The name of this column is the Fearless Traveler, although I suspect almost every traveler these days -- myself included -- is at least somewhat fearful. But should you stay home? I don't think so, and I'm not doing so.

I'm just back from a quick air trip to Atlanta, and soon I will be hop-scotching down the South American continent on a U.S. airline. I feel confident that airline security is tight, and I will heed the advice of terrorism experts to keep a low profile. But to stay home, in my opinion, is to bow to Saddam Hussein's threats. I don't plan to yield to the Iraqi leader's intimidation, but of course that is a personal decision, and terrorist attacks directed at American travelers could ultimately change my outlook.

As of now, Barbara Bush obviously isn't intimidated. In a demonstration of confidence in airline security, the first lady took a commercial flight Thursday from Washington-National Airport to Indianapolis. "I'm not going to be held hostage by this at all," she is quoted as saying. "People should feel free to fly if they have someplace to go."

Many people are refusing to fly out of fear, including citizens of foreign nations as well as Americans, and domestic and international airlines are suffering from the loss of business. Nevertheless, the world's airlines continue to serve most destinations. Are the crew members and attendants more courageous than the average traveler?

"A lot of the public's concerns are perceptual and emotional versus reality," says Tim Smith, a spokesman for American Airlines. "Our employees know the details of our security and are comfortable with it. As the public becomes more confident, some of that uneasiness will disappear."

The Safety Question

If the Persian Gulf War were to end this week, the issue of security would remain with us. Government officials have warned that the terrorist threat against U.S. installations in this country and around the world is expected to continue as disgruntled Iraqi supporters attempt retaliation.

Certainly, I don't suggest heading for the war zone today. The U.S. State Department has issued advisories urging Americans to defer nonessential travel to most countries in the Middle East. As for Iraq and Kuwait, last week the department made U.S. passports invalid for travel to those countries. With the exception of accredited journalists, U.S. citizens wanting to travel there must now seek special clearance.

In addition to the Middle Eastern countries, a few places in North Africa and Southeast Asia are considered dangerous because of anti-American fervor. Elsewhere in a troubled world, however, most of Europe, Latin America, the Caribbean, the South Pacific, Africa and Asia are considered reasonably safe. Solar Tours, a Washington travel agency specializing in South America, says business has been brisk since the outbreak of the Middle East war.

Earlier this month, Graham Birse, a spokesman for the Scottish Tourist Board, gave me what I considered an honest assessment of the attitude in his country and others that depend on the American tourist dollar. "We're not bringing a message that Scotland is safe," he said. "We can't offer such assurances. But Scotland is quite a ways from the {war} theater, and our airport security is as good as anywhere in the world."

Bargains Abroad

Travelers who feel comfortable leaving home in these difficult times will find plenty of bargains both in this country and abroad. Hotels in Great Britain and France, the two most popular European destinations for Americans, are offering substantial discounts to stimulate business. U.S. airlines waged a brief domestic fare war a week ago, and cheaper transatlantic air fares are almost a certainty -- provided government regulators can reach agreement.

"The smart traveler is going to start looking at these bargains," says Bedford Pace, a spokesman for the British Tourist Authority. "That's what's going to generate traffic. That's what happened in '86." In the mid-80s, airline hijackings and other terrorist incidents directed at travelers temporarily brought a similar drop in international travel. When the attacks tapered off, Americans flocked to take advantage of many discounts.

But not everyone is satisfied that bargains will do the job of enticing Americans into the air. "You can't lower the price on fear," says Jonathan Chase, manager of Travel Advisors of America, a Washington travel agency specializing in Eastern Europe. He has just taken the loss of a group of 40 people who canceled a two-week tour in April of the Soviet Union, which is undergoing its own internal political turmoil.

"If I was a traveler," Chase says, "I would use a car and go around on local trips. Why take the risk?"

Outside the Middle East, travel to Europe probably has been hit hardest by the hostilities. As a result, "London has never been more affordable," says Pace. There is hyperbole in his enthusiasm, but some hotel prices definitely are down right now. Steigenberger, a large European hotel chain, has gone even farther. It now is guaranteeing rates in U.S. dollars at up to 50 percent off the regular price for the summer at 74 participating properties throughout the continent, according to sales manager Vincent R. Nardiello.

Europe: Where Things Stand

If you go to Europe now, you will find the cities somewhat more somber, say residents and travelers who have just returned from abroad. The streets of London, Paris, Rome and Vienna have been much quieter since the war began Jan. 15 because of the dropoff in tourists and because many of the local folks have been staying home. Business is slack at restaurants and theaters, although in recent days customers reportedly have begun to return.

Carnival in Rome, normally a festive occasion, was described as a half-hearted fizzle this year, and Venice canceled its Carnival altogether. Other big events that draw large crowds also were canceled in the early weeks of the war; Vienna did not hold its romantic Opera Ball, which was scheduled for Feb. 7.

However, the Austrian National Tourist Office is assuring music lovers that this year's special Mozart festivities, honoring the 200th anniversary of the composer's death, will be held. "There's a big interest in Mozart all through Europe," says spokeswoman Gabriele Wolf, "especially in the Italian market. I don't think anything will be canceled." The Cannes Film Festival in France also will go ahead as planned in May, according to film director Roman Polanski, the president of the film festival jury.

Check ahead, however, if you are planning to attend a special event in any foreign destination.

Not all the recent travel news from Europe has been negative: Ski resorts in the Alps are doing relatively well, although big-spending Japanese have not shown up in their customary large numbers. The Europeans, instead, are taking advantage of good snowfalls this season after a couple of barren years. Last week, one Washington couple who wanted to extend their ski vacation for an extra day in Klosters, a large Swiss resort, couldn't find a vacant room and had to depart.

And travelers who go to Europe now will reap some of the benefits of fewer fellow tourists. In Paris, it is said you need only call an hour in advance for a table at famous restaurants where normally you might have to reserve weeks in advance. And taxis, normally impossible to find, line up for hours at stands waiting for customers. In London, seats are available on the day of performance for most theatrical productions, including some of the big musicals. Tickets are tight only on weekends for top shows such as "Phantom of the Opera," according to Carol Stenberg of Edwards and Edwards, a New York ticket agency that handles London reservations.

In yet another positive view, a temporary resident in Warsaw asserts that heightened security measures have made that city's crowded little airport a pleasanter place to use. Only passengers are permitted inside its doors now, reducing the usual hubbub in the waiting rooms considerably.

Meanwhile, tourist destinations within the United States are hoping to attract many travelers who might have planned an international vacation. For example, tourism officials in Las Vegas, which suffered a sharp drop in visitors last month, are developing a $650,000 ad campaign depicting the Nevada gambling capital as a city that is safe and inexpensive, the Associated Press reports. The ad will be directed primarily at Californians, who are being urged to "play in your own back yard."

I suspect many people will do so, and they should if the thought of flying or going abroad is so worrisome that they won't be able to relax on their vacation. But the Fearless Traveler, admittedly harboring some understandable fears, is as eager as ever to see the rest of the world.

Among war-related developments last week:

Hotel Prices

In Great Britain, "What you find is a lot of hotels with tremendous special offerings," says tourism spokesman Bedford Pace. He suggests that London-bound Americans or their travel agents phone and ask, "What kind of rate can you offer me?" You may be able to stay in a hotel you never thought you could afford.

Hilton Hotels International, for example, is offering special winter rates guaranteed in U.S. dollars. The London Hilton on Park Lane is quoting a price of $199 a night for two people through April 15; the regular rate is about $375 a night. Contact: Hilton Reservation Service, 800-445-8667.

The Steigenberger hotels are taking advance reservations for this summer at rates guaranteed in U.S. dollars of from $66 to $109 per person a night in 74 hotels throughout Europe. Regular rates are $150 to $325 per person. The summer rates are good from June 14 to Sept. 1 and include a European buffet breakfast. Contact: Steignberger Reservation Service, 800-223-5652.

French hotels are putting together discount deals that will be announced shortly, according to George Hern of the French Government Tourist Office.

Bargains at luxury properties can even be found in the United States. In celebration of a 100-year anniversary, the Homestead in Warm Springs, Va. is offering a fourth night free for guests who stay three nights at the regular rate throughout 1991. In addition, guests will no longer be required to take a meal plan but will be able to book accommodations only beginning in April.

Air Fares

U.S. and foreign airlines acted last week to lower international air fares as a way to stimulate sharply lagging business. The fares are subject to international agreement, and a snag quickly developed.

British Airways took the lead in lowering fares, announcing last Sunday that it was launching what it calls a "no-risk" fare for summer travel to Brtiain at 33 percent off its normal advance-purchase price. Passengers who change their mind can get a full cash refund up to 14 days before departure. "The phones were ringing off the hook," says British Airways spokesman John Lampl, and seven other airlines matched the offer.

However, the U.S. government rejected the British Airways fare -- and the matching ones -- as part of a dispute between the U.S. and British governments over landing rights in London for U.S. carriers. But travelers who purchased the "no-risk" tickets through Friday night are permitted to take advantage of them. Meanwhile, British Airways tinkered with the proposal and filed for approval a second time. Then late Friday, the Department of Transportation announced it had refused to accept the new fare proposal, according to spokesman Ed O'Hara, "because it duplicated a previous proposal that had been rejected." Whether there is a resolution remains to be seen.

On Thursday, Pan Am introduced cheaper fares for travel to Europe, the Caribbean, Mexico, Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, Brazil and within the United States, good from April 8 and May 20. To qualify, you have to fly at least once on Pan Am between now and March 1. The U.S. government did approve Pan Am's international fares -- "basically, it's a different package," says O'Hara -- but they must also be approved by the foreign governments involved. Pan Am is advertising a round-trip ticket to Europe or the Caribbean for $238 and to Brazil, Argentina, Chile or Hawaii for $438. In response to these fares, other U.S. airlines offered similar price cuts for the same period.

Security Procedures

Reports from passengers passing through Germany's Frankfurt airport are that security officials are continuing to impound electronic equipment, such as lap-top computers, and even cameras. You may be able to negotiate the immediate release of your computer at a special airport security office. But consider packing other items or avoiding Frankfurt.

The Associated Press reported this week that in France, patrols of bomb-sniffing dogs have tripled at international airports, passengers must arrive four hours early for thorough luggage checks and passports and handbags sometimes are checked four times before boarding.


The State Department has issued war-related travel advisories for Israel, Sudan, Algeria, Jordan, Mauritania, Morocco, Tunisia, Pakistan, Yemen, Bangladesh, Djibouti, Qatar, United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Nigeria, Tanzania, India, Thailand, the Philippines, Malaysia and Indonesia. Several advisories recommend that Americans defer all nonessential travel to specified countries because they are in the war theater, and other advisories are precautionary warnings about possible anti-American demonstrations.

For the latest information, contact the Citizens Emergency Center, 202-647-5225. In addition, travel agents have access to travel advisories on their computer reservation screens.