From acts of terror to Zika, safety threats can prevent people from vacationing overseas. Yet, fear can be a healthy response to risk. It can motivate us to do research, learn the facts, and put the risks into perspective. Consider the following:
Zika virus. Many athletes and spectators avoided the Summer Olympics in Rio in August 2016, fearing what some perceived as a terrifying new disease. In actuality, the first human cases of Zika were identified in 1952, according to the World Health Organization, and most people who are infected have mild or no symptoms.
Zika differs from other diseases in the danger it poses to unborn children, and it’s vital that potential parents – as well as anyone with a compromised immune system – take this risk seriously. But for most people, Zika does not pose a significant risk of harm.
Terrorism. An SSI poll conducted in April 2016 found that 37% of respondents indicated terrorist activities in Europe affected their vacation decisions a great deal. How real is the threat? The U.S. State Department reported that in 2015, 41 Americans were killed, kidnapped or injured outside the country — comparable to the average number of lightning deaths per year in the US.
By contrast, traffic deaths totaled more than 38,000 in the US in 2015, according the National Safety Council. This number represents an 8% increase over the previous year—the biggest jump in 50 years.
Political climate. Fears about political unrest can intimidate all but the most seasoned travelers. The Malaysia Airlines MH17 flight that was shot down over conflict-ridden Ukraine in July 2014 is a tragic example of the potential severity of the fallout. An investigation revealed that a missile that had come from Russia struck the plane.
Even when the risk of terrorism is elevated, though, a passenger is far more likely to die in a car accident on the way to or from the airport than on the plane. There are 0.01 deaths per 100 million passenger miles in airplanes, versus 0.72 deaths per 100 million passenger miles in cars, according to The Week.
Don’t Stay Home. Stay Safe. Leaving your home involves risk. But in the words of theologian William G. T. Shedd, “A ship is safe in harbor, but that’s not what ships are for.”
Life is risk. Safety is relative.
Getting the facts about your intended destination can keep you safer and make your experience much richer. Before you go:
- Talk to your doctor first if you’re traveling to a location where Zika or any other virus is prevalent. You can also check out the CDC’s recommendations on preventing Zika when traveling.
- Research the geography. If you’re in an area prone to civil unrest, self-guided tours are out. But keep in mind that just as an event in Florida probably wouldn’t affect New York, tensions at the Ukrainian border typically won’t spill over to Moscow or St. Petersburg.
- Understand the culture. Read up on your destination before your trip. If possible, read the local news. You will learn what is and isn’t acceptable and safe there, and having this context will make your experience much more interesting and enjoyable.
- Think big picture. Check State Department travel advisories, for instance, but recognize they only paint one piece of the picture. Your travel agent or trusted advisor will have additional information, either from personal experience or their network of contacts.
- Verify your insurance coverage. Many of your concerns may — or may not — be addressed by provisions in your health insurance, homeowner’s policy, or credit card coverages. You may also want to consider purchasing a travel insurance policy.
— David Bloom is Vice President, Leisure Travel for Chubb Accident & Health.
This article originally appeared as “Fears and Facts: A Closer Look at Travel Dangers" on the Risk Conversation blog on Mar. 28, 2017.