Dear Travel For Teens Parents:
Until Tuesday, whenever we thought of beautiful Brussels, our images were of the most stunning square in Europe, The Grand Place. Or of fresh chocolates and lush flowers and gentle people who have become our friends. We join the rest of the civilized world in mourning the events of March 22, 2016.
Of course, given that we are in the teen travel business, much thought and contemplation has ensued about safety in European travel and what our position should be. Two days have been spent listening to developments, opinions and the thoughts of others, as well as carefully following what the US Government is saying about travel to Europe.
We continue to believe that travel to Europe is safe. Well, depending on how one defines “safe.” Is staying in America safe? Is the French countryside safe? Is New York City safe? Is hiking safe? Is riding a school bus safe? The point is that there are no guarantees about anything at all, and at the end of the day, thoughts must revolve around risk assessment. We can all agree that recklessness is unacceptable and staying in our own homes carries less risk than venturing out. But as a practical matter, what about the wide gulf in between?
We almost obsessively monitor the places where we travel. In fact, over a week ago, we made the decision not to go to Brussels this year. The number of terror suspects being routed there and the intense level of confrontation with them made us decide not to go this year. A few years ago, we canceled every trip to Thailand in response to the military coup there. If our own analysis, taking many factors into account, indicates unacceptable risk, then we look at alternatives. However, we feel it is helpful to be calm and, as much as possible, data driven in these decisions.
In a mathematical analysis, objectively trying to assess risk, some data that may be helpful are as follows. According to the “Washington Post” and “Time” magazine, the odds of being killed by a terrorist overseas or in the air are 1 in 20 million. Your odds of being struck by lightning are 1 in 10 million (New York Times). Your odds of being killed by gunfire in the United States are 1 in 32,250 (New York Times). Terror, however, has the ability to create fear because there is nothing about it that is within our control. The place, time and nature of attacks and their randomness creates an awful lot of fear. We understand this absolutely. But we continue to believe that travel to Europe is safe within the context of defining that word.
We follow the State Department’s warnings and alerts, obviously. When it is inadvisable to travel to a country or region they issue a travel warning. This means don’t go there if at all possible. Turkey is now under a warning, for example. Based on this we cancelled travel to Istanbul this year. What has been issued relative to Europe is a travel alert, not a warning. In essence, a travel alert means be extra careful and, well…alert. This is their exact advice:
U.S. citizens should exercise vigilance when in public places or using mass transportation. Be aware of immediate surroundings and avoid crowded places. Exercise particular caution during religious holidays and at large festivals or events.
U.S. citizens should also:
-Follow the instructions of local authorities, especially in an emergency.
-Monitor media and local information sources and factor updated information into personal travel plans and activities.
-Be prepared for additional security screening and unexpected disruptions.
-Stay in touch with your family members and ensure they know how to reach you in the event of an emergency.
-Register in our Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP).
We will take a few extra precautions. We will try to reduce or eliminate our city travel by metro. We know that transportation is often a preferred location for terrorism. We will return to the hotels earlier than we originally might have. We will avoid gatherings even more than we already do, whenever possible. We will educate the kids in the need to be vigilant and careful and focused on what we are doing. At the same time, we don’t want to make them fearful and anxious, so this will be done judiciously, like we already do regarding issues like pickpocketing. We already move in groups with one leader in front and one in back with intense watchfulness. This will not change, obviously. We already mine our local contacts for information and advice, knowing they are the ones in the know in each of our locations. We have implemented additional training into our annual training session for staff.
Travel For Teens is committed to taking all reasonable steps to make our trips as safe as possible but again, we don’t feel travel to Europe is unsafe and at this stage do not plan to cancel any trips or parts of trips. We certainly welcome any phone calls to discuss.
While all of our other European offerings will continue as scheduled we will be monitoring any and all developments to ensure as much as possible the safe, high quality trips many of you have come to expect from Travel for Teens. We will continue to consult with our European contacts to ensure that our highest priority of safety will continue to be met on our trips, but rest assured that with this alert European police agencies will be, and are, operating with even more vigilance. Many of us on staff have just returned from Europe and did not feel unsafe anywhere we went. Security is everywhere and very extensive in all the tourist attractions we attended in all the countries to which we recently traveled. Cumulatively, in the last month, our staff has spent 8 weeks in 5 countries in Europe, not counting our staff who live in Europe. We reiterate that we do not feel travel to Europe, objectively speaking, carries unacceptable risk at this time.
Travel for Teens is thankful for the supportive families that continue to help us in our mission of teaching teens to be travelers, not tourists, and fostering a global perspective. While tragedies like this are abhorrent, our strength and solidarity in choosing to not let this take away from our passion to travel and explore other cultures is stronger than fear. This is a time to remain calm and let data drive our reactions and decisions.
Very truly yours,
Vice President & Program Director
Toll Free 888-457-4534