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#485 Germany & Parent Safety Concerns

Hi,

I listen to your show by podcast and just want to say that I really enjoy it! The informative, knowledgeable and well-researched travel information is absolutely wonderful!

Being German myself, of course I listened especially closely to your Germany show.
I loved your advice on visiting some of the lesser-known places. Northern Germany for instance does not even seem to exist on most American travel maps. And you may be surprised to hear that while all Americans I know who have traveled Germany have visited Neuschwanstein castle, I am not aware of a single German among my friends and acquaintances who has ever gone there!

(On a related side note, contrary to popular belief in America, Oktoberfest is a Bavarian thing, not an all-German thing, and Bavaria is not = Germany, it's only one out of sixteen states!)

I really liked the reply you gave the school principal who asked about parents' concerns with letting their children travel to Europe, and I'd like to add my two cents' worth:

I think we are all most afraid of what we know least about.
We had friends send their daughter over for an extended stay with us in the mid-80s, and it was the daughter who really wanted to go. The parents were scared to death about the Iron Curtain just being 50 miles away from us - something we never even wasted a thought on. Vice versa, we traveled California with friends, and they - going to the States for the first time - were scared to death beforehand about gangs and crime.

On a similar note, trying to put things into perspective: Yes, there have been terrorist attacks in Europe. So have there in the United States, actually one of the most horrible ones ever. So, if parents are worried about letting their children travel to Europe, by the same logic one might ask: How can they feel safe having their children live in the United States? The reason of course is obvious: It's where they feel they know their way around and know where it's safe to go and where it's not. Well, European families love their lives just as much as any American family may, and will think and act along the same lines.

I think it's important for young people to learn to apply the rules of common sense to wherever they may go: Big cities anywhere on the planet generally pose a bigger risk than rural areas, not so much in terms of terrorist attacks, more likely in terms of pickpockets. And then there are some areas in each big city that you may want to avoid, especially at night, and the best way of knowing which areas to avoid is to be with locals, and to listen to what they say!

If you really are concerned about terrorist attacks, you may - wherever you are on the planet - want to avoid events or places with masses of people because terrorists seem to prefer a platform with a maximum of effect and publicity.

In Germany, we generally live by the attitude "We don't want terrorists to achieve their goal by letting them dominate our lives". Which is not to say that we are being naive: Security levels have really gone up since the Christmas market incident in Berlin. But letting fear guide us would mean letting the terrorists get what they want.

Thanks again for your show, and happy travels!

Anna

Posted by
20720 posts

Thanks for your perspective, Anna.

Just to say that this is the Forums, which while they live on the Rick Steves website and are here to help travelers, are not known to be frequented by Rick or his senior staff. We do sometimes get a Rick Steves staffer chiming in, but generally we are a bunch of fellow travelers, many with plenty of European travel experience (and a few who have never traveled before and are here for the first time), even a few who live in Europe, and several who either live in Germany or are frequent visitors. This is a great place for your experience, particularly if you are from the north.

Feel free to chip in to any threads which catch your eye.

If you want to be sure that a staffer sees your comments, and might pass them up the line, use the Contact Us button at the bottom of the webpage.

Posted by
583 posts

Thanks for your replies, and thanks also for your information, Nigel!

Yes, I can imagine that the host of such a show cannot follow up on all the comments etc, but that's o.k. with me. My comment is in the section titled "Give feedback about episodes", so anyone who is interested in reading further comments can do so or leave it - including Rick and his staff. And if they don't - well, tough luck. They'll miss out on my thanks for their show! :-)

Posted by
984 posts

I just listened to this episode yesterday, I too thought it was a great answer, especially his comment about his frustration about trying to help people stop confusing fear with actual risk. I've really come to the conclusion that some people are just genetically hardwired to be incapable of understanding risk. Understanding that as scary as terrorism may be, the actual risk of it happening to you is so infinitesimally small that it literally should be a non-factor in making travel plans to Europe.

Posted by
8565 posts

Kaeleku, i understand you. But you want people to throw out a life time of conditioning in a single moment and become perfectly rational. Not going to happen ... ever. All the statistics in the world aren't going to change the vast majority of people. Besides, our statistics tend to be linear when the problem is multi-dimensional, are pretty inaccurate except to say the odds of anything bad are minimal. So rather than chasing the impossible in others, I think the only thing left to do is to help them enjoy their trip. That might mean avoiding Paris. So be it. No crime, no foul; just the realities of life.

Posted by
583 posts

confusing fear with actual risk

Yeah, I really liked that wording too.

The funny thing was when we traveled California with those friends, once we were there, they immediately lost all fear even in neighborhoods where I felt there was some risk. Like leaving the car doors unlocked driving through neighborhoods where I explicitly asked them to lock the doors.

That's the kind of friend I will in the future think twice about traveling with: overly fearful when there is nothing to fear, and naive when there is a real risk to consider.

Posted by
8565 posts

Anna, my favorite statement is "I felt safe". I always want to ask, who are you and why should i trust your instincts. You could put this in a sustenance: "I was in Kabul, and I felt safe". Now I guess if 20 or 30 people made the same comment it would have a little weight; but still ....

Then we get into the "statistical" analysis. "Istanbul is safer than America". Well, I am not going to "Istanbul", I am going to the tourist district in Istanbul, where things have been known to go boom!; and I don't live in "America", I live in a gated community in America which has never had a violent crime.

This is generally followed by, "you are an alarmist!" (or worse). No, I'm not. I just push back against empty statements. Personally, "I would, and have, felt safe in Istanbul and Paris." I'm just not going to try and rationalize it; or criticize someone if they don't share my feelings. I think "safety" is impossible to quantify so go with your gut and go when and where you can enjoy yourself without worry or concern.

Posted by
984 posts

James - as a thought exercise, I will arm you with an advanced terrorist space laser that will completely destroy a zone 200 m by 200 m - the type of attack that has only happened once on 9/11. You can fire this weapon three times. As you are aware, I spent three weeks in Turkey from Oct 29 to Nov 19, and that trip is documented on Google Timeline. I am willing to bet you and really anyone else who wants to put their money where their mouth is, that you would be able to fire this ridiculously deadly weapon three times by providing a time and lat/long center point and not hit me. I will pay you $500 if you do. You will pay me $100 for three shots.

Posted by
583 posts

@James: You are perfectly right of course. I have said this sentence before myself, but of course it is a completely subjective statement unless you at least know who is talking, and why you may or may not trust their judgement.

In the case described above, it was me as a sort of private tour guide, having lived in the States and having visited it many times, versus friends who were there for the very first time, who had completely irrational fears to begin with, and then, once they were there, completely lost any good judgement about safety issues. They knew I had a lot more U.S. experience than they did, and it did make me sort of angry to see them wilfully ignore my advice and not trust my judgement.

Had they done this in a way that risked only their own safety, it would have been their own business, but as we were traveling together, they were risking mine too by their behavior, and I really didn't appreciate that a whole lot.

Yet, all statistical and rational considerations aside, there is something to be said for gut feeling. If I am in a dark alley at midnight and I sense that there is a big tall person following me, I will not have a feeling of safety. And it probably is somewhat sensible to act on this gut feeling and get the h** out of there.

Posted by
1474 posts

Anna, thank you for posting your thoughts. My grandson is hoping to go on a backpacking journey through Europe with his buddies once they graduate next summer. I am hoping their parents will all continue to be comfortable in encouraging them to go. This advice in particular- "If you really are concerned about terrorist attacks, you may - wherever you are on the planet - want to avoid events or places with masses of people because terrorists seem to prefer a platform with a maximum of effect and publicity.", I think, is excellent.

Posted by
8565 posts

Anna, you and I are very much in agreement. For what little it is worth; I would worry a lot more about my kids judgment in daily decisions than I would terrorists. All three of my under 25 year old kids have spent time unsupervised in Europe and they all came back, more or less, in one piece. "K" above and I don't really disagree on the practical aspect of the whole thing.

Posted by
984 posts

No, I'm just pointing out that we exist in not only a place, but time as well. It was a serious thought experiment, as I sometimes wonder if the problem with people is they focus on the place - "oh, an attack in Paris ... I've been there, that could have been me." But that's not really true. From the time we are born to the time we die, we are all moving through time and moving through space. There are infinite combinations. A park bench in NY City at 2:12:06 pm on a sunny fall day. A train car leaving the station at 12:03:44 in Madrid. We chart a line on the map, as we go through time. The odds of any one of us being at that one 10 x 10 meter place where death is assured at that specific second in the form of a terror attack is so laughably remote as to be not worth considering. So I proposed a thought experiment that I hoped would help illustrate - one in which you could essentially be a god and know generally where someone is in space and time and armed with a weapon more powerful than any yet deployed by a terrorist - and still even with that ridiculously skewed playing field the odds of you picking the spot in time and space that intersects my line is essentially zero.

Posted by
200 posts

Kaeleku, are you sure about this? Unless you played around with timestamps and the like, House of Virgin Mary @ Izmir between 11:32 and 11:37 am would do it. 40000 sqm should be a big enough area to cover a single standalone building.

Posted by
8565 posts

But what if the terrorists had a Tardis?!!!!

"K" you are assuming people are computers. They are not. If they were you could talk people out of PTSD for instance. But you can't. Doesn't mean you are wrong; means you have been smoking someth ..... no, that's not it, means you aren't including the Human factor in your logic. Just think of all the worlds ills you could find logical solutions for. Only wish it were possible. Tell me, do they have those little round cactus with the pretty pink flowers in Hawaii?

Posted by
200 posts

Kaeleku,
Any (hypothetical) winnings can be (hypothetically) transferred to the (hypothetical) Bulgaria-Russia Friendship Foundation :-)

☮️