travel safety

On travel and the perception of safety

When we travel, we tend to take into account several broad factors like our own interest, the cost, and safety. There are a lot of places that many of us consider a no-fly zone, because we hear about tourists being murdered or raped by a bus full of men or run over in a terrorist attack. But here’s the thing, we’re probably wrong to be scared.

The human mind, for all its greatness, is flawed in one very important way. Lacking all the available information, we take the information that is available and extrapolate it. We form a complete perception based on incomplete data. For instance, in 2016, a terrorist attack at the Istanbul Airport in Turkey killed 45 people. Since then, I don’t even want to fly through Istanbul, even though fares are constantly dirt cheap. Because everyone feels the same way I do.

The problem with this automatic decision about the safety of the Istanbul Airport is that it’s created using incomplete information. Because we all heard about the attack, we saw it on the news, and we read about it online. But what you don’t read about, what doesn’t make the news, is the thousands of flyers that have safely traveled in and out of this airport since (and before then). And even less so of the thousands of tourists that are still enjoying hot air balloon rides in Cappadocia and taking selfies outside the Blue Mosque.

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And we do the same thing when 20 people are mowed down by a truck in Barcelona or when 89 people are shot to death at a concert in Paris. You can see the change in travel demand immediately after one of these incidents. Even though, by all standards, the cities in which these things happen tend to be relatively safe for the people who live and travel there.

Ironically, we do this while simultaneously overestimating our safety at home. For example, Honduras has the highest homicide rate of any country in the entire world. Out of 100,000 people, 91 of them are murdered. But for the other 99,909 people, Honduras probably doesn’t seem that unsafe. Because every single day that they are not murdered, they have more and more evidence to support the idea that they’re safe. And when they hear about someone getting killed there, they’re not fazed by it because it’s so commonplace.

Yesterday, 17 people were killed (so far) at a high school in South Florida, about 50 miles from my hometown. I should have been shaken or shocked (especially since I used to be a teacher). But I wasn’t. Because it’s normal. This makes the 30th mass shooting in the US in 2018. And it’s fucking February. So in many ways, Americans are becoming those people in Honduras. Because we’re in very real danger in pretty much all public spaces. We just don’t see it because all the days that we’re not assaulted in public with an AR-15 lulls us into a false sense of security. Until it happens again.

All of this is to say that a lot of us close ourselves off to the possibility of amazing experiences abroad, because of a false perception of safety there. Because you think traveling in some places is a hazard to life. But guess what? Living is a hazard to life. You could die literally anywhere. No one can promise that you won’t be one of those unlucky people that ends up on the wrong side of a truck in France. But wouldn’t you rather be in France than in chemistry class? Or at a job you hate? Or in traffic on the way to a job you hate after you cut off the wrong “good guy with a gun”?

The least we can do for the people whose lives are constantly taken too early (by the failure of the American mental health system and the country’s obsession with guns) is to live. Because they won’t get to. And it would be a shame for us to squander our own lives out of fear, when there are so many people whose life didn’t end by choice. So fuck it. Go to the Taj Mahal. Check out the Pyramids of Giza. Go to a street market in Jerusalem. Just, you know… keep your wits about you.

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