1. After the horrible terrorist attacks in Belgium last week, the U.S. Department of State issued a “Europe Travel Alert” to U.S. citizens, in effect until June 20th.
And now, as a result, many travelers are left wondering: Is it safe to go to Europe at all right now?
I checked in with Joe Diaz, co-founder of the travel media company AFAR, to get his thoughts on the issue. And here’s what the world traveler, who has written about traveling after tragedy before, had to say.
2. 1. First things first, understand what the alert actually means.
There’s a big difference between an alert and a warning. “Alerts are for short-term events where the government thinks we should know about what’s going on there, like an outbreak (Sars or Zika), or an election, or a strike, or a demonstration. Warnings are more serious, because the government wants you to think about whether or not you should actually go. It means there are intense and ongoing levels of violence and crime,” explains Diaz.
Keep in mind: The government issued an alert for European travel — not a warning. “The State is saying, just be alert [about the situation]. It doesn’t mean you shouldn’t go; it means you should just know,” says Diaz.
3. 2. But also understand that, at the end of the day, these terms are just big, blanket statements.
“It’s truly up to each individual to understand more deeply about what these statements mean,” says Diaz.
Take, for example, the warning that’s been in place in Mexico for the last several years. “They just updated it in January to show, ‘Hey, there’s violence going on here,’ but I travel to Mexico all the time. In today’s world that’s so much more interconnected, it’s inaccurate to just give a blanket statement. You have to understand the nuances [of each particular case]. Even though what happened in Europe was sad and tragic, that doesn’t mean that it’s happening all over Europe,” Diaz continues.
4. 3. And so, have some perspective about it. Put everything in context.
“It’s important to recognize the severity of what’s happened, and the sadness. My heart goes out to all the people impacted. It’s a tragedy, and I’m saddened,” says Diaz.
“But at the same time, it’s also important to step back and put this in context. Yes, the world can be dangerous. Violence happens everywhere. But it’s also amazingly beautiful. So ask yourself: Do you hide in your house all day, or go out in the streets and dance?”
5. 4. Then, in the end, make the choice that works for you.
Because it is a choice, Diaz points out. A big choice. “How you respond to the choice of whether or not to travel is something only you can decide. We’re all different,” he says.
6. 5. After you decide what to do, really check in with yourself about why you made that choice.
“I know that I, Joe Diaz, am deciding to travel. I will continue to go to Europe this summer,” he says, citing two main reasons for his decision. “One, it’s an act of defiance. It’s my choice to go. And two, it helps me understand the world in a deeper way, especially when we’re being bombarded with a 24-hour news cycle about how dangerous and scary the world really is.”
7. 6. But no matter what, if you choose to go, be conscious of your surroundings.
Start by reading all of the instructions in the Europe Travel Alert.
And then, in Diaz’s words, “Use your head. Use common sense. Stay away from big political rallies. Stay away from places where lots of people are congregating for any length of time.”
8. 7. If you decide that you don’t want to go, then change your trip.
There is no shame in doing so if that’s the right move for you. You know best.
9. 8. Diaz recommends four good alternatives: Canada, Western Australia, Dubai, and Jordan.
Why Canada: “Canada is on sale for the American traveler because of the strength of the dollar. It’s also very progressive and close to home, and there are lots of different great vacations within Canada.”
Why Western Australia: “The Australian dollar is cheaper than it used to be, and there are many more routes to get there, so it’s a good time to go. And there’s lots of diversity, from wine country to Perth (which I think is very up-and-coming), to the Outback, to the Ningaloo Reef, where you can swim with whale sharks.”
Why Dubai: “Dubai is a new crossroads of the modern world. If you’re interested in seeing what a city of the future looks like, or the power of the human imagination, Dubai is an interesting place to see. There’s glitz and glamour, but also other things. The design district is incredible, and the city is attracting lots of up-and-coming designers, and young, passionate creatives.”
Why Jordan: “Jordan sits in an interesting place. It’s surrounded by Syria and Israel and Lebanon and Iraq, but it’s a stable, safe, and welcoming country that helps you understand nuances. When you think of the Middle East, it’s easy to paint that with one brush — but there are so many differences within the Middle East. For curious and intellectual travelers, understanding the nuances is fascinating.”