Summer is rapidly approaching and people are gearing up for their vacations here at home and in other parts of the world. I spend much of my time in Europe leading tours, writing about my travels and exploring new destinations. Because I travel so much, I am often asked about travel, terrorism, refugees and how I decide if it’s safe to go on a trip. Being on the road in another country allows me to see things from a different perspective than we get here at home. Culture, customs and ways of life vary from country to country, as does the way in which the media addresses local and worldwide events. So, my short answer is that there is nothing to fear when traveling anywhere in Europe. I certainly would not put myself, my family or my travel partners in harm’s way by visiting an unsafe destination.
When I see that “Breaking News” banner scroll across our cable news channels announcing another terrorist event, I think, “Oh no, not again.” When they occur in places I know and love, like Paris, Berlin, Brussels or Nice, it comes with an even stronger punch. These are cowardly attacks on innocent people, and these extremist attacks can happen anywhere. The crazy shooter claiming ties to ISIS in Orlando, Florida, comes to mind because it is near my home and we travel right by the affected area several times a year.
My first concern when considering travel after such an event is to determine if it is safe to visit that area. If the attacks were instigated by ISIS/ISIL or another extremist group seeking to instill fear and cause chaos, then my immediate answer is to continue with my travel plans. I have confidence in the local, state and federal authorities to put strategies in place to apprehend the terrorist and thwart any other cowardly attempts of terrorism. In fact, I believe that many places are safer after a terrorist attack because everyone is on extra alert. Last December, I was in a Christmas market in Salzburg on the evening of the attack at a similar Christmas market in Berlin. Tragic as it was, life went on in Salzburg, as well as in the other Christmas markets we visited in Germany during the following week. In fact, there was heightened security, with armed military and police keeping a watchful eye out for anything out of the ordinary. It gave me peace of mind to know that the government was taking steps to protect its citizens and visitors. With that event, I considered that there are 70 million folks walking around Germany and Austria today going on with their lives just as we are in our hometowns. They are not living in fear just as we’re not living in fear here at home. We are safer traveling today than ever before.
However, civil unrest and crumbling governments are another matter. I am saddened to have never visited Egypt, but I would not put myself or others in harm’s way by visiting at this time. The same is true with many of the Middle Eastern countries struggling with various factions and governments. And, of course, I would not set foot in North Korea. It is possible that these situations may improve in the future. There was a time when I was scared to death to venture into Northern Ireland because of the “troubles” with the IRA. Now, that’s a thing of the past and it is one of the safest places to visit in Europe.
Refugees also seem to be of concern to many Americans. The cable news stories would have us believe that Europe is loaded with them hanging out on the sides of roads, like zombies just waiting for us. This is a ridiculous idea. There is absolutely no problem with refugees. At the height of the crisis there were thousands fleeing the Middle East and North Africa and making their way into Turkey, Greece, Italy and other parts of Europe. These people, the so-called refugees, do not cross paths with tourists. They are concerned with stabilizing their life and protecting their families. They do not take the time to visit tourist attractions or tour castles. In my travels, I have never seen a refugee camp; they are in out of the way locations. I have seen refugees. Just this morning in Orytgia, Sicily, I walked past the Questura and saw over a dozen refugees: men, women and children waiting patiently to be admitted into the office of the provincial police where they would be fingerprinted and photographed and officially announce their requests for political asylum. They were all polite and orderly, carrying on hushed conversations and holding precious identity documents and slips of paper. Two hours later I walked by the Questura again. Many of the same people were still standing around, now in the hot sun, patiently waiting their turn. I was particularly struck by a young lady with a small child in an ancient baby carriage.
Finally, let’s address the odds of an American traveler being caught up in a terrorist event. In doing my research for this article, I found many statistics pointing to the fact that my chances of being caught up in a terrorist event are slim to none, even though I travel outside my home country. Since 9/11 there have been an average of 29 Americans killed worldwide in terrorist attacks each year. In contrast, there were 12.5 million US citizens who traveled to Europe in 2015!
To wrap it up, I have never experienced any events that caused me or my tour groups to feel we were unsafe. I’ll never put our tour members in harm’s way. I feel that travel and experiencing other cultures is one of the biggest educational experiences available to us Americans. There are 500 million folks walking around Europe today going on with their lives just like we are, here in in the USA. They are not living in fear just as we are not living in fear here at home. We are safer traveling in Europe today than we were before the onset of isolated terrorist events. Tragic as it is, terrorism has made everyone more diligent and more aware of their surroundings. It is safe to travel to Europe and I wholeheartedly recommend it!