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Assessing Risky Destinations: Is It Safe to Travel?

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Every time terrorists strike an international destination, American travelers want to know: Is it safe to travel?

It’s an important question to ask, and a hard question to answer. The truth is that terrorism represents a very, very small risk to travelers. However, terrorist incidents in places once considered safe, such as Paris and London, have made Americans anxious. While no destination is 100% risk-free, here’s how you can assess the risk of terrorism and other threats and protect yourself while traveling.

After a terrorist attack, is it safe to travel?

Terrorism is scary. All it takes is one malevolent act to derail not only your trip, but your life. Remember, however, that statistically the chances of being killed by a terrorist attack are extremely low. For example, 2015 has been the worst year for terrorist attacks in France, to date. Yet, as Travel+Leisure calculates, “of the 151.8 million people who spent time in France in 2015, 142 died from terrorism, putting the odds of being killed in a terror attack at just .00000094.”1

That being said, prudent travelers should avoid visiting areas where terrorist attacks are frequent or very likely to occur. The best way to assess the risk is to check the State Department's site to see if any travel warnings or travel alerts have been issued for your destination. Understand the difference between these two terms: a travel alert notifies you of short-term events that can affect travel, such as a contentious election or a temporarily elevated terror risk. A travel warning is issued when a country has long-term, serious problems such as frequent terrorist attacks or armed conflict. A warning means the State Department strongly discourages Americans from traveling there.2

However, terrorist acts, by their very nature, are unpredictable. How can you reduce your risk and preserve your peace of mind? Here are some possible strategies.

  • Choose destinations known for their low terrorism risk. Some countries, because of their geopolitical roles, just aren’t considered to be targets. Look at the Global Peace Index map and consider a low-risk vacation destination such as Finland, Portugal, Japan, New Zealand, Bhutan or Botswana (to name a few). Keep in mind, however, that these destinations may present other challenges or dangers.
  • Avoid urban areas. If you’re hesitant to spend time in Paris but you long to visit France, why not explore the countryside instead? Take a tour through wine country, or cycle from castle to castle through the Loire Valley.
  • Sign up for STEP. The Smart Traveler Enrollment Program lets the local embassy know when and where you’re traveling, and helps them contact you in case of an emergency.
  • Remember that terrorist attacks are not likely to happen in clusters. A study by the nonprofit RAND Corporation found no evidence of clustering for terrorist events around trigger events and no increases in terrorism on significant dates.3
  • Refuse to let fear stop you from traveling. As travel guru Rick Steves says, “If your fears are insurmountable, go ahead and delay your trip a year. Europe will still be waiting to welcome you with open arms. But personally, I refuse to let terrorists take away my love for travel.”

How to assess other risks while you’re traveling

Travel journalist Wendy Perrin points out that “when planning a vacation, we tend to worry more about spectacular risks—whether a terrorist attack or an epidemic of norovirus on a cruise ship—than about boring risks like, say, overexposure to the sun.”

When planning your next trip overseas, focus on reducing the most likely risks. The number-one cause of death for healthy Americans abroad? Car accidents.4 The next most common causes are homicide, suicide and drowning. Read the State Department’s country-specific information carefully, as well as local travel guides, so you understand the risks for your destination. Avoiding danger may be as simple as hiring a driver instead of renting a car; staying away from certain parts of a city after dark; or swimming only at beaches with lifeguards.

Another way to protect yourself: Purchase international travel insurance. The OneTrip Prime Plan from Allianz Global Assistance includes up to $25,000 in emergency medical and dental benefits and $500,000 in emergency medical transportation benefits, so you can get the care you need in case of a covered medical emergency. Allianz Global Assistance also provides free, 24-hour access to our travel assistance team, whether by phone or via the TravelSmart app. To learn more, visit this review by Good Morning Washington as one of the six travel apps to score a last-minute deal

Does travel insurance cover terrorism?

Here’s a quick primer on how travel insurance from Allianz Global Assistance covers terrorism.

  • It can be a covered reason for trip cancellation. Allianz Global Assistance travel insurance considers international and domestic terrorism to be a covered reason for trip cancellation if a terrorist event happens at your U.S. or foreign destination within 30 days of the day you’re scheduled to arrive. However, if there has been a terrorist event at your destination in the 30 days before your plan's effective date, your cancellation won’t be covered.
  • Being afraid of a terrorist incident occurring is not a covered reason for trip cancellation. Travel insurance covers actual events. It doesn’t cover events that might possibly occur. That means travel insurance can’t cover trip cancellations due to travel anxiety — even if the State Department has issued a travel alert or warning.
  • If a terrorist attack does occur while you’re traveling, Allianz Global Assistance is there to help. Our U.S.-based team of travel assistance experts is available around the clock via our 24-hour hotline. In a crisis, they can help you make new travel arrangements, send a message to family or get the best emergency medical care, among other services.

Here’s some more information on how travel insurance covers terrorism. Wherever you travel, be cautious and pay attention to your surroundings. Always read your insurance policy documents carefully, and call Allianz if you have questions about terrorism coverage or anything else. Travel safely!

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Nov 01, 2017