Recently, I have seen an influx of warnings from the U.S. State Department for Americans traveling abroad to Europe this summer, encouraging tourists to proceed with caution in the wake of deadly terror attacks across parts of Europe.
Therefore, I felt the need to express my feelings and experiences about living and traveling around Europe. Especially since November 2015 there have been three big terror attacks that have shocked Europeans to their core. There have been attacks in Paris, Brussels and even a massive sexual assault scandal in Cologne on New Years Eve. Not to mention the largest migration of people since the Second World War making their way to Europe, predominantly, right here in Germany.
The world is in such a state of turmoil and feelings of animosity are beginning to run wild. There have been stories of people being removed from a flight because he was speaking in Arabic. There have been stories of radical Islamists entering Europe, posing as refugees. There have been stories of refugees either being assaulted or assaulting others.
Every time we hear of such tragic events, we take a moment to mourn for those who lost their lives and then we begin to think about our own safety and the safety of those we love. And people begin to panic. They begin to live in fear. And the ones causing all of this heartbreak and turmoil, begin to win. They want us to live in fear. Some of us though, go on living our lives as if something like the Paris or Brussels attacks will never touch us. We become immune to the fear because we hear about it so often, and we always say to ourselves, “It’s so far away, they can’t hurt me”.
I would my lying if I said that I wasn’t scared. Or at least a part of me. I grew up with parents who always encouraged me to watch my surroundings and to stay alert, even amidst having an enjoyable time. But I CAN NOT and REFUSE to live my life in fear of such events.
In Facebook travel groups and as I blog hop, I have seen so many posts about canceling summer vacations to Europe, asking for advice, seeking for reassurance that it’s still safe to travel to parts of Europe, despite already having had an attack. Or should they simply reroute their travel plans to other parts of Europe instead, such as Italy or Greece. Or worst of all, they think about canceling their entire vacation and choosing instead to stay home, letting the terrorists win.
I certainly don’t have the answers to questions like these, nor am I able to give advice. I can however, give my opinion and share my experiences.
First of all, I don’t think we should quit traveling or avoid taking that family holiday just because there is a chance an attack might happen. We don’t know when or where the next attack could happen. For all we know, it could happen in our own home town, like the San Bernardino attacks in California. I believe in pushing forward, fighting back and keeping calm. If I were to live in constant fear of the world outside my door because of all the crazy and horrendous things that happen, I would never leave my house, I would never bring children into this world. But that’s just not the case. I have to keep in mind that despite all the lunacy out there, there is ten times more love out there. Together, we live in a world where we try to help others and fight back together as one. There are people out there willing to open their doors to us, let us stay in their homes while traveling, give us the best tips and advice for the best place to eat and there are courageous people who help in the time of desperation.
This is why we must continue traveling. As one child of the world to another, I encourage, I beg you to continue traveling and exploring every inch of this beautiful planet. We can’t let them win! We have a responsibility as human beings to learn about other cultures and understand one another.
So many people are angry that Angela Merkel has opened the flood gates to allow so many refugees into Germany. In 2015 alone, over one million people entered Europe, 476,000 of them coming to Germany. It is certainly understandable that there are people who fear that there are radicalists sneaking into Europe posed as a refugee, coming to Germany, but we must remember that not all Muslims entering the country are terrorists. We should not judge an entire people based on the actions of a few. We must remember that they are fleeing their home country because of a terrible war. But, I also understand the need for border control, heightened security and immigration reforms.
Maybe I am oblivious when I travel around Europe, or maybe I have just been lucky that I have not personally been affected in any way by the influx of refugees. I don’t live in a large city like Munich, Berlin or Frankfurt so it is likely that Regensburg isn’t as exposed to hordes of refugees. Or perhaps I simply don’t know where to look. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t out there. I certainly don’t walk or drive around town searching for Muslims or terrorists judging them by their appearance.
But I live my life just like any other day. I go to work. I go out. I travel. But I keep a watchful eye on people in public places, I avoid massive crowds – not because I am scared but I generally don’t like rubbing up against people I don’t know. I watch the news and I stay alert, but I don’t let it scare me or keep me from going on vacation. Flying or being at an airport my senses are on full alert. I don’t play with my phone while at the airport and I generally just people watch.
Despite all the recent terrorist attacks around Europe and other parts of the world, we have to keep in mind that realistically, places like London, Paris and Prague have some of the highest crime rates nonetheless. You’re just as likely to find yourself in a terrorist situation or a simple act of wrong place, wrong time even at home.
So travel! Experience new cultures, meet new people and try new things. But most of all, do it with an open heart. Stow away your fear, lock away your hatred and anxiety. Do your research, talk to people, stay alert and book that trip! Europe is calling for you!
Personal suggestions for traveling around Europe:
Traveling by plane
- Get to the airport early to check in
- Observe everything and everyone
- Get your head out of your phone or book and pay attention
- Report anything that makes you uncomfortable or uneasy
Traveling by car
- Always carry your passport
- If driving through borders between Germany and Austria, expect some delays
- If you can, find a different route (although at the moment, it doesn’t seem as bad as last fall)
Traveling by train
- Refugees are moved mostly by train through Europe, so arrive early enough to grab a seat
- Stay alert
- Try to sit away from the crowds of people
- Try to take a train early in the morning or late at night to avoid rush hour crowds
Tips before traveling
Register with your embassy – Most countries have an embassy or consulate where you can register your trip in case you might be visiting a location that has experienced terrorism or other forms of unrest. Even if you’re not worried about this, it is still beneficial to register so that in case of emergency, your embassy knows you are there.
Share you travel itinerary with family or friends – It’s always good to leave your travel information with someone in case of emergency, this way they know where your last location might have been and where they might be able to find you. Leave the names of your hotels with addresses, phone numbers, names of people you might visit, places you might visit. Never underestimate how vital this information is in the case of searching for a missing person.
Blend in – Try NOT to look like a complete tourist! Get to know your surroundings before you leave the hotel to explore. Nothing signals a lost tourist to take advantage of like someone trying to figure out where they are with a map. Find the easiest route, try to remember key locations so you can always find your way back. You don’t want to be wandering around aimlessly after a terrorist attack, trying to figure out your way around.
Travel with a phone – Nothing is more vital than staying connected with friends and family during a time of crisis, especially if you get separated. With today’s great technology, it’s possible to get an international SIM card, especially for those staying in one location for a longer duration or simply turning airplane mode off and paying the roaming charges during a time of absolute necessity.
Check in – Should you find yourself amidst a terrorist attack, try to check in with friends and family. Facebook now offers a check-in status which allows people to check in online asserting their safety. This provides relief for family and friends waiting to hear if you’re ok, even if you can’t call. This was recently of some personal relief after the Brussels attacks for an old friend of mine who just so happened to be at the airport when the attack occurred.
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