Sunday 25 September 2016

We must continue to enjoy the benefits of travel in 2016

Travel Talk

Eoghan Corry

Published 05/01/2016 | 02:30

Soldiers of the Foreign Legion patrol along the Champs Elysees in Paris. AP Photo/Michel Euler
Soldiers of the Foreign Legion patrol along the Champs Elysees in Paris. AP Photo/Michel Euler

Do we stay or do we go in 2016? The question is being asked by even the well-travelled, which includes the majority of Irish people.

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It is a confusing time, as our most familiar travel destinations come under attack or under lockdown - London, Madrid, Paris, Brussels, Hanover and Munich - all in recent weeks.

A Russian plane was suspiciously lost in Egypt last October, and an Air Malaysia jet was shot down over Ukraine in 2014.

Both tragedies raise new questions on the old subject - whether it is safe to travel by air. Tunisia, where Lorna Carty and Martina and Laurence Hayes were killed on a terrible day in Sousse, is closed for business. Flights to Egypt are suspended until at least May.

A bomb was smuggled on board an aircraft in Turkey, where 112,000 Irish go each year. And it all happened when it appeared that, finally, the risk had been taken out of travel.

Sometime when we weren't looking, government departments took over the job of deciding where tourists could go and when.

Airlines decided which air space they could and couldn't fly over.

They told us they erred on the side of caution.

And so we thought, until things went horribly wrong - as they did in Sousse in June. Some things have changed in the world of travel, but not that many. People who love travel will continue to travel.

They will take the little risks that all travel entails, venturing outside their comfort zone, exploring and sampling the unfamiliar.

All travel is risky, but there are ways we can make sure it is not unnecessarily so.

Stay up to date. The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) website, www.dfa.ie, contains the latest Government advice provided by Irish ambassadors around the world and it is updated daily. Keep your travel options open for last-minute changes. Be prepared to avoid particular regions.

Let people know where you are and stay connected. The DFA has a registration facility for travellers, even to places not regarded as at-risk. Check out locations where there is free wifi before you go.

Use apps for free messaging, such as Viber, Skype or Tango. Have digital copies of your passport, credit card and travel insurance where you can access them. Make sure your travel insurance doesn't have restrictions, and bring your European Health Insurance Card if you are travelling in Europe.

Respect the locals. Dress down, wear the headscarf to the temple, church or mosque. Follow your instinct. Make sure it feels right. Travel where you are comfortable. Avoid public transport if the city daunts you. If language is a problem, factor that in.

Places that are on high alert with lots of armed soldiers can be reassuring for some, but scary for others.

Is your destination a place where women or minorities are not treated with enough respect? Is there an Irish embassy or consulate (or an EU one) you can turn to?

Evaluate the risk. Remember that 200 Irish people die abroad each year, mainly from the same things that kill them at home - drowning, road accidents and, most of all, the heart conditions they bring with them. Weigh up the risk versus the reward. Consider facts rather than opinions.

Be aware of who is talking up danger, and question their agenda. Be wary of fear-mongers. Alarmists, not militants, will cause most trouble for the world in travel in 2016.

If things go wrong, have a plan B.

Finally, keep travelling. Travel opens the minds of those who travel and also those who meet them along the way. If we stop seeking the fun and the joy that travel brings, who wins?

Irish Independent

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