Taking a Euro-trip is often the vacation of a lifetime, but there are hazards to be aware of. The biggest threat is someone pickpocketing you, which can really put a damper on a trip. Thankfully, there are ways to minimize your vulnerabilities so you can have a hassle-free trip and explore without losing your valuables. Apart from theft, it's important to research whatever country or countries you'll be visiting to be aware of any specific risks of that destination.
The continent of Europe is comprised of nearly 50 different sovereign nations, stretching all the way from Iceland in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean to Armenia in the Caucasus Mountains, and the U.S. State Department provides travel recommendations and advisories for each one. In general, most European countries are safe to visit, although the State Department warns to "exercise increased caution" for many of them due to terrorist threats.
As of November 23, 2020, the only country in Europe with the highest level "Do Not Travel" warning is Russia, due to COVID-19. Virtually every other country on the continent has a "Reconsider Travel" warning due to COVID-19.
Is Europe Dangerous?
There's no way to give one cookie-cutter answer for such a large region with so many different countries, and a visit to one area could be drastically different from visiting somewhere else. In general, however, you can travel throughout the continent without much worry. According to the Global Peace Index, Europe is the most peaceful region on the planet and of the top 30 safest countries in the world, 21 of them are in Europe.
What most travelers need to worry about in most European cities is pickpocketing or petty theft. Thieves are very adept at tricking unsuspecting tourists with well-versed distractions, leaving them without their cellphone or wallet before they even realize it.
The more serious threat—albeit much more unlikely—is a terrorist attack. Major tourist destinations across Western Europe have made headlines for successful and thwarted terrorist plots, although you're more likely to come across conflict in Eastern Europe (it just doesn't get the same international attention).
Is Europe Safe for Solo Travelers?
The biggest worry to solo travelers should be pickpockets. You'll likely stand out as a foreigner no matter how well you try and blend in, and being alone can make you an easy target without a friend to cover your back. While you don't want to be caught alone in a dark back alley, the place where most robberies occur is actually in the busy city centers of the cities most frequented by tourists, such as Rome, Barcelona, and Prague. Be wary if a stranger approaches you to make conversation. Hopefully, it's someone friendly who just wants to chat, but hold your bags close just in case it's a distraction to pick your pocket.
Carrying your backpack on your front is a dead giveaway to out you as a tourist, but it can have value, especially on public transportation. Skilled thieves will cut a slit into the bottom of your backpack so they can grab what's inside and run off; hold your backpack to your chest on metros or buses to avoid that common trick.
Is Europe Safe for Female Travelers?
For women traveling around Europe, you can divide the continent into three general regions. If your trip is to the Nordic countries, including Denmark, Norway, and Sweden, you'll be in the part of the world that is considered to have achieved the greatest level of gender equality and you're unlikely to hear so much as an unsolicited compliment when walking down the street.
The next region is most of Western Europe, including the U.K., France, Spain, and Italy. In these countries, women are also exceptionally safe, and perhaps much more so than in their home country. However, attitudes about gender aren't quite as advanced as in the Nordic countries, and catcalling or other forms of harassment are unfortunately commonplace.
In Eastern Europe, attitudes are much different. In many countries, such as Turkey and former Soviet Union countries, there is a palpable difference between the treatment of men and women. Female travelers should be particularly cautious in this region.
Of course, these are overarching generalizations and travelers should research the particular place they plan to visit for a better idea of what to expect.
Safety Tips for LGBTQ+ Travelers
All in all, Europe is a safe place for LGBTQ+ travelers, especially Western Europe. In big cities like London, Paris, Berlin, and Madrid, the LGBTQ+ community isn't just accepted, but embraced. Even in traditionally conservative countries like Italy, one of the few Western European nations that has not approved gay marriage, there's a vocal LGBTQ+ community and it's safe to be out in big cities like Rome or Milan. Even in small rural towns around Western Europe, gay couples may get some prolonged stares but usually nothing more than that.
Outside of Western Europe, travelers have to be more careful. Many popular tourist destinations of Eastern Europe, such as the Czech Republic, Slovenia, or Croatia, are just as safe as their Western neighbors, but on the other extreme, you have countries like Russia and Turkey. It isn't outlawed to be gay or trans in either country, but there have been rampant reports of harassment and violence in both. Look into specific guidelines for whatever countries you plan to visit, and consider using discretion when your safety depends on it.
Safety Tips for BIPOC Travelers
In terms of physical safety, travelers of color can—for the most part—travel across the continent without significant worries. However, a less attuned perception of racial dynamics is common, and BIPOC travelers in Europe are often subjected to microaggressions that may be considered insulting back home, especially for U.S. travelers. Outside of the uber diverse city of London, it's not uncommon for strangers to try and touch a Black woman's hair, or ask an Asian-American person, "where are you really from?" Even though these moments aren't committed with bad intentions, it can still be jarring.
Although Europe is often held up as a beacon for peaceful societies, there has been a steady rise of anti-Semitic and Islamophobic hate crimes across the continent. Jewish and Muslim travelers, in particular, should consider taking extra precautions.
- Carry your valuables close to you in a sturdy, below-the-belt security wallet. Men should never carry a wallet in a back pocket. If you must wear a pouch above the belt, make sure it's hidden.
- Know about and study your surroundings for things that make you uncomfortable. Back off if things don't feel right. Don't walk blindly into a noisy crowd.
- While Europeans are generally helpful, it's unusual for them to offer their help when it isn't asked for, so be aware that someone offering you unsolicited help might be running a scam.
- Some European cities are prone to strikes and protest marches. By keeping abreast of any planned protests or strikes via the local media, visitors can stay away from areas where there may be unrest.
- The U.S. Department of State urges citizens to enroll in the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP), which helps the embassy alert you in times of trouble. STEP is a free service allowing U.S. citizens and nationals traveling and living abroad to enroll with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate.
- Look up emergency phone numbers for any of the countries you're visiting. If you will be staying in countries that are part of the European Union, the number across the EU is 112.