Musings on International Travel from

My family just returned from a wonderful trip to Germany and France.  However, the topic of Americans’ current fear of traveling to Europe came up several ways:  An un-traveled friend posted this FB warning “Sweet brother stay safe,” when I indicated my desire to spend more time in Europe next year.  Over a table conversation in a bar in Montfaucon an American who is spending six months “Over There” cited several examples of reduced American travel.  I began to reflect on our time in Germany; and realized that, there too, few Americans were to be seen.  Here then are my (and Rick Steve’s) points on:  Why Americans are so afraid to travel; why they should not be afraid; and why the terrorists ultimately win if we stop traveling.


There is Nothing to Fear but Fear Itself

As a starting point, I would encourage readers to watch the video below.  I believe world-traveler Rick Steves does a great job in emphasizing that fear comes from what we don’t know, and that many of the people who are most fearful are those who have never traveled abroad.



Looking back on my early experience in international travel, I can certainly see his points.  In 1980 a cousin and I traveled to Dortmund, Germany to visit exchange students who had previously stayed with us.  That was my first international flight.  Traveling through the Frankfurt Airport, I was surprised and nervous to see police generally walking in groups of two; one carrying an assault gun and the other a pistol and radio.  Pre 9-11 one never saw armed police at an American airport.

Five years later, I was again in Germany–this time as a student at the Universitaet Hamburg.  In 1985 the fear came from the often violent demonstrations that took place, usually, in the inner city.  How could a republic have such violent demonstrations–complete with businesses being damaged, troops in riot gear and, sometimes, water cannons being used?  Would I ever go into the inner city again?  After the immediate shock, I learned that the demonstrations were often timed for “Langer Samstag,” the one Saturday in the month that stores were able to stay open late.  Also, the public was often warned about the potential for demonstrations ahead of time.  Armed with this knowledge, I continued to shop in the inner city on long Saturdays, but I was always ready to move quickly out of the area if a demonstration was approaching.


The Rational Side:  Looking at the Numbers

Many Americans can cite a whole laundry list of recent international terror events in France and Belgium:  The November shootings in Parisian restaurants, the bombing at Belgium’s airport, the Nice Bastille Day, the killing of a Jewish man in Normandy and what appears to be un-ending assaults on trains.  Just yesterday, there was an arson attempt on a key Belgium crime lab.  How in the world can an American be safe overseas?

Now, let’s look at some other statistics:  France has a population of about 67 million and Belgium about 11 million.  That’s 78 million people combined.  Paris has a population of about 2.2 million people.  Would anyone care to guess how many restaurants it must have?  Yes, there is always a risk of being in the wrong place at the wrong time; but that risk is generally infantessimally small–even if you’re spending your entire time in a large city like Paris or Brussels.  The battlefield visitor, for whom this blog is written, is going to be spending a limited amount of time in large cities and will generally be in the country or in smaller cities.  This means the chance of an adverse event is likely even smaller.

Yes, but we don’t have terrorism over here, so why not just stay home and enjoy the good ole USA?  According to a BBC News article, there were 372 mass shootings, including 64 school shootings, and 13,286 people killed by firearms in the U.S. in 2015.  I’m not taking a position for or against firearms in this article.  I’m just pointing out that we have violence in this country too.  It might not be terrorism of the sort witnessed in Europe; but it is violence.

The difference between the two:  We know one, but not the other.  Again, fear creaps in when there is no knowledge or experience in dealing with a situation.


Only the Terrorists Win if We Stop Traveling!

When we let fear determine our actions, we automatically shrink our world by some amount–and the terrorists succeed!  On the other hand, in today’s internet-based world it has never been easier to travel the world and to (hopefully) feel safe doing so.  For example:  Did you know that the Gendarmerie de la Meuse (French National Police in the Department of the Meuse) has a FB page with frequent posts?  Websites like  provide a wealth of travel information and current updates.  Also, I am always willing to share my travel tips and knowledge with travelers.

Nothing in life can be guaranteed, but I hope I have given readers some comfort in the fact that the risks relating to terrorism in Europe are quite small indeed.

The battlefields are there to be visited; the Euro is cheap; air fares appear more reasonable than in the recent past.  The time to go is now–and don’t wait to see if tomorrow there will be another sensationalist headline!


Randal S. Gaulke

The Webmaster




One thought on “Musings on International Travel from

  • Valerie Young

    Thank you, Randy, for this post at this important time, and for sharing the Rick Steves interview. I am planning my first trip to the Meuse-Argonne area this coming November, and I have found your website to be invaluable to my travel planning, understanding of all there is to see in the area, and encouraging to get out on the small roads and hiking trails. Your personal assistance is greatly appreciated, and I look forward to posting more when I return. I make this trip to learn more of the grandfather I never knew – my mother’s father – he was from Pennsylvania and served in the 79th Division. He was gassed, as were so many soldiers, very near the end of the war, and his health suffered tremendously after he returned, leading to his death at the early age of 45. With the help of your website, reference materials, maps, and recommendations for places to stay and see, I have been able to put together an itinerary that will allow me to follow in his footsteps in the Meuse-Argonne. I have never had a fear of traveling, even now, and am eager to be in a part of France that I’ve not seen before. Will share stories when I return!


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