A week ago, what most travelers were worrying about was catching or spreading COVID. This week, thanks to Russia’s unprovoked attack on Ukraine, there’s a lot more on travelers’ minds, including concerns about the safety of travel to Europe.
Should I Still Travel to Europe This Summer?
Ever since Putin attacked Ukraine, I’ve been getting emails from readers with a whole slew of questions. For example, this one is from Adrienne:
Hi Johnny – I enjoy reading your travel tips; thanks for sharing your wisdom and experience. Regarding the recent invasion of Ukraine by Russia, I have a question for you. I have a hiking and biking trip planned in France for the month of July. I am hesitating buying my plane ticket because I don’t know – and I understand that no one can predict – what the Ukrainian situation will be in 4-5 months. While it is not close to France, I realize that rebel countries sometimes target foreign planes, especially ones from the U.S. Plus, I am feeling guilty about planning a vacation while people not far from France are suffering, possibly dying. Could you address this situation and provide some advice – should I go ahead with my plans? Thanks!
This is an understandable question and Adrienne expresses legitimate concerns. First, I would suggest checking out the advice I gave in this article: What Does the War in Ukraine Mean For Travel?
To further answer Adrienne’s question: You don’t have to worry about rebels targeting your plane. The last time that happened was July 17, 2014 when Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 (MH17) from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur was shot down “by a Buk surface-to-air missile launched from pro-Russian separatist-controlled territory in Ukraine.” Tragically, all 283 passengers and 15 crew members died. But this is an extremely rare occurrence.
And while that’s difficult to think about, it provides important context. According to FlightRadar24, which tracks flights, the average number of total flights per day in March 2019 was 176,000. Since then, there have been hundreds of millions of flights without incident. So, you don’t have to worry about your plane being shot down.
The second part of Adrienne’s question about feeling guilty is a very personal and real choice. My family and I just arrived in Hawaii for a trip that has been delayed repeatedly because of the pandemic. Normally, I would be sharing lots of photos of every step of the way. But right now, I feel guilty doing so. I can’t stop thinking about the poor people in Ukraine fighting for their country and their lives.
There’s no easy answer but life has to go on. As a show of support, you can donate to Ukraine. Here are some options. I also checked in with travel experts Rick Steves and Peter Greenberg for their advice about traveling to Europe this summer. Here’s what they had to say:
Rick Steves on Traveling to Europe This Summer
“I have no concerns about safety. Ukraine is as far from Western Europe as Guatemala is from Florida. I just got off the phone with one of our guides and tour groups enjoying their first night dinner in Palermo in Sicily and they are having a marvelous time. As for the ethics of traveling during an on-going tragedy, travel is a vital force for peace. When we travel thoughtfully, we get to know each other, and we take home the very best souvenir: an empathy for the other 96% of humanity.” Rick Steves
Peter Greenberg on Traveling to Europe This Summer
“Travel has always been about taking a calculated risk because there are so many intangibles and variables that can impact your journey. But smart travelers, especially in a time like this, can be strategic and sensitive at the same time. The first thing I would do is get a map and realize where the hotspots are and where the hotspots aren’t. Most people paint with too broad a brush and deny themselves the opportunity to see the world. There are obvious places to avoid, at least right now, but you’re well within common sense to roll the dice as long as A) you pick a US carrier to fly so that if you have to cancel your flight, you don’t lose your money; B) you get in writing from your other travel providers (tour operators, resorts) what your rights are if you have to cancel and how to get your money back; C) always pay with a credit card.
Don’t just read the US state department advisories. Read the advice from the British foreign office, what they’re telling their citizens. I think they do a much better job. Then, you can make a more informed decision.
If your reaction is simply to stay home, then you’re not just denying yourself some amazing travel experiences, but you’re also denying destinations that rely on tourism dollars.
You should never travel in a vacuum of information. Do what you can to donate to Ukraine and neighboring countries. Do what you can to help the people.” Peter Greenberg
I do know that if everyone stopped traveling, the world economy would look like Russia’s right now. In fact, some travel experts recommend traveling to countries where there’s a conflict shortly afterwards since it’s the best time to go. That’s when locals need your financial support the most, they’re happy to see you, you will get great service and there will be fewer people, so you’ll have a better experience.
I know when Ukraine wins this war, I plan to travel to Kyiv to give my support.