From Italy, with love and privilege

In the almost eight years since my first overseas trip to Japan, I have been on another six international flights that have taken me to Beijing and Paris, London and Saigon and so many other places in between. I have exceeded my childhood travel dreams of multiple trips to New York, and touring Graceland (tick and tick!)

In November 2015, one of my closest friends and I finally decided to start planning a trip to Turkey and Croatia. On the first day of high school we decided we’d sit together at lunch time, and not too long after that we decided we’d one day go to Turkey. Our shared curiosity for Turkey revolved around ANZAC Day. Over the years it developed into a more well-rounded desire to explore a country so different from our own.

As a female, mostly solo traveller I’ve been fortunate to have felt safe and in control of my foreign surroundings (with the exception an occasion in Delhi and another in Washington, D.C.) So when I read about terrorist attacks in Turkey in the early planning stages of our trip, my experience assured me that I would feel safe once there. That feeling changed just days before our 25 March departure, when scrolling through my Twitter feed I saw the headline, ‘Istanbul shopping area hit by suicide bomber.’ Cue panic. Unlike the earlier attacks, this one made my heart stop. What followed was a series of phone calls, emails and what-would-you-do chats between my friend, travel agent, parents, sister and co-workers about what the hell I should indeed do.

In one of the toughest decisions I’ve made, I chose to trust my initial gut feeling. I didn’t want my Turkish experience to be defined by constantly looking over my shoulder, so at the last minute I decided to go to Italy instead. Even though I knew it was the right decision for me, I didn’t fully reconcile with it until I enjoyed my first day in beautiful Venice.

My friend chose to go ahead as planned. We were disappointed about not sharing Turkey together, but we 100% supported each other – and had the best time in Croatia before parting ways at the Zagreb bus station. As expected, my friend travelled through Turkey without incident and I explored Italy, a country that was never on my radar until two days before flying out of Melbourne.

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My gondola ride in Venice (credit: Melissa J Stewart, April 2016)

I chose to go to Japan for my first overseas trip at 21 years old because I could. I have chosen to travel solo, with friends and in tour groups because I could. I chose to go to New York four times because I could. Unlike the millions of Turkish citizens who live in fear every day, I chose to remove myself from the fear (or my version of it) and go to Italy instead because I could. Unlike Turkish citizens, I was able to make, albeit unsuccessfully, an insurance claim on my losses – not for a life or a limb, but for a couple of thousand dollars – because I could.

I have been able to make all of my travel choices because I have been privileged to do so. I’ve never experienced homelessness or missed out on quality education; I’ve never been discriminated against because of the colour of my skin; I’ve always had food on the table and been able to pay my rent and bills without concern, and I’ve always had the capacity to save money for my next overseas destination. What my normal is, is not normal for so many. My life’s circumstances and options available to me have allowed me to make the best possible travel choices – the outcomes of which have at best, been profoundly life-changing, and at worst set me back two months on my savings goals.

Travelling is not about gawking at something other through an entitled lens – any overseas traveller who says they haven’t fallen into this trap once or twice is a liar. But travelling is about creating experiences and a sense of adventure, developing compassion and knowledge through eye-witness accounts, and being a respectful and respected global citizen.

I’ve had some of the most amazing experiences of my life as a traveller: seeing the Taj Mahal for the first time, hiking a 14km stretch of the Great Wall while recovering from glandular fever, touching the Bocca della Verità in Rome, and even strolling through Central Park on a rainy day. Overseas travel is a privilege I am aware of and grateful for; particularly because not everyone is in a position to do it, or even feel safe, enabled and empowered in their own country.

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