaysia Airlines flight 17 was shot out of the sky, in a missile attack, over the Ukraine. Two hundred-eighty-nine people perished. Days later, U.S. and European flights to Israel were suspended due to increasing fighting between Israeli and Palestinian militants. Another couple days and my parents boarded a flight from Paris back to the United States. I turned on the Today Show (yes, my love affair with Al Roker continues) the morning of their flight and cringed as Matt turned to Natalie for the news. This sense of panic is ridiculous, I thought. I looked at my husband a.k.a. voice of reason and said, “I think our travels in the near future should remain stateside.” He agreed and, I held my breath for the better part of seven hours until I knew that they had touched down safely in Newark. Take the constant threat of terror and double down with a little Ebola virus, and suddenly my travel-o-meter is blazing red. It is official. My interest in travel outside the U.S. has been deflated.

But, as my inclination for international travel fizzles, my United States travel hopes are high. The Grand Teton Half Marathon showed up in my Facebook feed recently, and for a brief flicker of a millisecond I thought, wouldn’t it be cool to run a half marathon in all 50 states? (With a half in two states already under my belt, what’s another 48?) And, then remembering my recent declaration that the “10K was really my sweet spot,” I backed off that idea pretty quickly. However, in an aggressive move (thank you digital media), the Grand Tetons and Yellowstone National Park ganged up on me by introducing the idea of running the Grand Teton’s Half one week, and the Yellowstone 5K (or Half, yeah right) the following week. Always a sucker for a good deal, I thought, “Wow, I could bang out two races and two states in one vacation.”

My voice of reason wondered aloud, “Exactly how would this be considered a vacation?” He had a point. And, I went back to dreading the thought of trying to get five miles in that weekend, at zero elevation.

I could continue to bore you with my ever-present internal love/hate debate about running, but instead, how about we stick to the topic at hand.

The 2014 Travel + Leisure Readers’ Choice Awards were announced just a few weeks ago, about the same time all of the above was happening. And you know what?

Charleston, S.C. was named the number two city in the world (the world!). New Orleans rounded out the top 10 in the world (the world!). Savannah took the number three spot on the top U.S. cities list. How lucky are we to be wedged geographically between two great destinations? We barely have to leave home to experience a place that folks travel from all over the world (the world!) to explore.

The number one resort in the world (the world!) is Triple Creek Ranch in Darby, Montana. Montana, you say? What a coincidence, the Yellowstone 5K is in Montana.
I hate to say it, but the world is a scary place of late. Why run around the world, when you can do your running right here at home? 

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