TO AMERICANS LIVING STATESIDE, recent terrorist attacks in Europe were awful but they were far away. To me, these incidents have been too close to home.
After the Charlie Hebdo massacre, a sense of uneasiness wafted through the cubicles of the media firm where I work in Kaiserslautern, Germany. In November 2015, more than 130 people were killed in Paris while enjoying their weekend, attending concerts and dining on sidewalk patios just as I do. In March, travelers at the main train station and airport in Brussels were murdered, and more recently passengers on a train in Germany were attacked with an axe. I am at train stations and airports several times a month. I have walked down the same boulevard in Nice, France where revelers were run over in July, including two from my Texas hometown.
I wish I could say that recent terrorist attacks have had no impact on how I travel, but that isn’t the case. Here’s what’s changed for me.
I actually read emails from the State Department now.
I signed up for alerts several years ago before a trip to India. Instead of marking updates as junk, I skim them. The entire continent of Europe is on the radar, but I always hope my next destination isn’t in the subject line.
Some destinations are off my list.
My top goal for living in Europe was not related to my career, finances or formal education — it was to see the world. From Frankfurt, I can get to almost anywhere in Europe, Asia or Africa in far less time than from Texas. But in the wake of the political unrest, government instability and terrorist threats, Cyprus, Egypt, Israel and Jordan have been temporarily removed from my itinerary. And I won’t return to Turkey for a third visit in the foreseeable future.
I am more vigilant and occasionally paranoid.
Thanks to an anxiety disorder, I suspiciously eye passengers who are checking in for the same flight. Is he sweating because it’s 90 degrees outside or is he nervous? What is in that lady’s pile of suitcases? At venues and restaurants, I take a brief moment to locate exits and contemplate spots where I might take cover. Then, I move on to enjoy the performance, conversation or food.
I now skip famous monuments.
I have already been to the major landmarks in most European capitals, so I photograph them from afar. It’s not because they might be the next targets— it’s because I hate the hassles of additional security screenings. While I was in Paris in early August, the Eiffel Tower was evacuated, then closed because of a staff misunderstanding during a routine safety drill.
I do accomplish more on my trips though.
Tourism is down in most of Europe, especially in Paris. On a gorgeous day in early August, the line for Notre-Dame was the shortest I’ve ever seen it. I didn’t have to wait for a table at the famous Angelina Café on Rue de Rivoli with a party of six at lunchtime. Without hoards of tourists, service is faster and queues take up less of my time.
But I regret the reason why tourism is down.
Fewer people are coming to Europe because they are afraid. They see the graphic footage of recent attacks. They read the terrifying accounts from survivors. They check the headlines as the death toll rises.
What has happened here is scary, and it isn’t likely to end anytime soon. Even more frightening is the prospect of letting fear keep me from doing the things that I love. So I will continue to live and travel in Europe.