Is it Safe to Travel to Europe?

As humans, we are well aware of our mortality. Naturally, we are concerned about our safety. We crave the peace of mind, and that desire to feel safe plays a role in determining our behavior. And that includes deciding whether or not to travel.

In considering our mortality, well, the fact is — spoiler alert! — we’re all going to die! None of us are getting out of this alive!

So the real question should be: how are we going to spend our precious time? For me, the answer is clear: by doing things I love to do. Such as travel.

Terrorism, Safety, and Travel

With that in mind, let’s consider terrorism, safety, and travel for a moment.

These days, the safety issue pops up a lot. As Travel Advisors in the Rick Steves’ Europe Travel Center, we get questions on this topic regularly. 

“Is it safe to travel to Europe?” they want to know.

In August of 2016, the BBC reported that terror deaths in Western Europe were higher than they had been in a decade, and that the last time numbers were higher was in 2004, the year of the Madrid train bombings.

But before we keep feeding the fears — fodder we get more than enough of these days — let’s put the statistics into perspective.

Fear for fodder. Photo credit: Lorena G.
Comparing Statistics: Europe and the US

Now, I’m not a statistician, but let’s look at some numbers to try to form a clearer picture. According to the US State Department, 11,774 people were killed by terrorism WORLDWIDE in 2015. According to the Global Terrorism Database, less than 200 people were killed by terrorism in Europe in 2015. And, according to the US Department of Transportation, there were 32,166 motor-vehicle fatalities in the US in 2015.

It gets complicated comparing fatalities in the US to fatalities in Europe because of differences in population. (According to “the Google,” the population of Europe in 2015 ≈ 743.1 million; population of US in 2015 ≈ 321.4 million.) But, we can still draw certain conclusions from these numbers with confidence.

Considering the worldwide terrorism numbers mentioned above, there were over 20,000 people MORE who died from car accidents in the United States alone in 2015 than died from terrorism WORLDWIDE that same year. Even taking into account a very wide margin of error, the conclusion is clear.  

Driving: A Greater Risk

Statistically, people are putting themselves in far greater danger every time they get behind the wheel.

I wonder why we aren’t constantly being bombarded in the news by the dangers of driving, like we are about the dangers of terrorism?

Are you gonna stop driving? I’m not.

And I’m not going to stop traveling to Europe, either!

A sentiment I posted on FB last year that got a bit of love.

Personally, I feel as safe in Europe as I do at home (if not more so). If you’ve ever walked around downtown Seattle alone at night, as I have, then walking around London, Paris, Prague, or Rome by moonlight will be a breeze!

(A very pleasant breeze, might I add.)

Photo I took while walking around Paris alone at night (gasp!) back in 2014.
Is it Safe to Travel to Europe?

Ultimately, the answer to the question, “Is it safe to travel to Europe?” is a very personal one. I recommend doing what you feel most comfortable with. It’s also worth checking the US State Department’s Website for any travel alerts or warnings. Keep in mind that there is a big difference between a travel alert and a travel warning and that these alerts and warnings tend to err on the more cautious end of the spectrum.

For more peace of mind, you might also consider signing up for the US State Department’s STEP program (Smart Traveler Enrollment Program). It helps the US embassy abroad contact you in case of an emergency and is also useful for stayng informed of the latest important information regarding your destination country.

Is it Safe to Travel to the US?

Viewing the topic of safety while traveling abroad from a different perspective, it’s useful to read some of the travel advisories other countries have issued regarding travel to the US.

Yep! Some people are afraid to visit the US for fear of such things as mass shootings or police brutality. Some Americans might be inclined to disregard such a perspective. But, any such instances of fearing a destination because of isolated narratives can be explained by what novelist Chimamanda Adichie refers to as the danger of a single story.

As an example of this, let me briefly describe a particular event that hit quite close to home. In 2011, US Representative Gabrielle Giffords and eighteen others were shot outside of a Safeway in Tucson, Arizona. I have family who live in Tucson. And my parents live about forty minutes outside of Tucson.

Too Close to Home

After that very scary and tragic event, did my cousins refuse to leave their house out of fear? Did my parents stop going to Tucson for shopping or other errands? No! Because they knew it was a freak occurrence. Because they knew that life would go on in their city, and that — while extremely tragic — the chances of something like that happening to them were very slim.

The Danger of a Single Story

If, however, the only association someone ever had with Tucson was that terror attack, then they would likely be afraid and would suffer from the aforementioned “danger of a single story.”

It’s useful to keep in mind that every single place is made up of many stories. I am privileged and very thankful that I have years of personal experience of living and of traveling in Europe to draw from. I am not afraid to go to Europe. Strangely enough, I’m not afraid to drive on the freeway either, even though that’s far more dangerous.

When it’s my time to go, it’s my time to go. That’s how I see it. In the meantime, I plan on making the most of that time!

Here’s what Rick had to say on the topic of terrorism back in 1990. It still rings true today.

And what do you think? I’d love to read your thoughts in the comments section!

6 thoughts on “Is it Safe to Travel to Europe?”


    93 people died yesterday across the USA from gun crime, and another 93 will die tomorrow. And another 93 the day after that…

    And from watching the BBC, I know can’t pass within 2 miles of any US High School without risking being hit by a stray bullet.

    So please, come away from the dangerous USA to far safer no-guns-allowed Europe. You’ll be safer here than where you live.

    Terrorism? Not nice. But you’re about as likely to hit by lightning.

    1. Yep. You’ve hit the nail on the head, Mark. I’m looking forward to being back in Europe soon!

  2. Love it! I tend to think the same way. Even though it has been years and years since I’ve traveled abroad, I take all of what you said into consideration. I guess it comes from – for me – the fact that people say it’s dangerous to travel in Colombia, my home country. Yes, I have been stopped, ONCE, while traveling on a public bus to another city, but that didn’t stop me from wanting to go there to see my family. And anyway, it’s a regular thing for the police to stop travelers to check their papers and travel documents and such. Needless to say, I was prepared! But anyway, I’ve always heard that it’s dangerous to BE in Colombia since I was little, and so far, nothing yet.
    I always think to myself, I could just as well be hit by a bus in front of my house. {Morbid, but true. I’ve seen it on the news]

    1. YESSSS!! Thank you for sharing your experiences of travel in your home country of Colombia, Lina! I tend to get pretty morbid myself with thoughts like “anyone can drop dead at any time for any number of reasons!” So we should just be sure to make the most of life! Thanks for your comments! 🙂

    1. You feel me!!! Thanks, Kiona! It’s great to have many voices reporting from the field to inspire people to be less afraid of doing things they love and encouraging people to get out there and connect with others — which is also what I love about your blog! Amen to that!

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