4 Ways to Die While Traveling

For most people, traveling abroad is going to be safer than driving to work and back at home. But null is a perennial worry for some—just look at all the books out there geared to women scared of traveling on their own. So Rob Sangster and I devoted a sizable section of Traveler’s Tool Kit: Mexico and Central America to addressing those fears.

Fortunately, Mexico and Central America are relatively calm and safe for travelers these days, though this does not apply to any area where drug gangs are in a full-blown war with police, such as along the border with the U.S. (where the prohibition on all drugs has created quite a profit opportunity). That’s one area that you wouldn’t catch me dead in because, well, I may end up dead.

Lately, there are a few other places to avoid besides the obvious hotspots like Afghanistan and Iraq. And as we have seen with the republic of Georgia, being one of those blissfully ignorant backpackers that proudly avoids the news can be big trouble. If you have no inkling of the big picture events going on around you, it is easy to get stuck in the wrong place at the wrong time, in a riot, a war, or a natural disaster. Here’s how to find trouble.

1) Go to Ahmedabad in India. For complicated sectarian reasons I won’t get into here, this city is a powder keg. In the latest incarnation of trouble, 45 people were killed and 114 wounded by crude bombs set by terrorists invoking the name of Allah. This follows communal violence in 2002 where over 1,000 people were killed on two sides of the religious fence. The year before that, 752 people died in an earthquake. When I first traveled through India in 1994, this area was the epicenter of a plague epidemic. (Now you know why there are so many people from Gujarat state living in the U.S. now: some cities are just cursed.)

2) Go to Uganda looking for a local girlfriend or boyfriend. There are so many deaths from HIV infection in Uganda that a government official suggested that funerals should only be held on weekends because all week long people have to keep taking off work to attend burials.

3) Venture into a mountainous region during a flood. The death toll now stands at 116 in the northern regions of Vietnam where I happy frolicked with some friends on my last round-the-world backpacking trip. The worst-hit area was around the town of Lao Cai, the crossing point from China where you can catch a train to Hanoi. It wasn’t too many years ago when a flooding and landslide disaster happened on an even larger scale in Guatemala.

4) Go to Pakistan. Let’s see, Al Qaeda and the Taliban run the northern frontier, fighting has started back up in Kashmir, bombings hit the cities regularly, and the president just resigned. It’ll be smooth sailing for the new guy, right?

To keep up on what’s happening, it helps to turn off the TV and read a good magazine regularly, like The Week or The Economist. It doesn’t hurt though to check out null on the web. Be careful out there, but don’t stay home out of fear. Remember, your lifetime chance of dying in a car wreck is 1 in 247 (usually within 10 miles of where you live).

  1. brian

    that was a thoroughly enjoyable piece, funny too. now am having second thoughts of including ahmedabad on a trip later this year.

  2. foxnomad

    Statistically though, driving to the airport is more dangerous than doing all 4 combined.

    I don’t know that the risk is especially related to international travel – having unprotected sex with strangers, being in the middle of a flood and risky all the time, no matter where you are.

    And the risk of dying from terrorist is extremely remote – less people die from terrorism last year (2007) than in the previous 20 (excluding Iraq, which is a war zone and it’s inclusion in such statistics questionable).

  3. Mike

    I don’t know if I’d call The Week a good magazine, but point taken.

  4. Marie Javins

    I find it disturbing that there’s a small industry built around women being afraid to travel.

  5. tim

    I agree Marie, and I hope people don’t take this too seriously, as I really do believe most of us will die doing mundane things where we live. Women or men.

    Mike, The Week is (in my opinion) the only magazine that can truly claim to be balanced. It compiles each story using segments from other news sources across the whole political spectrum. It includes foreign news sources and has a permanent real world news section, complete with colored maps so you can see the geography. The Economist is meatier, but you can spend a half hour with The Week and have a good sense of what’s going on around the world. Every week I see news in there I haven’t come across anywhere else.

  6. Bernie B

    Maybe this goes without saying, but I would add Venezuela to this list too. It’s getting uglier every month. A quote from today’s newspaper: “The president’s popularity has been on the decline due to high inflation, widespread shortages of basic foods, and his inability to control a wave of violent crime.” You get to starve AND get mugged! And if you work for a foreign company, the army can force you out of your office and then out of the country because the state is going to take over the business.

  7. Liz

    Transpotation can be risky. The roads that leap to mind are the narrow, mountain roads of Bhutan that have no shoulder or guard rail and a 1000 foot drop, any road in S.E. Asia, especially Vietnam, or those India. Railroads in India are death traps, too, with bars on the windows and people stacked at the exits. Not to discount boats. One night I thought I’d die locked in the interior of a rusted-out ferry crossing the Mekong Delta with freighters passing within feet. I’m as careful as possible but I’d rather die traveling than sitting at home and as a woman I just take usual precautions.

  8. Renato

    Hi Tim,

    I was in Ahmedabad last week. It’s a nicer and safer placer than many other cities in India at the moment. As usual, better get reliable information before going there as things change quite often in a few days. But, given or taken, Ahmedabad is far better than Jammu and Kashmir at the moment. And the food much better.



  9. tim

    Renato, is this really supposed to make us feel better about the place? “Ahmedabad is far better than Jammu and Kashmir at the moment.” Beirut is better than Baghdad too, but…

    Death toll in the last round of blasts in Ahmedabad is up to 56 now, by the way. Some of the wounded didn’t make it.

    I’m not saying tourists will get hurt there any given week, but given the history, it’s far more likely there than most other Indian cities.

  10. Renato

    Got the point (and avoiding troubles is always a good thing). But there were blasts in Jaipur (67 people died) the month before. Still almost nobody says “don’t go to the Pink City”, one of the most popular tourist destinations even this year. As you said a car wreck is by far more likely, almost all in India where over 100K people died last year on the roads. That’s actually a number that is very scary to me.

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