travel safety in egypt vs anywhere else in the world

When I tell people I'm going to Egypt, they are happy and excited for me. Then, almost everyone asks me if it's safe there, and says, "Be careful." The recent incident in Berlin has caused me to reflect on why this is.

First: I am not complaining about friends expressing concern for my safety. I know that they are coming from a place of care and concern.

But they are also coming from a place of fear. The media has conditioned us to think of the Middle East as inherently unstable and unsafe. Add to that the violence during and after the 2011 Egyptian revolution, and western fears that US-backed dictator Mubarak would be replaced with a fundamentalist theocracy.

In Canada, there's also another layer: what I observe as a prevalent Canadian attitude about travel safety. To my mind, many Canadians are inordinately worried about safety when travelling. They are often timid about the world, risk-averse, people who value safety over adventure, and the known world over exploration. The majority of Canadians like their travel pre-packaged, predictable, and tame. As with all generalizations, exceptions abound, but I observe this on a regular basis.

The Canadian media stokes fears of travel, with sensational reporting on crime against vacationing Canadians, especially in Mexico. From what I can glean from news stories, some of this violence seems to be directed at tourists in heavily touristed areas. This CBC story sought to put the incidents in perspective, but CBC is among the worst offenders of sensationalist scare-stories about Mexico.

When my friends urge me to "be careful" in Egypt, I think there must be some measure of Islamophobia involved. I don't think it's conscious -- but I really don't know. We're traveling to "the Muslim world" or "the Arab world," as people say. To many people, that equates with danger.

When I traveled to Europe, no one expressed concerns for my safety, despite bombings in Paris, Madrid, and London in the not-distant past -- to say nothing of the murder rate in the United States. Yet Egypt is the only destination that has earned all the "be careful"s.

It's not that I haven't thought about the risk of going to Egypt and Jordan. I've been looking into the relative safety of this trip, off and on, for a few years. I came to the conclusion that for tourism, Egypt is safe enough. I assessed the risk as best I could -- and also assessed our age, financial situation, and the timing of this trip in our lives -- and decided now was the time. (I'm also hoping that we'll take advantage of tourism to Egypt still being depressed, encountering smaller crowds and better ease of travel.)

We flew to Ireland exactly two months after September 11, 2001, and just hours after a flight leaving from the same airport crashed and burned just after take-off. We could see the lights of the emergency crews from the runway. That felt a lot riskier than the trip we're planning now. And of course, the worst thing that ever happened to me happened while I was home, sleeping in my own bed.

In terms of specific trip planning, we did make a few concessions to safety. We've ruled out a few sites that seem too far off the beaten track, which in another place and time we might have trekked to. We were considering the Siwa Oasis, but it entails a long bus ride through the desert, and the oasis itself is right near the border with Libya. We're skipping things like that.

The way I look at it, there are risks everywhere. Life is risk. We risk life every day. The most important thing is to try to live life as fully and as meaningfully as possible.


David Heap said...

"The majority of Canadians like their travel pre-packaged, predictable, and tame. As with all generalizations, exceptions abound, but I observe this on a regular basis."
I wonder if there are any actual stats on such preferences. I am not invalidating your observations, I just wonder about the sampling of Canadians (vs. other countries). I can't say this corresponds to my own observations, but again, my sampling is not necessarily are better or worse than yours. Someone in the tourism business sector must've studied preferences (or not) for package tours, within different national markets.

Many countries can be dangerous or safe, depending on the nature and purpose of a trip. I have been to Egypt under rather particular circumstances (political, in both cases), and while there are area that are definitely scary (crossing the Sinai), I felt more danger from the Egyptian state than from the people there.

David Heap said...

I am not among those who are overly concerned about your safety on this trip vs. any other, but I though I'd share a funny story about one part of my first trip to Egypt (which should've been an uneventful tourist addition to an otherwise activist trip):

"Topless at the Pyramids: Can't a tourist just be a tourist?""

Worth noting that this was two governments ago, and the current Sisi regime has a lot in common with the Mubarak regime in power at that time. But we were also there for a highly politicized purpose, so not really comparable to "regular" tourism. As in many countries, I would be careful about what I eat, and perhaps take a course of pre-trip prophylactic gut medicine. And ejjoy your trip!

laura k said...

Food, water, vaccines, got that all covered. We are scrupulous about water. Not so much about food because of my obsession with trying all different foods wherever I am, and my love of street food.

We have other friends and comrades who were also in Egypt for political reasons (this under Mubarak) and I've heard stories that were quite creepy. But our politics will not be on display. We'll be strictly tourists. I look forward to reading that post!

Re tourism preferences, obviously my observations are unscientific, but I never saw the extreme preference for all-inclusive vacation packages until I came to Canada, nor the constant discussion of safety. These trips are all for regular vacation tourism, nothing that could be considered political or controversial.

I do also know people who want to see the world and travel independently. Just much less than I did in the US.

laura k said...

Ah, it's Wendy's striptease at the pyramids! I remember that. Nice. :)

Amy said...

You know I am risk averse, and I hate flying. But neither of those attributes would stop me from traveling. When our daughter was going to Israel for her junior year, many people kept asking us how we could let her go. It never occurred to us to stop her. I am sure there will be people who ask us how we could go to Germany after the attack in Berlin. But we live 90 miles from where the Boston Marathon bombing was and 120 miles from where the WTC attacks were. The world isn't safe, no place is safe. As long as I can get myself on a plane, I can't worry about what happens on the ground!

And I would never travel as part of a pack or package deal. We do all our trips on our own, finding our own hotels, transportation, restaurants, and guides. That's half the fun.
But most of our friends would never travel like we do and can't believe we do it on our own. And they are not Canadian. Maybe it's a generational thing more than a Canadian thing?

Anyway, I know you and Allan are smart enough travelers not to take unnecessary risks, so ignore the worriers and focus on all the excitement.

David Heap said...

I too struggle with the desire to try all foods, especially street-foods, everywhere we travel. Sigh...

I might be tempted to say your different impressions of tourism-style preferences might also be reflective of NYC vs. Mississauga-based samples, but I have no US experience at all to compare with, so I'd best just shut up.

laura k said...

Amy, we share that exact attitude. And I also LOVE trip planning!

Maybe you're both right -- maybe it's generational and suburban. I do know many Canadians who travel independently.

David re food, that's cool, we share that. I rarely struggle, I usually just eat whatever it is. :) We do avoid any fruit or vegetable that is not peelable. The may be my one concession to food safety.

johngoldfine said...

It's not risk that constrains me from travel adventure--it's language and control. I want to be able to read signs, follow instructions and advice, ask for what I need, more or less understand what I'm seeing. That makes me a timid traveler, comfortable in the UK, only a little less so in Iceland, and a lot less so in my one foray to Portugal ("Why the hell are the two ditchdiggers being guarded by a man with a submachine gun, other than the need to keep everyone employed?")

I feel silly saying so, but I am what I speak, and when I'm around speakers of other languages, I feel unmoored, unanchored, at sea, adrift, marooned, and unballasted. (No idea why nautical metaphors are barnacling themselves onto my comment....)

laura k said...

Interesting! I kind of love that feeling.

Has your experience in Iceland changed much now that it's a big tourist destination?

johngoldfine said...

Just counted--I've been to Iceland 17 times in the past 17 years. Iceland has certainly changed. The airport at Keflavik is all rebuilt, the buses to Reykjavik are jammed. Despite the financial meltdown, Reykjavik is full of cranes again, torn up streets, new restaurants, fancy retail. But Reykjavik is a place to get through as fast as possible, not a destination.

For me, it's all about horses, and they are, if you will pardon the cliche, timeless. Tolting along with a herd of 60 or 70 horses, nothing has changed in a millennium.

laura k said...

I hear great things about Reykjavik. But I'm not surprised you don't like it. :)

I used to know two people who had been to Iceland, including you. Now at least 20 of my library colleagues have gone, that I know of.

johngoldfine said...

I'm allergic to museums or museum-type experiences. I get bored, impatient, very impatient, angry, and am ready to leave--that sequence takes all of about ten minutes and is my version of the five stages of something or other. And tours are just extended museum trips: you see the waterfalls, you see the hot pots, you see the one and only Geysir, you see the volcano fields, you see the blah blah. Everyone races for the gift shop. I've seen the tour buses; I hate all that.

I like to come on something that wasn't advertised, something unexpected, something surprising, something modest I can appreciate even if it's not a world-heritage site. And then, since I'm on horseback, I get to zip past, very satisfyingly not quite satisfied, no museum fatigue, and on to the next horizon.

I hear people talking about hiking in Iceland, but it's the worst place in the world to hike. The scenery is stark and spectacular but relatively unchanging--you can walk all day and all you've accomplished is to get a different angle on the volcano. Get a bike! Best, get a horse!

Walking in the UK is the exact opposite. The scenery is always changing, the landscape is on a human scale, there are remnants and surprises everywhere. (Although riding in the UK is also pretty damn grand...!)

Reykjavik, bah! Time spent in Rekjavik is time subtracted from one's eventual sojourn in Hell, the Devil feels so sorry for you.

laura k said...

Travel experiences are as varied as the people who travel them.