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American tourist missing in Turkey

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Police in Istanbul were searching Monday for an American tourist who has been missing for a week.

The Associated Press reported that authorities were reviewing security camera footage in an effort to track down Sarai Sierra, 33, a New York City woman who was vacationing alone in Turkey. A police official told the AP the search for her is focused on Istanbul’s Taksim neighborhood, where Sierra was staying at a hostel.

American media reports indicated that Sierra’s passport and cell phone both were found in her room at the hostel.

Sierra is married with two children, aged 11 and 9. Family members said they last were in contact with her Jan. 21, the day she was to begin her trip home from Istanbul. She reportedly told family members she intended to take some photos of the Galata Bridge before leaving. The bridge across the Golden Horn inlet of the Bosphorous is a popular tourist site about a mile from the hostel.

The Dogan news agency in Turkey reported that police have determined that Sierra made a trip to Amsterdam in the Netherlands Jan. 15 and also apparently spent several days in Munich, Germany before returning to Istanbul Jan. 19. Police were searching for a person Sierra had been in contact with on the Internet, but did not say whether they believed that had any connection to her side trip from Turkey.

Sierra’s husband and a brother reportedly were flying to Istanbul to aid in search efforts. The brother, David Jimenez, told the AP Sierra’s children had not been told their mom was missing.

Is Turkey safe?

As the AP report noted, Turkey is generally considered to be a safe destination for tourists. In fact, noted European travel expert Rick Steves touted the country Sunday at the Chicago Travel & Adventure Show as a destination Americans don’t visit enough.

“I love Turkey,” Steves said. “Turkey has an image problem.”

He suggested that some Americans may have trepidation about traveling to a country with an overwhelmingly Muslim population, but noted that the country has a secular government with a constitution that includes a separation of “mosque and state.”

Steves cautioned, however, that Istanbul may not be an ideal destination for the first-time overseas traveler. He suggested “minimizing culture shock” by visiting Britain and/or other western European countries first.

“I worry about anybody who’s never been out of the United States flying into Turkey for two weeks,” he said.

A friend was supposed to accompany Sierra on her trip to Istanbul, but had to cancel, according to family members.

Analysis

Obviously, one missing American tourist doesn’t mean people should begin cancelling trips to Turkey. When I compiled my list of the 12 safest countries for Americans to visit in 2009, Turkey was an honorable mention selection.

One of the sources I used to compile my list was the State Department’s database on the “Death of U.S. Citizens Abroad by Non-Natural Causes.” Only two Americans died in Turkey from July 2011 to June 2012, the last full 12-month period for which data is available. One U.S. citizen was a homicide victim in Bodrum, a popular tourist port on the Aegean Sea, and another died in a car accident in Orhangazi, a city south of Istanbul near Lake Iznik.

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