The events of the last few weeks have been on many people’s minds. Incomprehensible attacks in Beirut, Mali and Paris have brought with them horror and fear. It’s been impossible not to be affected by the stories of the people who lost their lives. People who were just enjoying a birthday dinner with friends or watching their favourite band perform. It all seems so awful and so unfair.
In these times it feels all too easy to batten down the hatches and hide away from the world. I read in the paper the other day that staycations in the UK rose this year, because people are too afraid to holiday abroad. But personally, I will continue to travel. Why? For the same reason I get on a train every day and go into London to work: the kindness of strangers. The fear I feel is diminished when I see the small ways in which people try to help each other every single day. Like someone letting me go in front of them in the queue at the supermarket; or giving up their seat on the train (it does happen sometimes) and the people I see each day who go out of their way to guide a blind lady to the station exit.
In Paris too, I clung to the stories of people helping one another. The cafe owner who hid customers in his flat, the couple who ran back into the music hall to save a friend and the thousands of people who took to the streets the next day to remember the lives of those who had died. This is the thing that we often forget in the aftermath of such terrible occasions, when panic and revenge are the talk of the day. The majority of people we live with in this world are good. People like Adel Turmus will die so that other complete strangers can live; parents will teach their children that guns can never beat flowers and widowed husbands will tell terrorists that they refuse to hate them. These are the moments that restore my faith in humanity and reassure me that evil will never win. Good will always conquer.
And this is the kindness I see time and time again when I travel, both from the local people and other travellers. I’ve lost count of the number of times when complete strangers have helped me out of a difficult situation – paying for my hotel when I was stranded in Honduras, going out of their way to give me a lift when all of the taxis were cancelled at an airport in Colombia or offering to let me stay with them for the night in a tiny village in Burma.
Travelling obviously brings with it, it’s own risks – both human and natural disasters – and if you started to list them all, you’d probably never step out of the front door. But what you get back in return is something so special. The knowledge and confidence that even though we come from different backgrounds and have different cultures, the things that bind us together are kindness and love.
I remember going to Ko Phi Phi island in Thailand six months after the Tsunami. Every day I’d carry out work with a group of volunteers and locals, with one eye on the sea and an escape plan in my head. But what kept me going was the love and dedication of the other volunteers, many of whom had been there for months, and the determination of the locals who, after everything they had been through, thanked us time and again for our help.
So personally, that is why I will continue to travel. I will not let a bunch of terrorists skew my view of the world and the kindness of the people in it. Of course, everyone must make that choice themselves and for some, staying at home close to loved ones for the time being will be the right thing to do. But whatever you choose, remember to live your life. Love your life. Be kind. And never stop seeing the kindness in others.