The U.S. State Department warned Americans about visiting Europe this year. Be on the alert for potential terrorist attacks, the State Department said. Possible targets include major tourist sites, sports events, restaurants, and transportation hubs, the State Department said. So why did my family go to Europe this summer? And why would we do it again, today?
Why did my family go to Europe this summer, when the State Department had issued a warning about travel to Europe? Am I crazy? I don’t think so. And I’m so glad we went.
Keeping Risk in Perspective
It is a question of perspective. What are the odds that my family will be the victims of any kind of terrorist attack? According to the Washington Post, the odds of being killed by terrorism in the U.S. are about the same as being crushed by furniture. Slim to none.
But we did not stay in the U.S. this summer, we traveled to Paris. The same city that last November survived coordinated terrorist attacks on a soccer stadium, a rock music concert, restaurants, bars, sidewalk cafes, and other targets. If you lived in Paris that day, the New Yorker says you had a 1 in 20,000 chance of being a victim.
That sounds bad – til you realize it is about the same chance you had of being killed by a car crash in France.
I live in Pennsylvania. Turns out, my odds of being killed in a car crash are TWICE that (1/10,574). That’s right: it is twice as likely that I will be killed in a car accident in my home state than that a Paris resident would be killed by terrorism on the day of the attacks. Yet I accept my car crash risk every day, when I drive to work. I happily drive everyday in Pennsylvania, even though I see people texting, speeding, and zipping through stop signs.
So we thought our odds of staying safe were pretty good in Paris. Safer than driving to work in Pennsylvania.
Keeping the Odds in Our Favor
Did we avoid places the State Department warned us about? Yes – and no. We did avoid the big soccer stadiums, the crowds for the Tour de France bike race, and we didn’t go to a big music concert. But sidewalk cafes, restaurants, big tourist spots like the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre Museum? Those are the essence of Paris, and we didn’t want to miss them.
So we went to all of them. We enjoyed eating at Paris sidewalk cafes and splurged on an elegant restaurant inside the Eiffel Tower. We walked for hours in the city, visited museums, and took a fascinating architectural walking tour of Paris.
And we explored other parts of France. We took a 5-day river cruise up the Seine to explore Normandy, including Rouen, where Monet painted the cathedral over and over in the changing light. We took a high speed train to the South of France, where we stayed in beautiful Arles as a base for exploring towns and countryside in Provence, and took a wonderful walking walking tour of Aix-en-Provence.
We were just fine. I am so glad we visited France despite the State Department warnings.
Why Now is a Good Time to Travel to Europe
In fact, now is a good time to go to Europe. Europe is on sale for Americans. The Euro is worth $1.12 today, a much better exchange rate for Americans than in 2008, when the Euro was worth $1.50.
Tourist sites are likely to be less crowded. Hotels and restaurants that usually do not have openings are likely to welcome visitors. Not just American tourists are staying away from Paris. In 2016, Japanese visitors to Paris were down by 50% and Russians by a third.
This summer was not the first time my family has experienced visiting a city still shaking from a terrorist attack. My family and I flew to London shortly after the bombing of a London bus and subway. We had planned and paid for the trip months in advance. Although we were nervous, we went anyway. And London could not have welcomed us more warmly. Ticket takers thanked us for taking the subway. There were no crowds. We walked right into the Tower of London – no line – and walked right up to the Crown Jewels, which we enjoyed so much we went back twice.
Londoners were grateful to us for visiting their city in the wake of the attacks. Strangers were gracious, and we felt connected to them. Just like we felt connected to New Yorkers when we visited shortly after 9/11. This summer, even the famous Paris reserve had relaxed a bit. We felt welcomed by Parisians, and by the French people we met in both Normandy and the South of France.
What do you think? Would you consider visiting France or other parts of Europe this year?