Do you remember where you were on July 21, 2005? For many people outside of the U.K., you probably don’t. I remember where I was. I was in London.
On July 7, 2005, London experienced a series of terror attacks, three bombs on different underground lines and one on a double-decker bus. Fifty-two civilians died and a further seven hundred were injured. Only two weeks later, further attacks were planned and, thankfully, foiled.
On Thursday, July 21, 2005, I was in London visiting some friends. One of the girls and I were sitting on the train at the Westminster Underground Station waiting for the train to depart. The doors suddenly opened, an announcement came on overhead and staff began evacuating passengers. We were told nothing, just that the line was closed and we’d have to find alternative transport. There was a chaotic vibe going around the station as hundreds of travellers made their way up the stairs and back onto the streets.
“It’s happening again!” people cried. My friend and I looked at each other and I remember swallowing, my throat suddenly rough as sandpaper. All transit had come to a screeching halt. There were no trains or buses to be had, meaning getting a taxi was nigh impossible also. We steeled ourselves and our soles for the solid two hour walk back to her flat in the north of London.
My poor old flip phone had become instantly useless. The City of London had shut down cell phone towers in the centre of the city. It turns out in the July 5 bombings, cell phones had been used to detonate some of the bombs, so it was a smart move. It also meant, however, that we were cut off from all communication with friends and family.
As we wove our way north and out of the centre, an hour and a half of walking later, my phone erupted. Five voicemails. Three from my mother, one from my cousin and one from our mutual friend. Despite it only being two in the afternoon, my parents were awake in Calgary (seven in the morning back home) and had been watching the BBC. Each voicemail from my mother was more and more anxious, begging me to call her back. My cousin, a Brit and a London commuter, was much more calm. “Victoria,” he said, “I’m sure you’re fine and that your cell phone isn’t working, but when you can, please call your mother back. She’s freaking out.”
I didn’t even get to dial the number before my phone rang shrilly, my Mom trying my line again. Relief filled her voice, knowing that I was okay.
I think back to that surreal day and wonder about its impact on my travel. Whether it be the London bombings, 9/11, or the other horrific terrorist attacks that have occurred around the world, I’ve never been deterred from travel. Sure, there are certain countries that I’m unlikely to visit any time soon, but often that’s for a variety of reasons like human rights, general safety and stability as a whole. For the most part, I don’t think we should change our lives because of these incidents. If we do, they win.
One of the downsides of social media and the Internet is that these horrible stories become prolific. Everyone, everywhere, sees the harrowing images, the fear and the chaos. What they see less of, however, are the people who carry on after and live their lives. New Yorkers will always remember, but that experience can’t define their every day lives. Londoners still take the tube, perhaps with a little more hesitation, but they can’t alter their lives. We all take the risk of air travel, knowing how planes have been targeted time and again.
What it comes down to for me, in all my travels, is that on the whole I believe that people are good. I believe that 99.99% of people will help one another when push comes to shove. Should I change my life for the 0.01%? Should I not experience other cultures, gain new perspective or share human experiences? No. Never.
Have world events changed your way of traveling?