Thoughts on Travel Safety 11


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.

But…the FEAR!

Paris, Travel Safety, Adventures with Sarah

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.

London, Travel SafetyCarry 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.


About sarahinitalia@yahoo.com

Sarah Murdoch is a tour guide and guidebook writer for Rick Steves Europe. Her blog, Adventures with Sarah, focuses on packing tips, travel stories and advice for planning the best trip possible.


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11 thoughts on “Thoughts on Travel Safety

  • Lorri

    These are all things I tell friends. I’m not afraid to travel although I try to use common sense and be wise. I was in Paris 5 weeks after Bataclan and have been back a few times since then. Exercise caution and expect to wait for more security control, purse checks, etc. when entering sites. Look at the extra police and military guards as protection and carry on.

    Thanks for the post. I especially like the reference to your mom and turning her cell phone ON. I just might have a mom like that too!

  • Judith

    Just came back from London. It is a city on high alert right now. On my first morning out I saw two police walking South Kensington with rifles ready to go. Everyone is being cautious, bags are being carefully and thoroughly checked. I took the Tube, the buses and train and all was orderly. I had a wonderful visit, maybe not as relaxed as past visits, but as enjoyable, and I will return.

  • Barbara J Blizzard

    My husband and I spent the month of May in France, starting and ending in Paris and then driving to Bordeaux. We do not frequent the Champs Elysees in Paris and I would consider that the only place to perhaps avoid during major events – we were in Paris for election day. I will never hesitate to return to these places that we love just because there has been an incident. My family lives near the light rail station in Portland where two men were killed recently – no one is planning to leave that area. As you say, you just need to maintain vigilance, no matter where you are. Next trip in September includes both England and France. Thanks for the wonderful posts.

  • Kathleene

    Hi Sarah, thanks for sharing your tips and insights. I think you hit the nail on the head with regard to intuition. If something doesn’t feel right, trust your gut! Looking forward to more info about cell phone use overseas.

  • Laurie Holman

    Great article! Thanks for acknowledging the reality of today’s world and offering proactive suggestions. The news is full of terrible events occurring in Europe so it’s good to have a reminder that those are exceptions and just like here at home ( in the Seattle area) can be avoided (to a degree) with a bit of thought and planning. I am not done with Europe yet! 😉

  • Sandy

    I’m returning to Europe in September. I always have money and credit cards in 2 different places: a credit card and minimal cash in crossbody wallet that can go into larger day bag; passport, cash and credit card in hotel room safe. I am re-thinking leaving valuables in the hotel safe and will probably have them in a money belt under my clothes. If there were an attack or disruption of transportation, I would have passport, cash and credit card to manage emergency and even get home if necessary. Sarah says all you really need is your passport and a credit card!

  • Mary

    Well said. I visited Paris 90 days after Bataclan. Never felt safer anywhere. The #64 bus driver recognized me from my cross town trip to Pere Lachaise and waited for me to cross the street to catch the return bus 90 minutes later. The cab driver waited until I was safely inside a nearly empty church for an early morning organ concert. A man on the metro gave me his seat and said “Thank you for coming to Paris.”