What Does the Travel Alert Mean?

Grand Place Brussels

Following yesterday’s attacks on Brussels, the US State Department issued a travel alert for Americans regarding “potential risks of travel to and throughout Europe.” Does this mean we should stay home?

In a word: No. This is a travel “alert,” not a “warning.” The State Department reserves “warnings” for serious business: It means, essentially, “Don’t go there.” But an “alert” just means “Be careful.” According to the State Department, “We issue a Travel Alert for short-term events we think you should know about when planning travel to a country.”

Isolated terrorist events — 2004 in Madrid, 2005 in London, 2012 in Boston, 2015 in Paris — are as tragic as they are impossible to predict. With this alert, the State Department is simply confirming something we already knew: Going forward, it’s possible that there will be more terrorist events in Europe (just as it’s possible here in the United States).

Also, at frightening moments like this one, keep in mind that there’s an important difference between fear and risk. As the State Department recommends, while you’re traveling, be vigilant. Be aware. Exercise caution. But at the same time, don’t be terrorized. That’s exactly the response the terrorists are hoping for.

Brussels — and the rest of Europe — are, if anything, safer today than before yesterday’s attacks. Security everywhere will be on high alert. But, unfortunately, many Americans will cancel their trips to Europe. As a result, ironically, they’ll be staying home in a country that loses dozens of people each day to gun violence.

Our thoughts and prayers go out to the people of Brussels, the victims, and their loved ones. As for me, I’m flying to Lisbon in ten days. And later this summer, I’m booked to fly out of the same Brussels airport that today is a shrine of grief and tragic bloodshed. Am I allowing myself to be terrorized by the terrorists? Hell no. It all comes back to my firmly held belief that the best way for Americans to fight terrorism is to keep on traveling.


15 Replies to “What Does the Travel Alert Mean?”

  1. I always feel a thousand times safer in Europe than anywhere in the USA. For one thing, people in Europe don’t worship guns like here in the USA. I am going to France (Paris, and Burgundy and Alsace regions for 3 weeks in May. I am not afraid!

  2. I wonder what “be alert” means? How does that translate into traveling behavior? I cannot imagine enjoying traveling while on “alert”; it belies the relaxation of traveling. Do you have any concrete suggestions, Rick?

  3. “if your gonna be dumb, then you gotta be tough.” Other USA reports on CNN and Fox News have said they would not recommend going to Europe at this time. Now that isis has said today they are sending 400 people to carry out terrorist attacks all over Europe. Why would any one gamble with times like these… unless of course you are a gambler at heart. See you on the news!

  4. If ‘warning’ means ‘Don’t go there’ then why is RST going ahead with the Istanbul trip I’m signed up for that begins Sunday? The State Dept has issued a Travel Warning for Turkey.
    Yet…we’re going there!
    I don’t want to let the terrorists win. But I don’t want to be stupid, either. And I wonder if this might not fall into the latter category.

  5. Thanks, Rick, for your advice and your courage. Obviously we need to do what we can to stay safe. But the bottom line is that, at some point, each of us will die. There are worse ways to go, perhaps, than this. We need to do whatever we each believe is necessary to prepare for that day, and live as bravely and creatively as possible in the meantime. And keep on traveling.

  6. I too feel safer here (Germany) than in the US. I live here and love it here; it is my home. I know that I could be a target, I”m American, I work in a field where I could be a target. But I will not let these extremists run my life. I live in an international community that celebrates it’s differences. I hope that we all can continue to live freely in spite of the extremists.

  7. Like the smartest and most honest woman in the world once stated, “What difference, at this point, does it make?!?”

  8. As I keep telling my students things like this have been going on for the last 5,000 years. I’ll see you all in Europe this summer!

  9. I would not cancel my travel plans, we have been to Europe ten times since 911, but I really feel like the last couple trips have been really hard navigating around so much security and military and guns every where. So for us at this point it is a lot of our hard earned money to call this a vacation. Last year between the airport fire in Rome, strikes and security I felt like I needed a vacation after the vacation. So I am happy we have seen so much of Europe and hope to start up again in the future, but taking a break and doing some other trip for now.

  10. Why not the gun analogy ‘again’? As a Canadian, I shake my head everyday at the gun violence in the US and limit my travel there, in part for that reason. There have been various bombings in European cities and towns for decades including as one example several in Paris in 1995 at Metro stations, by an ‘Islamic’ group. With a population of 500 million, Europe has a much smaller proportion of violent deaths compared to the US.

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