This morning, a colleague received an email from the U.S. State Department with a rather alarming subject line: “Message for U.S. Citizens: Worldwide Caution Update.” The email was a transmission of the Worldwide Caution released on the State Department’s website on March 3.
The message offers nearly 1,800 words of warnings about terrorist threats around the world, particularly in Europe, the Middle East, Africa and Asia/Pacific. “U.S. citizens continue to be at risk of kidnappings and hostage events as ISIL, al-Qa’ida, and their affiliates attempt to finance their operations through kidnapping-for-ransom operations,” the State Department wrote. “U.S. citizens have been kidnapped and murdered by members of terrorist and violent extremist groups.” Threats include suicide bombings and attacks on highly populated places such as trains, shopping malls and restaurants.
“No wonder people are afraid to travel!” my colleague said. “This is a terrifying email.”
If reading the message makes you want to hide under your bed until the world gets less scary, you’re not alone — but there are a few important things to keep in mind before you call off your next trip and retire your passport. First, this Worldwide Caution isn’t new. The State Department updates this overarching security warning at least every six months, according to the Washington Post, in order to provide information on the most current threats. So if you’ve felt comfortable enough to take a vacation in the past couple of years, you were already traveling under a worldwide warning.
Secondly, the chances of being affected by a terrorist attack are still extraordinarily low. Wendy Perrin, Travel Advocate for IndependentTraveler.com’s parent company, TripAdvisor, notes that the largest cause of death for Americans traveling abroad is actually motor vehicle accidents, and that in recent years more Americans have been killed in terrorist attacks on U.S. soil than in attacks overseas. (See 7 Keys to Traveling Without Fear Despite Terrorist Attacks to learn more.)
Conde Nast Traveler editor-in-chief Pilar Guzman makes another important point when she tells the Wall Street Journal that by avoiding certain countries that rely on tourism — such as Egypt — we might be helping to destabilize those countries and make them more susceptible to radicalization. You can check out the full video here.
Government warnings have an important place in helping travelers decide which countries are and aren’t safe to visit; each of us has a different tolerance for risk, and the more information we have, the better able we are to make the decisions that are right for us. (See Travel Warnings and Advisories for tips on how to use and evaluate government advisories.) But the danger of a Worldwide Caution is that worried travelers will decide not to go anywhere at all — leading to a more insular worldview that is driven by fear, not empathy and understanding.
Does the threat of terrorism make you more afraid to travel?