Ever since I started traveling internationally, especially solo, I’ve encountered my fair share of naysayers. For every fear born concern people express, I have a rebuttal. The dangers associated with terrorism, mass shootings, and other random acts of violence are what people comment on the most. Usually they say something along the lines of “I wouldn’t be going to Europe with the way things are right now. London, Paris, Barcelona… attacks are happening everywhere over there!” My response usually sounds something like “Random acts of violence can happen anywhere, even in the city we live in. And unfortunately, it’s not a matter of ‘if,’ but a matter of ‘when.’ I don’t live in fear of my hometown and I don’t fear the rest of the world.”

‘When’ Came on October 1st 2017.

On the second day of October I woke up at my aunt and uncle’s house in rural Tennessee. There was an abnormally high number of notifications on my phone. Still sleepy, I decided to open the text message from my friend Mariah first. The sight of her name on my phone intrigued me since I hadn’t heard from her in awhile. She asked me if any of my friends or family in Vegas were harmed during the shooting at Mandalay Bay. I had no clue what she was talking about. Still half asleep I opened another text from a friend in Vegas letting me know her family was safe. Still not registering the magnitude of the attack, I called my mom. Before I could even say hello she asked “Did you hear what happened in Vegas?” I told her I had but wasn’t quite sure what was going on. She proceeded to explain that a man broke the window of his Mandalay Bay hotel room and opened fire on the Route 91 Country Music Festival down below. He killed over 50 and injured hundreds. The reality of the situation set in. Not only did a massive attack happen on the city I call home but at the casino I am the most connected to and at a concert I would have likely attended had I been in town. My mind started racing and I hung up the phone.

It was barely 6am in Vegas but I started calling everyone. Before long I was reassured my family and friends were safe. Thankful for that, I was still shaken up. My aunt, uncle and I watched the news all morning hoping to make sense of what happened. If anything, the more I watched, the more questions I had. In my head I played out all the scenarios that would have put me at that concert on that fateful night in Las Vegas. The possibilities were endless.

It’s Different When It Happens At Home

When the attacks on Paris happened in 2015, I was devastated. I couldn’t believe my eyes when I recognized the rubble filled streets on TV. I’d walked down those exact streets a few short months earlier. When something awful happens somewhere I’ve connected with, it hits me differently. It’s harder. It’s stronger. It’s more real. When that somewhere was the place I call home, it completely changed me. 

As thankful as I am that I hit the road days prior to the violent attack on Las Vegas, my heart is heavy not being there to wrap my arms around my family, my friends and my city in the wake of this tragedy. The Las Vegas community responded with an outpour of love and support. Las Vegans are rallying around the victims and their families with blood drives, donations, lodging, transportation, fundraisers, counseling and beautiful memorials. I am in awe of you Las Vegas. Always have been. Always will be.

Proceed with Courage

This horrific hometown massacre gives my rebuttal to fearful anti-travelers more power than ever.  I can now say with certainty terrorist attacks, mass shootings, and a plethora of other acts of violence really can happen anywhere and without warning. We cannot live in fear of our hometown and we cannot fear the rest of the world. Fear is how hate wins. Courage is how love wins. I promise to take proper precautions to stay safe while I travel the world but I refuse to sacrifice the life I want to live in the name of fear. In the name of hate. While there is still a breath in my lungs and a beat in my heart, I am choosing love over hate by choosing courage over fear.

This tragedy will eventually fade from the headlines, just like the ones that came before it. But for the victims, victims’ families, witnesses, and Las Vegans, life will never be quite the same. We will mourn. We will heal. We will be courageous. We are forever #VegasStrong!