As people gear up for their summer getaways, Europe remains a hot destination. But two weeks ago the U.S. State Department issued a travel warning for Americans traveling to Europe because of an increased risk of terrorist attacks at major events, tourist sites, restaurants, commercial centers, and on transportation. With recent attacks across the continent already making some travelers wary, this alert may only further spark fears. Before you go and cancel your European summer vacation, here is what you need to know about what this warning means for you.
1. Don't cancel, take precaution
Tons of Americans head to Europe during the summer, which could present greater targets for terrorists planning attacks in public locations, says the State Department's alert. But a higher risk doesn't mean you should immediately cancel your plans.
"We are not telling U.S. citizens not to travel to Europe. We are advising U.S. citizens to the potential risks when traveling to Europe and to exercise vigilance," says Niles Cole, spokesperson for the Bureau of Consular Affairs. "We provide U.S. citizens with as much information as possible so they can make well-informed decisions before they travel."
2. Take extra care at big public events
The Europe-wide travel alert, which is in place until August 31, highlights major events happening this summer that are sure to draw big crowds and could be potential targets. One of these is the UEFA 2016 European Football Championship, which started in France last week and will take place in stadiums across the country until July 10. To maximize safety, France has extended its state of emergency through July 26 so it will cover the soccer championship as well as the Tour de France cycling race in July, and has other security measures in place. Those heading to Krakow, Poland, between July 25 and July 31 should also take extra precaution, as that's when the Catholic Church’s World Youth Day will happen. To boost safety around the time of that event, which is expected to draw up to 2.5 million people, Poland will have stricter security screenings and border controls.
3. Sign up for safety alerts
If you are heading to Europe, especially to one of these larger events, the first thing to do is enroll in the State Department's Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP). It doesn’t take long, and it allows you to receive safety and security messages about your destination and makes it easier to locate you if there is an emergency. Be sure to also read the Department's country specific info, which includes useful facts like embassies and consulates in that country, visa requirements, and safety and security tips.
4. Follow these basic safety tips
To further put your mind at ease, there are lots of little things you can do when you're abroad. Here are some suggestions:
- Be vigilant when you're in public places or using mass transportation.
- Be aware of your immediate surroundings and avoid crowded places if possible.
- Monitor the media and sources of local information, and adjust your travel plans if there is a greater threat.
- Stay in touch with your family back home, and make sure they know how to reach you. If you're traveling with friends or family, have a plan in place in case you get separated.
- If there is an emergency, be sure to follow the instructions of local authorities.
So what should you do?
There's no easy answer to whether you should rebook your European getaway or stick with your plans. But we can say that authorities in Europe are closely monitoring the situation, and they are taking steps to guard against attacks and keep the public safe. If you do make the trip across the ocean, taking these simple precautions will definitely help make for the best vacation possible.
Stay on top of the latest alerts on State Department's travel website.