In these past years of unrest in the world, terrorism has changed the tone of travel. Air travel has mounting restrictions, there is a military presence on the streets of some cities…the general feeling of unease can dampen a high spirited adventure. I’m going to London today, Paris next week. Any time I mention that to people, they instantly ask, “Are you afraid?” No, I’m not. I’m not being gallant, just logical. Understanding what’s going on in the world and practicing smart travel safety is how I roll.
I’m not afraid of travel in Europe, and I’m often alone. Cities in Europe are highly populated and busy, with lots of people out and about and a generally safe atmosphere. There is a big military/police presence in cities right now that I find comforting. In general, violent crime is far less frequent here than in the US. There are few places in Europe that have made me feel uncomfortable or unsafe.
There are very complicated reasons that London and Paris are often targets, and although I’m no expert, I understand that many of those reasons are related to internal politics and socio-economic injustice. The news dumps everything into a basket of religious terrorism, but the motivations of attackers are far more complex. The root causes need to be addressed but, probably because of how difficult they are, solutions remain elusive. Because of that, this situation may not end any time soon. We have to live with it. Rather than change our travel dreams, though, perhaps it’s better to change our expectations and behaviors.
How I Look at It
Stuff happens. It happens everywhere. It’s probably more likely that I’ll be mugged or hit by a car on my way to my mailbox in central Seattle than to be in an international incident. The statistics say that I’ll probably die of heart disease, which is why I have a vague unease about eating fried foods and Twinkies.
When an incident happens in a city that I visit often, it can be scary. It may make me want to stay away. But there are two reasons I won’t. First of all, that is the intention of terrorism, to make people afraid to go somewhere. Giving in to that feeling only rewards the behavior, which reinforces it–that’s something that parents know well.
Secondly, I think of my friends who live in those cities. Can they move away? Even if they could, would they? Cities of millions of residents don’t empty out suddenly because of an attack. They carry on, just like we would in our own cities. They carry on, my friends in Istanbul, London, Brussels and Paris, and so shall I.
This all isn’t to say that international terrorism should be ignored by travelers. I’ve adjusted some of my behaviors to keep myself out of trouble. Well, actually, I still enjoy certain kinds of trouble. But not of the international incident variety.
Be Sensible, Stay Safe
Nobody can control the random actions of others, the only person you can control is yourself. If you’re worried about travel safety, there are some simple things that you can do to keep yourself safe.
See Something, Say Something– If something or someone looks odd, tell anyone who will listen, preferably someone in a uniform. It’s so easy to ignore things, but you never know when your observations will be important.
Go Away From Danger– Human nature is to be curious. Think of all the times you’ve seen traffic on the freeway due to an accident on the opposite side. We can’t help but slow down and look. If there is smoke, loud noises or sirens, fight the urge to check it out. You’re better off to walk away.
Try to Avoid Large Crowds–Big things happen in big, tightly packed crowds. More than once, I’ve been a wee bit too bold and put myself right in the middle of crowded events that began to feel unsafe, like rowdy concerts or observing protests. Learn from my stupidity, steer clear. Some crowds are hard to avoid at popular attractions, but timing visits for quieter days or times can help.
Carry a Cell Phone and Know Emergency Numbers–Everyone should carry a cell phone while traveling these days. Phone booths have virtually disappeared, and a phone can be critical if you have problems of any sort. You can buy a cheap-o dumb phone off the internet and buy a local phone chip (a topic I’ll cover soon) if you don’t have international coverage. You dial 112 in most European countries for help. And this note is for people like my mom who don’t love mobile phones- charge the phone, keep it in your bag, and TURN IT ON. If something happens, people may want to reach you.
Know Your Local Authorities–Familliarize yourself with who you should contact if you need something. The police, paramedics, Embassy and other agencies all play different roles depending on what’s happening, read up on that ahead of time.
Be Sensible–Every city has an element of danger, but it doesn’t take much to stay safe. Stay away from dangerous neighborhoods. If you don’t know where those are, ask a local. Don’t look like an obvious tourist, blending in with modest dress and following local customs is always a good idea. Wear a moneybelt, carry an ID, some local cash and keep a printed list of emergency contacts. These are boilerplate travel tips, but are important for travel safety too.
Follow Your Gut–We usually know when things aren’t right, even if there’s nothing obvious going on. Most people shrug off their intuition and ignore the warning bells. Don’t do that. If something isn’t right, get out of the situation and let someone–anyone–know what you’re thinking.
I’m traveling around Europe with a sense of adventure mixed with a dash of travel safety. I’m excited about going to London and Paris, they are two of my favorite places. I won’t let anyone steal them from me.