How Safe is International Travel?

Want to travel safely? Get the first flight outta town…

“We’ve decided not to go to Paris this summer like we’d planned,” my father told me yesterday. “Patty is scared about getting into an airplane, so we’re just going to drive to some places in the US that we’ve been wanting to go.”

If you hadn’t already guessed, my dad and his wife watch way too much TV news. I’m all in favor of avoiding Paris this summer: with the US dollar hovering near record lows, prices in this already expensive city are going to be downright extravagant. My folks are going to Savannah, Charleston, and New Orleans, which will be very nice at half the price. But it’s the reasoning that’s driving me nuts.

The New York Times reported a few weeks back that 115 people a day die in automobile crashes in the US alone. As Transportation Secretary Norman Manetta has said, if 115 people died every day in aviation crashes, “we wouldn’t have a plane in the sky.” Yet my stepmom is scared of being shot out of the sky by terrorist rocket launchers, not of something so routine as a driver plowing through a stop sign.

I like to blame much of this on ‘The CNN Effect.” Big tragedies with lots of bodies make for good ratings, but repetitive small tragedies don’t keep the finger off the remote. However, in order to confront and deal with the real risks in our life, we need to put the truth in perspective. Most years, terrorism claims a few hundred people worldwide. In the worst year ever for terrorism in the US, 3,000 people died. Meanwhile, domestic gun violence wipes out an average of 26,000 people in America every year. Statistically, you’re better off on a flight full of Saudis than you are at an urban quick-mart after midnight.

If you start thinking with your head, instead of your heart, you can really make out well as a traveler. Visit Jordan right now and you can experience Petra with hardly a soul in sight. Get your pick of hotel rooms in Istanbul, Cairo, or Marrakesh. Bali is still offering fire-sale deals, over a year after the bombing there. Vietnam and Thailand are offering plenty of deals, trying to make up for bird flu scares. The Maoists have scared half the trekkers out of Nepal. It’s
easy to think the whole continent of Africa is at war from the news, but there are plenty of peaceful places if you do some independent research.

Next time you start worrying about getting on a plane, or traveling someplace that has mosques, or being in a foreign city where you “heard there were a lot of pickpockets,” do yourself a favor. Turn on your local nightly news for three nights in a row. Count the number of armed robberies, fatal car crashes, and assorted violent acts in your own hometown. Is the place you’re going really that scary?

  1. dennis j potaracke

    I,m not afraid of flying, I’m more worried about going to a remote site somewhere and being abducted because I’m an American.
    What I’d like to do is find somewhere remote to go that I can have some sense of safety and yet mingle with the locals without having problems with the communication barrier.
    Is that too far fetched for a goal?

  2. tim

    No, it’s not far-fetched at all. There are hundreds of places around the world where you can do this. The percentage of Americans who get abducted, outside war zones, is something like 0.001 percent. Less than the odds of being dealt five cards and getting a royal flush.

    Language is not nearly the barrier most people who haven’t traveled much think it is. English spreads wider every year. Learn some Spanish though and that opens up another huge section of the world.

  3. Rob

    It’s NOT the flying I am afarid of, it’s the falling that scares me!

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