The World’s Gone Mad — Explore it Anyway

East meets West in Istanbul — Asia and Europe split by the Bosphorus strait as seen from Galata Tower.

Disclaimer: This article was written by a relatively amateur and occasionally reckless traveller. When travelling abroad, always follow the instructions of your local embassy or consulate.

It clued in on me by the time I got to the second bar that night: something big was happening. It was Friday night and I was in Akçay, Turkey- a small coastal town that was a popular vacation spot among domestic tourists. Things seem quieter than usual that night. But still- we had tea, we drank beer, we shopped and got dondurma as usual. As the sun finished setting over the Aegean Sea I realized I needed to take out some cash. When I got to the ATM there were dozens of people already waiting in line. I looked around and the bars and restaurants were at a standstill, locals were glued to the TVs and their phones, stunned and captivated by the news that was coming in. The sense of unease was real: these people were taking out cash because they were uncertain if they’d be able to access their money tomorrow. Turkey was in the midst of an attempted military coup, and I was stuck there for at least another week.

We’re told all the time to take precautions when we travel and rightly so. Pickpockets and thieves are just some of the lighter nuisances and risks to watch out for when travelling in a foreign city. But how do you prepare yourself for when the government of the country you’re visiting is overthrown? Simple answer: you don’t.

This is what I realized the next morning after the coup attempt: some things that happen when you travel simply cannot be prepared for. In fact, many things that happen where you already live cannot be prepared for. Just ask the people of Turkey who waited hours at ATMs and gas stations upon seeing what was happening in their own backyards. These people couldn’t have planned ahead for this even if they wanted to, so how could we expect a guest in a foreign country to do the same? We spend so much time worrying about what we should be worried about that we often trap ourselves in a bubble of doubt and uncertainty when it comes to travel. What if instead we embraced the challenges, acknowledged the unknowns, and made an effort to learn and grow from the experiences that we try so hard to control the outcomes of?

An estimated 500,000 people descended on Istanbul’s Taksim Square to protest the attempted coup.

I checked with the Canadian Embassy and they suggested leaving Turkey as soon as possible as a precaution, not because there was any imminent threat. Instead, I flew to Istanbul on Monday. The city was already on high alert following a bombing at Ataturk International Airport a few weeks prior, but my Macbook was broken and I needed to get to an Apple Store ASAP (#firstworldproblems, I know). Over the weekend the attempted coup had drawn out hundreds of thousand of protesters to the streets who clashed with the military and police in a tragedy that lead to the deaths of almost 200 civilians. I was shocked that by Monday, the Apple Store was already open and taking appointments. The shops on Istiklal Avenue were invitingly glowing, the cobbled stones covering the massive Taksim Square looked pristine, and the bars and restaurants were filled to the brim with tourists and locals alike. People were going to work, they were playing cards in the tea gardens, going to the beach, and taking their kids to park. Sure- there were more police officers and military in the streets than I was comfortable with, but I’m not sure whether that was any consolation in what was an already tense environment. Business as usual.

The number of cities where the locals have had to learn to how deal with so much uncertainty seems to increase by the week. We already have the citizens of Munich, Dallas, Nice, Istanbul, and countless other cities in our prayers and Facebook statuses- but how do we keep the spirit of these cities alive in our hearts? The locals have already begun to settle on their own solution: life must go on. When it comes to letting go of fear and doubt about the things you can’t control, it’s both striking and inspiring to see how people cope. By living their lives, falling back into their routines, and not letting fear get the best of them, I think the citizens of these remarkable and intrinsically special cities can remind us a few things:

  1. We can find comfort and strength in solidarity with our global neighbors
  2. The Earth is a big, beautiful, chaotic, and extraordinary mess we should accept, embrace, and work to improve
  3. Even though bad things happen, we have a responsibility to ourselves to not let panic suppress our will to live freely

Travel smart, travel bold, and above all: travel safe. But whatever you do get out there and TRAVEL!