The Europe Travel Alert and Vacationing in France


The U.S. State Department issued a travel alert for Europe on Sunday, October 3, 2010: “U.S. citizens should take every precaution to be aware of their surroundings and to adopt appropriate safety measures to protect themselves when traveling.” It’s valid through January 31, 2011. There was no mention of France specifically, but other stories have mentioned it. Take one look at the Eiffel Tower in Paris and you’ll understand why.

As someone living in France I would advise against panic or trip cancellation; however, I did want to take this opportunity to mention some other things that are going on, which are not getting nearly the same amount of press worldwide as this terror alert.

First of all, the European Union urged Europeans to postpone non-essential travel to the United States and Mexico because of the swine flu virus, and Spanish health officials confirmed the first case outside North America. Then you’ve got a new law in France that’s being called the “burqa ban,” as it prohibits covering the face in public areas. And Sarkozy is infuriating the EU with his plan to expel the Roma, or gypsies, currently living in France. Lastly, there have been nationwide protests and strikes in France every week since everyone came back from summer break; there are two more planned for this month so far.

What I’m trying to get at with all the gloom and doom is that, guess what? France is still here. Baguettes are still being baked, great works of art are still being viewed, afternoon strolls are still being taken. Daily life is still happening, with nary a whiff of change in the air.

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But, does that mean you shouldn’t travel to France while there is an increased terror alert?

Unfortunately, there is no answer to that question. It depends entirely on you – the scope of your travel plans, the flexibility of your schedule both at home and for your vacation, and of course your level of confidence in traveling.

I don’t have any hard and fast advice for you, except to say that if you have a trip to France planned soon and you think you’d be miserable or scared because of the alert, then change your plans. It’s not worth the time, energy and expense if you won’t feel comfortable and have fun.

One thing I do want to point out, specifically to Americans who do not live in widely integrated areas of the country, is that when you come to France – anywhere in France, but especially in the larger cities – you will see many, many people in very, very traditional Muslim attire. It’s totally normal. They just live here and are going about their daily lives.

The only thing I’d recommend to any traveler is to register your trip with the State Department. As the Embassy always tells us, they don’t care what you’re doing in the country – they just want to know you’re there, in case anything happens. And that’s “anything” from a terror attack to choking on an escargot. It takes two seconds, and then you can forget about it – and have fun on your next trip to France!