In a week’s time, I will set off from Toronto to spend 8 days in Israel.
I have been worrying about this trip.
I am not concerned about the flight – I am flying with El Al Airlines, and they have an excellent reputation for very high security. I’m also not terribly worried about my personal safety – even though pedestrians were recently run down in the street in Jerusalem and two people were killed – because I am being hosted by the Israel Ministry of Tourism for part of this trip and the public relations firm that organized the tour is not going to take any chances on losing a writer. The days when I will be traveling entirely solo will come after the tour, at which point I expect to have a handle on how to get around and how to stay safe.
To this point, I have never worried about my safety while traveling. Every time I sign a waiver – when I’m being strapped into a pace car to be driven around a racetrack at incredibly high speeds, or climbing into a very old, very tiny 4-seater plane to fly with a 70+-year-old pilot who is frequently facing backwards speaking to the passengers behind me – I do so with relative ease as I know that the people involved have a vested interest in returning me in one piece.
My fear is not of being hurt myself, but of witnessing others being hurt, and perhaps worse, witnessing the people doing the hurting. It seems that for my entire Canadian life, I have been reading newspaper reports and watching footage of armed conflicts playing out in other parts of the world. And for all of those years, my brain has responded in the same way: it just shuts down.
In practical terms, this means that I have virtually no understanding of the sources of these conflicts. I have not studied history or religion or political science. I do not belong to any religious group. I cannot tell you what has started or ended wars. And I cannot accept that in the entire history of man we have not come up with a better way to resolve conflict than to kill one another. So I always come to a dead end.
I realize that this will likely be perceived as naïve. Irresponsible, even. Possibly something worse.
And so, I have stewed and fretted and pondered how to approach this trip. It doesn’t matter that the destination is Israel – it could be any country. Do I have a responsibility to research the history of the destination? If so, where on earth would I start? Can I just get on the plane and go, eyes wide open, naivete intact, and see and smell and taste my way around, recording my observations?
I recently discussed this issue with a reader who said, “No one is looking for a history lesson from you. Those of us who read your stories want to hear about YOUR experience. We're interested in your perspective. We trust your voice. Just be you. That's it.”
What about the objective of the trip? I have been invited specifically to explore the food and wine of Israel. About this, I could not possibly be happier. I know nothing about Israeli wines, and can’t wait to visit the vineyards, feel the soil, taste the wines, and meet the makers. I am beside myself with excitement to taste the food, visit the spice markets, wander around local shops, eat street food, and dine in fine restaurants. I am eager to check out their first whisky distillery and hopeful that I can fit a cooking class into my schedule.
But how can I flit about to wineries and fancy restaurants, enjoying the food and drink of the region, all the while knowing that there is conflict going on down the road? It feels intensely uncomfortable to me.
At the same time, a Canadian soldier was recently killed down the road from me in Ottawa. Last week, seven pedestrians died on the streets of Toronto in a 48-hour period. Has it changed the way I live my life? Do I now live in fear? Am I worried about my safety or the safety of others? Would I suggest that travelers not visit Canada?
No. Not one bit.
Will I be able to write freely and truly about my experiences and feelings? Will anyone be censoring my words? What are my obligations to the people who are paying my way?
My only obligation is to the integrity of Solo Traveler – this blog, our readers, members of the Solo Travel Society on Facebook – and myself. So yes, I will honestly share my experience with you – it’s what Janice and I do. Every time.
So, why this post? It’s important to me that you know that I didn't go into this trip thoughtlessly. I am sure that you have questions and worries about some of the destinations to which you travel. I wanted to share a bit of the process that I have gone through in the lead-up to this trip, and I wanted to be sure to write it before leaving home, so that it will be an accurate representation of my feelings in the moment. I can’t wait to see how I feel a few weeks from now. Some of my concerns may prove to be unfounded. When I look back at this post next month, it may seem ridiculous to me. I am absolutely okay with that, because this is one of the most valuable aspects of solo travel: experiencing a place and its people yourself, open to discovery, willing to cast away your preconceptions.
Countries are more than their political problems. People and their governments are two very different things. I travel to meet people, to learn how they live, to discover what and how they eat and drink, to see their art and architecture, to understand how we are different and how we are the same, to acquire insight into different perspectives on the world and life.
That is exactly what I will do in Israel. And I will do it from the starting point of exploring the various aspects of food and drink – the produce, culinary traditions, and flavors – and the people who create it – the producers, winemakers, and chefs. I predict this will be a very stimulating and tasty journey.