Should I Go To Istanbul?

I woke up to another saddening story of violence yesterday, this time in Istanbul:

The blast occurred at around 10:15 a.m. in the heart of Sultanahmet, one of the most heavily trafficked districts in the historic city, steps from monuments commemorating the three empires — Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman — of which the former Constantinople, now Istanbul, was the capital.

Sultanahmet, the district where the attack occurred, is home to some of Istanbul’s most visited monuments, including a Byzantine-era former hippodrome, or racetrack; the Hagia Sophia, a sixth-century Greek Orthodox basilica and now a museum; the Blue Mosque; and the Topkapi Palace, built by the Ottoman sultans.

Sultanahmet is one of the main areas I was planning to visit.  In fact, a good friend of mine suggested on his podcast recently that I visit the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia.

Should I Go To Istanbul?

I have a trip planned in a few weeks there, albeit a short one. It’s just me and for only a bit longer than a day.  And, I’ll be 100% honest.  Here was my reaction yesterday morning:

“Wow.  I really don’t want to put my wife and kids through worrying about me while I’m there. And, at least a small part of me is scared.”

That was followed immediately by, “Well, now that there’s been an attack there, it’s probably a very safe time to be there given heightened security.  And, by not going, I’m letting terrorism win.  I don’t want that.”

Followed shortly by, “My wife puts up with a lot.  Do I really want her to put up with that stress?”

These are questions that adventurous travelers confront on a daily basis.  And, most of us confront intellectual debates similar to these in other fashions.

It’s not the first time I’ve dealt with conflict amidst travel.  We went to Greece this summer during the peak of the financial crisis, walking past the Parliament building hours before rioting and violence surrounding the final bailout vote by the government.

I asked my wife and learned something interesting, though I may have known it deep down.  I asked if she worried when I travel somewhere benign, like Denver.  She said, “Absolutely.  I worry as soon as you leave the house.”

I’m really curious to hear all of your opinions.

Should I go?

34 Comments

  1. Would you go to Tunisia or Egypt right now? Same answer. They are in about the same stability factor to me right now. I would go to Turkey but use extra caution.
    Oh and your wife worries more than you know. Women and men are different.

    1. Dan, I’m sure she does worry more than I know, and I thought I “knew”. 🙂
      I don’t track Tunisia very closely but I think I would go to Egypt. Some friends have been recently and I would seek their thoughts on Egypt before going.

  2. Tough call. Istanbul is an amazing city. Use caution and be in constant contact with your wife? I travel alone and my husband worries too. Even when I am going to “safe” places (wherever that is today).

    Security out of Istanbul is the tightest I’ve encountered in the world. So I worries on the flight home 🙂

    1. Naomi, thanks for weighing in. I always try to exercise caution when traveling and stay in contact with my wife, but both good reminders. I guess if our spouses worry they must love us, right? 😉

    2. Agree, I’ve flown from IST dozens of times and particularly when flying to the US or Canada, the security is doubled up. First there’s a document check which is as detailed as any when flying from TLV. Then there is the enhanced gate check of documents (again) and finally the actual x-ray scanning at the gate. Upon boarding, there are further random spot checks.

  3. Istanbul is an amazing place, and I am happy I was able to visit in 2010. Honestly, my only hesitation in returning there today would be the things I’ve read regarding visitors getting the dreaded SSSS for travel for weeks or months after returning.

  4. If Istanbul is too risky for you, don’t even think about getting in the shower this morning, or taking a car anywhere. Both are 100’s of times more likely to kill you than a terrorist attack in Istanbul.

      1. It’s actually thousands of times more:

        Number of Americans killed by terrorist acts worldwide in 2011 – 17
        Number of Americans killed in accidents in 2011 – 122,777
        Number of Americans killed in gun homicides in 2011 – 11,101

        Statistically speaking, you’re less likely to be killed by someone in Istanbul or Cairo than in most large American cities.

        FWIW, there was a big terrorist attack in Egypt a month before my trip in 2006. I was thinking of cancelling, but my father convinced me to go because all of the other tourists would be scared away and security would be higher than normal. He was right – there were police everywhere but no visitors. I counted 12 other people besides our group at the Great Pyramid. Lines were non-existent, prices had dropped like a rock, and vendors were almost literally fighting for our business.

        After horrible events like these, the regional economy takes a big hit. What the locals need is more tourism, not less, to bring in funds for rebuilding.

        1. The statement here reminds me that there are three kinds of lies: lies, damn lies, and statistics. Statistics provide useful information but that information often lacks context.

          While true that more people are kicked to death by donkeys every year than are killed by sharks, it doesn’t tell the full picture. If you change the question, you get different results. How many people were kicked to death by donkeys in the Ocean — zero; or off of a Farm — zero. Thus, someone’s risk of either event is different if they’re on a farm or on a beach. Geography, household gun ownership, age, class, whether you are engaged in a crime, etc., all effect your chances of being killed in a gun homicide. These factors, in essence, change the question. True statistics can be misleading depending upon the context.

          Does going to Istanbul increase your risk? It’s probable that it does because it changes the statistical question. But that’s an individual determination based on what you would’ve been doing instead of going to Istanbul. Your risk of death by slipping in the shower is probably the same as, presumably, you’ll be taking a shower in both places. If you are going to take leave from your job as a Bering Sea fisherman to go to Istanbul, you’re much safer going to Istanbul.

          All that said, I’m in the go-to-Istanbul camp as well. I was there this summer and it is an amazing place. Get a guide. Be careful. In my mind, the risk is small.

          1. Brian, we agree completely on the stats side. So many variables there. If this were a lot of other cities (ones with less history) I’d probably have already canceled and moved on. IST has been on my list for a while.

        2. Arcanum, again not trying to split hairs, but number of Americans killed in terrorist attackers is misleading. Once I’m somewhere else in the world, I’m a tourist, not necessarily an “American” one. Sure, they could target Anericans. But, they’re likely more targeting a location or a skin color.

  5. Egypt and Istanbul are completely separate. Russians were the target in Sharm. Here it’s directed at random tourists conducted by random people who want to cause chaos. Nobody is winning if you don’t go.

  6. Just how do you “exercise caution” ,,A bomb goes off, it goes off….or some one bursts into a cafe and starts shooting..BUT if you “exercise caution” you will be just fine.
    There are plenty of amazing places in the world that you can enjoy yourself and have a good time without “exercise caution”
    I have been to Istanbul twice, great place but I think I’ll “exercise caution” and go some where else till all this is done and gone. These people are after the tourist trade, ASK NOT WHO THAT TOURIST IS, IT’S YOU. you know we all look alike to them.

      1. As you say be cautious, I go on Holidays to get away from stress, not to be looking around or wondering what’s in that guys backpack. Oh that guy looks suspicious..why is that women wearing an overcoat and it’s 90..let’s sit at the back of the cafe the bullets may not reach us. (these are thinks I don’t do in NY or Seattle)
        Holidays are for relaxing and I can not imagine relaxing while you are being cautious.
        But that’s just me..you go ahead, just “use caution”

          1. Tpol & TJ, I agree that you don’t want to be looking over your shoulder your entire vacation. I’m just not sure whether this is “that”. Not trying to be cute.

        1. As a non-American, I’m more scared of the locals in New York or other big US cities than in most places I’ve been overseas. A heavily-armed population with generally poor mental health care is not a good mix.

  7. An American’s chances of being killed in a domestic shooting rampage are greater than being blown up or shot in just about any place else on the planet other than a direct war zone. Get real people, there is more gun violence in your own country than terrorist attacks across Europe (Turkey included)! More people killed on the roads due to car accidents. The south side of Chicago had more random murders last year than the sum total of terrorist murders worldwide outside of the Middle East and northern Africa. Recognize your own country is far more violent when it comes to random acts of murder than anywhere in the “western world”, and most of the rest of the world too.

    1. David, I get your point, but it’s worth noting that the majority of gun violence in our country doesn’t take place at the Statue of Liberty or Disney World (places in the US that probably see a similar amount of tourist traffic to the area of Istanbul where the attack was). I agree that there’s plenty of violence in the U.S., but I wouldn’t call the south side of Chicago a tourism hot spot.

  8. Ed, this is a thoughtful discussion that is emblematic of such discussions about Jordan, Israel, Egypt and Pakistan. The hardest parts is segregating actual risk versus perceived risk. Sort of like our fear of flying after a crash, since the risk of a disaster in the air is far lower than the risk while driving a car. We are going to Jordan in March, unless something happens that suggests that the actual risk of danger is heightened.

  9. Like every other comment, this is just my thinking and clearly not a judgement on yours: Istanbul isn’t going anywhere Spare your family the anxiety. If it’s a situation where you could take it or leave it, why not just leave it this time?

    1. Dubaych, you bring up the one item that continues to give me pause. As great as Istanbul is, will my experience be so positive as to outweigh any negative emotions my wife would go through right now?

  10. I was in IST back in May, catching the $520 IAD-CDG-IST-CDG-IAD on AF. My wife said “I would prefer that you did not go, but I won’t stop you.” She also told me that she’d already chosen the outfit that she would wear for the CNN interview after ISIS kidnapped me.

    At this point, I’m not going back to IST. There’s plenty of America to see where it’s much less likely that someone’s going to walk into a crowd and go bang. Which is not to say that it won’t happen, just that it’s much less likely.

  11. Istanbul is a beautiful, fantastic city. By all means go, but expect to have a big conversation with the TSA when you come back. Istanbul is the jumping off spot to join ISIS.

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