Evelyn Atieno

I Travel To ‘Dangerous’ Countries, And Other Students Should, Too

While we are alive, we should do all the things we want, even if it scares us

Many broke college students think traveling is a luxury only the rich can afford, but I haven't found that to be true. Cost hasn’t deterred me from finding awesome flight deals, packing my bags, and setting off to new destinations. I have been to a total of 11 countries, and I don't regret going to any of them — even the ones the media deems "dangerous."

I have been to Kenya many times — I normally go once a year or every two years. Recently, however, reports of terrorist attacks waged in that East African country have been in the news. The media has a tendency of painting less-prosperous countries as dangerous every time there is a terrorist attack. In reality, the chances of someone being killed by a terrorist organization in a foreign nation are less than the chances of getting hit by a car in their own city. Yet many people have been deterred from visiting this beautiful nation, which has only contributed to crimping its economy.

I visited Kenya in 2014, a couple of months after the Westgate Mall massacre in Nairobi, during which 67 people were killed. When I got on the plane, it didn’t even occur to me that this attack happened only months ago. After arriving in a Kenyan village with some of my family, it didn’t once cross my mind that I could die at any point: I was too busy immersing myself in such a beautiful country. If I was scared I would have missed out on seeing giraffes and gazelles while enjoying time with my family. Sometimes, the fear driven by what we hear and see on the news is valid, but many times it’s an illusion.

Evelyn Atieno

Next, I planned a trip to Europe with a friend. Weeks after I booked the trip, there was a terrorist attack in Paris. My friend and I were both pressured by family members not to go and we initially agreed, even coming close to canceling our entire trip based on this one event. But we questioned whether our fear was warranted, going back and forth with each other for days, wondering if we should cancel. We didn’t realize that Paris would be even safer after the attacks due to increased security. Ultimately, we decided that even if we died, at least we would die in a beautiful city.

On December 9, just a few weeks after the attack, we boarded our flight. We were giddy with excitement and ended up having the best winter break ever. We explored the streets of Oslo, canals of Amsterdam, museums of Paris, churches of Barcelona, ruins of Athens, towns of Italy, and Christmas markets in Berlin. If we had decided not to go to Europe out of fear, we would have missed out on many memories.

Most recently, I visited Egypt — a trip from which I’m still reeling. When I first proposed the idea to my friends, however, they said, "No way in hell." When I told my mother I wanted to go, she couldn’t believe it and many of her friends asked why I would choose to go there. They aren't the only ones who feel that way: Tourism in Egypt has been declining every year as a result of the ongoing revolution as well as the terrorist attacks that are becoming increasingly worse there. Although people used to flock to the nation's beaches, many of these places now seem like ghost towns.

My friend and I booked tickets to Egypt and hoped for the best. Of course, I was scared of encountering terrorism, but when I confessed my fear of going to my friend, he raised a valid point. He reminded me that we are from Baltimore, often cited as one of the most violent cities in the United States. We, too, could possibly be killed at anytime back home, so Egypt shouldn’t scare us.

Evelyn Atieno

When the flight date rolled around, I was excited. I couldn’t wait to land in Cairo and gaze at the pyramids I had seen only in photos. We landed at 2 a.m. in what looked like a war zone. Many buildings were torn down and some were only half built. You could see just how much Cairo has been suffering. It didn’t help that the taxi driver swindled my friend and me out of money. My friend was scared, and as soon as we got into the hotel room he remarked that he wanted to go home.

Despite all this, I kept a positive attitude. We went to see the pyramids the next day and I realized it was worth seeing a piece of history, despite my fear and anxiety. When I came face to face with King Tut’s mask, I knew visiting Egypt was a good idea despite media warnings. I even rode ATVs in the desert — something I wouldn’t have been able to do if I stayed home.

The truth of the matter is that we all will die: maybe today, tomorrow, or many years from now. While we are alive, we should do all the things we want, even if it scares us. The media scares us and shoves terror in people's faces because it wants our views. If I had listened to these reports, I would have canceled all my trips out of fear. I wouldn’t have experienced so many cultures or met so many people (and wouldn’t have such a great Instagram feed, either). The memories I have made are priceless and I've learned to do things that scare me — which have given me a lot of interesting stories to tell.

Want to be an MTV Founders contributor? Send your full name, age, and pitches to mtvfounders@gmail.com.