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France Train Travel Safety

I leave in a month for three weeks in Europe, my first solo trip there, into Rome and out of Paris with lots of time on the train between locations in Italy and France. We have done three family trips to these two countries and traveled extensively by train and a rental car, all without a problem. With the terrorist incident in France last week my family is concerned about my safety. They want me to either cancel my dream trip, or if I refuse, to cancel my rail pass and either travel by car, airplane or bus (in my opinion just as vulnerable). I'm wondering about the opinions on this subject of anyone out there who are about to travel where I'm going or maybe have just returned. My itinerary is three nights in Rome, Florence, Venice, the Cinque Terre, Provence and four nights in Paris, although I'm considering substituting Burgundy for Paris. Thank you.

Posted by
8889 posts

Oh no, if I see another post about "safety", or "is it safe to wake up in the morning", I think I will scream. And this from the country that allows any idiot to buy a gun.
Why do you think trains are unsafe? They are a lot more safe than car, airplane or bus (as far as accident statistics are concerned). Not to mention inconvenient, slower and more uncomfortable. And only trains go city centre to city centre.
Tell your family they are idiots. A train contains about 500 people, and runs every hour. A train is a lot safer than crossing the road.
A plane can get shot down, a train cannot. Just because your family are not familiar with trains, it does not mean they can force you to travel on a more unsafe and uncomfortable method of transport.

Dear webmaster, is there any way you can ban posts that include the word "safe"?

Posted by
2507 posts

Oh my goodess. This sounds like a lovely trip. Don't cancel it. Go and have a great time.

Posted by
2261 posts

"Tell your family they are idiots"

I may approach this a little differently than Chris ;-), but with the same result: ask them to kindly butt out-assuming you don't share their concern. It's a numbers thing, ask yourself how many people rode a train in France in the last year, and how many encountered a terrorist. Your family, I suspect, understands all this but can't help themselves, it's a natural, if flawed, response.

Thank your family for their concern and go ahead with your trip. Train is a great way to travel, lots more appealing than the alternatives you mention. C'mon Jim, we've been waiting for your trip just like you have, tell us all about it when you return.

Posted by
8664 posts

Jim, there are people who won't go to New Orleans for fear of hurricanes. Same level of credibility.

Posted by
23473 posts

If you are worried about getting hit by lightning, then I would cancel the trip. Because the probability of being hit by lightning is much greater than you having a problem with terrorists. In fact, the greatest risk for bodily injury will be the drive to and from your local airport. Now that is potential dangerous.

Posted by
856 posts

Jim, I hope you have a lovely trip. I can see why your family might be unnerved by recent events but when you think of all the people who travel very safely by train every day, I think going ahead with your trip is a very reasonable thing to do.

Posted by
2238 posts

Oh dear, this sure struck a nerve its some of us. Hopefully, you post/ read the board enough to understand the frustration with people taking one incident (friends and relatives) and magnifying it exponentially. Things like this shooting tend to heighten alertness, which sounds like it actually happened in this case, i.e.one of heroes heard a metallic sound ahead. Hopefully, you can find some words that will reassure your family. If not, go anyway.

Given the time of year and where you live, the real danger might come from a hurricane at home.

Posted by
420 posts

I can understand your family being nervous. We (husband, wife, 2 elementary school age kids) recently returned from 35 days/6 countries in Europe. My mom did not like us going to Europe. I thought it was funny because I was an military brat and we pretty much grew up overseas.

I tend to be overly cautious especially now that I travel with kids. Do not cancel your trip. Do not switch to car travel. Give your family your complete itinerary. Include all phone numbers for all accommodations including the country's international dialing code. Include the flight numbers or rather train numbers. Register with the American Embassy. You can do that online. It maybe over kill but it might help you family feel better.

We have T-Mobile so we were able to call the US from our cell phones for only .20 a minute. We made numerous calls and our bill was like $50 for the whole trip. Texting was free. Hopes this helps.

Posted by
8244 posts

You come from Louisiana where anyone who can pretend to be afraid of someone else can kill them with impunity. You come from a country where thousands of people die of gunshots every year and where no on is surprised to read about someone shooting up a school, a mall, a movie theater, a church. Laugh in your family's face and suggest they think about how much more danger you are in in Louisiana from random violence than on a train in Europe.

Stuff happens. Planes crash, but not often, car accidents happen, more commonly, sometimes people fall down stairs. Deaths by terrorism have happened, but the odds are so very low, it is not worth thinking about. A colleague's child did die traveling abroad last year -- it was a car accident.

Posted by
20483 posts

We are, of course, unduly confident in things with which we are familiar, like riding in a car, and unduly fearful of things with which we have no experience, like riding in a train.
A long time ago, a group of German students cancelled their trip to the US when Three Mile Island hit the news. "The whole country is going to blow up!" Others won't come because everyone here has a gun and a chip on their shoulder.

Posted by
11507 posts

I am surprised your family is so ignorant, and so controlling. How old are you?

I would most definitely not switch to a car, thousands of peole die in car accidents everyday!!!! In America as well as Europe!

Like all the other posters here I firmly disagree with your family, their advice is bad, and shows a stunning lack of thought.

I have a 19 yr old daughter planning on a trip to Europe and I am thrilled she has chosen such a safe place to travel, I would be far more worried if she chose parts of southeast Asia or the United States.

Go and have fun and don't be led by those who honestly do not seem to understand the basic odds .

Posted by
11507 posts

PS I have spent hundred days in Paris and still haven't seen everything, so I bet there is lots you haven't seen yet so I wouldn't skip Paris !

Posted by
6672 posts

Forty million passengers on 100,000 trains per day in Europe. Three thousand stations just in France. This means there's no way to screen rail passengers the way they (and we) screen air passengers. It also means the risk of attack on a train is incredibly remote, akin as others have said to being struck by lightning. Driving is unquestionably riskier there as here.

So go ahead with your plans. I'm sure your family members mean well, but they're over-reacting to something that just happened. If you let those kinds of fears keep you home, you'll never go anywhere. Not, for example, to a movie or mall or school in your own home town. The risk of violence right here far exceeds that in any part of Europe, and as others have noted any idiot can get a gun here. (Maybe avoid eastern Ukraine for the time being though.)

Posted by
8659 posts

It sounds like a wonderful trip and It also sounds like a loving family who may have over reacted a little bit. I find that my family is also concerned when I travel (both my kids and my parents) and I make a point of sending them group texts or emails 2-3 times a day with a picture or a fun story of something I have done. It makes them feel a little more a part of what is happening and also helps them to picture how things are really going for me. Giving them a real picture instead of imaginary worries helps them with their fears.

Reality is that problems or dangers can find us wherever we are in the world and at the most unexpected times. I was almost hit in a parking lot at the mall today. I certainly am not going to avoid all malls in the future:) Go ahead and take your trip, enjoy the trains, and just make sure to make a communication system in place that will help your love ones enjoy the trip with you and put their minds at ease.

Since worrying can go two ways (I wanted to know my kids could get ahold of me if needed), I found it helpful to sign up for my cell phone provider's International Plan for 30 days. It made me relax to know that any of my children or my elderly parents could just call or text the usual number and get in touch with me quickly.

Posted by
32273 posts

Jim,

As I recall, you've been planning and dreaming of this solo trip for a long time. While I can appreciate your family's concern, the suggestion to cancel the trip and stay home or change the mode of transport is just not realistic. As the others have so aptly pointed out, the possibilities of becoming the victim of a terrorist attack are extremely low. You can be sure there will be a heightened level of security in all rail stations, especially in France, and I'm sure that will put a damper on the terrorist plans for awhile until things settle down again. I suspect the heightened security may even include armed police on trains (perhaps in plain clothes, like an Air Marshall?).

I'll also be travelling in the near future, and also wondered if I should change some part of my Itinerary in response to this latest incident. I quickly came to the conclusion that the risk is still minimal so I'm not changing anything - full steam ahead! I'm not going to let the evil-doers control my life or interfere with my enjoyment of a long awaited adventure in Europe. Having said that, I probably will be a bit more vigilant and "situationally aware" than in the past.

As I often travel solo, I always keep my family apprised of my whereabouts using text messages, which is about the cheapest method. Being in contact with them on a regular basis tends to provide some reassurance that I'm safe and all is well.

Hopefully you'll decide to crack on, as I'm sure you'll have a wonderful holiday.

Posted by
564 posts

WOW!! I wasn't expecting such a large number of comments and the wide variety of same. I appreciate all of them because it gives me the proper perspective. I suspect for the overly critical, at least in my opinion, if the three Americans were not on that train from Brussels and 500 people were killed by the terrorist that your answers may have been different. After reading through all of them, however, I have decided to go on my trip as planned and let things work out as they do. Ken, you are correct that this has been in the planning for years since I started taking my wife and her mother to Europe in 2007, so full steam ahead. I hope your trip goes well for you. I shared the less critical responses with my family this morning and they helped to reduce their concerns. Guess coming from other experienced travelers had more impact on their thinking than mine. Many thanks to all of you.

Jim

Posted by
623 posts

Hi Jim,

This might be a great time to share Rick's book "Travel as a Political Act" with selected members of your family (since you've gotten their attention). I find the book to be fantastic touchstone for the intangibles of why many of us travel and how to put into perspective many of the things we see when we leave our comfort zone. I have shared it with my Mom and and my Mother-in-law (the latter of which hasn't left the country in over 35 years) and they both loved it. More than anything else it helps to frame the discussion that Western Europe and the USA/Canada are very similar in many ways and we can celebrate the subtle differences with nuance and stop framing things as stark divides (we are right, they are wrong, etc.). It also underlines the fact that life in USA/Canada/Western Europe is significantly different in many ways from most of the rest of the world and we can develop an understanding of those differences as well to provide a greater perspective on our lives back home.

When I spent time in rural Guatemala my main health and safety issues were water borne pathogens, stray dogs and poor roads/overcrowded buses/no seat belts - things that I'm grateful that I never have to think about at home or in western Europe. Each trip comes with its own set of health and safety issues that should be prepared for and taken seriously. On my recent trip to France I spent a lot of time studying the rules of the road to lessen the chances of accident and learned key phrases to prevent my daughter from having an allergic reaction (she's allergic to eggs). Since I live and work in the city, I'm used to maintaining a heightened awareness of my surroundings and steering clear of suspicious stuff.

Have a great trip and be sure to include a trip report when you get back!

-Matt

Posted by
8244 posts

If many people had been killed on that train -- and I have taken the Thalys, that very route, many times -- it would not deter a trip for me or my family. In fact AFTER such an event, whatever was disrupted is probably safer than usual. We flew as soon as the skies were open after 9/11 although an important conference I attended in October of that year in San Francisco struggled as many of the speakers and participants chose not to fly. The point of terrorism is to make people afraid so they stop living their lives. We can be proud that those three American men were not cringing cowards; the rest of us should probably get a grip. But then I traveled in London during the IRA period with my 12 year old daughter; a couple of times we got stranded when trains stopped traveling because of bombs on tracks.

Posted by
4637 posts

Jim, look at statistics. So many more people are shot in the US than in Europe. We have spent so many billions of dollars on fighting terrorists but do almost nothing about random violence and mix of crazy people and easy accessibility of guns. If you want to be safer at least for three weeks go to Europe.

Posted by
9903 posts

It doesn't sound like that guy would have shot too many people. He seemed to have problems loading his weapons. He probably would have killed fewer than died on camera today by their colleague's gun.

Posted by
32273 posts

Ilja,

"but do almost nothing about random violence and mix of crazy people and easy accessibility of guns."

That was apparent again this morning in Virginia. Never seems to end.....

Jim,

A few other points to mention. It doesn't appear that the U.S. State Dept. has issued any Travel Warnings or Alerts for France, so I'm assuming they don't perceive any increased risk there. The Canadian government website also doesn't list any special concerns. If you were going to be travelling around Calais, you could face some disruptions in transportation due to the ongoing problem with migrants there.

I don't recall if you'll be travelling with a cell phone? That would probably help allay fears of your family members. If you're travelling with a Netbook, iPad or whatever, you could also make Skype / FaceTime calls every few days to relate the details of the excellent time you're having in Europe.

There are never any guarantees for absolute safety when travelling, but I don't see any compelling reason to change or cancel my travel plans based on recent events.

Hope you have a wonderful trip!

Posted by
117 posts

Sounds like your family needs to broaden their perspective(s).

Have a great trip!

Posted by
118 posts

We went in THALYS the day after and it was fine. Always be aware of your surroundings - I do at home too, but it doesn't stop me from doing things.