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5 Reasons Not to Cancel a Trip to Europe

by Wendy Perrin | March 28, 2016

Note: This article was originally written in 2016 to address travelers’ questions about traveling after certain terrorism incidents. It is not related to the current coronavirus situation of winter 2020 and does not reflect our opinions and advice about traveling at this time. For information about traveling during the coronavirus outbreak, please see our article, Coronavirus: How to Keep Track of What’s Important.

Following last week’s terror attacks in Brussels, the U.S. State Department issued a Europe Travel Alert—and, to my mind, some people are overreacting. Before you cancel a trip to Europe, consider:

1. The State Department has issued a Europe Alert, not a Warning.

Travel Alert does not advise you to stay home. An Alert is for “short-term events we think you should know about when planning travel to a country.” That’s very different from a Travel Warning, which is for “when we want you to consider very carefully whether you should go to a country at all.” An Alert merely reiterates what we already knew: When you go to Europe, be vigilant.

2. If you’re a smart traveler, you’re already vigilant.

You already steer clear of big crowds, such as at major train stations, sporting events, and public gatherings—places where pickpockets and drunken hooligans are a far more likely threat than terrorists. You already avoid mobs at tourist sites—by going at optimal times of day or bypassing the lines. If you don’t, here’s how.

3. State Department advisories always err on the side of caution.

If you were running the State Department, would you want to be in a position where a terrorist incident occurs and you hadn’t warned people? No. You’d want to avoid blame. The State Department has nothing to lose by issuing an Alert. Furthermore, it has nothing to lose if the Alert is not followed by an attack. (That’s because the spin can be that the authorities’ beefed-up vigilance is working.) Remember that the probability that you’ll get caught in a terror attack is minuscule.

4. The State Department tends to paint wide swaths of the world with the same brush.

There’s an Alert for the entire continent of Europe, even though a terror attack is far more likely to occur in a big city than in country villages or coastal areas or Mediterranean islands. Even when it comes to the State Department’s country-specific advisories, don’t think that an Alert or Warning for a nation means that that country is dangerous throughout. Just because parts of Mexico near the borders are dangerous, that doesn’t mean you should avoid Cabo San Lucas. Would you avoid Orlando because a bomb went off at the Boston Marathon? Would you avoid Beverly Hills because of shootings in San Bernardino? If I still haven’t convinced you, consider that the State Department currently cautions people about traveling everywhere in the world.

5. People think they’ll be more worried at their travel destination than they actually will be.

Over the years I’ve had email correspondence and phone calls with hundreds of people who cancel trips for no good reason, lose a lot of money, and miss out on what could have been wonderful memories. I’ve also watched hundreds forge ahead with trips and tell me afterward how glad they were to have done so. I’ve noticed that people expect to worry during a trip more than they actually end up worrying. As it turns out, that’s human nature. Psychologists will tell you that people typically overestimate how emotional they will be. Once they’re in the actual situation, there are dozens of interesting and demanding immediate circumstances that occupy their attention—circumstances that they didn’t factor in ahead of time. Similarly, once travelers get to their destination, they become so preoccupied with sightseeing, shopping, and other activities that they forget they were supposed to be worried.

Whether you’re traveling to Europe or any country that’s in the news, if you’re concerned about safety, here are smart steps you can take to protect yourself and give yourself peace of mind.

Be a smarter traveler: Use Wendy’s WOW List to plan your next trip. You can also follow her on Facebook and Twitter @wendyperrin, and sign up for her weekly newsletter to stay in the know.

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  1. Michael Loebach

    We just returned from Bali. Just before we flew there-warnings from the US, UK and Australia foreign services about possible terrorist activities were relayed to us by our travel agent. Further the Celebrity Solstice cancelled a port of call at Benoa-a day before. We had even more resolve to complete our trip and visit Bali-if we cancelled the terrorist win. No way!

  2. roberta freeman

    I travel a lot & am not cancellng my trip to Madrid & Malaga in April. However, I am a young grandma! If I had kids I was leaving behind, and traveling to certain cities, as one person mentioned(London)..I would change my destination!! Still travel & explore@@

  3. Mary Lou Desmond

    Good advice and I would certainly not change my plans, but my Daughter and Son-in-law are cancelling their upcoming trip to London. The reason is that they have three very young children and do not want to take the chance of a terrorist attack while in London. I find it hard to argue the case for continuing with their plans and ignoring the possibility of tragedy.

  4. Peter Wardhana

    I am not in the travel industry and just like to travel for vacation with my family.
    Here are the reasons that terrorist attacks or the threat of them do not deter me from traveling:
    1. I actually feel safer when law enforcement is at heightened alert. There are law enforcement officers everywhere, both in uniform and undercover. The bad guys all know this so they are most likely in hiding and waiting for the security situation to get back to normal. The locals are all also most likely very alert to any suspicious activity and therefore it makes it me feel safer.

    2. The chances of me getting hurt by a terrorist attack is the same as the chances of me winning the lottery = highly unlikely. I don’t worry about something happening when the odds are so minuscule. The chances of me getting killed in a car accident is 1000 times greater but possibility does not keep me from driving every day.

    3. Crime and bad people are everywhere. The fact that there are violent or dangerous people in every city does not keep me indoors or fearful for my safety.

    4. I am very security conscious and always travel safely and alertly. I keep a low profile and do my best to not stand out. Before I go anywhere I always read up on which neighborhoods to avoid and the common scams that travelers are targeted for.

  5. BArbara Diener

    Smart writing and good advice. As a person in the travel industry, who is leaving next week for Europe, I am truly in favor of educating the public on what to do and know before going anywhere. Whether in your hometown or abroad, vigilance is now a part of our lives. Be smart and travel smart.
    As I always say, Travel Smart, Dream Big!!
    Barbara Diener
    Author of Toss your Panties and Other Great Travel Tips.

  6. Judith Kitzes

    Just had a client email that she’s thinking about cancelling a trip to Italy. She asked me what to do. I told her that if it were me, I would go. I would be alert, but that I would not succumb to fear. Then I read your article listing the five reasons to NOT cancel a trip. The timing is perfect, the article is rational, and expresses my thoughts beautifully. Cancelling a trip destroys the possibility of great experiences.

    I just shared the article through our company intranet, and also tweeted it. You, Ms. Perrin, remain a voice of calm and rationality in an hysterical environment. Thank you.

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