‘Why tragic murder of Grace Millane mustn’t clip our kids’ wings’
Like Grace Millane, I backpacked my way, solo, around south-east Asia. In 2004, I visited 15 countries and it was one of the best things I have ever done in my life.
The whole experience taught me to push my boundaries, face my fears, try new and exciting experiences and understand my strengths and weaknesses.
I learnt to dive, climbed mountains, trekked through leech-infested rainforests, did a bungee jump, saw amazing wildlife and made a host of new friends. I came back to the UK a more grounded, confident and worldly-wise person.
Travelling changed my life and I totally understand why young people like Grace would want to explore the world.
But after her death, I couldn’t help but wonder how I’d feel if one of my kids turned around one day and said: “I’m off round the world, Mum, see you in a year.”
When I went travelling, you couldn’t just shove an iPhone in your backpack and expect to get free wifi in every little backwater.
So I stayed safe by planning my route around hostels and home-stays tried and tested by the Lonely Planet guidebooks. And I kept in touch with my family with postcards and the occasional email.
Whenever large numbers of young, single people cross paths, romance is bound to happen, and it certainly did for me. But the guys I met were part of the gang – blokes in a group doing the same trek or activity. I spent time with them and got to know a bit about them.
Looking back, I realise that I took a few risks. I do think, oh my Lord, what was I doing in that cave, in the middle of nowhere, all alone in the Phillipines?
But I was lucky. And making a plan and sticking to it, most of the time, made me luckier.
Today’s kids, with their smart- phones, instant messaging and GPS tracking, ought to be the safest generation of travellers ever.
So it’s a cruel irony that New Zealand police believe it was connections made on social media that may have led Grace to her death. A 26-year-old man, who used the dating app Tinder, has been arrested on suspicion of her murder.
He had reportedly commented on a picture Grace had posted on Facebook. To most people of my generation, going on a date with someone you’ve only met online sounds crazy.
But it’s a fact that Tinder has more than 50 million active users, busily swiping left and right in their search for love.
No amount of parental nagging will change that. All we can do is drum a few safety rules into our kids’ heads.
One, meet somewhere public; two, tell friends where you are going; three, get a pal to ring half an hour in, so you can make an excuse and leave. Also, find out everything you can about your date before you meet, and if you have any doubts, however small, cancel.
But the sad fact is that Grace was murdered not by an app, or because she was alone, but by a brutal and twisted man.
As her brave and dignified family said: “We all hope what happened to Grace will not deter even one person from venturing out into the world.”
From one backpacker to another, rest in peace, Grace.
It takes a courageous, strong and independent woman to explore the big wide world alone. And that is how we will remember her.
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