Why I Always Trust My Traveler Instinct

Why I Always Trust My Traveler Instinct

By |2016-10-01T18:14:17-04:00January 26th, 2016|Personal Stuff, Perspectives|68 Comments

Traveler Instinct
During the three days I spent in Istanbul earlier this month, something didn’t feel right.

Sure, I followed the general routine that I usually follow, and have enjoyed greatly, during my earlier travels to this city. I booked a private room at the friendly Cheers Hostel, I returned to my favorite eateries scattered around the back streets and lanes of a variety of neighborhoods, I smoked shisha at my favorite nargile cafe located in a beautiful 300-year old ex-school-turned-market situated behind a small cemetery, and I spent time each day admiring some of my favorite sights.

But on this occasion, as I did all of the above, I didn’t feel as comfortable as I have felt on those previous twelve or so visits. I couldn’t get in my travel groove for some reason and as a result, I wasn’t enjoying everything I was doing as much as usual.

It’s difficult to pinpoint what exactly was different about it all, but I can say for certain that I noticed something, and it bothered me, and to an extent, worried me too.

As I took my evening walks through very familiar areas, I found myself looking over my shoulder more often and choosing my path a lot more carefully than I normally do in that city, than I normally do anywhere in fact.

At one point, I even commented to another traveler I had met, as we walked through the park situated between the Blue Mosque and the Hagia Sofia, that the lack of a police presence in this most touristy section of this well-traveled city was bizarre considering how much of a target this area must be. This observation only added to the heavier-than-usual atmosphere I was feeling.

Everywhere I went, this city which I love very much and have so many incredible memories from, felt more and more unfamiliar with each passing hour.

Traveler Instinct - Istanbul

And as a result, after a short three days, my gut starting telling me, quite clearly, to get out of town.

Deciding to trust what I consider to be my well-honed traveler instinct, on my third night in Istanbul, I booked a flight to Bucharest for the very next morning. I woke up early, took the tram and metro to the airport and off I went to Romania, a short one hour flight away.

The next day, the attack happened in Sultanahmet. Ten tourists were killed, a mere 400 feet from where I was staying, at the exact spot that I had walked across far too many times to count during this three day visit alone.

Is The Traveler Instinct Real?

The idea of a traveler instinct is an interesting concept.

As someone on my FB page recently commented, this ‘instinct’ can sometimes be attributed to confirmation bias, where we have our preconceived notions about a particular destination and the people who live there, and as a result, we interpret all that we observe in a way that fits those already-held ideas.

While I agree with that to an extent, and I’m sure it’s sometimes the case, I don’t think it’s the full explanation.

I certainly had completely opposite ideas of what my time in Istanbul would be like on this occasion, based on all the overwhelmingly positive experiences I had in that city over the past ten years. From the moment I booked my flight to Turkey, I assumed that I was going to return to a place that always emitted a positive vibe (at least to me as a traveler) and that always gave me a positive travel experience.

One could also say that since I was looking for such a positive experience, anything that didn’t fit that mold could be seen as stranger and more negative than normal. Perhaps, but in my opinion, it’s unlikely considering that I’ve certainly learned by now that things don’t always go according to plan and I generally accept whatever comes my way without much disappointment.

Besides, this isn’t the first time I’ve noticed my traveler instinct.

Hagia Sofia, Istanbul

Catching a Pickpocket

I’ve now caught three people over the past five years who were trying to pickpocket me. The first time it happened, I was walking down a busy street in Mumbai and suddenly, I had a feeling that I should turn around. Sure enough, I caught a man with outstretched arm reaching for my back pocket where I happened to have left some money.

And it’s not as if I had been turning around every two minutes thinking that everyone around me might be trying to steal my stuff.

There was no indication that anything was happening except for a gut feeling at that very moment. Maybe I subconsciously saw his shadow, maybe I heard footsteps more closely than normal behind me, maybe I noticed a sudden crowd around me and realized the increase in risk that a pickpocket would operate in this area. I have no idea, but the point is, I felt something that made me turn around, and that feeling turned out to be right.

So there has to be more to it.

How We Develop A Traveler Instinct

The more we travel, the more experiences we have (obviously!), the more situations we find ourselves in, the more people we meet, the more we learn, the more we observe, the more we interpret. All of this then helps us make sense of the future experiences we have, the future situations we find ourselves in, the people we meet in our next destinations. We quickly scan our past experiences to see how these ‘new’ experiences compare and we make an assessment based on that information.

Of course, we are not usually aware of this process. We are only aware of the end result (the instinct) which tells us that a certain situation is normal, safe, unsafe, strange, or anything else, so that we can act accordingly. Suddenly we just know what to do, we make decisions on the fly based on our fine-tuned instincts.

This is especially true when we travel to the same destination more than once. The collection of data we have in our brains about how things are supposed to be in that particular location is obviously greater the more times we visit and the longer we stay, and that helps us interpret everything around us more quickly and, probably, more correctly.

This is what I felt in Istanbul, a city I know very well. I had so much previous experience to compare everything I was now seeing and feeling to that I was even more confident in what my gut was telling me. That’s why I left when I did.

Kurtulus, Istanbul

Who Needs Real Proof? Not Me.

Of course, maybe this is all nonsense in the end. Maybe there’s nothing to this traveler instinct idea at all.

Is it just luck?

It’s not as if I have much in terms of real proof.

It’s not as if I have a long list of tragedies or robberies or attacks that my own instinct has helped me narrowly avoid over the years. That’s not the case at all.

The reality is that it’s quite difficult to know exactly what this traveler instinct has done for me since I generally rely on it to make sure I don’t end up in trouble, not necessarily to help me get out of serious trouble. What it has helped me avoid is something that there is no way for me to be aware of.

But after all of this travel, I really do feel a traveler instinct within, one that seems to improve over time, and one that seems to be working quite well. By paying attention to this instinct as I’ve navigated the world over the past sixteen years, both myself and my possessions have remained remarkably safe in such a wide variety of destinations and situations.

And after this recent Istanbul experience, it would be difficult to convince me that it’s the result of something other than this traveler instinct.

Has your traveler instinct helped you at all? Do you believe this concept is real?

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  1. Dani May 20, 2017 at 10:39 pm - Reply

    The morning of 9/11 I was sleeping over at a friend’s apartment who lived across from the Twin Towers (@Battery Park City) after a late night partying. At 5am, something told me to get up & leave so I caught a cab back to my own place in Brooklyn. Four hours later, the first plane hit. My friend was okay but went through a catastrophic event to secure safe passage on a boat to escape and her glass windows completely blown out of her living room where I had crashed on her futon. I may not have been a traveler after living in nyc several years but I will never understand what forced me up & out on that fateful day. So glad your instinct told you to leave Turkey that day. Take care, travel safe. And I really enjoy your blog.

  2. Rich February 19, 2017 at 6:52 pm - Reply

    Love reading this post Derek! I’m also a first time reader to your blog.

    I strongly agree with your “Traveling Instinct”. However, I’ve always referred to these unexplainable gut feelings, situations, happenings or phenomenons (as Andrew called them) in a different way.

    I’m a strong believer that when I have these feelings when they come—they come from the “Angels on my shoulders”.
    Now, some may call that crazy, and that’s okay. But a lot of my traveling expat friends I’ve met and family, strongly agree with me.

    I don’t call myself a devout religious man at all, by any means. But I do believe in God and all of his wonders in this beautiful world of ours. There is no doubt in my mind that there are strong energies that surround each and everyone of us. Some positive and some negative—”Vibes” if you will, that help guide and protect us through our lives and worldly journeys.

    In the past, like you Derek, I have experienced many of these extraordinary “Angel on my Shoulders” moments. They go back as far in to my childhood and even while I was serving in the military in Vietnam, and up through my most recent travels abroad.

    And I know that you and I and everyone that recognize and take notice to these extraordinary feelings, are truly blessed.

    Thanks for sharing this very interesting and enlightening blog post.

    • Derek February 23, 2017 at 3:42 am - Reply

      Hey Andrew – I appreciate you sharing your comment and thoughts and don’t worry, nothing sounds crazy to me at all!

  3. Andrew August 5, 2016 at 2:06 pm - Reply

    Hi Derek. It’s an interesting post re instinct. I think it likely that there are two factors operating. One is, as you’d be aware, that we are processing a lot of external information with all our senses, and the brain filters out what is considered extraneous to the situation. We are then alerted to stimuli we should focus on, if it’s important to us, such as threat. The other one, I think is more intriguing. Eric Berne, the psychiatrist that came up with the therapy Transactional Analysis, was apparently investigating what he termed psychic receptors, not long before he died. Conspiracy theorists could have fun with that! The upshot of it is, as I understand it, that he believed that through these receptors, we pick up a range of information unavailable to our other senses. Various areas of research tentatively support the concept, such as energy field matrices that have been investigated by quantum physicists (Lynn McTaggart’s book The Field, documents some of these experiments [not a recent book, unfortunately]). A clinical psychologist in Australia wrote her doctorate thesis based on investigating clinical psychologists that can physically pick up ‘energy’ related to client trauma. Apparently there are quite a few that can do this, but keep it quiet, for obvious reasons. I trained in a form of bodywork psychotherapy where the same energetic manifestations can be strongly felt physically by the therapist (and by some clients also). Whilst it all can sound a bit ‘woo woo’, I suspect that the reality is that science just hasn’t caught up with with being able to measure the phenomenon. After all, at a basic molecular level, we are all just energy. So, I think there is a reasonable physical/psyche basis for what you and others have experienced.

  4. Jane Clements July 29, 2016 at 3:46 am - Reply

    Yes! We must learn to trust our instincts. I have been travelling solo for more than 3 years now and as a result I am very keen to hone my skills. Things occasionally go wrong but when I analyse why, 9 times out of 10 I realised that I had ignored a nagging gut instinct to get myself out of a situation. I now remove myself from a situation when I feel this – as you did when you flew to Romania. As a result I also find that I am listening to my instinct a lot more in all aspects of my life

  5. […] blogger, Wandering Earl has a good story about developing the traveler’s instinct, check it out here. And remember to stay aware and trust your instincts, you’ll be […]

  6. Hayley June 5, 2016 at 8:51 pm - Reply

    Hi “Earl!” This is my first time landing on your blog. As an avid traveller myself, I am totally with you on the instinct idea. I’ve had at least 5 experiences in my time where something simply did not feel right, and it was confirmed to me later just why.

    Call it instinct, call it “travellers instinct”… when you’re fully present in the moment as it’s easy to do when you are travelling or moving, your senses are heightened. I always say to my girlfriends when they are going somewhere, “If it feels unsafe, it probably is. Just leave and don;t worry about why. ”

    Thanks for sharing!

  7. Izy berry June 2, 2016 at 1:43 am - Reply

    Omg thanks God you were not their I don’t believe in instincts but I really believe that God sometimes tell us things and maybe your instinct was god talking to you and telling you that you need to live that place

  8. Jon Espina - JontotheWorld May 31, 2016 at 2:26 am - Reply

    A traveler somehow feels this traveler instinct that we have.

    But it just amazed me at how you were able to explain in a logical way. Been reading your blog for a while and really enjoyed reading your travel experiences.

  9. Megan Osborne May 16, 2016 at 4:41 am - Reply

    Years ago, I was traveling through London with a friend and we decided to go clubbing. Later we were invited to a house party with a big group of girls and guys but my gut Instinct didn’t like it ; that doesn’t usually happen in London. In the process of talking my friend out of the idea, a unmarked taxi pulled up to take us the ‘party’. The black car with three guys in it and no sign of our other new friends was enough to convince my friend a early night with pizza was far better

  10. Lucie May 12, 2016 at 2:14 am - Reply

    Wow, Earl! It goes to show that it is truly a blessing to have this instinct. I’m a travel lover, as well, and hope to be able use this instinct if ever I need it! Thanks for sharing.

  11. G May 4, 2016 at 9:02 am - Reply

    Hi Earl,

    Great post! I fully agree that after a long time on the road (10 years myself), you develop a sixth sense about certain things. I consider having grown up in Northern Ireland, combined with backpacking in Asia and Australia for a decade, to have given me street smarts and people skills beyond the average.

    To back up what you’re saying, in a different area, I have very strong gut feelings and instincts about events in the financial markets. I’m a casual trader and don’t make bets often, but from time to time I am literally compelled to place a trade because I’m sure I know what is going to happen. Most of the time I am right and can profit from this. I can only attribute this to having watched and learned since my teenage years.

    I personally believe it works like this: you experience so much that is filed away in your subconscious, and you aren’t even aware you know it, but it’s there. This, combined with your natural human instincts such as self-preservation, combine to allow you to accurately read the situation, even though you can’t explain the feeling rationally. Your subconscious mind is basically a supercomputer working 24-7, and I have no doubt yours, as an experienced traveller, picked up on danger cues which you weren’t even aware of. The mind is finely tuned to spot patterns, and if those normal patterns which you’d experienced many times before were disturbed or different without any rational reason, your subconscious would have been sending signals to let you know something wasn’t right.

    Thanks for this post. For what it’s worth – I’m 100% in your camp. Traveller instinct is as real as anything else!

    • Megan Osborne May 16, 2016 at 4:42 am - Reply

      I really do like your interpretation of a subconscious knowledge causing this instinct ! Brilliant theory

  12. vira May 2, 2016 at 6:48 pm - Reply

    I think traveler instinct is real, but sometimes it intersects with coincidence too, or with the everyday instinct. A lot of people have asked me how I deal with safety as a woman when traveling. I really don’t know how to answer that, except that I (and I bet everyone does) need to be concern about safety in our everyday lives, and common sense helps a lot, which takes up a lot of part in forming your instinct, and that applies to every gender.
    But anyway, I’m glad you are safe.

  13. Rachel April 28, 2016 at 5:35 am - Reply

    Hi , me and my friend have just discovered your blog and we love it! We are 16 , and after uni are wanting to travel as much as possible 🙂 Do you have any tips for first places to visit etc? Oh and have you ever wanted to come to Scotland? The highlands can be soooo pretty at night and if you’re lucky you get to see the northern lights 🙂
    Thanks , Rachel + Jasmine

  14. gilbert fleming April 21, 2016 at 11:59 am - Reply

    You mention the lack of police made a red flag go in your head? Maybe some of the locals knew in advance of the attack? And ran for cover?

  15. Heather @ Art Travel Eat Repeat April 21, 2016 at 11:31 am - Reply

    Wow, that’s scary! This was a great article. So glad you got out of there in time. I’ve certainly had feelings of ‘something isn’t right’ before, and it usually turns out to be correct.

  16. Stephen Schreck April 20, 2016 at 10:57 pm - Reply

    I agree man! I think you have to trust your feelings and instincts on the road. I am glad you are safe.

  17. James Johnson April 13, 2016 at 10:20 am - Reply

    When I was in Australia I’d paid a visit to Green’s Pool, a beautiful little place in Albany. Trying to jump from one rock to another I’d slipped and fell into the gap between and cut the bottom of my foot open on the jagged edge of the rocks at the bottom.

    I swam to the shore, bandaged myself up with the first aid kit that came with the Moped we’d hired and carried on with my day. There was enough blood soaking through my sock to make me sick, but I wasn’t about to let that phase me, was I?

    A day or two later the wound still hadn’t really healed on my foot – it would bleed occasionally – but I was determined to power on. Early this particular afternoon I figured we’d find somewhere to wash my foot and change the bandage so I could get through the rest of the day.

    I happened upon what is by the most beautiful place I’ve ever laid eyes on in my life, a small little cove called Salmon Hole. It was about a one hundred feet down some steps to the beach, where you could go straight into the water. There was a half broken sign at the top of the stairs where you could just make out ‘no swimming’. But, I didn’t really pay it much attention.

    As I got closer to the water I could see people fishing at every possible opportunity. They were on the rocks at the side, on the beach and there was even a guy sitting in a tree. But what it meant was there were lines crossing everywhere, and something in my gut was telling me to not go near the water. But still, I took my shoes off, untied my bandage and hopped towards the water.

    The water was crystal clear and it appeared almost empty. There were no crabs or urchins or even dead bits of cuttlefish floating around it. And, the feeling in my gut grew stronger and stronger. I decided to hop back to the shore, put my shoe on, and walk up the rocks.

    Me and my friend took a wander up the rocks where we saw a fisherman really struggling to reel something in. It didn’t look like he had a fish on the line, but a small motor home.

    “What’s he got there?” I asked another fisherman stood beside me, “It looks heavy!”

    “Mate, that’s a great white shark he’s got himself, he’s been wrestling with the bugger for two hours now, but it’ll be his third of the day!” the fisherman told me with a huge grin on his face.

    Then the realisation set in: I could have got in that water, with a foot full of juicy English blood, and been supper for a shark.

    He eventually pulled the shark out of the water as we walked back and he told me with was around 110kg; which is considered pretty small…apparently.

    So yeah, I believe in Travellers instinct, it probably saved me my foot!

  18. Kyle April 7, 2016 at 3:44 am - Reply

    Earl hasn’t written since January 26. About 2.5 months ago.

    It’s official. Earl has run out of things to talk about.

    No more cool stories about Central Asia. No more cool stories from places in the world far far away.

    Earl, are you alive man? Or is the blog about to be officially destroyed?

    • Wes April 18, 2016 at 4:34 pm - Reply

      Probably found himself a Mrs. Earl!

  19. Larissa April 6, 2016 at 1:15 pm - Reply

    Great post, Derek. Although your Istanbul example is a tragic one, I agree with the concept of a traveler’s instinct. I have always viewed instinct-and intuition-as “highly tuned, subconscious analytical skills” (based only on my own interpretation, no science involved whatsoever 😉 ). We may not realize we’re observing unusual attitudes or suspicious behavior, but our subconscious is still digesting it.

    Counter to this are those individuals who seem to always find themselves in some sort of a scrape, whether it’s while traveling or simply in day to day life. I’m convinced they are the individuals who are either unobservant or choose to ignore that little voice inside their head warning them to pay attention.

    As travelers we are thrust into strange and unique situations that may have our heads spinning from time to time. Our usual sense of awareness is thrown a little out of whack, which is when it’s doubly important to “trust your gut,” it’s telling you something you’ve observed but just aren’t aware of yet.

    There will always be dangers–and delights–lurking around the next corner. The trick is to trust your instincts so you can avoid the former and embrace the latter.

  20. Alain March 10, 2016 at 3:31 pm - Reply

    Great article. Although I’m personally an optimist and would rather not believe that bad things can happen to me, I know there’s no control over what other people do. In your case, I’m really happy you listened to your gut instinct!

    It’s so sad what happened. I’m still hoping to make it to Istanbul someday soon, but events like these certainly put a damper on things.

    Thanks for sharing!

  21. Richard John Merlin March 10, 2016 at 1:09 pm - Reply

    I believe ancient man, (and woman) had these instincts which they took note of to protect them from harm. Because of our modern way of life these instincts have atrophied. But occasionally they come to the fore, as and when something is not quite right. I recall going to get into a taxi, on my own, one evening, outside of a bar in Barbados. There were a few young men hanging around very close by. I’d opened the door of the taxi to get in the rear, when I suddenly decided not to, and walked a few yards further down the road and got into another one, where nobody was hanging around. The young men started to argue amongst themselves, shouting loudly, as we pulled away. I’ll never know what may have happened if I’d got into the first car. Maybe they just wanted me to use that taxi as it may have been a friends or family member who was it’s driver, but I felt a sudden bad vibe, which I acted on.
    Conversely, good things can happen too, without any logical explanation. An example, (one of several I experienced last year travelling Central Asia), I had checked the day before my route from hostel in Almaty, to the final bus stop where I had to catch bus to Almaty 2 train station. As I got to the stop and placed my rucksack down, A young lady walking toward the stop, suddenly said to me in a worried tone, “Do you know where you are going?”, in English. I replied, “yes to Almaty 2, on the no.2” “No” she replied, “since last month all the busses have altered, you need a no71or 31.” How she knew I was English and where I was going I can only surmise, but before I could thank her a bus 31 came along. I asked the driver if he went to Almaty2?, to which he nodded. I boarded a very crowded bus and had to stand all the way, the journey took much longer than I’d allowed for, it being rush hour. Without the help of the young lady I probably would have missed the train, (42 hours to Aktobe!).

  22. Trisha Velarmino - P.S. I'm On My Way February 19, 2016 at 11:44 pm - Reply

    Whenever I’m on the road, moving from place to place, I make sure that I am always aware of my environment and my surroundings. I have always been the type to observe. Human expressions like discomfort and anxiety transcends cultural boundaries. It’s not that difficult to gauge the general atmosphere of people within a certain area. If my ‘spider sense’ is tingling, I move on. I feel a slight sense of unease and distress, I figure out a different game plan. I’ve had the same experience of somehow feeling that someone is onto you and/or about to take advantage of you. I’ve had close calls with pickpockets and swindlers alike countless of times.
    I trust my instinct and I advise any traveler to do the same. It’s gotten you this far, right?
    I’m glad you are safe, Earl! Stay safe on the road!

  23. Sarah February 19, 2016 at 4:47 am - Reply

    I think we definitely develop traveler instincts. I had a similar experience a couple of years ago. However in my case I didn’t trust my instinct and my room was robbed.
    I once took a course on personal security for travelers and the instructor, who had some pretty hard core security credentials, said that his best advice was always to trust your instinct and if something feels weird, don’t question it and just leave. Sure, maybe nothing was wrong, but it is better to be safe than sorry.

  24. Lydiascapes February 18, 2016 at 9:09 am - Reply

    Thank you for sharing Earl. Its really inspiring and reminds me that my gut traveler instinct should never be underlooked.

    Adventure Travel Writer

  25. […] read two fascinating posts last week on yTravel Blog and Wandering Earl about instincts and travel. I don’t have anything quite as dramatic as those stories, but it […]

  26. Serhat Engul February 6, 2016 at 2:35 pm - Reply

    You are obviously very experienced traveller. It’s great to have an instinct like this. However as a person who visits Istanbul many times, you would not be at the hippodrome at that time since you must have already been there. To come across an incident like this, very very little possibility. I am deeply sorry for those who lost their lives. You would not be harmed even if you had stayed in my opinion. The city is not completely blown up anyway. People still leave here, travellers still come here. It happens everywhere in the world nowadays. Hope people would not develop a negative instinct about Istanbul. As they did not for Paris.

    • Wandering Earl February 11, 2016 at 11:41 am - Reply

      Hey Serhat – Of course, the chances of being harmed were low, although, since I do walk through that exact spot several times per day every time I’m in Istanbul, the chances were certainly higher than normal. It’s not about creating a negative instinct about Istanbul…it could have been Delhi or Prague or Bangkok. It just happened to be Istanbul this time and I happened to have been there right before.

      • BEGUM April 6, 2016 at 3:36 pm - Reply

        I will agree and disagree on this. As a Turkish who also lived in Istanbul, I think Istanbul gets tricky sometimes. Because its a very touristic city, unfortunately, some locals tend to take advantage of it. Pick pocketing and trying to get more money (than usual) from tourists are very common 2 in Istanbul. However none of us were expecting that bombing. I am glad you weren’t there at the time of bombing. Obviously they were targeting tourists mainly. I think, especially these days, we should be cautious in many touristic locations including Europe and Middle East.

  27. […] Then an update from a travel blogger, Wandering Earl, who I really admire appeared on my Facebook timeline. I saw his profile picture and thought, “I haven’t seen anything from him in some time.“ (thanks Facebook for never showing us the people we want to follow!!) He was sharing a post called, “Why I always trust my travellers’ instinct.” […]

  28. […] than London. Our Paleolithic brains evolved to be cautious – so although you should always trust your traveler instinct – realize that not visiting Istanbul to stay safe from terrorism would be equivalent to not […]

  29. […] published a post about listenting to the inner voice. Earl from Wandering Earl is writing about Why I Always Trust My Traveler Instinct and Caz published yesterday why she pulled out of the World Tourism Forum in Istanbul. Both posts […]

  30. Trever Nelson February 3, 2016 at 6:09 am - Reply

    Maybe it is like the film ‘final destination’ and you were meant to die but you have skipped it…

    • Wandering Earl February 5, 2016 at 2:28 am - Reply

      Ha, could very well be true as too!

  31. James February 2, 2016 at 10:06 pm - Reply

    I’ve been following this blog for the last couple of years but this is the first comment I think I’ve made. This is a subject that I’ve thought a lot about. I’ve done a lot of solo travel over the years in a whole range of countries, from most developed to totally developing. The thing I’ve found about traveling solo is that you become keenly aware that you are in situations where there is no one who has your back. It’s not a fear thing. If you were afraid, you wouldn’t put yourself in that situation. It’s just a hyper-awareness that kicks in. On every solo trip I’ve gone on, there is always one time when I’m just about to do something and a little voice in my head says “not a good idea”. When that voice kicks in, I always listen to it and change course. Things like being about to take a night bus to arrive at a place I’m unfamiliar with at 2:00 am but then at the last minute deciding to wait to travel until the morning. Stuff like that. As I said, it always happens once on every trip.

    I’ve gotten to the point that I actually welcome those experiences. Because for me they always mark the line between being adventurous and pushing myself to have unique experiences and not taking unnecessary risks. I sort of feel that if that voice doesn’t pop up from time to time, then I’m not trying hard enough — but if the voice does pop up and I don’t listen to it, then I’m just not being smart. So I welcome the voice and I always listen to it. So far, that approach has led to a long list of great experiences with a minimum of stress (and no really, really bad situations).

    I really enjoy this blog and hope my comment adds to the conversation.

    • Wandering Earl February 5, 2016 at 2:34 am - Reply

      Hey James – Great to hear thoughts and I like what you’ve said. I think you’re right that it’s more like a hyper-awareness, something that we’re forced to develop due to traveling on our own, or simply due to traveling and constantly being in unfamiliar situations. Like I mentioned in a previous comment, this awareness also hasn’t stopped me from finding adventure, it’s simply guided me along the way, making sure I know what I’m doing at all times. Thanks again for commenting!

  32. Why I pulled out of Istanbul February 2, 2016 at 6:50 pm - Reply

    […] Then an update from a travel blogger, Wandering Earl, who I really admire appeared on my Facebook timeline. I saw his profile picture and thought, “I haven’t seen anything from him in some time.“ (thanks Facebook for never showing us the people we want to follow!!) He was sharing a post called, “Why I always trust my travellers’ instinct.” […]

  33. Lia February 1, 2016 at 3:04 am - Reply

    Hi Earl, I have encountered such travel instinct before. Last year 2015, I wanted to go hiking,trekking and camping to Tibet and Nepal in April to May, on a 1 month solo trip. I needed to apply for visa but I had been very busy and even when I have the time to go to the office to settle my documents, I tend to delay. My heart just doesn’t feel right. Then I’ve decided not to book my flight and just wait awhile. Then came the earthquake news and my family and bosses were just thankful that I did not go ahead with my plan. I’m not sure why but when I heard the news, all I could do was just stare blankly at the news.

    Then, I decided to follow my friends back to Kinabalu for the 3rd time. Initially, after my 2nd climb to Mt. Kinabalu in 2014, I told myself, that may be the last I’ll be there. Even if I do go back there, I will go on different routes and try some other extreme activities they can offer. So when my friends learnt that I cancelled my Tibet trip, he invite me to Kinabalu. Somehow I was reluctant. Very reluctant though I do miss it. Then in June 2015, came the news of the Earthquake that takes away the lives of the students back in the city where I lived. I was stunned, shocked and cry for awhile. All I could do was that God for the blessings he gave me.

    And now, I’m afraid of planning my trips. But am learning to let the fear go away slowly. This instincts are real. God will guide those he wills. And only those who believes in Him will trust in Him. Now I begin to understand that phrase.

  34. Elesha January 30, 2016 at 11:10 am - Reply

    Really interesting article, and equally interesting comments in response. I believe I have a strong intuition which is heightened when I travel, particularly when I travel alone. Glad to hear you got out before the tragedy, I got goosebumps reading that part.

    ps – great blog!

  35. J. January 30, 2016 at 1:15 am - Reply

    Fascinating article. The description you gave on how the gut feeling is the result of many experiences and situations we all go through when travelling, can be either accepted or refused by anyone. We will never know if this is true or not, I do believe in it but many people don’t.

    What I noticed is that, after many experiences in different countries, I sometimes get, like it happened to you, a bad feeling being in some places, as I know this might be a dangerous one, without a clear reason. Glad to hear this time it took you out of a place where you could have been hurt!

  36. Travis January 28, 2016 at 9:07 am - Reply

    Hi Earl, personally I always avoid the superstitious explanations. I figure that the reality is always logical. In this case, you said it – shadows/footsteps of pickpockets, lack of police before a major criminal event, etc. Call it an instinct if you like (I suppose that has more mass appeal) but I call it being aware of your surroundings. And, of course, over time this “instinct” will improve because, as you say, this collection of data we have in our brains[…] helps us interpret everything around us more quickly.

    • Travis January 28, 2016 at 9:45 am - Reply

      To be clear, I suppose the word “sensational” is more accurate. “Superstitious” probably better describes the word choices in some of the other comments… not necessarily the people themselves though.

    • Wandering Earl January 29, 2016 at 7:35 am - Reply

      Hey Travis – That’s definitely how I feel as well. The instinct is the result of subtle signals that our brains receive, compare to past signals and then interpret, telling us how we should act in a certain situation. Definitely seems to be the better explanation.

  37. Ovi | 100 Travel Stories January 28, 2016 at 7:13 am - Reply

    It is true, Earl. But sometimes the traveler instinct or the inner voice can be misinterpreted as fear and vice-versa. Being aware about the surroundings without paranoia is enough. Stealing happens and we cannot always prevent it. Material things are replaceable, but life not. In dangerous situations the inner voice and the fear work together, so we should listen to them. But then where is the adventure?

    • Wandering Earl January 29, 2016 at 7:51 am - Reply

      Hey Ovi – I see what you’re saying but I don’t think that listening to our inner voice eliminates the adventure. When I’m traveling, I certainly seek out adventure. I’ll be the first person to head off into some unknown neighborhood or to visit a country that isn’t known for being too safe (Yemen, Pakistan, etc.), but I’ll still use my inner voice in order to ensure my life doesn’t come to an end or I don’t end up in a situation that would be too dangerous even for my adventurous self. I agree with you though, paranoia is not what we want to end up with as that doesn’t help at all and will actually make travel extremely difficult and unenjoyable if we simply walk around thinking that everyone is about to steal our stuff or attack us. Like you said, we need to make sure that we don’t fall into that mindset. Thanks for sharing your thoughts Ovi!

  38. Reni January 27, 2016 at 6:30 pm - Reply

    Hi Earl

    Yes, the traveller instinct is real. It just happened to us when travelling the Philippines last month.

    Unfortunately I did not listen to my travellers instinct. I ignored and that was a huge mistake. The guy I’ve seen in the afternoon felt strange to me. I had the feeling he was observing us. Well, the same evening we went for dinner and left our laptops and cameras in the bungalow. We came back and everything was gone. Can’t stop thinking about that guy I’ve seen in the afternoon.

    What I’ve learned, always listen to your instinct.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts and luckily you listened to your gut feeling when you’ve been to Istanbul.

    Safe travels,

  39. Karl Ace January 27, 2016 at 5:32 pm - Reply

    It starts with being aware of your thoughts and what motivates your decisions. It’s never wrong to mull on stuff as long as you take action to it after which you did.

  40. Steve C January 27, 2016 at 1:50 pm - Reply

    Hey Earl, interesting topic, as usual. Living in California, having experienced many earthquakes, there’s a certain feeling sometimes when the weather, yes weather, is kinda different. We call it “Earthquake weather”. There’s, of course, no scientific evidence of this but it does cross my mind when it gets muggy and real silent. 🙂
    More to your point, sometimes you just get a feeling. If something really does happen, we can always Monday morning quarterback the situation and convince ourselves that we “knew” something was about to happen. I don’t pretend to know that these feelings are bunk or not, but it sure makes for good conversation. I set it on the same shelf as praying and expecting results.

  41. Elena January 27, 2016 at 6:45 am - Reply

    Have you read The Gift of Fear? If not, I highly recommend it. It basically describes these situations. When your gut is telling you something, it’s important to listen. Your subconscious notices a lot more than your conscious mind does. Glad you’re okay!

  42. Carol January 27, 2016 at 12:58 am - Reply

    Don’t feel compelled to explain or prove an awareness….do exactly what you did, which is notice it, acknowledge it, & act. Glad you left before the tragedy.

  43. RenegadePilgrim January 26, 2016 at 11:39 pm - Reply

    I think there’s a profound difference between listening to your “gut/instinct” and confirmation bias. When I was in Nepal after the earthquake delivering aid, there was a distinct difference in the “feel” of the place I had grown to know and love from just a few months prior. And the day we experience the aftershock, there was a “weirdness” in the air. You can’t describe it but you can feel it. I am glad you listened to your gut.

    Oh, and I was in Paris during the terrorist attacks. Thank the unicorns I didn’t go out to dinner that night. I could have been at one of those restaurants.

  44. Pete @ backtotravel January 26, 2016 at 10:34 pm - Reply

    There is a thin line between intuition and paranoia. I’m a very cautious traveller that’s trying hard to be more open and trusting. I do wonder how many times I’ve walked away from a unique experience due to being overly paranoid. I certainly think intuition is something you can practice and improve upon though.

  45. Jamie January 26, 2016 at 9:28 pm - Reply

    I just started following your blog. My husband, daughter and I were also in Istanbul this January and left just a day before the bombing. Crazy that our paths crossed! We are now safe back home in the Washington DC area.

  46. Jen January 26, 2016 at 8:05 pm - Reply

    Karol hit that one on the head with “The Gift of Fear”, instinct is very real. Glad you hear it and take heed!

  47. Anca | Globaloud January 26, 2016 at 2:38 pm - Reply

    That traveler instinct is not just “traveler” – it’s AN INSTINCT that keeps us safe every day, whether from the boring person, whether from the dangerous person, whether from some unexpected dangerous occasion. The other day I closed the door of the room where I sleep, which I barely do. The same night there was a small fire in my hallway caused by a combination of an old heater and old house installations. At the end, those doors saved me from inhaling a huge amount of the fire smoke that could easily cause suffocation, but luckily it all ended without huge consequences just because I closed those doors. Crazy instinct.

  48. Nathalie January 26, 2016 at 2:31 pm - Reply

    Traveler instinct is it real? I believe so! It saved us from getting robbed in Beijing. I had an overpowering feeling to get out of a taxi, which we did. Later, we read about scams of people coming to lure you into cars outside of the usual taxi line. We were lucky to get out while within sight of the airport police.

  49. Laura January 26, 2016 at 12:50 pm - Reply

    I rely heavily on my “sixth sense”. I’m an engineer and a very logical person but after decades of applying reason and logic to my experiences, the only explanation that makes sense to me is that we’re never alone. Wise entities that we can’t see have the ability to communicate with us. I have countless examples, but my favorite one is the time I felt urged to postpone a trip to visit a pregnant friend. I did, and make up a lame excuse since I was embarrassed to tell my friend the real reason for changing the dates. My friend gave birth during my rescheduled visit and the timing was wonderful.

  50. Kristi in LV January 26, 2016 at 12:33 pm - Reply

    God is protecting you.

  51. CarolSue Ayala January 26, 2016 at 12:30 pm - Reply

    My husband and I became full-time travelers 3 1/2 years ago at age 64. We have been to 43 countries so far. We recently returned from 7 months in Europe and the Middle East. We had planned to go to Egypt before returning to the USA in November but something said no. We listened. We have regrets that we missed it, but we are also grateful. We visited Israel, Turkey and Paris on that trip as well and somehow managed to stay ahead of the trouble. For me the safety of our bodies and our (few) possessions is paramount. Otherwise you got a bummer. Thanks for the reminder to pay attention to our powerful instincts.

  52. Amy January 26, 2016 at 10:35 am - Reply

    Those close calls can really jangle your nerves. Many years ago, I narrowly missed a bus bombing in Jerusalem. In my case, it was simple luck that got me out of the area (a mere 10 minutes before the explosion!) but I do think there is something to be said for listening to one’s instincts. Whatever the case, I am glad you’re ok!

  53. Karol Gajda January 26, 2016 at 10:04 am - Reply

    Have you read The Gift of Fear by Gavin de Becker? He goes in depth into this feeling. It’s a good read and you hinted at the thesis with: “Maybe I subconsciously saw his shadow, maybe I heard footsteps more closely than normal behind me, maybe I noticed a sudden crowd around me and realized the increase in risk that a pickpocket would operate in this area.”

    A lot of people ignore that type of thing because they can’t pinpoint where the feeling is coming from. You, obviously, do not.

  54. jon January 26, 2016 at 8:27 am - Reply

    The Istanbul you knew from previous trips has simple ceased to exist I think, the bustle and energy has perhaps changed to an edgy nervousness because of previous recent attacks on Turkey?

    I’m sure if I visited again now after 18 months it would be different, that doesn’t necessarily mean I would interperet it a sense of something bad happening.

  55. Linda January 26, 2016 at 8:13 am - Reply

    From a young age, the advice to follow your instincts resonated! As we have more experience, noise, and knowledge, sometimes the instinct gets cloudy. I’m glad you did listen and took action.

  56. Danick January 26, 2016 at 8:01 am - Reply

    Yes you have to follow your instinct or 6th sense, I was in istanbul too when the incident happened, I wasnt feeling right when I arrived so I stayed in the hostel that day (its also very windy that day), and fall asleep, then in midday I heard that news. I guess it is also someone in heaven you believed in or your good karma that sheltered you from all this 🙂

  57. Graeme January 26, 2016 at 7:16 am - Reply

    Nice article Earl! Thanks for sharing, crazy, crazy story – I’m glad you’re safe.
    I don’t really need proof, like you, but I do believe you should always listen to that feeling. I’ve never ignored it and it’s helped me a lot – it prevented me from getting robbed at an ATM in the early morning in London which was handy!
    Thanks again for sharing mate, take care.

  58. Elizabeth January 26, 2016 at 6:47 am - Reply

    Great article! My motto is always follow your instinct and if something feels wrong or strange, leave. You get into trouble when you do not listen to your inner voice. We had to do that one time in Rio when a group of men were giving us the evil eye. We just decided to get a taxi and get on out of there.

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