Confession: I’m Nervous to Travel After the Paris Terror Attacks

After a late night trip to the bathroom, my hand fumbled across the nightstand looking for my watch. As my fingers crawled over a pack of Kleenex and the smooth, cold case of my laptop. I found my phone first, lit up with notifications from Instagram and Facebook.

There was one whatsapp from my mother:

“did u c travel alert? <3”

Being halfway across the world, my daily news intake usually comes as I’m eating lunch in Spain. I get the highlights from Facebook when I wake up – from sports to mass shootings to birth announcements – but often find that I’m behind when it comes to the heavy-hitting stuff back home because of the time difference. As 5pm news programs are rolling the opening credits, I’m typically sleeping. As the BBC reported that the US had issued a worldwide travel advisory, I had long since been asleep.


When Paris nightclubs and restaurants were under attack on November 13th, 2015, I was dozing on the couch after dinner. The following morning, my entire newsfeed was burping up messages of disgust and horror and changing their profile pictures to shots of them at the Eiffel Tower during college study abroad

I studied journalism and have a piqued interest in developing news stories. Settling in that Saturday morning with a mug of tea and my laptop, the news stayed switched on for hours as I read hard and soft news related to the incident, including this haunting HuffPo piece on European mothers of ISIS.

But it took some time for it to sink in: I am a person living in Europe. I am a person living in Europe in a city that has been mentioned as a target for terror. I am a person living in Europe in a city that has been mentioned as a target who is traveling to city with known, active terror cells in three weeks.

The Colors of India - Lonely Planet Guidebook

Ten years ago, I was studying abroad in Valladolid when bombs rocked the London underground. A friend and I were in Barcelona long before travelers had smartphones or tablets, unable to reach our family but blissfully unaware of any real danger (meanwhile, our parents were manically trying to track us down). And Spain, at that time, was no stranger to terror – there were mass casualties the year before on the Cercanías commuter lines in Madrid. Our parents, once they finally reached us at a seedy hotel in El Raval, pleaded us to walk instead of ride the subway, and we did so with cans of San Miguel in our hands. Blissfully unaware of any danger.

Nothing hit home as closely as Paris has – not 9/11, not European terror, not the war in Iraq – at age 30. 

When I was a kid, I was fearless – riding my bike at top speed down hills, attempting dangerous gymnastics tricks, convinced I was made of rubber. As I’ve gotten older, however, fear creeps into my head every now and again (and I sincerely blame driver’s ed for this). I say a silent prayer to the Virgin of Loretto when a flight taxis and raises its nose into the sky, and I am constantly nervous for the Novio in his high-risk job. Anxiety nags at me, low in my stomach, whenever I sense that something could do horribly wrong.

Vintage Travel: in Wisconsin at age 6

Vintage Travel: in Wisconsin at age 6

But I have yet to let fear foil any plans, be it travel or otherwise. While my family wasn’t thrilled about me traveling to India with another female companion, I looked at it as an adventure, a “level up” sort of accomplishment as a traveler. Europe was child’s play to someone who had to have more passport pages affixed after six years of living abroad, and after getting stranded in Romania on NYE and traipsing through rural Morocco, I was in for a challenge anyway.

And India was rewarding on so many levels. I decided to travel less, but to more far-flung places before settling down with a family. But thanks to a new house and a wedding, I’ve been grounded and holed up in Spain. 

Choosing a solo trip to Copenhagen over a long weekend was something I considered being on the right airline website with the right amount of airline miles. It seemed like it’s been ages since I went anywhere outside of the US or Spain, and my feet were seriously itchy to use a free flight on Vueling. Málaga to Copenhagen and back cost me less than three nights at a hostel in the center of the Danish capital, so flights were booked without batting an eye in mid-September, along with a flight to Sicily

On my second solo trip to Croatia

On my second solo trip to Croatia

Life next year is still unpredictable between work and possible relocation. But as I saw it, it would perhaps be the last solo trip I took for a long time.

Following the Paris attacks, I didn’t think Denmark, often dubbed ‘Happiest Nation in the World,’ posed much of a threat. Still I located the American Embassy, copying down contact information into my phone and my notebook to be on the safe side, and I asked the Consular Agent here in Seville if he’d heard of any threats in Denmark. Negative. I went back to finding low-cost activities and places to try reindeer meat and proudly announced I’d take the train to nearby Mälmo, Sweden and find an IKEA.

As a week turned into 10 days, news that threats in Brussels had shut down the city’s museums and public transportation didn’t rattle me. But waking up at 4:32am to a travel alert issued by the US took me aback. Yes, it’s vague and doesn’t pinpoint any cities or countries or even news of a rumored attack, so why was I suddenly reconsidering a trip? Is it silly of me to worry that a Christmas market could end up as a target? Or that many ISIS sympathizers have been raised in Denmark? Am I safer in Spain than in the US or in Copenhagen?

I began reading an English language newspaper straight out of Copenhagen, The Local. Like it’s counterpart in Spain, news relevant to expat and travelers spatters across the pages and, buried under news about footballers and an imminent cold front, there were a few isolated articles related to terror, and only one spoke of an incident. It seems the happiest people on Earth are more about accepting potential radicals and using a soft method to wean them off of their jihad-fueled conviction.

So, I’ll go.

I’ll admit that I’m nervous, the same way I sometimes get nervous in Chicago because of gun violence. I feel safe in Seville, but who’s to say that something couldn’t happen here? Or who’s to say that I won’t be the victim of a gun crime in America? Or fall out of bed tomorrow and hit my head on the same nightstand where my phone had been blitzkrieged with safety messages 24 hours earlier?

We live in weird times, and I’m more convinced that just about every country, race and religion is having an identity crisis.  

My brand-new passport has 52 free pages in it. When I woke up at 4:52am, I couldn’t fall back asleep and began punching out this post, perhaps as a way to sort through my feelings. Six hours later, I am 98% sure I’ll be on a plane come December, albeit with the anxiety rumbling low in my stomach. Could just be my stomach asking for reindeer meat and a Carlsberg, though.

American travelers seriously concerned about threats should copy down information about their home country’s consulate or embassy abroad and enroll in the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program with the US Department of State. While it’s certainly important to be aware of where you’re headed and what the risks are, only you can ultimately decide whether or not you go. And I’m in the former camp – go, but proceed with caution.

In the midst of global terror attacks, are you still planning to travel, or stay home? Am I silly for feeling nerves?

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About Cat Gaa

As a beef-loving Chicago girl living amongst pigs, bullfighters, and a whole lotta canis, Cat Gaa writes about expat life in Seville, Spain. When not cavorting with adorable Spanish grandpas or struggling with Spanish prepositions, she works in higher education at an American university in Madrid and freelances with other publications, like Rough Guides and The Spain Scoop.


  1. “I am a white person living in Europe. I am a white person living in Europe in a city that has been mentioned as a target for terror. I am a white person living in Europe in a city that has been mentioned as a target who is traveling to city with known, active terror cells in three weeks.”
    I understand the fear, I have it too, but was this “white person” part necessary? Being white doesn’t make you any more of a potential victim than a person of colour when we’re discussing ISIS. Their first targets have been people in their own countries, a majority of whom are Muslim. The Paris attacks killed and injured French Muslims as well, and that was not a concern for the terrorists at all.

    • Thanks for pointing it out – you’re very right. A terrorist or a person with a gun attacks blindly. Thanks, Erin.

    • obviously a bomb in a backpack or in a rubbish bin will kill any person whether white or black, however, sometimes terrorists do target only white people in the sense of what i am going to try to explain:

      last summer there was a terrorist attack on a touristic beach in Tunisia…the terrorists did target only foreign holiday-makers who fitted the western world stereotype, and at the time of the shooting the terrorists did not shoot at their nearby fellow Arabs who were along the beach promenade or those Arabs who tried to stop them…victims were mainly Brits, but it could have been Spaniards, Italians, Germans or North Americans as terrorists detest our western world of freedom.

      therefore Cat is right or at least i understand what she has tried to mean.

  2. Being alert and informed is being in a position of power. Times are that one must be traveling with a keen sense … aka ….spidery sense of uncomfortable situations and know how to leave and or avoid them. So, channel your inner superwoman, it will do you well.

  3. I’m going to London the first week of December for work. I’m a bit nervous considering everything that has happened. I did intentionally reserve a hotel next to my office (the Tube makes me nervous during “rush hour”) so that I could walk…but I have a lot of friends and colleagues living in the city who are going about business as usual. Ever since 9/11 I’ve had bouts of paranoia when traveling, especially in really crowded areas, but it won’t keep me from living my life. Thanks for the STEP info – my mama will definitely appreciate it! 😉
    Kate recently posted..3 Super-useful websites for planning your wedding abroad!My Profile

    • Right, I’m not giving up entirely (if that were the case, I certainly wouldn’t drive or work with kiddie germs!), but it’s been an ever-growing nag!

  4. I definitely don’t think it’s silly to worry! The fact that France is just a hop, skip and a jump away from the country we live in is truly upsetting. Recent events have hit way too close to home, and I still feel rattled. But in a way, I feel like living in fear lets the bad guys win. I mean, taking safety into consideration is always important, and it’s best to listen to your gut and be wise about where you’re going, but I don’t think the current situation should disrupt business (or in this case, travel) as usual. I think you’ll be especially safe in Copenhagen, but I definitely understand your worry!

    I hope you have a fabulous trip – Denmark is a truly magical place :)
    Courtney @ Adelante recently posted..Community and Cuisine: Taste Porto Food ToursMy Profile

    • Thanks, Courtney! I think the half-asleep state and my mom freaking out rattled me more than anything. I’m really looking forward to my trip and hope that the only fear I feel is the airplane taking off!

  5. I live in New York City now and we all know what happened on 9/11. Not all of them make the national news but there have been several terror plots foiled in NYC since 9/11 mostly because the security now is insane. You could argue anybody continuing to live here is at risk every day. And it’s not just terrorism–armed robberies, shootings, buildings exploding due to gas leaks… They’re all part of living in a major city like NYC. If I thought about how many bad things could happen to me, I wouldn’t get up out of bed in the morning. I’m not scared to live here but the occasional “what if” does occur to me–what if it happens again? I work near Times Square and several locations near where I work have showed up in ISIS surveillance videos. Does it freak me out? Hell yeah. But I can’t let that stop me from living my life. I don’t need to travel to feel the fear–it’s ever present in my home city. It’s okay to be nervous but you can’t let the fear govern your day to day life.

    And we (my family) were all concerned about the Paris shootings of course. I have family that lives there and I was Whatsapping my cousin as soon as I found out. They’re all safe and sound thankfully. I was just in France in September and I got pissed when they tried to confiscate my iPod at the airport because it didn’t have a charge (yeah that’s a thing now, if you are pulled aside for a random search and your electronic devices do not have a charge, you risk them getting confiscated). They let me keep it but after that Russian plane blew up over Egypt, I’m not going to complain anymore. I’ll walk naked through security if I have to! It’s

  6. you are not silly of course, but you must live being relaxed and travel if you like it, and enjoy it!

    there is no any 100% safe place above all now that there are no border controls within the EU so Muslim terrorists with European citizenship can move freely, and let us not forget that they want us to be scared, so the more we continue with our normal life the better answer we give them.

    • I’ll definitely continue traveling, but it is something weighing on my mind. I also think it’s strange that I’m so clam in Spain – why would that be any different to another European country?

  7. Maybe it’s because I live in Paris and was only two blocks from the attacks that I don’t feel scared at all, because I’ve seen how safe the city still is in the wake of it, and how people are choosing to go out and live their life in response.

    That said, I can’t blame people for being nervous, I might be more concerned as well if the attack had happened in a neighboring city instead of this one.

    What *does* annoy me is people who let their nerves win and cancel their trips instead of continuing to live their life. Giving into fear is not the answer. So good on you for choosing to go ahead with your trip, with the necessary precautions to make you feel safer!
    Edna recently posted..Paris, Last NightMy Profile

  8. I totally understand your nerves. I struggle with anxiety, so, I’m always nervous when I travel, but the terrorist attacks in Paris could definitely add more anxiety than normal. The problem, though, is that it could happen anywhere! This is extremely scary, but it’s also some-what comforting in that you no longer need to use the excuse “oh, but X place might be the target.” because everywhere is now a target. However, it would be a scary and possibly terrible trip if you’re stuck in a city with nothing to do because all the tourist traps are closed. On the other hand, this could open up a different view of the city. Either way, it’s scary traveling around the globe, but will you let fear prevent you from checking off a city from your bucket list? It’s up to you to decide. I think you are a strong woman who’s been to much more threatening places than Copenhagen, so, you’ll probably be fine. But, it’s good to proceed with caution because you never know…
    Beth recently posted..Peace for ParisMy Profile

    • You probably have an extra layer of anxiety being a new mom! I know of some people who were in Brussels with nothing to do but drink beers in their hostel.

  9. I am a. American living in Edinburgh and traveling in Europe. I will be heading to Paris next week for a month. I am not afraid- just vigilantly aware. I was around the corner at the Boston marathon bombings – who would have guessed a running event would be targeted. I am not afraid!!

  10. I share your concern, as much as I hate to admit giving into fear. I’m really trying not to let this impact how I live my life and act with vigilance, but I definitely felt on edge even in DC last week.
    Allison recently posted..Home At Last: My First American Thanksgiving in Three Years!My Profile

  11. I will keep travelling. To my mind, if I let the fear of terrorism influence my daily life, they’ve won. They’ve instilled enough terror to control me. Besides, how do I know, if I leave Spain for a weekend to visit France, that they won’t attack Spain this time? I don’t. Not travelling is no guarantee of safety in that regard. At the end of the day, I can’t change what they do, so I won’t let it change what I do.

    Of course, it’s a moot point, since travel isn’t so easy on an auxiliar salary!
    Caelli recently posted..In The Bleak December, or, 6 Ways To Spend Christmas In A Foreign CountryMy Profile

    • Sure it can be tough to travel on an auxiliar budget, but who’s to say you can’t find terror in Spain? Just playing the devil’s advocate.

  12. Each time that terrorist attacks have happened in the developed world, right away writers jump up and command us, “Don’t be scared! Keep travelling!” While they’re correct that life is uncertain in every sense, I have felt ashamed by my feelings of fear of travelling. It’s like they’re saying, “If you have normal human feelings of fear, you’re weak.”
    I really liked reading this blog entry because it made me realize that it’s okay to be nervous. I have never cancelled a trip due to fear, but you can bet that I’m on high alert in popular areas or crowded places (you should’ve seen me during Semana Santa in Sevilla, during the Thursday madruga).

  13. David Stevenson says:

    You are American. Statistically, you are more likely to be shot by someone that you went to secondary school with than being involved in a terrorist (or other) attack in Europe, which is a fact that seems to be conveniently overlooked by most of you. The utter ignorance of wider world and political issues by American citizens is, quite frankly, staggering. No wonder so few of you have passports.

    Bad things happen everywhere from time to time. Making public proclamations about how scared you (allegedly) are is mere clickbait. If this were the case, you certainly would not be able to walk around Chicago, given the number of murders in the city per year, which dwarfs those in Paris by an embarrassing scale.

    You are thirty years old. Grow up and try and undo your Fox News programming.

    Oh, hail Trump…!

    • Haha, yes, this person who lives in Spain doesn’t have a passport. And whoever said I wasn’t afraid of walking around in downtown Chicago? That I am acutely aware of my country’s fascination with guns and radicalism? I haven’t lived in the US in nine years, so it’s unfair of me to make assumptions of how public safety has changed.

      I read multiple news sources a day – in English and Spanish – as well as watch political shows and help people register to vote in Spain. It’s alarming that, upon reading one page of my blog, you can make assumptions of my political standings, travel chops and upbringing. I grew up in two of the most dangerous cities in America (Detroit and Rockford) and have been subject to terror drills. Moving to Spain seemed to erase all of those feelings because I felt safer, maybe even artificially. I was a bit on edge when traveling in Denmark, given that I was completely unaware of my surroundings. Was it jumping the proverbial gun? Yes, I will most certainly admit that, but the jitters crept up every once in a while.

      And I’m a registered Democrat, just for the record.

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